No. 5 Neumann at No. 1 Elmira
Five straight regular season championships. That is the milestone that Elmira clinched last Saturday when it beat Utica, 6-3. It is the longest regular season title streak in the history of the ECAC West, surpassing hated RIT’s run of four straight from 1998-2002.
“That is pretty unbelievable when you think about the teams in the ECAC West, now and in the past,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “Our league is so tight, so to win it five years in a row is a huge accomplishment and something we are proud of.”
Winning the regular season earns Elmira the right to host the ECAC West playoff games for as deep as it goes, something that has been very important in past championship runs.
“Getting to host again was something that we talked about at the beginning of the year,” said Saul. “We are glad not to be traveling.”
Neumann earned the right to play Elmira in the semifinal round with a dramatic come-from-behind win at Utica on Wednesday. The Knights found themselves down 3-1 after two periods, being outshot 21-10, and playing in front of a raucous crowd at The Aud, but a pair of third period goals by Andrew Love and Marlon Gardner sent the game to overtime, where Brent Tamane won it for Neumann.
“It was a pretty emotional game and fun to be a part of,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “Our kids were very resilient. They went through a lot in the second period. They got in the room in the second intermission and got it back together pretty good, came out in the third period and played very well.”
The ability to rally in such a high-pressure situation, with the season on the line, is an important characteristic of Neumann’s team, which is loaded with upperclassmen who have been down this path before.
“We are mature,” said Dawes. “A lot of our guys have been there. The seniors have won a national championship and almost all have played in an NCAA game. They know what is at stake every single day and what it takes to get there. This time of year, it just takes a little bit more.”
Likewise, Elmira has a large reservoir of “been there, done that” playoff experience to draw on during this year’s playoffs. Nine seniors are scattered throughout the Soaring Eagles lineup that have played in NCAA playoff games every season of their college careers.
“Our depth for sure is a strength,” said Saul. “We have quite a few seniors that have played in big games and NCAA tournaments that have been big-pressure games. The experience that you get in those games, whether you win or lose, is invaluable. We are looking for those guys to lead us the rest of the way.”
For the second time in four days, Neumann heads into a hostile environment at the Thunderdomes for another ECAC West playoff game.
No. 3 Hobart at No. 2 Manhattanville
For the fourth straight year, Hobart and Manhattanville will meet each other in their first game of the ECAC West playoffs. Hobart has won two of the three previous meetings, including dropping the Valiants 1-0 in last year’s first round, the only of the three previous playoff meetings held at The Cooler in Geneva.
That is where the teams finished up the regular season last weekend when Hobart swept Manhattanville to earn the first-round bye. The Statesmen won Friday’s game, 3-0, in a very hard-fought game, but Saturday’s contest was more about the officials than the players, and Hobart romped 10-3.
“My mom told me as a young boy, if you don’t have something nice to say — but I wasn’t happy with the officiating,” said Manhattanville coach Eric Lang. “It wasn’t really that chippy. It wasn’t the reason we lost, but it was a big part to do with it. We let the game get away from us and never recovered.”
The playoffs are a second season now, as records are thrown out and teams play to extend their season. After struggling through the early part of league play, Hobart has gone 4-1-1 down the stretch and is primed for the playoffs.
“We are still getting better,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “That is a pretty nice place to be when you are still kind of on the young side and are still getting better and better. Perhaps your next game might be your best game.”
A big part of the Statesmen rally has been the return of starting goaltender Nick Broadwater to the lineup. Broadwater was injured on November 26. Hobart went 9-6-1 during his absence, mostly behind Marty Ausserhofer in net, bBut since Broadwater returned to the starting lineup on February 11, Hobart is a perfect 3-0.
“Any time you can get one of your best players back, it is going to help you,” said Taylor. “Broadwater is back and playing some great hockey.”
Despite stumbling last weekend, Manhattanville is looking forward to the playoffs as well. A big part of the Valiants success this year can be attributed to balance. The team has five players with 10 or more goals and eight players with 10 or more assists.
“We have really good balance,” said Lang. “We are not reliant on one line. We have six good skating defensemen and four forward lines that on any given night could be the one. Our goaltender is still one of the tops in the country.”
Each team has been busy reviewing tape, tweaking game plans, and making a few adjustments to get ready for Saturday’s game.
“Manhattanville scored some goals, so there are certainly imperfections that we have and are focusing on those,” said Taylor. “You can’t look behind yourself in this league. They have good hockey players, and we’ll have to show up.”
“Hobart is well coached and does a lot of little things well,” said Lang. “Those little things lead to big things, and that is a token to the way they play the game. They are certainly skilled enough to beat you. We have to stay out of the box, play on an even keel, and continue to hit the net. It is too late in the year to start to change who we are.”
ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week: Darcy Vaillancourt, Sr., Elmira. Vaillancourt tallied four points over the weekend, helping Elmira clinch its fifth consecutive ECAC West regular season title. The senior scored a goal and added three assists in a 6-3 win over Utica on Senior Night. Vaillancourt then scored the first goal of the game in a 2-2 overtime tie with Neumann.
Goaltender of the Week: Nick Broadwater, Jr., Hobart. Broadwater stopped 69 shots over the weekend, recording a .958 save percentage in a 2-0-0 week for Hobart. On Friday, the junior stopped 35 shots in a 3-0 shutout, recording his second shutout this season and the sixth in his career.
Rookie of the Week: Tommaso Traversa, Hobart. Traversa recorded a team-high five points last weekend for the Statesmen, who rocketed up the standings during the final weekend of the season. On Friday, the first-year forward tallied two assists in a 3-0 shutout win over Manhattanville. The following day, Traversa registered two goals and an assist in a 10-3 win over the Valiants.