A Different Team
Since joining the ECAC West four seasons ago, it is no secret that Neumann has struggled. Over that time span, the Knights have a combined total of 10 wins and haven’t been competitive in many of the other games.
However, with an infusion of new blood, this year might represent the tipping point for Neumann becoming competitive.
In the first four games, the Knights have a respectable 2-2 record. Last season, it wasn’t until a January 25th upset of Hobart that Neumann earned its second victory of the season.
“We’re doing okay and working hard,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “At 2-2, it is a good start with us. It took us to after Christmas to get our first win last year, so the guys are in high spirits.”
The two losses on the record books, each by only a single goal, came in a season-opening two game set at Geneseo, games that easily could have gone the other way for the Knights.
“The Geneseo games were good games that could have gone either way,” said Williams. “They are a good team, and are playing well. We outshot them both games but couldn’t find the net.”
The most telling statistic indicating the turnaround of the Neumann program is shots on goal. Last season, the Knights were outshot 1037-627 and that is the best ratio they had ever managed.
But this season, the tide appears to be turning. Neumann has outshot its opponents in all four games so far, enjoying a comfortable 131-76 margin currently and have a 14-10 advantage in goals.
“We just can’t put it in the back of the net,” said Williams. “It is nice to get some shots on net. You never know what is going to end up going in. Geneseo buried their opportunities and we didn’t on ours. We need to figure out how to finish more.”
One player who has started off his freshman season on a roll is Jesse Cole. He has tallied four goals and an assist in the first four games of the season.
“Jesse is doing very good things right now,” said Williams. “My expectations were that he would put the puck in the net. He has the opportunity to play on the power play and is capitalizing. He is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Anytime you can have a freshman averaging a goal a game, he is doing something right for us.”
Coach Williams has also been sharing the duties in net between his three goaltenders. Mike Collichio, Brett Leonhardt and Liam Johnson all have played complete games during this opening stretch of the season. However, don’t let the rotating goaltenders fool you into thinking that Collichio isn’t the go-to guy.
“I planned on [rotating goaltenders] at the beginning of the season to make it fair for everybody,” said Williams. “Mike Collichio has proven last year, and even this year, he is the guy that we are going to ride. He knows that and our expectations of him are high.”
Even though the results in the record books aren’t much different from last season, this year’s Elmira team definitely has a different character about it.
In the Soaring Eagles 7-5 loss at Hobart on Saturday, the Statesmen took advantage of opportunities to build a 6-2 lead by the end of the second period. Last season’s Elmira team would have packed its bags at that point and just gone through the motions during the third period.
Not this year’s team, though. The players rallied during the intermission, came out with a real jump in the third period, and tallied a power play goal just fifty one seconds in to start a comeback.
However, a defensive lapse allowed Hobart to tally a goal at 8:51 to put a chill on Elmira’s rally.
“These guys come to the rink and want to work hard every day,” said Ceglarski. “That is a big difference in our team this year. We had the power play to begin the [third] period and we thought that if we threw the puck at the net that good things would happen. But we gave up a soft goal that took the wind out of our sails a little bit”
The Soaring Eagles have improved the speed of the defensive corps, and certainly have an improved attitude by the players. While starting out 0-3 in league play isn’t what the Soaring Eagles were hoping for, you certainly can’t count them out yet.
“Obviously, 0-3 in the league, and we don’t play another league game until after the first of the year, is not where we wanted to be,” said Ceglarski. “It is a long fifteen game season. We still have 80% of the season to go. It is disappointing, and it will come down that every game is important for us.”
Happiness House, located in Geneva, N.Y. with a satellite campus in Canandaigua, N.Y., provides programs and services to children and adults with disabilities. The Hobart hockey team, led by head coach Mark Taylor who is a member of the Happiness House Board of Directors, has reached out to support this charity in many ways.
Last season, the team played floor hockey with the children at the main facility in Geneva. Also in past years, the players have participated in the annual “Hike for Happiness,” an indoor community walk-a-thon that benefits the “Happiness is Helping” capital campaign.
The sixth annual walk-a-thon was held this past Saturday afternoon on the Hobart campus, but occurred immediately before the Statesmen’s game against Elmira. Coach Taylor still wanted to help out, though, and came up with the idea to add the gate receipts from the game to the walk-a-thon.
“Since our game was at four, we couldn’t be involved with [the walk-a-thon],” said Taylor. “So, I talked to our Athletic Director and we felt that it was the right thing to do. We like to try to do things with them as much as we can.”
Neumann Faces a Challenge
Even with Neumann’s quick start this season, the Knights might get a little bit of a wake up call this weekend when they host Utica and Manhattanville to open their league schedule.
“We have to be ready to go for two highly skilled and tough opponents this weekend,” said Williams. “We are playing the two best opponents in the league right now.”
Friday’s game against Utica holds a little extra meaning for coach Williams. Not only did he serve as an assistant under Utica head coach Gary Heenan two years ago, Williams and Heenan are also good friends who spend considerable time together during the summer in hockey camps and on the golf course.
“Utica is physical,” said Williams. “They play a tough game and have been disciplined. Gary [Heenan] has them playing very well. Being part of the Utica program two years ago, it stems a bit of a relationship between us. You want nothing more than to beat one of your mentors.”
Neumann isn’t looking past Utica, but a quick turn around to play a Saturday afternoon game against Manhattanville might mean a double whammy for the Knights.
“Saturday doesn’t get any easier with Manhattanville as an afternoon game,” said Williams. “They are strong and skilled, and it should be a good test to see what we really are. We are trying to prepare our guys with video. It is going to be a whole different game than they are used to. We are trying to teach them the importance of league games. It isn’t like junior hockey with 48 league games. We have fifteen.”
With two games against teams currently tied for the lead in the league this weekend, the young Knights will get a good indication of exactly where they stand and what league play is really like at the Division III level.