Several teams around the ECAC West are flooded with new players this season. As seen in my season preview last week, the coaches are cautiously optimistic about the season but realize that getting the freshmen up to speed may take a while.
If the start that Elmira and Utica have gotten off to is any indication, the freshmen appear ready to go right now.
Both teams have enjoyed early season success against SUNYAC teams.
Utica won the Bears Faceoff Tournament in Potsdam opening weekend and then split with Oswego last week.
“I think the jury is still out a bit,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan.
“We are young, and special teams come into play quite a bit right now.
Our power play has clicked a couple of nights. When our special teams have been on, it seems like we have been successful. That is what we are working on a lot in practice.”
Elmira has also earned a split with Oswego after defeating rival Plattsburgh the previous week.
“I told the guys yesterday at practice that if you looked at our lineup from last year, that we were graduating 60 percent of our offense, that we were opening up with Plattsburgh, Oswego, Oswego and then go 2-1, we would have taken that,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski.
“But looking back at how things have gone, we are pretty unhappy that we are not 3-0 right now. That is not in a selfish way, but the new blood from our freshmen, and a renewed commitment from our returning guys, has made the beginning of this season exciting.”
Newcomers have been key to the success that both teams have enjoyed.
For Elmira, freshmen Nicolas Dumoulin and Tyler Cann have tallied four of the Soaring Eagles eight power play goals and both game winning goals. What is even more remarkable is that both Dumoulin and Cann are defensemen.
“We knew when we recruited them that not only would they be able to come in and play sound defense but that they would also have the ability to contribute to our team offensively,” said Ceglarski. “They are definitely not playing like freshmen.”
Also lighting up the lamp for Elmira is junior transfer Justin Joy, who was originally recruited by coach Ceglarski but decided to try Plattsburgh first.
“Justin has been a great addition to the team,” said Ceglarski. “He showed up in great shape with a great attitude. He is one of our hardest working players both in practice and in the games. We recruited him before he went to Plattsburgh, and now he is something that we thought we knew what we were getting. We are happy to get him now.”
Remarkably, several defensemen are also near the top of the scoring list for Utica. Two freshmen defenders that have stood out so far are Josh Merson (2g-1a-3p) and Tiger Marcotte (1g-1a-2p).
“It’s not surprising to us,” said Heenan. “Merson and Marcotte were brought in to be offensive, to score, and to produce for us. It is great to see, but it is an expectation of ours. Having some production from the D end is going to be new for Utica hockey.”
With youthful teams, sometimes the losses can be as important as the wins though. Coaches use losses as learning opportunities and it is better to teach those lessons early in the season rather than down the stretch in February.
“As a coach, I didn’t think we would be that successful on opening weekend,” said Heenan. “I thought we would take some lumps. To win [the Potsdam tournament] gave us some confidence.”
“But we learned a lot by getting beat by Oswego. As a team, Oswego is a good team, and this is why they beat us. You can watch film, and learn the mistakes that a good team makes you do. It is ok to lose early because it can make you better in the end.”
Through Another’s Eyes
This past Saturday, I was asked to help out on the Manhattanville internet game broadcast by Valiant SID and play-by-play man Michael LePlaca. When I cover games for USCHO and write a recap, I try to remain neutral while also trying to feel the emotion of the game from both sides.
While doing a broadcast that is sponsored by a school, you have to tailor the conversation towards that team. I try not to be a complete homer, but it is important to talk about the play going on and the people involved from that team’s perspective.
One of the things I find interesting in doing broadcasts for different schools is seeing things from their perspective. You never truly get to know a team until you are forced to look through their rose-colored glasses. I have done broadcasts as a color guy for Utica, RIT, and now Manhattanville, and each was an eye opening experience.
The thing that surprised me the most on Saturday was just how offensively minded goaltender Andrew Gallant is. He won both games against Brockport this weekend, and appears to be the default starter for the Valiants at least for now.
Gallant has an amazing skill with the puck for a goaltender, and is constantly looking to play the puck up ice with the long bomb pass. Watching his style, some would say he is almost “Ricky DiPietro-esque”, who is known throughout college hockey and the NHL for his ability in playing the puck.
“Have you ever seen a goalie handle the puck like that?” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “He is our best defenseman on the ice. I am on the rules committee and have been fighting like hell not to go the new NHL rules for goalies.”
Levinthal should keep making that argument, because having Gallant play the puck certainly gives his team a quick outlet up ice and makes a sloppy line change by the Valiants’ opponents a dangerous proposition.
Emotion In A Game
Reports from various sources have been circulating about the Oswego versus Elmira game at the Thunderdomes this past Saturday. It seems like there is plenty of controversy regarding several incidents that occurred mainly during the second period. A pair of major penalties assessed against Elmira, a ten minute misconduct on goaltender Greg
Fargo for letting his emotions get the better of him, and a goal by Oswego at the end of the second period that might have gone in after the buzzer sounded all contributed to an emotionally charged game, and post game.
Immediately after the game, Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski is quoted in the
Elmira Star-Gazette as saying “We were facing two opponents tonight,” showing frustration at the eleven straight penalties called against his Soaring Eagles in the second period.
However, after a couple of days to reflect on the events that occurred, he put things a little more politically correct when we talked on Tuesday.
“We started off playing well in the first period. But there was a time in the second period where we weren’t focused, didn’t play well, and were undisciplined and it came back to bite us. Oswego is a good team and very well coached. Some of the calls didn’t go our way, but then again, when Plattsburgh was here [on October 21st] they had a goal called back that was clearly a goal. What goes around, comes around. ”
“We just have to put that behind us, learn from it, and get ready to play this next stretch of league contests,” continued Ceglarski. “The second period seemed to snowball against us. The final straw was the goal that was allowed after the second period that was clearly after the whistle. But I’m not going to blame anyone but ourselves. We were undisciplined at times, and it is something that we need to correct as a young team.”
Coach Ceglarski is right. Elmira doesn’t have time to dwell on whether it was jobbed by the referee or if their young team had a meltdown that cost them the game.
Elmira and Hobart each have tough road trips this weekend as league play kicks off. Elmira hits the ice on Friday to take on favored Manhattanville at Playland Ice Casino that is never friendly to visiting teams.
After the game, the team bus will head up to Albany for an overnight in a hotel before heading on to the Utica Aud for a Saturday game against the Pioneers.
“For us, travel-wise, it is the most difficult weekend of the year,” said Ceglarski. “Manhattanville is offensive minded now, and Utica has been off to a good start as well.”
Hobart has the opposite travel schedule of Elmira, playing at Utica on Friday and taking on the Valiants on Saturday.
With the four teams expected to finish in first through fourth playing each other, this weekend could go a long way in setting an early tone to the season.