This Week in the ECAC West: Jan. 6, 2005

A List of Firsts

The Utica Pioneers finished out 2004 accomplishing a string of ‘firsts’ for the four year old program by capturing the championship title in the Cardinal Classic tournament at Plattsburgh.

Utica started out the tournament with a first, the first time the Pioneers have defeated an opponent in the opening round of a tournament. Utica beat up on Wesleyan 4-1 to move on, despite a strong performance by the Wesleyan goaltender.

This was the fifth tournament that Utica has ever participated in, and the Pioneers lost the opening game in each of the previous four.

But this time it was different, and Utica moved on to play against Plattsburgh for the first time ever. The large crowd was electric for the championship contest, and was treated to a great game.

Scott Leygraff opened the scoring for Utica midway through the second period, before Plattsburgh tied it up 1-1 early in the third. But it was all-everything star Jimmy Sokol who scored the game winning goal for Utica with just 37 seconds remaining in regulation to again be the hero.

“[The Cardinal Classic championship game] was the biggest win for our program to this point,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “In the four tournaments that we have been in, we have never even gotten to the second game. That alone was our goal going in, and then to win it in dramatic fashion was great.”

One of the tendencies that Utica struggled with during the first half of the season was running out of gas late in games, after dominating play in the first half of the contest.

With a full sixty-minute effort against Plattsburgh, and another in the tie with Hamilton on Tuesday, perhaps Heenan has found a way out of the fatigue trap.

“[The Plattsburgh game] was the most complete 60 minutes of hockey we have played this year,” said Heenan. “Coming back from break, that was our biggest question. As a coach, a lot of being tired at the end of games was my fault by over playing guys and not having enough trust in my third/fourth lines or freshmen to play on the penalty kill. I was just draining our key guys, so in the third period they are just gassed.”

“So I am starting to spread it around and have more faith in some guys. We’ve made some adjustments system-wise that have been a plus for us.”

It certainly seems to be working. The two wins at the Cardinal Classic, and the tie with Hamilton on Tuesday, have extended the Pioneers undefeated streak to a school record ten games, another first. The previous longest unbeaten streak was six games set in January of last season.

More Tournament Success

The ECAC West also had success in the Times-Argus Tournament held at Norwich.

In first day action, an opportunistic Elmira team dragged host Norwich to overtime before finally bowing out 4-3. In the late game, Manhattanville rode a solid 38 save goaltending performance from Jay Chrapala to get past Lake Forest 3-2.

The Valiants are happy to see Chrapala return to the ice after an early season injury thrust freshman Paul Reimer into the spotlight. Goaltender Andrew Gallant has also rejoined the team after a semester away from school, so all of the sudden Manhattanville finds itself much deeper in net.

On day two, Elmira dusted off a feisty Lake Forest team by a score of 6-2 to gain some needed momentum from the weekend.

Manhattanville, meanwhile, won a huge victory in the championship game against third ranked Norwich in a very physical contest.

“We were extremely physical in that game, and gave several huge hits,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “I have never seen us hit like that before. Some of the talented guys [Norwich] has, you have to play the body. In the Lake Forest game, we weren’t very good in our positioning on the big ice. In the Norwich game, we made some changes to our forecheck, and our positioning was much better which led to a lot of guys in the right place at the right time.”

The physical play helped to turn the game in favor of the Valiants and knock Norwich off their gameplan of speed and puck movement. Chrapala saw his second straight start, turning aside 31 shots in the 3-2 win.

The tournament sweep extended Manhattanville’s winning streak to eleven games, and remain in the ranks of teams with an unblemished record so far this season.

“We’ve done what we had to do in every game that we have played,” said Levinthal. “But I really think the real season begins real soon, with the upcoming league games on the road.”

“The biggest difference in our team this year is that we have a lot of guys playing with confidence, which maybe we haven’t had so much in the past.”

The ECAC West saw what confidence can do for a team when Hobart swept in to the championship last season. Is this the magic ingredient that the Valiants have been missing as well?

Bavarian Adventure

The Hobart team is enjoying a trip to the spectacular Bavarian countryside of southern Germany this week. For the Statesmen, it is a mix of hockey and sightseeing, as they take advantage of a foreign travel exemption granted by the NCAA.

Teams are allowed to participate in a trip out of the country once every four years. Not many teams take such a trip, but this is the second time that Hobart has sponsored one. (the first was in December, 1999).

For many of the Hobart players, this is their first trip to Europe, and they will visit some of the grandest examples of humanity, and some of the most sobering.

While in the winter resort town of Fussen, the team visited the German National Team training facilities as well as one of Germany’s most famous castles, Neuschwanstein Castle, built by Bavaria’s “mad” King Ludwig in the 1870’s. The team also visited the 700 year old Benedictine Abbey of Ettal.

Midweek, the team toured Munich and visited the BMW museum, before a sobering trip to the WWII era Dachau Concentration Camps. The trip ends today with a tour of the 11th century city of Nuremberg, with its grand architecture.

“Our tour manager is really passionate about the history and culture of Germany and has really captivated the guys,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “It’s neat to hear some of the guys relate it back to things they’re learning at Hobart. The professors would have gotten a kick out of seeing all of them at the monastery.”

However, the trip also involved some hockey with four games against teams from Germany and the Czech Republic on the schedule. Hobart earned two solid wins against Geretsried (7-2) and EV Fussen (3-2) in the middle of the week. The Statesmen will also play Klatvoy (Czech) and Deggendorf over the last two days of the trip

The game against Klatvoy is especially meaningful for Hobart freshman Stanislav Vylet, who hails from Kurma, Czech Republic.

“From the hockey side it will help some guys realize that they can take their hockey past college,” Taylor. “I know the trip will open their eyes in many ways and I hope it creates the desire for them to do all they can with their hockey,”

Each of the players was responsible for raising the funds necessary for the trip.