The first half of the season is over already, hard to believe. The break finds Elmira at the top of the league heap, with RIT a close second.
One of the tiebreaking criteria for the Pool B NCAA bid that the teams of the ECAC West are competing for is record versus common opponents. In a nice bit of scheduling, Elmira and RIT worked as travel partners last weekend to play games at Amherst and Williams.
It was a weekend of very close hockey, with all but one game decided by two goals or less. RIT emerged from the road trip in better shape. The Tigers swept their games, while Elmira came out with one win and one loss, putting RIT one step ahead of the Soaring Eagles for the NCAA bid.
If the two teams end up in a tie in the league at the end of the season, they may look back at last weekend as an important deciding factor.
Gut Check Passed
RIT entered the Amherst game dressing only half the team, with the other half finishing up their suspensions for the much-talked-about rules violations. Unlike the loss against Wentworth, the players had a full week to prepare for the shorthanded game, and the work paid off in a 5-3 win.
“They put in a real gutsy performance,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We played a little bit smarter, and reacted in a positive manner when we got down 2-0.”
Amherst and scored the first two goals of the contest by midway through the first period, but RIT fought out of the hole with three goals in the first nine minutes of the second period to take the lead. Amherst tied it at three, before RIT rattled off two more goals to seal the win.
RIT’s special teams were perfect on the night; scoring three goals on three power plays, holding Amherst zero for seven on the penalty killing, and even scoring a shorthanded goal. The Tiger power play has gotten a lot of attention the last two seasons, but this year the penalty killing unit is stellar also.
Check out these numbers: killed 57 of 62 penalties, second in the nation with a 91.9% kill percentage, scored as many shorthanded goals (five) as its opponents have scored on power plays.
“I have been really, really excited about our penalty killing, more than I can express,” said Wilson. “Our power play is strong, but even they have trouble scoring against our PK in practices.”
Goaltender Chris Sherman (.909 SV%, 2.25 GAA) was the other good story to come out of the Amherst game for RIT. Sherman stood up to a barrage of shots in the first period against Amherst, keeping RIT in the contest until it was able to get going in the second period.
“We have a lot of confidence in Chris,” said Wilson. “It is nice to be in a situation to have someone like Chris behind an all-American goalie. Chris always comes up big just when we need him.”
With a full roster, RIT defeated Williams on Saturday 6-1 to complete the weekend sweep. “I thought Williams had an excellent team,” said Wilson. “They are a very balanced team forward through goaltender.”
Freshman Jason Chafe (6-6-12) is turning out to have a knack for tallying game winning goals. In nine games so far, he has tallied four game winning goals, including one against both Amherst and Williams this past weekend.
“[Chafe’s] biggest attribute is his competitiveness. He works hard all the time,” said Wilson.
Close Games for Elmira
Elmira split the weekend road trip in two very close games. The Soaring Eagles opened up at Williams in a tight defensive contest.
“This was a pretty tight checking game,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “There weren’t a lot of offensive chances for either team.”
Williams scored late in the first period. Elmira kept battling back, and finally tied the game midway through the third period on a goal by Mike Clarke (3-9-12). Unfortunately Williams got a fluke goal 1:32 in to overtime to steal the win.
Saturday afternoon Elmira took the ice against Amherst in another see-saw contest. Elmira won 5-4, but neither team was ever able to build much of a lead.
“Momentum kept shifting back and forth all game,” said Ceglarski. “We had it, then they scored a couple of goals and gained the momentum, then we were able to get it back in the third to win the game.”
Elmira had five different goal scorers in the game against Amherst, highlighting a trait of the Soaring Eagles this year. Elmira is spreading around the scoring. The Soaring Eagles have scored 59 goals as a team this year, but no individual player has accumulated more than seven. Five players have ten points or more on the season.
“We are thankful that we can rely on a lot of different guys each night, both offensively and defensively,” said Ceglarski. “It makes it hard on other teams because they can’t just try to shut down one or two of our players.”
Hobart, Manhattanville, and Utica each played just a single game this past week as the schools wind down for the holiday break. And all three teams ended the first half of the season on upbeat notes.
Hobart squared off against Buffalo State in a see-saw affair. Hobart led 1-0 after the first period, but saw Buffalo State finish off its chances in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. The Statesmen came out with a will in the third period, dominated play at times, and tied the score. Just six seconds in to overtime, Chris Doolan (6-3-9) scored the game winner to give Hobart the victory.
Utica’s game wasn’t as thrilling, as the Pioneers were able to build a 3-0 before Worcester State was even able to get on the board. Utica’s penalty killing unit has been struggling all season, but they gained some confidence in this game as they shut down Worcester on all seven man-up advantages. The Pioneers carried the strong defensive play on to a 5-1 victory.
Manhattanville also overcame one of its first half hurdles as it downed Geneseo 6-1. The Valiants have been struggling on the road this year, but poured 50 shots on to the Geneseo net on their way to the win. Garrett McNeil (2-1-3) and John Auxier (7-5-12) both had two goal nights.
First Half Thoughts
It has been an interesting first half of the season in the ECAC West. Here are some quick thoughts.
It was generally good news this week when the NCAA announced that the Division III men’s tournament field would be expanded to nine teams. The NCAA’s implementation of the tournament playoff format for the extra team was weak, but giving more teams the opportunity to participate in the national tournament can only be a positive. Too bad that only certain leagues are eligible to benefit.
“It is good to see another team getting a shot,” said Ceglarski. “But I think the ECAC has to step up and do something for the ECAC West to help us out. From an ECAC West standpoint, it is discouraging that we won’t see any benefit from the expansion.”
Game of the Week
Not many games to choose from this week — two, actually — so I guess the game of the week must be the RIT/USNDT matchup.
Last year these two teams split the series at RIT, with the National Team taking the first contest and RIT bouncing back to win the second. I foresee the same scenario this time around, this time in Ann Arbor, Mich.