ELMIRA, N.Y. — Ross MacKinnon made 32 saves and the Neumann College offense produced just enough goals to carry the Knights to a 2-1 over the host Elmira Soaring Eagles in Wednesday nights first round of the Division III NCAA mens ice hockey tournament.
Neumann secured the victory in the programs first-ever NCAA appearance, also defeating Elmira for just the sixth time in the rivalrys history. The win advances the Knights to the quarterfinal round, where they will face the top seeded Plattsburgh Cardinals on Saturday.
Neumann jumped out to an early 1-0 advantage after Ryan Heickert converted on a 2-on-1 opportunity a little over five and a half minutes into the first period.
[It was] just a great pass by my linemate Jesse Colege off the wall. It just split the D, their third guy who wasnt that high, Heickert said about the play. [It was] 2-on-1 to the net. [I] was looking to pass right away, and the d-man didnt give it to me. I just took it to the net and shot and it happened to trickle through.
Colege and Jeff Rodell were created with the assists.
Neumann controlled the first, outshooting the Soaring Eagles 15-9, heading to the locker room with a 1-0 advantage. It was the first action for Elmira since they were eliminated by the same Knights team in the ECAC West finals 10 days previously.
Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski commented on what he felt were the weakest 20 minutes of the game for his team coming off the long layoff.
I think our guys competed and battled hard last week in practice, he said. Maybe it was the lack of playing competition and watching Neumann play Hobart, but it shouldnt be hard for any athlete to want to compete in the national tournament. I thought we played okay in the first period, but I thought Neumann played better and maybe thats because they played last weekend.
I think it was an advantage staying in game mode. Neumann forward Matt Ward commented.
The Knights expanded their lead 7:06 into the second on a shot from the point by Ward moments after the expiration of skating 4-on-4. Charles Paterson went directly to the bench after the expiration of his penalty, while Elmiras Rick Acorn sped into the defensive zone, where the Knights held possession.
Patersons replacement was barely off the ice by the time Wards team-leading 20th goal of the season was sailing by Elmira netminder Casey Tuttle.
Each team then survived a scare in the final 90 seconds of the middle period.
Neumanns Kyle Casey skated hard into the Elmira zone with just over a minute left in the frame. Speeding past his defender, Casey fired a shot from the right slot that got past Tuttle and banged off the post. Moments later, Elmiras Rusty Masters got behind the Neumann defense and was alone with MacKinnon before missing the net with his shot.
The end result of that exchange was a 2-0 lead for the Knights after two.
The Knights were able to hold on to the two-goal advantage for most of the third, playing a mostly conservative, defense-oriented style. However, at 13:47, the Soaring Eagles pulled within one after Jon Velich hit Karl Linden on a cross-ice pass from the end line, allowing Linden to place the puck in a wide open net before MacKinnon could dive across the crease.
We talked about not getting too high and not getting too low throughout the season and throughout a game, Neumanns Ryan Heickert said, recalling Elmiras late surge. That was a perfect example. Going into that period up by two and them scoring a goal and us not getting too low on the game or on each other and just coming back and battling through and staying as a team.
That team effort allowed the Knights to kill off a Soaring Eagle power play with 4:33 left in the third, making Neumann a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill on the night.
I thought we played really well defensively. Our defense was clearing a lot of rebounds and blocking a lot of shots. It was a great team effort, MacKinnon said.
The Soaring Eagles removed Tuttle from net with 1:21 remaining, but an icing call with 11 seconds left put him back in the cage, sending the Elmira crowd to the exits and Neumann to face Plattsburgh Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals.
We havent done anything different, Neumann coach Dominick Dawes said of his teams recent postseason surge. I think guys have just stepped up, started making better decisions. Started clearing the puck out, hitting passes . . . just things we werent doing that we were doing when we were playing well.
The victory sends the Knights on yet another long road trip, this time to face Plattsburgh at the Stafford Ice Arena, where the Cardinals remain undefeated this season.
For us, its honestly just another game, Dawes said. Theyre obviously a tremendous team. Theyve had a very good year. But now its here and were kind of hitting our stride.