Heading in to last weekend, Elmira’s power play wasn’t really lighting up the lamp. The Soaring Eagles man advantage had scored seven times in 47 opportunities since the holidays, but five of those goals came against Morrisville during three games.
Then came along Friday’s game against Manhattanville, where special teams dominated the second period and effectively won the game for Elmira. The Soaring Eagles scored two power-play goals and two short-handed goals in a little over eight minutes of play.
“Our power play has been pretty good, but just hasn’t been scoring lately,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “Give credit to those guys working hard at it all week. Assistant coach Jackson puts a lot of time in helping our power play, and I do the same with our penalty kill. It was great to get some success from both units in helping to win a game.”
Elmira tends to use the first period of games to probe for opponent’s defensive weaknesses. The Soaring Eagles have scored 20 goals in the first period this year, the lowest of any period, but have also only let in 20 goals as well.
“First periods have been a little bit of feeling each other out,” said Saul. “There is always that initial process where no one wants to make a mistake. Then toward the end of the first period, we get a lot more comfortable.”
Getting comfortable has indeed worked for Elmira, as it has exploded for 33 goals in the second periods this year, outscoring opponents by a solid plus-13.
“It is getting back to the locker room after the first period and making some adjustments,” said Saul. “Looking at some video very briefly and changing up a few things. The second period seems like the period when we start to turn it on. It has been like that for the last couple of games. We are still working toward playing a 60-minute game.”
Goal-scoring statistics aside, Elmira is a bit of a statistical anomaly this year. The Soaring Eagles don’t have the best offense, defense, or even special teams in the league. Elmira actually ranks third or lower in all of those team comparison ratings. So how has Elmira been able to build a four-point lead over second place Manhattanville with three weeks left in the regular season?
“Our consistency in all of those things,” said Saul. “We are pretty good at all of those things, but not the best in any one category. We are very consistent, and if we stay that way and keep on winning games, that is OK with me.”
An example of that day-in day-out consistency is senior Kevin Willer. Despite being tied for the league lead in points and goals, and leading in all of the power-play categories, it is more about the “every day” for Willer.
“Kevin has been one of those go-to guys since he came here,” said Saul. “For him it is not about points. He is a player who shows up and plays hard every day. It is the same effort from him day-in and day-out. I’m glad to see him on top.”
Elmira has this weekend off, as the other four teams play series with each other. Normally, coaches wouldn’t like a break so near the end of the season, as it disrupts the normal routine and rhythm of the team, but this one comes at just the right time for the Soaring Eagles.
“With our injuries that we have right now, this break couldn’t come at a better time,” said Saul. “We have a number of players, forward and defense, that didn’t play last weekend that normally would have. We are looking forward to the break and hopefully will get everyone back healthy. It is coming at a great time for us.”
Trying to move up
Hobart stumbled last weekend, running into a Utica team that is playing very well. The Pioneers took both games and relegated the Statesmen to last place in the league with a 1-5 record.
“Sure didn’t want to lose two on the weekend,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “We didn’t even want to lose one. Utica is a good hockey team. We had some chances to make things different, but we didn’t capitalize. Some of that was good defense and good goaltending, but some of it was not bearing down when we had good opportunities.”
Hobart had chances in both games to earn wins, but came up short both times. On Friday, the Statesmen battled back to tie the game 2-2 midway through the second period after scoring on a penalty shot by Frank Salituro.
Saturday’s game saw Hobart rip out to a 2-0 lead with a goal late in the first period and another early in the second, but both games saw Utica take control later in the second period and then bury its chances in the third to win by identical 5-2 scores.
“I really liked the way we came out on Saturday,” said Taylor. “We didn’t maintain it through the course of the game. We didn’t put our best card down, so all credit to Utica. They stayed more focused on what they needed to through both hockey games.”
First place is now out of reach for Hobart, but that doesn’t mean the Statesmen aren’t still trying to move up the standings. Hobart heads to Neumann for a pair of games this weekend.
Neumann is only two points ahead of Hobart in the standings, and used its bye last weekend to steady the ship after the release of the NCAA punishments two weeks ago.
“Maybe the road will be good for us,” said Taylor. “There are no gimmes in our league.”
ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week: Evan Chlanda, Jr., Utica. Chlanda posted a team-high five points during two games against Hobart over the weekend. In Friday’s 5-2 win over the Statesmen, the junior scored two goals. Chlanda then scored Utica’s first goal of the game and assisted on the game-tying and game-winning tallies of a Pioneers’ come-from-behind 5-2 win the next day.
Goaltender of the Week: Pierre-Olivier Lemieux, Sr., Manhattanville. Lemieux recorded the highest save total for the Valiants in over 11 years, stopping 55 shots in Manhattanville’s 4-3 win over No. 10 Elmira on Saturday. The senior’s save total was one shy of matching the program’s single-game record.
Rookie of the Week: Mark Rivera, Manhattanville. Rivera assisted on two Valiants goals as the team defeated No. 10 Elmira, 4-3, on Saturday.