The higher seeded teams held serve last weekend in league play, as Elmira, Hobart and RIT traveled to play a rotisserie round at Lebanon Valley, Manhattanville, and Neumann.
Utica was idle for the weekend, as the other six teams played each other.
The closest game of the weekend was Manhattanville’s 3-2 win over Hobart. This game came right down to the final buzzer, when the Statesmen pulled netminder Dimitri Papaevagelou for the last 2:19 of the contest but failed to score the tying goal.
Unlike their first meeting two weeks ago, when Hobart used four power play goals to win 5-2, the Valiants’ special teams dominated this game. Manhattanville scored a power play goal, two shorthanded goals, and stonewalled all ten of Hobart’s power play opportunities.
“Penalty kill gave us a gutsy effort. Two short-handed goals, you can’t ask for anything more than that,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “You can’t ask for anything more out of those guys. They really fought hard.”
With the lack of upsets, last weekend failed to clarify the playoff race at all. Manhattanville, RIT, and Utica are still vying for the top spot, while Elmira and Hobart scrap to become that final playoff team.
This weekend, on the other hand, should begin to sort things out. There are a number of key games between teams vying for the same spot in the standings, and the winner of those games will gain a decided advantage.
At the top of the heap, RIT travels to Utica Friday night to take on the Pioneers. RIT beat Utica 2-1 at RIT earlier this season, but the game was as close as the score indicates. The Pioneers defeated RIT at home towards the end of last season, killing the Tigers hopes of hosting the playoffs then. The winner of this game will vault to the head of the line for hosting privileges come playoff time this year.
In the middle of the pack, Elmira hosts Hobart also on Friday night. Hobart returns the trip to Elmira on the final week of the season. Right now, Elmira holds on to the fourth playoff spot, and Hobart is on the outside looking in. But Hobart has swept the regular season series with Elmira each of the last two years.
A repeat of that feat would flip the team’s positions in the standings. But a Soaring Eagles sweep, or even a win and a tie, this weekend and next would put the nail in the Statesman coffin. A split just muddies the water a little more, but would keep Elmira in the driver’s seat.
Of course, while these four teams obviously can’t look past Friday’s games, the contests on Saturday will be equally important. Utica travels to Hobart, and Elmira heads up to RIT, and every point is critical at this stage of the season.
With only three weeks remaining in the regular season, it is only natural to take a look back and see how we got to this point. One way that many sports do that is by announcing all-star teams and other end of season awards. Well, why should I be any different?
So, starting this week, and continuing over the next two columns, I will be announcing my own end of season awards. First up this week is the ECAC West All-Rookie Team. Next week will be the First and Second All-League Teams, followed by the Player, Rookie, and Coach of the Year awards in the final week.
Unlike the actual league awards voted on by the coaches, I will be looking at player performances for the entire season, not just in league games.
So, drum roll please, as I announce my 2004-2005 ECAC West All-Rookie Team.
Simon Lambert (RIT) — Forward
Nick Lynch (Utica) — Forward
Justin Todd (Lebanon Valley) — Forward
Mike Gooch (Neumann) — Defense
Zeke Hume (Manhattanville) — Defense
Adam Dekker (Utica) — Goaltender
Each of these freshmen has had a dramatic impact on the success of their team this season.
Nick Lynch (8-7-15) is the only Utica freshman amongst the six Pioneer players with double digit points. Lynch has tallied two of his eight goals on the power play, and chipped in a game winning and game tying goal. He has also come up big in league games, scoring four times to help put Utica firmly in the playoff hunt.
Simon Lambert (8-8-16) has been instrumental in pulling RIT out of its four game losing streak that started off 2005. He scored the game-winning goal, shorthanded no less, at Oswego to lift RIT to the win, and has added four goals and five assists since then. Lambert leads the Tigers with two shorthanded goals, and is tied for the lead with two game-winning tallies as well.
Justin Todd (9-5-14) leads all freshmen in scoring on a very young Lebanon Valley squad. With five power play goals, he has more than double any other single player on the team, and fully one third of the team total. Todd has also scored four of Lebanon Valley’s twenty goals in league play this season.
On the other side of the blue line, Mike Gooch and Zeke Hume stand out in the league.
Gooch (6-10-16) was named as a team captain for Neumann even before the season started. This is a rare honor for a freshman, but is also an indication of the kind of player that coach Dennis Williams wants to build his team around. Gooch leads the Knights in scoring, is tied for most goals, and has almost double the number of assists as the next highest player. Gooch has been called on to keep this team together during many trying times this season, and has answered that call admirably.
When Zeke Hume (6-4-10) joined the Manhattanville team, he answered the call to play defense in one of the toughest rinks in the ECAC West, the Valiants’ Playland Arena. With its odd shape and length, defenders can have a hard time doing their job both defensively and offensively there. But Hume has fit in well, leading all defensemen in scoring and also being solid in the defensive zone.
Goaltending was the hardest category to settle on for an award recipient. There are four outstanding freshman goalies in the league this season, and a case can easily be made for any of them to be named to the ECAC West All-Rookie Team.
But, I get paid to make the hard decisions (like whether to have a burger or wings after a game), so here goes.
Besides having strong stats for a freshman goaltender (2.46 GAA, .906 save%), Adam Dekker has filled in the one ingredient that Utica has been missing in past years, that of solid goaltending.
With a reliable goaltender like Dekker between the pipes, the fast Utica forwards can now play offense instead of having to worry about playing defense in their own zone all of the time. Dekker is one of the main reasons that Utica is in the hunt for the regular season title this year, instead of clawing just to make it in to the playoffs.
There is my 2004-2005 ECAC West All-Rookie Team. Next week, I will unveil my All-League First and Second Teams.