Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’
The Neumann Knights keep rolling through league play. Tied for first with Manhattanville, Neumann is currently riding a three game winning streak after losing its only league contest to Utica four weeks ago.
“It’s definitely not easy,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “At any point, if you lose two you are right back in the middle again. It is important for us to keep level headed. We are not there yet and need to keep working.”
The Knights rolled in to a very frigid Hobart last weekend and came away with a four point weekend sweep. The two teams played to a tie in their previous meeting in Aston, PA back on December 1st.
On Friday, Mike Hedden and Mark Van Vliet each chipped in a goal through the first two periods, and goaltender Mike Collichio pitched a shutout to seal the 3-0 win.
“It was a game that we stressed the importance of winning just for the fact that we tied them the first game,” said Williams. “It came down to a head to head series, and it was nice to get that win to put the pressure back on them Saturday. That was one of the coldest games I have ever been in.”
One key to the Knights success so far this season has been the tremendous scoring production of its top six players. Combined, the players have put in 83 goals and 149 assists.
Neil Trimm leads the way with 15 goals and 39 assists and is at the top of the national scoreboard with an amazing 2.57 points per game. Not far behind are Mark Van Vliet (15g-28a-43p), Mike Hedden (22g-20a-42p), Kyle Casey (15g-20a-35p), and Matt Ward (11g-21a-32p).
Mike Hedden proved to be the Statesmen killer last week, tallying three goals and two assists in the two games.
“We have guys that have been able to put the puck in net for us,” said Williams. “They are all playing with a lot of confidence. They see the net as almost soccer nets. They are upset if they don’t put it in.”
“But we need to try and foster some balance a bit, because we are getting all of our scoring from six guys,” continued Williams. “We need to get some other guys getting the confidence from putting the puck in the net.”
On Saturday, Hobart came out with a big jump and carried play for much of the game. Hedden scored first for Neumann eight minutes in to the game, and the Statesmen tried to play catchup the rest of the game. But the Knights had an answer every time Hobart got close and held on to a hard fought 4-3 victory.
“To be honest, [Hobart] dictated the play all night and outplayed us,” said Williams. “They outworked us, but it just so happens that we were able to find the net there a few times. They didn’t quit and kept coming right to the end. It’s nice that we found a way to win.”
Besides Hedden, the other bright star for Neumann over the weekend was netminder Mike Collichio, who made 64 saves on 67 shots during the course of the two games.
“Mike played great for us again,” said Williams. “He is stopping all the ones that he should, and is stopping about ninety percent of the ones he shouldn’t. That gives all of our guys confidence. When you have a good goalie back there, they are not afraid to take those chances. It elevates their game.”
Collichio has been the workhorse in net for the Knights, logging 1,155 minutes over the course of nineteen games so far, while posting stellar stats of .911 save percentage and 2.49 goals against average.
Life doesn’t get any easier for Neumann over the next two weeks with tilts at Elmira and home against Manhattanville.
“We are right back at it. You can’t let up. This is where good teams want more,” added Williams.
Down the Stretch
With only three weekends of regular season play remaining, the teams of the ECAC West have hit the home stretch. Here is a quick rundown of what each team has to do as the season winds down.
While only one team is mathematically eliminated from the regular season title, in reality it is down to a two horse race between Manhattanville and Neumann.
They are currently tied with seventeen points, but Manhattanville has a game in hand. Both face Elmira for a pair of games, with the Valiants extra game against Utica.
But the race for the title could very well come down to next weekend when Manhattanville travels to Aston, PA to take on the Knights for a weekend tilt. All the marbles will be on the line.
Third through sixth places are a much tighter affair. The most coveted position is third place, which gains that team a bye in the quarterfinal round of the newly formatted ECAC West playoffs.
Utica currently holds third place, two points up on fourth place Elmira and three points ahead of fifth place Hobart. But Hobart and Elmira both have a game in hand compared to Utica.
The Pioneers have the easiest remaining schedule, with one game against Manhattanville followed by a pair each against Lebanon Valley and Hobart. While that schedule may look somewhat easy on paper, all but one of the Hobart games is on the road instead of the friendly confines of The Aud.
Elmira, just two points back, has a much rougher road to travel. The Soaring Eagles host Neumann at the Thunderdomes this weekend, split a home-and-home weekend with Hobart, and then travel to Manhattanville to finish the season.
That is by far the most difficult schedule of the three teams contending for third place.
Currently bringing up the rear of this middle pack is Hobart, three points out of fourth place and five points out of third place. The Statesmen have six games remaining, but they are against the third place (Utica), fourth place (Elmira), and sixth place (Lebanon Valley) teams.
Even with that relatively easy schedule, it would take a monumental collapse by Utica to give Hobart a shot at third place.
Lebanon Valley holds the dubious honor of being winless in league play so far this season. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, with a pair of games against each of Hobart and Utica remaining, the Flying Dutchmen have almost certainly sewn up last place.