This Week in the ECAC West: Jan. 24, 2002

In the poll this week, RIT took advantage of a Norwich stumble and moved into the No. 1 spot, and Elmira solidified its No. 10 ranking by defeating Potsdam convincingly. All eyes are looking forward now, to the clash at the Thunderdomes on Saturday between these two teams.

I Wanna Be Like Mike!

If your name was Mike, and you played for RIT, it was a good weekend to rack up the goals against Oswego. If you name wasn’t Mike, the best you could hope to muster was a supporting role with some assists.

That is the way it went over the weekend as RIT swept Oswego in a home-and-home series. The Tigers scored ten goals in the 5-0 and 5-1 wins to sweep the Great Lakers for the first time since this series began five years ago. And in the weird, planetary-alignment category, all ten Tiger goals were scored by players with the first name of Mike.

Junior Mike Bournazakis (15-24-39) led the way for RIT, with a hat trick on Friday and two more goals on Saturday. Bournazakis now leads the Tigers in points, and is tied for the lead in both power-play goals (eight) and game winning goals (four).

Sophomore Mike Tarantino (16-12-28) tallied one goal on Friday, and knocked in two more on Saturday, all on the power play. Tarantino is tied with Bournazakis for the team lead in power-play goals and is third in points.

And freshman Michael Tucciarone (6-3-9) completed the “All Mike” weekend for RIT, notching one goal each in Friday and Saturday’s contests.

Michael Jordan had better watch out, as Nike may be looking to the Mikes of RIT for its next “I Wanna Be Like Mike” commercial.

A Little Consistency for Elmira

The biggest challenge for Elmira this season has been emotional consistency. The Soaring Eagles would fly high against tough, nationally ranked opponents, and then flutter helplessly against weaker teams.

It appears that the Soaring Eagles may have put those days behind themselves.

Elmira is on a three-game winning streak, with a convincing win over a ranked Plattsburgh team, but also with strong victories against unranked Geneseo and Potsdam.

Potsdam was the latest to fall to Elmira’s resurgence last Saturday. Elmira outshot the Bears 41-26, and outscored them 7-3 in the victory.

“We were fortunate enough to get some big goals at the end of the first period, and again at the end of the second,” said coach Tim Ceglarski.

Jason Silverthorn (10-11-21) scored with 33 seconds remaining in the first period to give Elmira the 2-1 lead. And then, after Elmira scored two more unanswered goals during the second period, Geoff O’Leary (1-3-4) scored a four-on-four goal with only two seconds remaining in the second for the 5-1 lead.

That lead proved insurmountable for Potsdam, and Elmira cruised to the win.

Utica Battles It Out, Literally

Utica split its weekend against SUNYAC opponents. The Pioneers opened on Friday at Fredonia, losing 6-3. Utica was in the game, tied 2-2 midway through the second, when the wheels came off the bus. Fredonia reeled off three consecutive goals to take control of the scoreboard on the way to the win.

“I really thought that we outplayed them,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “They capitalized on four big mistakes, and we didn’t make many more than that in the game.”

Saturday’s matchup with Geneseo was a different story. The Pioneers won the contest 5-4, but controversy continues to surround Geneseo’s hotheaded goaltender Brett Walker. Late in the first period, Geneseo’s Andy Ford was sent off the ice for a major hitting from behind. Utica’s Derek Ward (6-2-8) scored about a minute into the ensuing power play to tie the game 1-1.

Right after that goal, one of the Utica players went into the net, and as Heenan related it, “their goalie just went nuts.”

Both Walker and Paul Weismann from Geneseo dropped the gloves with Utica’s Ron Mexico, and the haymakers were flying. It wasn’t much of a fight, but enough to get all three players fighting majors and game DQs.

Utica poured it on in the seven-minute 5-on-3 power play that followed, scoring two goals to take a 3-1 lead. Geneseo came back with three straight goals of its own to retake the lead briefly. But Geneseo’s backup goaltender wasn’t enough to stop the Utica offense, and the Pioneers scored two late in the third period to win.

“We ended up on the right side of a penalty-filled shootout,” said Heenan. “It really wasn’t a chippy game by any means. Most of it was foul mouths at the referee.”

But looking at the scorecard, it is hard to image four game disqualifications, one game misconduct, four majors, and one ten minute misconduct all due to potty mouths.

The Valiants Sweep

Manhattanville traveled upstate for its third weekend in a row, this time for a two-game series with remarkably snowless Buffalo State. The Valiants played solid hockey, perhaps the best they have played since the break, and went home smiling with two wins.

In Friday’s contest, Manhattanville dominated play through the first two periods, outshooting Buffalo State 27-14 and building a 4-1 lead.

“We came out flying, got a nice lead, then struggled playing with the lead,” said coach Keith Levinthal.

Buffalo State evened up the shots in the third period, and outscored Manhattanville 3-1 in the period. But the Valiants had enough to hold on.

Saturday’s game was more of the same. Manhattanville held a strong advantage in the shots department, but Buffalo State stayed with the Valiants through half the game, keeping it tied 2-2 midway through the second period. Then the Valiants pulled away on goals from Lee Stubbs (6-12-18) and Dave Schmalenberg (11-12-23) to take the 4-2 win.

“I thought this was as well as we have played,” said Levinthal. “I thought we were solid all night long.”

Manhattanville has now built a four-game winning streak, matching its longest of the season.

“The first two games last week [Curry and Buffalo State], we showed how good we can be, and then hold on for the win,” said Levinthal. “Saturday was much more of a complete game. For the first time this year, our defense was real solid.”

The Valiants still have nine games to play in the regular season, the most among any of the ECAC West teams. With six of those games at home, Manhattanville will be looking to build some momentum as it runs up to the playoffs. Next up for the Valiants is hosting two ECAC West opponents in important league play as Utica and Hobart come to town. Both will be looking to take points away from Manhattanville as they compete for a playoff berth.

“We have to be careful with these two big games,” said Levinthal. “These will be two hard-fought games, and we need to win them to solidify our playoff hopes.”

Game of the Week

Could there be any doubt? Maybe if you have been spending too much time in the sun drinking froo-froo juice. But for anyone who follows college hockey, the Elmira-RIT matchup at the Thunderdomes is the game to see. This event has been marked on the calendars of Soaring Eagles’ and Tigers’ fans for months.

“Any time we play RIT, there is a lot of excitement on both clubs, that is for sure,” said Ceglarski. “And the current rankings in the poll make it that much more exciting.”

As usual, everything is on the line. A victory by No. 1 RIT would solidify the Tigers in the driver’s seat for the NCAA Pool B bid. A No. 10 Elmira victory would keep its hopes alive for the NCAA bid, and continue the perfect Soaring Eagles’ record against ranked opponents.

“It’s always been a great series,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “I expect nothing less this time around.”

Over the 18 seasons that I have been following college hockey, this matchup has never been a disappointment, both for excitement and for great hockey. I expect nothing less this time around either.