The season is 20 percent complete already, but teams in the ECAC West are struggling with consistency. Within games, teams are having a hard time putting together 60 minutes of solid hockey. And don’t even think about carrying it game to game. It just isn’t happening, and coaches are starting to try and figure out why. Whichever team does so first could take control of the ECAC West standings.
Let’s look at the problem team-by-team:
The knock against Elmira the last two seasons has been a lack of winning streaks. Two years ago, the magic number was three. The Soaring Eagles would win three in a row, only to drop the next three before the pattern repeated.
Last year was similar during the first half. Win four, drop two, win two, lose two, and so on. Finally, as the new year dawned, Elmira put together an eight-game winning streak and it looked like things had changed for the better.
So far, though, this season has been back to the same old pattern. Lose two against current No. 1 ranked St. Norbert to open the season. Win two contests against tough Oswego and visiting Marian. But then Elmira tanked a game against Marian, losing in overtime. Two down, two up, and one down. Anyone want to guess what the result of the next game will be?
“It comes from having a relatively young team,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “It’s the first time through some of these rinks for our first-year players. I hope we don’t fight with it all year long. I hope we learn from it very quickly — that is where we are looking for our upperclass leadership to draw in the reins a little bit and tighten things up, and become a little more consistent.
“I don’t know if the players from juniors really understand that you are only playing 25 games. It’s not like juniors where you are playing 45 or 50 games and you are able take a night off.”
The wild swings in score versus Marian last weekend show the extremes for Elmira. In the 10-2 win Friday, Elmira started to get the bounces early in the second period and it was off to the races.
Saturday was a different story, as Marian regained form. Elmira continued to play sound hockey, but the bounces weren’t coming like they did on Friday, and the Soaring Eagles ended up losing in overtime.
“Marian is an extremely good skating team, very fast and they move the puck very well,” said Ceglarski. “It was a very close game all the way through. The amount of time we spent in the penalty box didn’t help us. Our goaltender played well, but he admittedly let in a couple of soft goals. That may have been the difference in the game and surely was the difference in overtime.”
In diplomacy, sometimes it looks like you will have your way with your opponent, and sometimes it doesn’t. The Statesmen have been experiencing that sensation a lot this season.
After being shut out by Potsdam, Hobart put together a solid tournament to send both a surging Fredonia and Buffalo State to defeat. The Statesmen then put a thorough thumping on Neumann by a 10-1 score. This was the first time Hobart had scored double-digits on an opponent since they put an 11-2 drubbing on Cortland January 23rd, 1999.
It looked like Hobart had found both the scoring touch and momentum. However, a visit by Manhattanville last Saturday put that to an end. The Valiants jumped out to a 5-0 lead on the way to handing the Statesmen a 5-2 defeat. Hobart outshot Manhattanville 27-18 on the night, but the scoring touch seemed to have slipped away.
Manhattanville Unable to Finish the Kill
Tell a lot of coaches that they are 3-1-1 on the season, and are scoring just under four goals per game, and they might be pretty pleased. However, that isn’t true of Keith Levinthal at Manhattanville. In both his team’s loss to RIT and its tie against Geneseo, Manhattanville outplayed the opponent for the majority of the game. A lack of scoring touch left the Valiants short.
“We just can’t score,” said Levinthal. “We keep outshooting everyone but we can’t find the back of the net.”
Manhattanville has outshot its opponents by a cumulative 152-112 in NCAA games this year. Add in the exhibition against Seneca College and it gets even more one-sided: 196-126.
Maybe, just possibly, once the goals start coming for the Valiants, the floodgates will open?
“I sure hope so,” said Levinthal. “We need to figure out how to more consistently score on some of those shots we are taking.”
Neumann Sees a Distant Light
The Neumann Knights may find matters gloomy, but the faintest glimmer of light is at the end of the tunnel. A solid recruiting class has given life to Neumann this year.
Coach Nick Russo had a good plan going in to Saturday’s game against RIT, a simple plan of sticking to the basics: clear the puck up the boards, no passes across the middle, break out first, then rush the zone. The problem was, the players didn’t follow it in the first period, and watched RIT jump out to a 6-0 lead as a result.
Russo had a little chat with his team during the first intermission, and the rest of the game was different. Neumann played well after that, including a strong performance by starting goaltender Mike Billingsley. Take out the first period, and it was a only 2-1 game in RIT’s favor.
With 16 freshmen on the team, Russo is still trying to discover what he has. So some inconsistency can be understood.
“We’re looking at this whole first half [of the season] as preseason,” said Russo. “We’ll see what we have and what we can improve on, and then see where that takes us during the second half.”
RIT has the talent, for sure, and gritty players willing to trade their bodies for the puck. But the Tigers seem to lack drive. In several games, RIT has just been skating along, expecting victory to take care of itself. Instead of ferociously pursuing the other team, RIT has been bouncing along, finding the ice is a happy place to be.
“I’m happy with our systems,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Now it is execution and focus. We have shown some inconsistencies, and we need to fix that.”
Entering an 11-day break in the schedule, how to fix things was the question facing Wilson.
“I could skate them [to death], or I could give them a couple of days off to get away from the rink,” said Wilson. “I thought I would give them the days off to get a little fresh air and refocus.”
RIT was outplayed during long stretches versus Manhattanville and Neumann last weekend. It is true that the opposing coaches had good plans for both games. However, in that situation, RIT needs a player or two to step in and take control through sheer force of will. At this point in the season, that player has yet to emerge. Until that leader steps forward, RIT will continue to vacillate between good play and being outplayed. Eventually, that will cost RIT a game.
Hard work has been the foundation of Utica’s success, both last year and the first two games this year. Earlier this season, the Pioneers stayed close to a top-notch Potsdam team and defeated Oswego soundly. But maybe the team got a little too confident. Instead of blazing new trails developing the program, the Pioneers ran off the frontier at the Buffalo State tournament.
The third period has been the problem for the Pioneers. They play strong first and second periods, but the opponents have won almost every third period this year, and that has cost Utica. As was documented in last week’s column, coach Gary Heenan worked the players hard in a camp-like setting last week.
Game of the Week
The final two teams start their ECAC West league schedule this week when Utica hits the road to visit Elmira. Both teams are coming off emotional losses, and want to get the all important league play off to a good start. Whichever team can figure out how to put in a full 60 minutes of hockey will probably win this contest.
“It’s our first ECAC West game, and it’s nice to be playing it at home,” said Ceglarski. “Utica is a much improved team. They have had an up-and-down stretch this year, as far as consistency goes. But we know how hard Gary [Heenan’s] teams work and what they are going to try to do to us. We are preparing for that. It is nice to finally get into some ECAC West contests.”