This Week in the ECAC West: Jan. 27, 2005

That Didn’t Take Long

Manhattanville’s view from the top of the heap only lasted one week. After finishing its slow climb to first place in the poll for the first time ever, the Valiants lost on Saturday at Hobart 5-2, and dropped to fourth in this week’s poll.

The Ice Cube in Geneva is never an easy rink to play in, and bitter cold and heavy snow made this game even more difficult than normal. But Hobart jumped out to a four goal lead by the end of the second period and never looked back.

The Valiants’ loss really opens things up in the ECAC West standings. Prior to the loss, Manhattanville was in a commanding position to capture its first regular season title. Now, Hobart, RIT, and Utica are right back in the hunt.

Manhattanville, RIT and Utica all have their own fate in their hands. If any one of these teams can manage to win all of its remaining league games, it will take the regular season title.

But that could be a tall order, since each must meet both of the others at least once between now and the end of the season.

With two ties, Hobart still has a shot at the title but needs some help. The Statesmen need each of the three teams currently in front of them to lose or tie at least once more game, while winning all of their own games.

That is certainly a tall order, but not out of the realm of possibility in this year’s topsy-turvy ECAC West. After this weekend, only league games remain for the top four teams, so the standings should start to sort themselves out shortly.

Out for a Year

After a promising start to the season, the Neumann Knights suffered another setback in November when seven upper classmen were suddenly out of the lineup. The first game where the losses were noticed was the Nov. 23, 2004 game at Lebanon Valley.

Neumann has been taking to the ice since then with only thirteen or fourteen skaters in games, including having Josh Vega, a goaltender, play as a forward.

Following an investigation by both the school and the NCAA, it was found that all seven players violated both school and NCAA rules. For punishment, they have been suspended from the team for one year, commencing from last November.

At the conclusion of the suspension, the players can apply for reinstatement to the team, but there is a series of processes that they will need to go through to be reinstated.

“Our priority here at Neumann is to ensure the welfare of the student,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “To respect the privacy of the young men involved, I can’t discuss further details of the violation. The college has addressed this matter, and has enforced the college’s regulations for the suspensions imposed on the seven.”

The severity of the punishment was dictated by the NCAA, and is for violations that occurred between September and November 2004.

Right now, five of the seven remain in school for the second semester, and any financial aid packages that they might have had prior to the violations remains intact. Two former players have chosen to return home.

“It is disappointing, but the rules are there,” said Williams. “I stick by the rules, and if they are violated it is out of my hands. That is not what we stand for here at Neumann. But the main thing is that we are getting them the proper help that they need to overcome the violations.”

A Very Sad Day

The annual renewal of the rivalry between Elmira and RIT at the Soaring Eagles’ ThunderDome used to be a date that fans circled on their calendars in mid-summer. The nervous anticipation, the raucous atmosphere, and the battle on the ice made this game the highlight of the season. It was traditionally held on Elmira College’s Alumni Weekend, and drew alumni, townspeople, and students like moths to a flame.

But sadly, after witnessing last Friday’s contest, this event has declined to nothing more than another hockey game. To see what arguably had been one of the premier rivalries in Division III ice hockey decline to this level breaks my heart.

I have to admit that as a student at RIT in the mid-80’s, I hated Elmira. That may be too strong of a sentiment to express in today’s world of political correctness, but that is the way I felt. I hated the team, the fans, the townies, and the ThunderDome.

But it was the only road game that I regularly traveled to back then, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The stands were packed at least an hour before game time, with the crowd cheering and banging those damn cowbells. Oh, how I hated those cowbells.

As I have matured over the years, the hatred for everything Elmira has waned, and I grew to respect the coaches, the players, and fans, especially the ardent ones who post on the USCHO Forums. There were few places that could rival the Elmira faithful for enthusiasm, and that is a testament to everyone involved in the program back then.

One of my favorite things about sports is the atmosphere at events, and Elmira hockey games against RIT had atmosphere like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t count the times that Elmira would score two quick goals to take the lead, and the Domes would be so loud you couldn’t think. Those were the days.

But this past Friday was different. I arrived at the rink about fifty minutes before game time, and there were less than a hundred people in the whole building. There were no lines at the ticket table, no crowds in the lobby, no congestion at the door that finally enters the arena, and no noise in the rink. I had to look at my watch twice to be sure that I wasn’t there too early.

By midway through the first period, there were maybe 1,000 people in the stands, in a building that holds almost four times that number. There was a small ovation when Elmira did something good on the ice, and a strong but shortlived cheer when Justin Siebold scored late in the first period to give the Soaring Eagles the early lead. Even a few cowbells were rung, but nothing like it was in the past.

It was a very sad moment as I stood there in the rink, reliving the glory of past events and reminiscing about the atmosphere of those games. I could still almost hear the loud chants, the ringing of those damn cowbells, the players whooping it up, and the Elmira fans taunting the RIT fans.

But it is no longer like this at the ThunderDomes. There are many factors that have contributed to the loss of atmosphere at Elmira home games, so it is hard to place the blame on any one thing.

All I can hope is that the powers-that-be at Elmira realize what has been lost, and take steps to reinvigorate the arena in the near future.

Even though the third period of last Friday’s game saw great hockey played and was an exciting finish, I still took a moment before leaving the empty rink to look around. It was a sad time to reflect on what has been lost.