There is something special about a hat trick in college hockey. First of all, they aren’t all that common in Division III, unless the game is a blowout where one team puts up a double digit score. Second, the diffusion of talent across all of Division III has also resulted in scoring being spread around amongst several players during any particular game.
So to say I was shocked when no less than three hat tricks were tallied in the ECAC West over the last two weeks, all in relatively low scoring games, would be an understatement.
Two of those hat tricks were scored on the same night, Friday, Nov. 18. Perhaps the most dramatic one of the bunch was freshman Jesse Cole’s effort for Neumann. Cole scored all three goals in the Knights 3-1 surprise win over Utica.
“It was a big win for our program playing a great team like Utica,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “It was great for the first league game of the year. It is nice to get that one monkey off our back a little bit.”
Cole opened the night with a score just 1:04 into the contest. He tallied his second goal, the eventual game winner, late in the first period and added a 5-on-3 power play goal midway through the third to complete the onslaught.
“[Jesse Cole] is playing great for us this year,” said Williams. “He is doing a nice job on the power play. It has been great for him and we are expecting big things as we get into the second third of the season.”
Cole’s hat trick is only the seventh in team history for Neumann, the last one being scored by Neil Trimm in a 6-6 tie against this same Utica team on Feb. 25, 2005.
Hobart tallied both of the other hat tricks in the league. Colby McVey tripped the lights fantastic in a 6-1 win against Cortland on November 18th. McVey completed the cycle, scoring a power play goal in the second period, and an even strength and shorthanded goal in the third period.
Just for good measure, Conor Bradley chipped in another hat trick to lead Hobart in a 6-0 win over Williams in the opening round of the Babson Invitational tournament on Nov. 26. Bradley chipped in a power play goal in each of the three periods to earn the chapeau.
“It is great to see with Conor Bradley,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “He was a goal scorer recruit, and he knew he was going to be a good player when he came into his own. He is a good size kid, but needed to get bigger and stronger, and do more defensively. For two years, he has persevered, and it is nice for it to be a steady flow for him now.”
Prior to this scoring onslaught, Hobart’s last hat trick was scored by Will Brame when he tallied three of the Statesmen’s first four goals on the way to a 5-2 win over Amherst on Jan. 25, 2005.
After netting two hat tricks and outscoring its opponents 24-2 over the last four games, you would think that the talk at Hobart would be centered completely around the offense. Come on, with stats like that the Statesmen should “Let loose the Dogs of War” and just bury teams with their offense.
But anyone who knows coach Taylor also knows that the hallmark of his teams has always been defense.
“My philosophy is ‘commitment to defense, and a passion for offense’,” said Taylor. “I think offense takes care of itself. Guys are pretty much free to do what they want offensively, as long as they get it done defensively. Hopefully that creates an environment when guys do have the puck they have a real freedom with it.”
“We have been focusing on defense. We will keep focusing on that even with the goal differential the last four games.”
An obvious key to a defense-first strategy is goaltending. Hobart has a strong stable of goaltenders, but it has been freshman Keith Longo who has appears to have stepped to the forefront. Longo recently set a school record with 180:46 consecutive shutout minutes. The previous record was 143:15 held by Thomas Kelliher achieved during a four game stretch of the 2003-2004 season.
Longo’s streak began following a goal by Manhattanville early in the second period during a 3-1 loss on November 5th. Longo then posted back to back shutouts against Wentworth on Nov. 19 and Williams on Nov. 26. The span finally came to an end against MSOE when the Raiders snuck a power play score past Longo 3:23 into the second period during the championship game of the Babson Invitational on Nov. 27.
“He is playing excellent hockey,” said Taylor. “My number one goalie is Dimitri Papaevagelou. But right now Keith Longo is playing better than him, and that is why Longo is playing. As Longo plays more games, that number one thing gets tighter and tighter. With Keith putting together two back to back shutouts, you couldn’t ‘not’ play him in the championship game [of the Babson tournament].”
Coach Taylor has been rotating between Papaevagelou and Longo. It certainly seems like Hobart has more “feast” than “famine” in goal this season.
“We have been rotating both those guys,” said Taylor. “I’m real excited with our goaltending. We should be able throw down two very good cards to play on any given night.”
The latter half of November certainly has been good to the teams of the ECAC West. The last loss to a non-conference opponent came way back on Nov. 11 when Lebanon Valley lost a close 2-1 game to UMass Dartmouth.
Since then, the ECAC West has racked up nine straight wins outside of the conference, topped off with Hobart taking home the championship trophy, and several individual honors, from the Babson Invitational tournament last weekend.
“[The Babson tournament] was great, except that I didn’t get any deer hunting in,” said Taylor. “But I’ll go deer-less for two wins.”
Neumann has been doing its part to keep the ECAC West strong in non-conference play. The Knights swept Buffalo State last weekend by wide margins, outscoring the Bengals 13-3 over the pair of games.
“It is a great couple of wins for the team to get the confidence back after losing to Manhattanville the weekend before,” said Williams. “We were able to get all 25 skaters into the lineup this weekend which is going to help every guy there to get some confidence as well. Mike Collichio played great in net on Friday and Liam Johnson played great on Saturday.”
In another sign of a return to normalcy within the ECAC West, the league has re-established its winning record against the SUNYAC. So far this season, the league is 13-5 against the SUNYAC teams, proving that last year’s disappointing inter-league record almost certainly was simply a statistical aberration.
After some feel-good non-conference games for everyone, it is back to league play this weekend. Travel partners Neumann and Lebanon Valley head north to swap games with partners Hobart and Elmira.
“This is going to be a tough weekend,” said Williams. “We have to be prepared, play sound defensive hockey, and stay out of the box. We have to hope we can capitalize on a couple of chances.”
One thing that has become obvious so far this season is that it will be a real scrap for at least three of the four playoff spots. The games this weekend are the last league games before the holiday break, and will set the tone for where teams stand.
“Neumann is playing very well,” said Taylor. “It is a different hockey team. We just need to get done what we need to get done.”