After bragging in last week’s column about the thumping the ECAC West put on the SUNYAC, this week didn’t go so well. The SUNYs turned the table, and took four of the six interleague games last weekend. Someone, who will remain nameless, was whispering in my ear over the weekend “The Biggar Curse is strong and powerful.”
It seems like many USCHO columnists have the same innate ability to place unintended curses on the teams of the league they cover. Perhaps we can give Sports Illustrated a run for its money?
Elmira Gains Upper Hand
With a 10-1 drubbing of league rival Manhattanville on Saturday, Elmira has the inside track for the regular-season title. The Soaring Eagles have played the second fewest league games so far, but are the sole remaining undefeated team in league play.
The final score of the Elmira-Manhattanville game was a shocker. Among three games these two played last season, each was decided by a single goal. Even going back two seasons, the widest margin of victory was two goals. A final score of 10-1 in the first game between these two teams this season was definitely not on anyone’s mind prior to the game.
“I don’t think anyone expected it to be the score it was, nor can anyone explain it,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “Fortunately we were on the winning end and it wasn’t against us. We never would have expected that in a million years.”
“That is probably the best that we have played in the six years I have been here. Every pass we made was tape to tape, every shot we took went in, our forecheck seemed to work and our game plan worked pretty well too. I don’t think their goaltenders had the best of nights, all three of them struggled. It was very hard to explain.”
Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal struggled all night to stem the scoring onslaught by Elmira. He rotated through all three goaltenders in the first period, and each failed to step up to the plate letting in a total of five goals. Two of the netminders, Jay Chrapala and Jeremy Hill, continued to rotate through the second period as each struggled. Finally, out of sheer frustration, Levinthal left Hill in during the entire third period to finish out the game.
Since the holiday break, Elmira has been quietly taking care of business with a seven game winning streak. The Soaring Eagles haven’t garnered a lot of national attention, despite the success, and that is just the way the team and fans like it. Flying under the radar is just fine with them.
What has turned the season around for Elmira is the way this year’s team has come together and bonded.
“I think the main thing right now is team chemistry,” said Ceglarski. “Our guys’ attitudes in the locker room and walking around campus, it’s 26 guys going everywhere together. The guys are just having a whole heck of a lot of fun right now.”
On the ice, each of the three skill disciplines is taking care of its own area. Defensively, senior Mike Clarke has been having a rock-steady season, leading by example.
“It had been kind of hard to get any emotion out of Mike at all,” said Ceglarski. “But he’s having the time of his life right now, laughing and joking, and is having his best season. This year he is playing his best hockey and is just having a lot of fun.”
Offensively, it is the sophomore class that is answering the call. Five Soaring Eagles have amassed 20 or more points this year, and three of those are sophomores. Second-year players Justin Siebold (12-15-27) and Jarrett Konkle (14-12-26) lead Elmira on the scoreboard.
“I think we are an offensive-minded team to begin with,” said Ceglarski. “We think we have three lines that can score, and another forward line that we are trying to be more defensive with. It is spread out and it is good to see that.”
In net, freshman Greg Fargo and junior Ben Sadler have been sharing time. Both are sporting save percentages well above .900.
“Sadler and Fargo have rotated back and forth since the holidays,” said Ceglarski. “Both are playing extremely well and it is hard to know which one to play for certain games.”
Hmm, solid defense, consistent scoring, and strong goaltending. Sounds like a coach’s dream, and a potent contender for the championship.
For the first since the 1985-1986 season, RIT was swept by Oswego in the regular season last weekend. RIT hasn’t lost two weekend games, or two games in a row for that matter, in the regular season since November, 1995 when the Tigers lost a pair at Alabama-Huntsville.
The Great Lakers stung the Tigers with back-to-back losses by wide 5-2 and 7-3 margins.
The 5-2 score from Friday night is slightly deceiving, as Oswego scored two empty-net goals with less than a minute remaining after Wayne Wilson pulled his goaltender for the extra attacker. However, the only period that RIT played well in was the third.
Saturday was the opposite. RIT played very well in the first and second periods, carrying a 3-2 lead into the third. However, Oswego goaltender Tyson Gayda made a huge swat save with his glove hand early in the third period to rob RIT’s Jason Chafe of a sure-fire goal. Andy Rozak scored for the Great Lakers to tie the game just a few moments later, and the Tigers collapsed.
The remainder was all Oswego, all the time, as the Great Lakers scored four more unanswered goals to take the easy victory. Oswego put a good, old fashioned thumping on RIT in the third period.
The Tigers played 60 minutes of good hockey during the weekend. But when you spread those 60 minutes over two games, RIT ends up with two losses.
Around the Rinks
Last week we visited the southernmost rink in the ECAC West in Aston, Pa. This week, we head right into the center of the area covered by the league, the Southern Tier area of New York, to the Murray Athletic Center in Pine Valley, N.Y., home of Elmira.
Many readers have sent me email over the last two weeks to let me know what they think about some of the rinks in the ECAC West. So what do you think? Send me an email.
Murray Athletic Center — home of the Elmira Soaring Eagles
Home Locker Room: A
Visiting Locker Room: B
Spectator Seating: B
Game Atmosphere: A-
Press Facilities: C
Game Facilities: B
Rink Aesthetics: C
Overall Grade: 83.4% (B)
Built in 1973, the Murray Athletic Center (MAC) was the world’s first athletic complex made out of geodesic domes. Basically, each dome is a spherical structure created by joining many smaller triangles together. The technique creates a structure that can be quickly built, is very strong, and can be utilized in many different ways.
The MAC is located eight miles from the Elmira campus and is composed of three domes plus other attached buildings. Each dome is 63 feet high and 240 feet in diameter. One dome houses tennis courts and a running track. A second dome contains a gymnasium with seating, squash courts, snack bar, and office space.
The third dome, which we are most interested in, is filled with a 3,500-seat ice arena, locker rooms, trainer rooms, and coach’s offices.
Two summers ago, the locker room area was completely renovated. New, state of the art locker rooms for both the men and women’s teams were built, along with a large trainer’s room and offices for the coaches. Also built at this time, as an addition on to the back of the complex, were four new locker rooms for visiting teams, as well as a room for the officials. The facilities for both home and away teams are first class.
For the fans, there are individual seats in the lower bowl, and wooden bleachers on each side on a second tier reaching up to the top of the dome. A limited about of bleacher seating reaches around part of one corner of the rink, and these are reserved for booster club members.
The fans are what make the MAC special. When the stands are full of purple and gold clad fans all screaming and ringing their cowbells, the MAC gets rocking and lives up to its nickname of the Thunderdomes. There have been times when you couldn’t even hear the person next to you screaming in your ear.
Sadly, the days of every game being a sellout seem to be in the past. Elmira can still attract a large, noisy crowd for the big games, but the atmosphere around the rink has diminished for the majority of home games.
Celebrating its thirtieth birthday this year, the MAC is showing its age in some areas. Lighting in the rink is outdated and poor. Four large pedestals, one in each corner, hold the lighting fixtures. However, banners overhanging one end of the rink cast dark shadows on the ice. And age has darkened the once-white interior of the dome, reducing the amount of indirect light reflected from the ceiling.
A single access road from the parking lots out to route 14 also becomes clogged as the masses exit the complex after a game, sometimes leading to long delays, or even worse, some spectators leaving the game early to beat the crowd.
The Elmira team is a contender every season, and when the Thunderdomes are packed to the rafters and the stands are rocking, it is one of the best atmospheres for college hockey.
Game of the Week
There is slim picking this week to highlight a special game. Only three contests involving ECAC West teams are scheduled.
Like the moments before a big thunderstorm in the heat of the summer, you can see the dark clouds rolling in from the horizon, feel the dampness in the air, hear the birds quiet their chirping in the trees. There are usually a few moments before a storm, before the wind starts to pick up, when the world pauses a moment, and then that first clap of thunder rolls overhead.
The teams around the league seem to be in that quiet spell before the storm this week. The dark clouds of playoff elimination are starting to roll in from the horizon. The air is crisp and dry as a very cold January comes to an end. And the stands are mostly quiet as only a few teams see action.
Hobart hosts RIT in the only league contest this week, so I will give the nod to them for the Game of the Week. RIT is reeling from a sweep by Oswego, while Hobart is feeling great having clinched its first .500 season since 1992-93 (14-12). The Statesmen are unbeaten in their last six games, the longest such streak in school history.
RIT, on the other hand, has gone a very un-Tigerlike 3-4 over its last seven games. This game has the makings of a much more interesting contest than in recent memory.
But beware. The quiet moment before the storm is brief, and pandemonium is going to break loose just a week from now down at the Thunderdomes.