The onset of the holiday madness also signals the midway point of the season for the ECAC West. Teams have played nearly half of their scheduled games, and unlike past seasons, a significant portion of their league contests as well.
So it is only fitting that we pause now, and take a look at the landscape of the ECAC West.
Certainly the biggest surprise this season is the impact that a corps of freshmen goaltenders is having within the league. Four teams have jumped on the youthful wave between the pipes, and are riding them for all they are worth.
Take a look at the statistics they have amassed so far this season:
Paul Reimer (Mahattanville) — 8-0, .917 save%, 2.39 GAA, 8 games played Dimitri Papaevagelou (Hobart) — 7-2-1, .917%, 2.11 GAA, 11 GP Adam Dekker (Utica) — 5-2-2, .890%, 3.16 GAA, 10 GP Mike Collichio (Neumann) — 0-11-1, .920%, 3.64 GAA, 13 GP
In any given season, each one of those would be amazing statistics for a freshman. But to have four such freshmen all enter the league at the same time, and displace (or replace after injury) upperclassmen goaltenders is truly astounding.
This is the best, and deepest, class of young goaltenders to ever appear in the ECAC West. It sure looks like it should be fun watching this group play in the league throughout the next four seasons.
By The Teams
Taking a look at the mid-term standings, some teams are meeting expectations, some are exceeding them, and some are struggling.
Let’s take a look at each team, listed in order of winning percentage within league games.
Everyone expected the Valiants to be near the top of the league most of the season. To date, they are undefeated at 3-0 within the league, and are 9-0 overall. They are winning the games they are expected to win, and also the contests that are a little more competitive.
“I can’t complain since we are undefeated,” said coach Keith Levinthal. “But we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We have only played in three league games. There is still a lot of the season to go.”
“Whoever can win on the road is going to have a big advantage down the stretch, assuming everyone takes care of business at home. Utica is the only one who has proven that they can win on the road so far, and that is a big advantage for them.”
But the big question remains: Will a relatively weak non-conference schedule help or hinder Manhattanville when the playoffs arrive?
RIT is on course for the plan that coach Wayne Wilson set out prior to the start of the season. The Tigers are completely focused on being as successful as possible in the league. Part of that plan is to play a brutal non-conference schedule to prepare for the key league contests during the season.
“By the end, there is no question that we will have played the hardest schedule around,” said Wilson. “These kinds of games are preparing us for down the road. I’m happy with where we are at. Our league play is what really matters.”
RIT has already faced three of the four teams that it is expected to compete against for the league title. The biggest advantage gained was taking three of four points from Hobart. A blemish at Manhattanville, though, has raised the importance of the February 19th rematch at the Ritter.
The Pioneers continue to impress this season, currently in a tie for first place, and already tallying almost as many league points as all of last season. Add to that a first time win against local rival Hamilton and a winning record in non-conference play, and it looks like Utica is really coming in to its own as a maturing team.
“We feel good,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “The Elmira sweep was huge for us. To sweep Elmira is absolutely awesome, and for us is a confidence builder. It kind of spreads the message that we have finally arrived, because they are a team that could easily win this league. It kind of puts us in the driver’s seat for the playoffs.”
Despite some well publicized struggles, Elmira isn’t in all that bad of shape at the half way point of the season. They have yet to play Hobart, Manhattanville, and RIT at all, and have taken care of business against Neumann and Lebanon Valley.
However, being swept by Utica certainly puts them down a leg towards making the playoffs. The Soaring Eagles now need the rest of the top four teams to beat each other up night in and night out, and split some series, in order to make it in to the playoffs.
“I think we have a talented team,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “What we haven’t got yet is a big win. We went up to Plattsburgh and played very poorly. Our guys are working very hard, but are putting a lot of pressure on themselves to win. Sometimes when you do that, you grab the stick a little bit harder and pucks that normally you handle are bouncing off your stick.”
“I think we need a big win against a quality opponent to really prove to our guys that they really can win and can be in the big games. Right now we haven’t got that.”
Elmira enters the holidays with a confidence boost, scoring goals by the bunch against Wentworth and Johnson & Wales this past weekend. This should help the team relax and just play the game as they head to the Times-Argus Invitational right before New Years.
The Statesmen got a rude awakening in just their third game of the season. The 6-1 loss to RIT was a double whammy. Not only was their stellar goaltender Adam Lavelle injured during the game, but they also fell back in to bad habits from past seasons.
Since then, it has been back to the drawing board for coach Mark Taylor, as he rebuilds towards the winning ways. And it appears to be working.
Hobart went on a month long, eight game unbeaten streak from Nov. 12 through Dec. 10. This set a new school record for consecutive unbeaten games, eclipsing the record of seven straight games set just last season.
However, the Statesmen have had to battle back from late deficits in many of those games. While the confidence in their ability to never qive up is admirable, Hobart needs to figure out how to not fall behind in every game they play if they want to repeat last year’s magic.
The Flying Dutchmen are right about where everyone thought they would be at this point in the season. They are struggling to adjust to play within the ECAC West, with an extremely young team.
But they are also showing positive signs for the future. Sonny Holding has been providing them with solid goaltending, and a team work ethic has kept them in most of the games until the waning moments.
Lebanon Valley is gaining valuable experience that should aid them in the second half of the season where they will face an easier non-conference schedule.
If Neumann didn’t have bad luck, they would have no luck at all. Their star freshman, Mike Collichio, has been a workhorse in net, keeping the Knights in game after game.
Ten of the thirteen games that Neumann has played this year have been decided by one or two goals. Unfortunately, most of those decisions have gone against the Knights.
Of course, the Neumann players have become their own worst enemies. Several members of the team have been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. The issue has been escalated to College officials, and is awaiting their ruling.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in Neumann skating shorthanded in every game since Nov. 23. Coach Dennis Williams is hoping to land a couple of recruits for the second semester that may lend a very needed helping hand.
This is my final column for 2004. I would like to wish you, and your family, a very Happy Holiday. Take time to enjoy this special season in a meaningful way.
The second half of the season will kick off on Jan. 6 when the USCHO DIII columns return.