As the saying goes, “Who’d of thunk it?” If Las Vegas took bets on college hockey, how many people would have plunked down their hard-earned money to wager that Neumann would be 8-4 at the mid-season break? Or have conference wins over Utica at home and Elmira on the road? Or have non-conference sweeps of Fredonia, Cortland, and Buffalo State?
I bet you could count the shills on one hand who would take any one of those bets, at any odds. And yet that is exactly what the Knights have accomplished so far this year.
After four seasons of being pounded by other teams, the worst being a 24-1 drubbing by RIT, hockey is definitely looking up at Neumann. It is the most amazing turnaround of a program that I have seen in Division III college hockey.
“I am very happy with how the guys are playing,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “I knew we had a good group coming in, but to be where we are is definitely a great feeling.”
A “good group” may be an understatement. The top fifteen scorers on Neumann are all sophomores or freshmen. Leading the way in points is sophomore Neil Trimm (5 goals, 15 assists) who joined the team for the second semester last season. Freshman Jesse Cole (11 goals, 1 assist) is lighting the lamp the most, averaging a goal a game so far this season, including a hat trick in the win against Utica.
But like all good coaches, Williams isn’t completely happy.
“As any coach, you don’t want to be too satisfied with anything,” said Williams. “There are four losses up on the board. We watch video and see what we can do better.”
Neumann is playing in the St. Michael’s tournament over New Year’s weekend, and then immediately heads into the grueling league schedule for the remainder of the season. Whether Neumann can hold onto the fourth playoff spot will remain to be seen, but from the results of the first half of the season, I’m not willing to bet against them.
On paper, Elmira’s team looks like they should have a better mid-season record than 4-5-1 overall, and 1-4 in league play. Even looking at the stats so far, the Soaring Eagles shouldn’t be where they are in the standings, currently fifth and out of the playoffs.
After all, Elmira is outscoring its opponents overall, has gotten good goaltending, and the special teams are clicking along at an above average pace on both sides of the puck. Yet the Soaring Eagles just can’t seem to get the results at the end of the game that they are looking for.
“Now you know what my therapist is going through,” joked Elmira head coach Tim Ceglarski. “I like the makeup of my team. When we play consistent for 60 minutes our team is a very good team. Perhaps our best game of the year so far is when we played up at Oswego and beat them 5-1. Since then, we have just fallen short. There are times when we look really good, and times when we don’t.”
With dressing upwards of seven or more freshmen each game, Elmira is another team in the league this year struggling with youth.
“I think we knew going in that we were going to be a young team and we were going to have to work very hard scoring goals,” said Ceglarski. “And I think that has been the case. A sign of a young team is inconsistency at times, and I think we have shown that too.”
One of the brightest spots on the young roster is freshman Nicolas Dumoulin, who leads the team with seven goals and has added three assists.
“He has been on our power play and can shoot the puck very hard,” said Ceglarski. “He is a mature young man.”
Despite going 2 for 15 on the power play last weekend, Elmira managed to scrap for a tie against Potsdam and a win against Brockport. With the holiday break, the Soaring Eagles can enjoy that bit of Christmas cheer and build some momentum for the second half.
A Slower Turn
Lebanon Valley, like Neumann, is trying to turn the team towards success in the ECAC West. The Flying Dutchmen, in only their second season in the ECAC West, appear to be making small strides towards that goal.
Lebanon Valley saw limited success last year, winning only five games all season. But the Flying Dutchmen have already posted four victories in the first half of this year.
Their strongest league game came two weeks ago in the frigid confines of Hobart’s rink. The Dutchmen hung with the Statesmen through two periods by taking advantage of several opportunities, including Hobart penalty trouble during the second period.
Lebanon Valley and Hobart were tied 4-4 until midway through the third period when the Statesmen scored. Hobart later tallied an empty netter to win 6-4, but Lebanon Valley was most definitely in this one the entire game.
“A win [at Hobart] would have really helped us,” said Lebanon Valley coach Al MacCormack. “We played a good road game. Our power play has been productive. We got two at Elmira and two [at Hobart].”
The Flying Dutchmen power play has definitely been a highlight of the first half of the season. The special team unit has converted on 23.2 percent of their power plays, notching sixteen of the team’s thirty one total goals.
Last season, Lebanon Valley only scored eighteen power play goals during the entire year.With the numerous penalties being called this season, having a strong power play could be key for Lebanon Valley during the second half of the season.
Is Two a Trend?
For the second year in a row, Manhattanville has gone undefeated during the first half of the season. The Valiants sit at 10-0, and seem to be on cruise control.
The team from Rye, NY was 9-0 at the break last season, and didn’t lose their first game until the fifteenth contest of the season in late January.
Manhattanville has won three games by two goal margins so far this year, with each finishing on an empty net goal by the Valiants. All of the other seven games have been decided by wider margins.
On the scorecard, sophomore Jason Murfitt is leading the way by a wide margin. Murfitt has tallied twelve goals and eleven assists after playing in all ten contests for a blistering 2.30 points per game average. To find the next closest goal scorer you have to look towards four upperclassmen all tied with five tallies each.
The Manhattanville offense has been closing out games strong in the third period. The Valiants have outscored their opponents by an astounding 28-6 margin in the final stanza of games.
That statistic also highlights strong play in their defensive zone. Junior Andrew Gallant seems to have taken over the starting position in goal, and is ringing up solid statistics.
The other eye popping statistic Manhattanville has posted so far this season is the penalty kill. The Valiants have always been stingy in giving up special team goals, but this season’s 94 percent penalty killing percentage is exceeding even their expectations.
This is the final ECAC West column for 2005. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the readers of USCHO a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. Tune back in after the holidays to catch all of the exciting ECAC West action as the second half of the season gets rolling.