Brian Fleming could tell you what watching and waiting is like.
The Manhattanville College sophomore goaltender spent last season observing former Valiants netminder Pierre Olivier-Lemieux start all but three games during the 2011-12 campaign. This year though, the workhorse from Quebec wasn’t between the Manhattanville pipes to start a season for the first time since 2008, after playing in 68 games over the past three years.
When the Valiants faced off at defending ECAC West champion Hobart earlier this month, it was Fleming who got the call.
“It was a completely different atmosphere,” said Fleming recently. “You knew P.O. was going to be the starter; but this year, I knew it was kind of wide-open. I felt confident I could take the job and run with it, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
He stopped 33 shots in a season-opening 2-0 loss on Nov. 2, but then outdid himself the next night against the ninth-ranked Statesmen when he turned aside a career-high 51 of 55 shots as the Valiants managed a 4-4 tie.
Manhattanville actually raced back from a 3-1 deficit with three goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 4-3 lead in the rematch, but Hobart’s Terence O’Neill tied it with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. Fleming then made three stops in the extra session for the Valiants to salvage a point in the standings. He had earlier made 12 stops in the first period, and 18 saves apiece in the second and third stanzas.
For his efforts in rejecting 81 of 87 shots against Hobart, Fleming was tabbed as ECAC West Conference Goaltender of the Week.
“It’s been a really good start,” said Fleming. “We had a really good precedent going into this season, and we felt confident going in.”
Manhattanville coach Arlen Marshall said his goaltenders knew what the situation was in the fall, and that Fleming has parlayed a solid summer of preparation into a starting position.
“It’s paid off so far,” he said.
He also related that the Valiants don’t want to rely on a single goaltender as heavily as they did with Olivier-Lemieux the last few winters.
“We’ll use a couple this season — maybe a 75-25 split,” said Marshall. “Brian is playing like a No. 1 goalie, but a lot can happen in a season.”
Fleming was due to finally make his home debut last weekend in a two-game set against ECAC West newcomer Nazareth, but those plans were derailed by the carnage wrought by Hurricane Sandy across the tri-state area in late October. The damage extended to the Valiants’ home arena, the Playland Ice Casino in Rye, N.Y.
The two contests versus the Golden Flyers were subsequently moved to the Terry Conners Rink in Stamford, Conn., as was Manhattanville’s home game against Morrisville State on Nov. 17.
“It’s been a little tough,” admitted Fleming. “Our (home) rink is only 15 minutes away, but it’s only an extra 5 minutes now (to the practice rink).”
Another change is that players now have to pile onto a bus to go to Manhattanville’s morning practices, also in Stamford, instead of driving their own cars and enjoying a leisurely breakfast at some point.
That’s among some of the other things they’re getting used to.
“There’s no locker room, and you have to walk around the corner to get to the showers,” added Fleming. “Hopefully we’ll get back to Playland and get the ball rolling.”
“We’ve logged in some ice sessions,” said Marshall of both the Manhattanville men’s and women’s teams, who will alternate between the Terry Conners Rink and the new Chelsea Piers Connecticut. “It’s been hectic the last two weeks.”
When they’ll finally get back to Rye is unknown.
“It’s up in the air,” said Marshall, a former Valiants forward. “It’s out of our control, but we like playing on the road.”
Fleming, who hails from Saint John, N.B., saw his first collegiate action a year ago, stopping 24 of 27 shots in a loss at Western New England on Nov. 22, 2011. His next two appearances came at Morrisville State, where he stopped two shots in just over three minutes of play, and at Hobart, where he had an 18-save performance in just over 37 minutes. He was then on the bench for the season-ending 6-2 loss to Hobart in the first round of the ECAC West Tournament on Feb. 25.
Fleming finally earned his first career NCAA victory in the first game against Nazareth last Friday, as he stopped all but one of 22 shots in a 4-1 Manhattanville win, and also earned second star of the game honors. He then made 22 saves the following night in a 5-3 triumph to complete the Valiants’ two-step sweep and also move them into first place in the ECAC West by a point over Neumann.
Through four games this season, Fleming had a 2-1-1 record with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in just under 244 total minutes played. Nationally, he was seventh in goals-against average among NCAA Division III goaltenders that had played at least four games through Nov. 11. He was also 16th in Division III in minutes played, and in the top 20 in save percentage. He had also stopped 127 out of 137 shots against — and of the 10 goals he had surrendered so far, four came on opposing power plays.
Fleming decided on Manhattanville after looking at several other schools, including Hobart, Southern Maine, and Neumann.
“I didn’t shop around too much,” he recalled of finally choosing the school in Purchase, N.Y. “I came to campus and fell in love with it. The location is unbelievable, and New York City is only a half-hour away by train. You can’t ask for much more, and also the hockey program has been great the last few years.”
Fleming, who is considering majoring in either finance or biology, played for the Atlantic Junior Hockey League’s Northern Cyclones in Hudson, N.H., in 2010-11, where he recorded a 2.30 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 32 games. A four-time AJHL Goalie of the Week selection, he was also named to the 2010-11 AJHL North All-Star Team.
Now he’s looking to accomplish the same, or close to it, at the college level — eventually, anyway.
“I’m really just hoping to take it one game at a time,” he said. “We hopped into the season pretty quick, and with the storm and all, you just try to focus on the little things right now.”
He sure isn’t waiting and watching anymore.
ECAC West Notes (through Nov. 12)
– Utica is tied for ninth overall in Division III, averaging five goals per game. The Pioneers are also tied for fourth nationally, allowing just 1.20 goals per outing. Hobart is knotted for 12th in the nation in scoring (4.67) and is 11th on defense (1.83).
– Hobart senior forward Frank Salituro is tied for ninth in the nation with nine points in six games overall, on five goals and four assists. Statesmen senior netminder Nick Broadwater is tied for second in Division III with two shutouts, and is 3-0-2 on the season (1.36, .942).
– Neumann senior defenseman Scott Farrell and Manhattanville forwards Paul Sirignano and Matt Coleman are all tied for the conference lead with four points apiece in conference games. Sirignano leads the league with three goals to date in ECAC West play.
– Senior forwards Aaron Keaney (Neumann) and Jason Bowles (Manhattanville) are tied for the league lead with three assists apiece. No one else in league play so far has more than two helpers.
– Manhattanville leads the league with 30 penalties for 82 minutes through five games, an average of 20.5 minutes per contest. Conversely, Nazareth is averaging just 13 penalty minutes per league game.
– Neumann’s power play has connected five times in 13 attempts for a league-leading 38.4 percentage. The Knights also lead the league in penalty-killing, having gone 13-for-14 (92.9 percent).