This Week in the ECAC West: Nov. 4, 2004

Young Blood

Two weeks into the season, and it is the freshmen who seem to be dominating the headlines.

• Utica goaltender Adam Dekker has started three of the four Pioneers games so far, and has amassed a 1-1-1 record. The win was against Potsdam, where he stopped 33 of 36 shots over the last two periods to hold onto a 4-3 lead.

• Three of RIT’s five goals scored against St. Norbert last weekend were by freshmen Simon Lambert, Ricky Walton, and Matt Smith. All three came during the Tigers’ 4-3 win in Saturday’s game.

• Hobart netminder Dimitri Papaevagelou (say that five times fast) pitched a 4-0 shutout in his first collegiate start against Buffalo State to win the Buffalo State All Sport Invitational last Saturday. With the shutout, Papaevagelou was named the ECAC West Rookie of the Week. Freshman forward Shawn Houde is also tied for the Statesmen point lead with one goal and one assist.

• Elmira freshman Tyler Schremp set up Darcy Pettie’s game-tying goal early in the third period in Saturday’s game against Oswego.

• Mike Gooch already has tallied two goals and two assists for Neumann, playing in all six of the team’s contests. Gooch scored the only goal in the Knights opening 5-1 loss to Geneseo.

Is the 2004-2005 freshman class one of the strongest and deepest the ECAC West has seen in many years? Time will tell, but they are sure off to a fast start.

An Early Rematch

It is the first weekend of November, and teams are already faced with critical league games. The very first game on tap for Friday is a rematch of last year’s ECAC West title game between defending champion Hobart and RIT. The two teams split their regular season meetings last year, but the Statesmen won the most important game, 3-1, to earn the title.

Beginning last season, the ECAC West coaches agreed to try to schedule all league contests on the same weekends that the SUNYAC plays its league games. This frees up the other weekends for crossover games to be scheduled between the leagues. That is why fans are seeing teams schedule more and more league contests before the holidays than in prior years.

“The SUNY’s are playing, so we have to get playing,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “As exciting as going out west was to test ourselves, we need to take advantage of it. If we feel we are in the national picture like a St. Norbert, then it is now our job to prove it in league play where it really matters.”

In a bit of a surprise, RIT split a pair of games last weekend with a St. Norbert team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason USCHO poll. But now it is down to the important business of league play, where every game counts so much more.

“This past weekend was kind of for exhibition,” said Wilson. “This weekend is for making the playoffs. If you don’t win the league games, you don’t make the playoffs.”

As interesting as the Hobart/RIT match up is, though, it isn’t the only critical league contest. Elmira travels to Utica also on Friday, in what is turning into quite a rivalry. After a pair of dramatic comeback ties against Oswego last weekend, the Soaring Eagles are still looking to notch their first win of the season.

Utica, on the other hand, lost a pair of games to Oswego to open the season, but then topped Potsdam last Saturday to turn the ship around. The Pioneers are always tough to play when home at the Aud, and are hungry to prove all of the preseason naysayers wrong.

Utica then must travel to RIT on Saturday for a second tough league game.

Manhattanville’s league schedule is a little easier this weekend, but the Valiants have been guilty of looking past teams in the past. They have road games against an improving Neumann team and an adjusting Lebanon Valley squad. Both of those teams would like nothing better than to gain their first league victories this weekend and gain confidence for the long season ahead.

Utica, Manhattanville, and RIT all have a chance to leap to the top of the standings this weekend with a pair of wins. But if any of them get swept, it could signal the start of a very long season. Elmira, Lebanon Valley, Hobart and Neumann each are looking to get off on the right foot. With the league so competitive this season, each game is critical.

Contrasting Styles

Plenty of words have already been written about the effect that the NCAA Points of Emphasis and new officiating style are having on the games this year. The games are slow, dominated by special teams play, boring to watch, and frustrating to play.

But as Ed Trefzger wrote in his column this week, maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The NCHA referees were able to maintain the flow of the game, while also limiting the amount of clutching, grabbing, and interference. Are they the first to figure out the magic formula, a way for the skilled players to take back control of the game without it turning into a penalty-fest?

If so, I hope that the other leagues are paying attention, and quickly learn from their style.

The coaches have been instructed not to talk about the officiating in the games played by the ECAC West teams. But just from casual conversations, it is easy to tell that the frustration levels are rising. No one wants to play the majority of a game on special teams, unless the penalties are truly deserved and egregious.

All we can hope is that the referees, coaches, players, and yes, even the fans, remain patient during this period of adjustment.

“It’s like any new process, we need to give it some time,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “They need to perfect some things. [The referees] are asked to not miss a thing, and that can lead to some mistakes. I think getting excited about it in the first couple of weeks is a tough way to go.”