Elmira returned from the holiday break and jumped right into the fire at Oswego’s Pathfinder Classic tournament last weekend. The Soaring Eagles last game was an 8-1 thrashing of Utica way back on Dec. 5 and the long layoff showed as Elmira opened up against the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in the first round of the tourney.
“We took three and half weeks off, basically, and the first game back was sloppy,” said Elmira head coach Aaron Saul.
The Soaring Eagles had to withstand three straight MSOE power plays in the third period, but held on for a 4-2 victory to advance to the championship game. While winning is good, it also meant that Elmira had to face No. 1 ranked Oswego for the third time this year. The teams split a pair of hard fought contests in a home-and-home weekend series to start the season.
Oswego set the tone early in this past Sunday’s game, scoring a shorthanded goal just five minutes into the contest. The Lakers added a power-play goal late in the first period, but were answered by Elmira’s leading scorer Darcy Vaillancourt just before the period ended.
Unfortunately that was as close as Elmira could get and Oswego held on for a 3-1 victory.
“Sunday’s game was a good game,” said Saul. “Oswego played extremely well. Not that we played terrible, but we needed a better effort. We got outworked a little bit. Oswego had a good game plan against us and did a good job on the penalty kill. We didn’t help ourselves. Our power play wasn’t clicking like it was.”
Prior to last weekend, Elmira’s power play was converting at an impressive 28.4% clip, tied for fifth best in the nation. But the holiday break threw a wrench into the finally honed machine and the Soaring Eagles were held scoreless on their nine man advantages last weekend.
“When you take that much time off, the first thing to go is your timing, whether you are a forward, defenseman, or goaltender,” said Saul. “We were playing so well down the stretch in the first half. Then you take some time off and your timing, your legs, are the first two things to go. Usually that takes a week or two to get back to the level we were at the first half.”
Practice at the Thunderdomes this week has been intense as Elmira tries to get its timing back and start the power play rolling again. Adding urgency for the Soaring Eagles is their sole game this weekend, a Saturday afternoon game against second ranked Plattsburgh
Returning from a month layoff to play back to back games against the top two teams in the nation certainly is a wakeup call to the players, reminding them that the stretch run to the playoffs is just around the corner.
“We are first with strength of schedule,” said Saul. “There aren’t too many teams in the country that play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country in the same week. We are looking forward to the challenge. If you want to be on top, you have to play the best teams well and beat them. Oswego was a close game and we are looking for a better effort against Plattsburgh.”
Elmira wasn’t the only team in action over the holidays as a pair of other ECAC West teams also saw action last week.
Manhattanville kicked off the festive season in the Assumption Holiday Tournament. In some unusual scheduling, the tournament was held on the Monday and Wednesday of the last week of December.
The Valiants opened up against Becker, who proved to be a little more pesky than expected. Manhattanville built a 3-0 lead by the end of the second period only to see Becker come storming back with a pair of goals in the third.
But Becker’s Mark Lotito was sent packing with a major penalty just 17 seconds after the Hawks had scored to make the game 3-2, and the Valiants tallied a pair of goals on the ensuing power play to seal the 5-2 victory.
Manhattanville finished off the tournament sweep on Wednesday with a 6-1 victory over host Assumption. The Ice Dogs scored first midway through the second period, but the Valiants exploded with four goals of their own to end the period in command, 4-1.
Mickey Lang finished off his hat trick for Manhattanville late in the third period when he scored his second power-play goal of the game.
Lebanon Valley also saw tournament action in Nichols’ New Year’s Tournament, playing perhaps its strongest pair of games so far this season. The Flying Dutchmen gave Wesleyan all it could handle in the first round, outshooting the Cardinals 42-33. Lebanon Valley climbed back from deficits twice but still fell to Wesleyan, 4-2.
On Sunday, Lebanon Valley played host Nichols in the consolation game, again outshooting its opponent, this time by a 36-24 margin. The Flying Dutchmen held a pair of leads in the game and played tenaciously in the third period to send the game to overtime. But Nichols scored just 1:08 into the extra stanza to dash Lebanon Valley’s hopes of a win.
The Flying Dutchmen penalty killers had a particularly strong tournament, limiting their opponents to only one power play goal in nine chances.
Game of the Week
There is never any love lost between Elmira and Plattsburgh, and with both currently ranked in the top six in the nation Saturday’s game should be another barn burner in the Thunderdomes.
“Playing games like that makes you better at the end,” said Saul. “Whether you win or lose the games, hopefully you can take things away from playing top teams. Hopefully we will win this weekend.”
Elmira has defeated Plattsburgh each of the last two times the Cardinals have traveled to the Southern Tier and hope to extend that streak again this weekend.