Elmira hit the road for a pair of games on the first weekend of league play and came away with two come-from-behind victories. On Friday, Utica held a 1-0 lead in the third period before Elmira stormed back for a 3-1 win.
Saturday, Manhattanville led the Soaring Eagle 2-0 and 3-2, only to fall eventually, 6-3.
“It was a great road trip for us,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “We played a solid six periods on the road early in the year. I was happy with the guys’ effort.”
Utica’s goal and one of the Valiants’ three goals were scored on power plays. While that was only two goals on 14 power plays from Elmira’s opponents, the extra-attacker goals added to the height of the hill the Soaring Eagles needed to climb.
“We know early in the year that there will be a lot of penalties called,” said Saul. “It gives an opportunity for teams to take advantage on the power play. We’re just trying to weather the storm in the beginning. We are confident that we will be able to come back.”
The confidence that coach Saul mentions has its roots in a very experienced team. Fifteen players are either juniors or seniors who have played in the NCAA tournament every year of their collegiate careers. Not much rattles these players.
“We are a veteran team for sure with 10 seniors,” said Saul. “These guys have played in an NCAA tournament game for three consecutive years, so they have the experience that if we do get down there is no panic. If we stick to our game plan, good things will happen for us.”
Three weeks ago, Elmira began the season with a disappointing weekend against Oswego. The Lakers dominated Elmira in a home-and-home pair of games, outscoring the Soaring Eagles 13-5 on the weekend.
So what was the difference between the Oswego weekend and the games at Utica and Manhattanville?
“Practice,” said Saul. “We had two weeks to prepare for our two league games, compared to four practices going into Oswego. It affects everybody early. It just isn’t enough time to prepare for anybody. With the two weeks of practice, we regrouped and got refocused, and are now on track.”
The first round of league games comes early on the schedule for all of the ECAC West teams. Neumann and Hobart each only played one game before the league began, while Utica and Elmira completed two warm-up games.
“It’s tough to play league games right away,” said Saul. “You wish you had more warm-ups. But it is a really good test early in the year to measure up against other teams to see where you are at. It is a little more wide open when you play at the beginning of the year.”
Manhattanville jumped right into league play without any NCAA games. The Valiants only practice game came in an exhibition, where they came back from a late deficit to defeat the USA Under-18 team.
“In years past, we’ve always warmed up a bit before getting right into it, but no excuses though,” said Manhattanville coach Eric Lang. “We have to be ready to play. Those games are mini-wars. It is a play here or there that is all the difference.”
Manhattanville got off to a tough start to the season last Friday. Hobart scored a pair goals in the first six minutes of the game and rolled over the Valiants 4-0.
“Friday night, we got outworked from the drop of the puck to the last buzzer,” said Lang. “Hobart played a good high-energy, high-effort road game. We knew what we were getting, but they just outworked us. We got a little better as the game went on, but not much.”
Saturday, Manhattanville came out better, built a quick 2-0 early advantage, and held onto a 3-2 lead seven minutes into the second period. Then wheels came off the proverbial bus and Elmira scored the next four goals to win 6-3.
“I was more encouraged by Saturday’s effort,” said Lang. “Five-on-five we were pretty good. Elmira got a couple of power-play goals. They are super skilled. We missed a couple of backchecking assignments, and Elmira scored a couple of the prettiest goals I have seen in a long time. At times, we could skate up and down the ice with them.”
An extra challenge Manhattanville faces is coach Lang learning about the players, and the players learning his new systems, after taking over the reins just over a month ago.
So what kind of style does coach Lang want for his hockey team?
“We are trying to pursue the puck a little more,” said Lang. “We have some guys that can skate here and we want to play in teams’ faces. We want to pursue the puck, pressure the puck, and take away time and space. But it’s not a complete overhaul.”
ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week:
Kevin Willer (Sr.) — Elmira
Kevin Willer tallied six points on four goals and two assists during a 2-0 conference road weekend for the Soaring Eagles, who defeated now-No. 7-ranked Utica 3-1 on Friday and Manhattanville 6-3 on Saturday. Willer assisted on an insurance goal against the Pioneers, and then erupted for four goals and five points against the Valiants to help Elmira erase a 2-0 deficit after the first period.
Goaltender of the Week:
Nick Broadwater (Jr.) — Hobart
In his only action for the week, Nick Broadwater stopped all 30 shots he faced in Hobart’s 4-0 ECAC West-opening triumph at Manhattanville on Friday. It marked Broadwater’s first shutout of the young season. He now ranks second in Hobart history with four career shutouts.
Rookie of the Week:
Ryan Michel — Hobart
Ryan Michel registered a goal and two assists to help the Hobart Statesmen to a 2-0 week that included a 4-0 ECAC West win against Manhattanville on the road and a 5-1 nonconference victory at Salve Regina. Michel notched his first collegiate goal against Salve Regina.