The Thanksgiving holiday was a joyous one for the ECAC West as far as rankings go. RIT moved up to the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com poll for the week of Nov. 19, and settled firmly in place this week garnering 14 of the 15 first-place votes.
Elmira continued its climb up the rankings, reaching the No. 5 position in the most recent poll. And Manhattanville nudged back in to the honorable mention category with a single vote.
A Toughie of a Schedule
Elmira gets the prize for toughest schedule over the last two weeks in the ECAC West, and maybe in the nation. The Soaring Eagles faced off against then-No. 1 Plattsburgh and No. 2 St. Norbert, as well as tenacious St. John’s and Oswego teams. Elmira came away with a 2-2 record from those four games, but probably not with wins and losses against the teams you would have expected.
Elmira opened the stretch with an away game at Plattsburgh in the unfriendly confines of Stafford Arena. The Soaring Eagles finally figured out how to use their increased team speed to their advantage, and it paid immediate dividends. Combine that with a stellar game out of netminder Rob Ligas and the entire defense, and Elmira dealt Plattsburgh its first defeat of the season, 2-1. Dean Jackson notched both of the goals.
“We didn’t allow any odd man rushes for Plattsburgh, and that was the key,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. It looks like Elmira did more damage to Plattsburgh than just marring its record. The Cardinals have now lost three games in a row, thanks to the avalanche started by Elmira.
Exactly one week later, Elmira faced then-No. 2 ranked St. Norbert in the opening round of the East/West Face-off. The refs were calling all the little stuff in this game, and sent Elmira players to the box on 10 separate occasions.
“This was a hard game to get a flow going, with all the penalties,” said Ceglarski.
But the Soaring Eagles persevered and junior Jason Silverthorn scored the game-winning goal 57 seconds into overtime to lift Elmira to a 5-4 victory.
Elmira had completed a feat that few others in Division III hockey have ever done: defeating the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in consecutive games.
“This gives our players a good feeling about themselves,” said Ceglarski. “Both how they have been training and playing.”
Elmira then lost a tough game against St. John’s in the second round of the East/West Face-off. The Soaring Eagles came out completely flat in the first period, and were just awful all over the ice. The Johnnies built up a 5-1 lead, before Elmira started the long comeback early in the second period. Amazingly enough, Elmira did come all the way back, tying the contest 7-7 in the closing seconds of the third period to force overtime. But St. John’s scored midway through the overtime period to squash the comeback story.
Hosting Oswego this past Tuesday finished off this grueling stretch of the schedule for Elmira. It seemed like the Soaring Eagles had finally run out of gas, and dropped the game, 9-6.
Upset with a Tie
Utica coach Gary Heenan needed his players to mature quickly this season if they were going to be as competitive as he thinks they can be. In his words, he wanted his freshman to turn in to juniors and seniors by January. It looks like the Pioneers are well on their way.
Utica got out to a quick 3-0 lead against Cortland, and things were looking great, until a dumb penalty changed everything.
“Jeff Tittensor snowed their goalie [at 18:50 of the first period] and that changed the whole outcome of the game,” said Heenan.
Tittensor got the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and Cortland scored on the ensuing power play to get back in to the game. “Our PK has no confidence and that is killing us,” said Heenan. Utica has only killed off 72.7 percent of the man-down situations that they have faced.
Cortland ended up scoring four straight goals to take a lead in to the third period. But Tittensor made up for his earlier gaff, and scored midway through the third period to give Utica the tie.
“We came off the ice with a tie and our guys were upset in the locker room,” said Heenan. “As a coach, that shows how far our freshman have matured already this season.”
The Utica players may not mentally be juniors or seniors yet, but maybe they are at least starting to play like sophomores at times.
The other good news for Utica is goaltender Jake Miskovic. The freshman has played in five of Utica’s eight games, and is sporting a stellar .927 save percentage and 2.13 goals against.
“The guys have confidence playing in front of Miskovic,” said Heenan. “He makes all the routine saves you expect a goalie to make. And he makes at least one spectacular save every game that gives the guys confidence.”
Failing to Finish
Manhattanville has been having trouble finishing this season. They played a spectacular game against RIT, but failed to finish them off in the end. Just when the USCHO.com poll voters seem ready to move the Valiants in to the top ten, Manhattanville tanks a game. And lately, Manhattanville has had a hard time putting the puck in the net.
During the past week, the Valiants managed 31 shots against Potsdam, only scored two goals and lost the game. Then they poured 46 shots on to the Wesleyan net, tallied three goals, and had to settle for a tie. Scoring only five goals on seventy-seven shots will not help to improve your win-loss record very much.
“We just couldn’t put the puck in the net,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “We weren’t able to get much traffic in front of the net, and got no rebounds. We played well in those games, but just couldn’t finish. This happens sometimes, especially with a young team.”
Things got better when Manhattanville beat Oswego last Saturday. The Valiants outshot Oswego 39-27, but this time the puck was finding the back of the net as Manhattanville scored eight goals. Seven different players notched goals, with Dave Schmalenberg tallying two.
So maybe Manhattanville has figured out how to finish after all.
Game of the Week
Manhattanville heads off to Colorado for the Air Force Tournament this weekend, the team’s first plane trip ever. The Valiants have a tough row to hoe, as the saying goes, meeting up with Air Force in the opening round. The fly boys will be a tough match up for Manhattanville, but if the Valiants can continue to finish their chances they have a good chance to win the tournament trophy.