Hobart and Elmira opened the second season on Wednesday evening at the Thunderdomes with an exciting overtime ECAC West Quarterfinal matchup. The Soaring Eagles had to climb back from a two-goal deficit twice to send the game in to the extra stanza before finally winning it 5-4 on a goal by Justin Joy.
“Holy crap that was exciting,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “We got outplayed early on. It was a classic struggle back and forth, but our guys showed a lot of resiliency. Joy has struggled scoring goals for us all year long. As luck would have it, he received a great pass. In defense of the Hobart goaltender, the puck was up on edge and kind of knuckle-balled on him.”
The game produced bad news for Elmira when its stellar freshman goaltender Casey Tuttle went down with a serious injury in the second period. Tuttle has started every game for Elmira since January 6th and has been instrumental in the Soaring Eagles second half resurgence.
“It is a season ending injury,” said Ceglarski. “There was a scramble in front of the net and next thing everybody knew the play was going the other way and he was down in a lump on the ice. He has been playing fantastic for us.”
Elmira will now have to rely on junior Raphael Cundari to step in and fill Tuttle’s rock-solid skates.
With the win, Elmira heads right back down to Manhattanville’s Playland Arena to take on the Valiants in the semifinal round on Saturday. The Soaring Eagles beat and tied the Valiants last weekend at Playland behind Tuttle, and will need to rally around Cundari in goal this time around.
“It is an exciting place to play that has been very good to us lately,” said Ceglarski. “But we have had a lot of luck riding on our shoulders and to go up against the No 2. team in the nation with the best goaltender in the nation is a tough challenge. We are just hoping for a good game and a good outing.”
Finally a Stumble
This past Saturday, Elmira finally accomplished what no other team had yet been able to by defeating Manhattanville. It was the first home loss for the Valiants in almost a year, when the Soaring Eagles last dropped Manhattanville in double overtime during the NCAA Quarterfinal round.
Manhattanville took a 2-0 lead by midway through the first period and looked to be on a roll until Elmira freshman Rusty Master tallied a power play goal with only thirty three seconds remaining in the period.
What had been a liability last weekend for the Soaring Eagles turned in to a strength this time as Elmira ripped in the next three goals during the second period. Manhattanville strove to mount a comeback but came up short as Elmira held on to the 5-3 victory.
The five goals scored by Elmira were the most let up by Manhattanville against any Division III opponent all season, and also was the first time the Valiants found themselves down by two goals in a game this year.
With the loss, Manhattanville appears to be stumbling in to the post season. The Valiants went 1-1-2 in their final four league contests, including a tie against Neumann on the road and a tie and loss to Elmira at home.
The Valiants were probably hoping that Hobart would have beaten Elmira in the playoff game on Wednesday. Manhattanville only has a 3-3-1 record against the Soaring Eagles over the last two years, while they are 4-1-1 versus Hobart during that same time span.
But even with the blemish on its record, Manhattanville won its second straight regular season ECAC West title, and now opens play on Saturday vying to add the league championship as well.
Not Even Close
With the conclusion of the regular season, let’s take a look back at my preseason predictions and see how close I came to the final standings.
Preseason Predicted Order of Finish
First — Elmira Soaring Eagles
Second — Hobart Statesmen
Third — Manhattanville Valiants
Fourth — Utica Pioneers
Fifth — Neumann Knights
Sixth — Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen
Actual Order of Finish
First — Manhattanville Valiants
Second — Neumann Knights
Third — Utica Pioneers
Fourth — Elmira Soaring Eagles
Fifth — Hobart Statesmen
Sixth — Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen
Final Result — Not even close. This season certainly turned out far different from how all of the prognosticators thought it would.
The loss of Manhattanville’s large senior class at the end of last season didn’t cause the Valiants to miss a step. Neumann was a huge surprise as an extremely productive freshmen class appears to have been the missing ingredient for the Knights.
Utica tried to put it together but couldn’t seem to find the consistency that is required in the ECAC West to garner the top spots in the league.
Meanwhile, Elmira’s late season charge got going just a little too late to have a dramatic impact on the final standings. Hobart is probably the biggest disappointment in the league this season.
The only solace I take in my completely wrong picks is that at least I didn’t choose Manhattanville to finish fourth like the ECAC West coaches did before the season began.
ECAC West All-USCHO Team
As I have done each of the last several years, here are my picks for the ECAC West All-USCHO teams. All of these players have had outstanding seasons, as have many others who fell just short of the list this time around.
Of special note are the individual awards. Neil Trimm and Mike Hedden both put up outstanding offensive numbers this year for Neumann, with Trimm leading the nation with a tremendous 2.48 points per game. But I had to give the nod for Player of the Year to Andrew Gallant, the stellar senior goaltender for Manhattanville.
Gallant logged over 90 percent of the minutes in net for the Valiants during the season, posting a 1.66 goals against average and a 93.3% save percentage to lead the nation in both categories. Gallant has played a pivotal part in Manhattanville’s success this season, letting in three or fewer goals in all but two of his appearances.
My Rookie of the Year award goes to Matt Ward from Neumann, who threw in twelve goals and twenty six assists to lead the nation by a wide margin in freshman scoring with an average of 1.73 points per game.
I also created a special award this season for senior Jared Allison of Utica, the Comeback Player of the Year. After a debilitating back injury last season, it appeared that Allison’s playing days were over. But hard work and a longing to play again allowed him to make a comeback at mid-season, and he had an immediate impact for the Pioneers. Playing in only 20 games this season, Allison scored eleven goals and thirteen assists to lead the Pioneers in points.
Last, but certainly not least, the Coach of the Year award goes to Dennis Williams at Neumann. Many people saw signs of improvement in the Knights last season and expected them to become competitive this season. To go from 4-17-1 two years ago to 14-10-1 last season was remarkable.
But no one saw the magnitude of improvement coming that Williams and the Knights have shown this season with a 16-4-5 record and second place in the ECAC West in the regular season. Everyone kept waiting to see if Neumann would eventually flounder as the season went on, but under the steadying hand of Dennis Williams the Knights just kept rolling.
ECAC West First Team
Forward: Neil Trimm, Neumann, Jr.
Forward: Mike Hedden, Neumann, So.
Forward: Chris Mills, Manhattanville, Sr.
Defense: Mike Gooch, Neumann, Jr.
Defense: Mike Polsonetti, Hobart, Sr.
Goal: Andrew Gallant, Manhattanville
ECAC West Second Team
Forward: Mark Van Vliet, Neumann, Jr.
Forward: Michael Richard, Elmira, Jr.
Forward: Connor Bradley, Hobart, Sr.
Defense: Andrew Brennan, Hobart, So.
Defense: Nicolas Dumoulin, Elmira, So.
Goal: Keith Longo, Hobart
ECAC West Rookie Team
Forward: Matt Ward, Neumann
Forward: Matt Piegza, Manhattanville
Forward: Rusty Masters, Elmira
Defense: AJ Mikkelsen, Manhattanville
Defense: Mike Lane, Utica
Goal: Casey Tuttle, Elmira
Player(s) of the Year
Andrew Gallant, Manhattanville, Sr.
Rookie of the Year
Matt Ward, Neumann
Comeback Player of the Year
Jared Allison, Utica, Sr.
Coach of the Year
Dennis Williams, Neumann