Being a freshman in college hockey is exciting. Everything is new: new rinks, new opponents, new teammates, and new experiences. It’s easy to stay focused every day and to remain enthusiastic for every game. Sometimes, freshmen will start out with a bang right from the opening faceoff of the first game and continue to make an impact all season.
The sophomore year is much more difficult, and many times sees a significant dropoff in the level of play. The player relaxes a little as he revisits rinks and opponents that he has already seen. He might subconsciously think that he can get the same results as his freshman year without working quite as hard, simply because he has gone through the war of a full season once already.
A freshman standout becomes a middle-of-the-pack sophomore.
The same can happen to entire teams: Utica is a prime example. The Pioneers had an extremely successful freshman season last year, amassing a 10-12-3 record with several wins against quality opponents. They also came within a game of making the playoffs in just their first year of competition.
Utica came into this season with even higher expectations. Not only did the Pioneers set a goal of making the playoffs, they were aiming for third place.
The results have been disappointing. On the plus side, Utica has earned a nearly identical record of 10-12-1 with two games remaining in the season, while playing a much more difficult schedule. Wins against Fredonia, St. Thomas, Oswego, and Hobart have been scattered throughout the schedule. Utica has played the third most difficult schedule in Division III hockey, as measured by opponents’ winning percentage.
But Utica has an uphill climb to achieve its goal of making the playoffs. After last Friday’s home loss to Manhattanville, 4-3, coach Gary Heenan was visibly upset.
“I told the guys going into this final group of league games that we would learn a lot about ourselves,” said Heenan. “And we are doing just that. We are learning some good things about our team and some bad things about our team, but I believe that anytime you are learning it is a good thing. One thing we are learning is which guys we can count on in important situations and which guys we can’t.”
“We are still a young team, all freshmen and sophomores. We keep learning that we don’t have the experience and maturity that you have to have in those critical situations that decide games.”
“Take [Friday’s] game for example. After we scored that early goal, some of our guys were just panicking with the puck. They were trying to not be the ones to make the next mistake. We can’t play like that.”
Sometimes it is hard to live up to expectations when they are set so high.
ECAC West All-USCHO Team
As the regular season winds down, everyone’s attention is riveted on the postseason, and part of those festivities are the annual player awards handed out at both the league and the national level.
This season, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and provide my take on who the all-stars were within the ECAC West this year. So, without further ado, my first annual ECAC West All-USCHO Team:
Dean Jackson — Senior, Elmira
Sam Hill — Senior, RIT
Chris Seifert — Senior, Manhattanville
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Sokol (Sophomore, Utica), Craig Levey (Sophomore, Hobart), Mike Bournazakis (Senior, RIT)
Jackson, Hill, and Seifert have each been integral to the success of their teams. Seifert has tallied 16 goals and 21 assists for the Valiants, leading his closest teammate by 10 points. Seifert is also second in the league in points per game with 1.76. This is his third straight season with more than 30 points, and is a big reason why Manhattanville is enjoying the success it has earned.
It took a few weeks for Hill to settle into his role as captain of the Tigers this season. His play on the ice in the first few games of the season was tentative as he tried to find his role. However, Hill finally settled in early in December and came out on a tear after the holidays. In a span of 12 games between January 3 and February 8, Hill scored 18 goals. It has been many years since a Tiger captain has loaded the team on his back and carried them forward, but Hill seems to be doing just that.
Jackson is in a similar role on Elmira: always there to score the clutch goal. Jackson has tallied 16 goals and 13 assists, including two game winning goals. This season, Jackson moved into the prestigious 100-point club at Elmira, with 55 goals and 62 assists in his four-year career.
Ryan Francke — Junior, RIT
Mike Clarke — Senior, Elmira
Honorable Mentions: Lawne Snyder (Junior, Elmira), Ryan Fairbarn (Junior, RIT)
For both Elmira and RIT, defense was a question entering this season. RIT had lost Player of the Year Jerry Galway to graduation, and Elmira began the season with a huge question mark in goal. The success or failure of both teams would be determined in the defensive zone this season, and both Francke and Clarke have answered the call.
Clarke and Francke have both been called upon this season to lead very young defensive squads. Clarke is the only senior defenseman on Elmira’s team, and RIT has no senior blueliners. Both have done a great job of taking the freshmen under their wing and showing them the ropes this season.
Francke leads all defensemen in the league in assists with 23. Francke has also taken over Galway’s old job of quarterbacking the potent RIT power play, and leads the league in power play points with 23 (4–19).
Clarke was given the ‘C’ this season, and has responded with the best year of his collegiate career. Both on and off the ice, he has had a dramatic and positive impact on his team and how they approach the game. Statistically, Clarke ranks right behind Francke in the league, averaging 1.09 points per game, with four goals and 21 assists.
Jay Chrapala — Freshman, Manhattanville
Honorable Mention: Adam Lavelle (Sophomore, Hobart), Tyler Euverman (Senior, RIT)
As a freshman, Chrapala has been a solid goaltending surprise for Manhattanville. He leads the league both in goals against average (1.94) and in save percentage (.929). Chrapala entered Manhattanville’s second game of the season in relief, and has played in the majority of games since then. With the exception of one bad outing against Elmira, Chrapala has been rock-solid in net the entire season.
Rookie of the Year:
Jay Chrapala — Freshman, Manhattanville
Honorable Mention: Colby McVey (Freshman, Hobart), Joe Viscuse (Freshman, Neumann)
Coach of the Year:
Mark Taylor, Hobart
In only his third season at Hobart, Taylor has led the Statesmen to a 14-8-2 record, their first winning season since 1992-1993, and one victory shy of the school record for wins in a season (1978-79). Hobart beat Elmira twice this season, after only having defeated the Soaring Eagles once in 33 previous tries. Beating Fredonia, which led the SUNYAC most of the season, three times doesn’t look too shabby on the Statesmen’s record either. Taylor’s players are enthusiastic about each game, and play every period with a workmanlike attitude that is the envy of coaches around the league.
The Home Stretch
It is the last weekend of regular-season play, and the playoff picture still isn’t set yet. But clarity is slowly coming to the picture. Here is a quick rundown of the road to the playoffs that are still open to the teams. The teams are listed in order of current standing.
RIT — The Tigers were idle last week, and the games that were played by other teams didn’t change the picture at the top. Any combination of an RIT win against Hobart, or a Manhattanville tie or loss in its two remaining games would give RIT the regular-season title. The lowest RIT can finish is second place.
Manhattanville — The Valiants took care of business last weekend by defeating Utica. Manhattanville hosts Utica and Elmira this weekend. They need to win both of those games, and hope for RIT to lose or tie Hobart, to win the regular season. The lowest Manhattanville can finish is third.
Elmira — The Soaring Eagles plugged a few holes in the sinking ship last weekend with an easy win over Neumann. Elmira will look to use that boost in confidence get back the momentum entering the playoffs. They are locked into the middle of the pack and can finish as high as second or as low as fourth.
Hobart — No change from last week as Hobart was also idle. The Statesmen either need to beat or tie RIT, or have Utica lose or tie either of its two remaining games, to make the playoffs. Hobart could finish as high as third place, or miss the playoffs altogether.
Utica — The loss to Manhattanville last Friday means that Utica has to run the table to have any shot at the playoffs. The Pioneers also must hope that Hobart loses to RIT. With a tough road game at Manhattanville on Friday, Utica will quickly find out whether its postseason hopes are dashed or not
Neumann — Neumann has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Game of the Week
Two games on the schedule stand out this week to decide the playoff picture. Friday, Utica travels to Manhattanville to play part two of their contest from last weekend. In last Friday’s game, the Valiants snuck out of the Utica Aud with a close 4-3 victory. Utica is desperate for a win that it must have for a chance to make the playoffs. That desperation should make this an intense game.
Depending on the results from Friday, Saturday’s feature game of Elmira at Manhattanville could either be a barnburner or just a preview of a semifinal matchup in the playoffs. Either way, Manhattanville will be looking to avenge the 10-1 drubbing it took at Elmira five weeks ago. And that alone would make this game worth attending.