It’s no secret that Elmira has been struggling all season. The Soaring Eagles only managed to win one of five league games in the first half of the season, and despite two early wins against Plattsburgh and Oswego lost six of their next nine games.
But there are signs that Elmira is turning the ship around. The Soaring Eagles are riding a three game winning streak, having dropped Skidmore, Cortland and Geneseo all on the road over the last two weeks.
“No question-we are starting to play a lot better and a lot more consistently,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski.
One problem Elmira hasn’t had is generating offense during the long dry spell. They have been getting plenty of shots on net, but those shots just haven’t been going in.
“If you look back at some of our games against Neumann, against Potsdam, against Brockport, we outshot teams badly and didn’t get a lot of good results except from the Brockport game,” said Ceglarski. “That definitely was one of our concerns going into the last four games. We have really been concentrating on getting more traffic, and getting shots to the net and getting guys more rebounds. It seemed to pay off this weekend, for sure.”
Elmira’s 6-2 victory against Cortland on January 13 is a microcosm of its travails and turnaround. Cortland threw five shots on goal in the first five minutes of the game, scoring two power play goals to take an early 2-0 lead. But the Elmira defense clamped down, allowing only twelve more Red Dragon shots the rest of the game, and this gave the Soaring Eagles offense a chance to pour fifty shots on goal and bury Cortland.
“It has been a real concerted effort on our part to keep our shots against down and to get our shots in favor up to get some more goals scored,” said Ceglarski.
One facet of the game that is helping the Elmira turnaround is special teams. The power play started out the season strong, but then found itself unable to convert at key times when the game was on the line midseason. The penalty kill unit also started out the season slow as well.
But lately, both sides of the special teams have been progressing and now show strong numbers to back up the scoreboard success. The Elmira power play is currently clicking along at 81.6 percent while the penalty kill is stuffing 24.5 percent of the opponent’s opportunities.
“Back in November, our PK wasn’t so good,” said Ceglarski. “[Assistant coach Aaron] Saul has really worked on our penalty kill, and our guys have really bought into what we are trying to do and our penalty killing has steadily increased.”
“Lately the power play has really been moving the puck well and getting great scoring chances. We are really relying on that to provide us some offense, because five-on-five we are just not burying our opportunities. Our power play lately has been very smooth.”
Elmira has also been riding the hot hand of senior goaltender Greg Fargo, who has posted a .911 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average in ten games so far this season. Fargo has also continued his march up the school record books this season. Fargo now sits atop the Most Saves in a Career category for Elmira, posting 2,279 saves so far, and counting. Fargo surpassed Elmira standout Stephen Bidus (’99) who made 2,098 career saves.
Fargo is also currently tied for fifth with Steve Capps (’85) in Career Wins with 35. Fargo could conceivably climb as high as third in the Career Wins category by the end of the season if Elmira gets on a solid roll.
Back in Form
Prior to the holiday break, Hobart had been rolling along despite a rash of early season injuries. The Statesmen amassed eight straight win during November and December, and edged as high as seventh in the USCHO Division III poll, a spot they regained in this week’s poll.
But then Hobart stumbled out of the gate in 2006, dropping a poorly played game in Oswego, in which the Lakers jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game, and then beating Brockport despite again not playing well three days later.
It took a little longer than hoped for Hobart to get its legs back after the holiday break, but the Statesmen appear to be back on a roll after defeating Wentworth and Curry on a trip to New England last weekend.
“We are getting back into form a little bit,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “We didn’t like the way we came out in Oswego or Brockport and the guys wanted to get things going back the way we were playing before break. The focus and leadership was there this past weekend and the guys really came together.”
A definite plus for the Statesmen is the return of three of its stars from the injured list. Seniors William Brame, Will Bodine and junior Mike Polsonetti have all returned to the lineup since the first of the year and have contributed immediately, chipping in four goals and five assists in the last four games.
“It is healthy to get those guys back,” said Taylor. “Then you have to get all of those combos back too.”
Despite coach Taylor’s concern about shuffling the lineup to make room for the three upperclassmen, it doesn’t appear that they have missed a beat.
Here We Go
That critical time of the season when teams either reach their dreams or go home frustrated has finally arrived. From here on out, it is all about league play.
An extra wrinkle this season is teams playing back to back games over a weekend. How teams adjust to the new schedule might go a long way in determining their fate. All six teams are locked in double game sets this weekend.
“It is an exciting time of year,” said Ceglarski. “We have one of the most competitive leagues in the country. Teams have definitely improved. We have, Hobart has, Manhattanville is still chugging along. It is going to be a hard-fought two points every night. It is the first time we are getting into the back to back games against league opponents. I am glad that we have put together a little mini-winning streak here, but it doesn’t mean crap in our league standings if we don’t continue that.”
Hobart’s coach Taylor echoes the feeling that the new format will lead to some interesting wrinkles as this year’s league season unfolds.
“It is going to be a dog fight for a playoff spot,” said Taylor. “We really need to focus on us. I like the two games back to back. Sometimes it allows you to throw something different at them one night to the next, but it really depends on who you are and who you are playing.”
Perhaps the most interesting matchup this weekend is Utica at the Thunderdomes of Elmira for a pair of games. Utica snuck out a 2-1 overtime win at the Aud back in early November, scoring with only 14 seconds remaining in the extra stanza. But Elmira had an apparent game-winning goal waved off earlier in the overtime stanza that added to its frustration level.
“There is a Utica team coming in here this weekend that beat us in overtime at their place,” said Ceglarski. “Our guys thought that that game was taken from us a little bit, after scoring that goal in overtime that was disallowed. Our guys are focused and ready to have two home games against a good opponent.”
Both Utica and Elmira find themselves behind the eight ball in the standings. The Pioneers have dropped two games to Neumann already and now find themselves clawing to stay near the top of the standing-and perhaps might even be struggling to secure a playoff spot.
“We are behind the eight ball now,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “As we dissected it going into the Jan. 7th game [against Neumann], if we had won that game we would have separated ourselves from Neumann and Elmira. With an eight point separation with nine games to go, they would have had to win four more times than we would have. That would have been a great situation, but we blew that [chance].”
“As it appears now, we are done with Neumann who has beaten us. So now we have to out play Elmira, Manhattanville, Hobart to get in. We play them all twice at their place. Of all of the teams in our league, I think we are the ones with the most work to do at this point.”
Meanwhile, Elmira is currently outside of the playoffs looking in, as the Soaring Eagles sit in fifth place with a game in hand over Neumann and Utica.
“I don’t want to sound like the old coach with cliché’s about taking it one game at a time,” said Ceglarski. “There is no question that we are aware of what our situation is in the league standings. But we are not a good enough team yet that we can be thinking past anybody.”