This Week in the ECAC West

Still Climbing

Neumann continues its climb up the league standings and national rankings. The Knights are currently tied for second in the league with Manhattanville, although the Valiants have two games in hand. Neumann also edged closer to making the cut in this week’s national poll, coming in second in the “Others Receiving Votes” category with 25 points.

As long as the Knights continue to take care of business, like they did last weekend in a pair of games against Lebanon Valley, expect to see their climb continue.

The pair of games against the Flying Dutchmen were an interesting contrast. On the scoreboard, Neumann won the games handily by scores of 9-2 and 6-1. But scoreboards can be deceiving.

“They were a lot closer than what the final score might have indicated,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “We pulled away a little in the third on Friday, but other than that the first forty minutes they outworked us. Then we turned it up a bit in the third.”

At the end of two periods, Neumann held a slim 3-2 lead and a shots-on-goal advantage of 23-21. But the Knights did indeed “turn it up a bit in the third” as coach Williams said, outshooting Lebanon Valley 29-2 and adding six more goals in the final stanza.

Saturday’s game was an opposite image of Friday’s contest. In this one, it was Neumann that played well in the first two periods, before Lebanon Valley made a big push in the third where they outshot the Knights 24-9. But Neumann’s star netminder Mike Collichio came up big and held on to the 6-1 victory.

“On Saturday, we played good in the first two periods and then they took it to us in the third a little bit,” said Williams. “We are still trying to find a way to play for the full sixty (minutes). That bothered me on Saturday. We are a team who wants to get better as the game goes on, and we went in the opposite direction on Saturday.”

The box scores from the pair of games were loaded with penalties, including ten 10-minute misconducts and a smattering of game disqualifications. All told, the two teams combined on 66 penalties for 239 minutes across the two contests. Was the war on the ice really that bloody?

“It wasn’t as bad as what you see in the box score,” said Williams. “(The referee)gave out a lot of PIMs and it went both ways. It wasn’t even that chippy of a game, or even physical for that matter. The (referees) were throwing the (misconducts) around pretty quick. But we have to learn. We can’t afford to be taking tens going down the stretch.”

In addition to solid goaltending and a beefed up defense, the Neumann offense has really sprung to life this season. The Knights are averaging 4.28 goals per game, while limiting opponents to only 2.44 goals per game.

Two big reasons for the revamped offense are sophomore Neil Trimm and freshman Mike Hedden.

Trimm chipped in four goals and added an assist on another in last Saturday’s 6-1 victory over Lebanon Valley. He is currently tied for third in the nation in points per game, averaging exactly two points in every contest that he competes in, and leads the league in goals scored with fifteen.

“He came in last year at Christmas for us, and is averaging two points a game on his career,” said Williams. “He is the guy up front that we are trying to build around. He just took it to another level and at times he can dominate. He can work hard and get the puck. He has great skill and great vision. He is trying to prove himself as one of the top players here and in the nation.”

Hedden just continues to get better and better as the season progresses. He has settled in on the Knights’ power play unit, creating havoc in front of opponent’s goaltender and scoring goals. Hedden is currently tied for the lead nationally in game winning goals with five, and is tied for second in the league in total goals scored with fourteen.

“Mike Hedden has been a great player for us,” said Williams. “He started off slow, but has come on strong. He is a hard, gritty-nosed player. In front of the net on the power play, he seems to find his stick on every shot from the point. He takes the cross checks and the beatings and doesn’t back away.”

While Neumann is keeping an eye on the national poll, the Knights haven’t taken their eye of their real goal of making the league playoffs for the first time ever.

“(The poll is)not a big deal for us down here,” said Williams. “It is nice to get some recognition like that, but from where we were last year we are ecstatic right now.”

By the Numbers

The action this past weekend was highlighted by happenings, non-happenings, and interesting statistics.

First, the non-happenings. Manhattanville was unable to sweep Hobart on the road and saw its perfect in-league record blemished by the Statesmen on Saturday afternoon. The Valiants battled to a gritty 2-1 victory on Friday night, but couldn’t climb out of a 4-1 deficit on Saturday to complete the weekend, eventually losing 5-3.

Manhattanville’s demise allowed Utica to sneak into the top spot in the league standings, thanks to a win and tie at Elmira. But the Valiants have two games in hand, both to be played this weekend against Lebanon Valley, and will most likely retake the league lead this coming weekend.

Keith Longo, Hobart’s stud freshman goaltender, stopped 66 of Manhattanville’s 71 shots on goal over the weekend. Longo now leads the nation in save percentage (.944) and is third in goals against average (1.62).

Is this a sign of parity in the league? Manhattanville, Hobart, and Utica seem to be able to take each other out on any given night. With that kind of parity at the top, there is starting to be murmuring that maybe Neumann can stick close enough to sneak into one of the top spots by the end of the season.

Next, the happenings. Utica and Elmira continued to spar back and forth, showing that very little separates these two teams at least on the ice. Utica won Friday’s contest 2-0, despite being outshot 30-18.

Pioneers goaltender Adam Dekker was a wall all weekend, stopping 58 of the 59 Soaring Eagle shots he faced, and frustrating the dickens out of the Elmira offense.

Elmira clambered back to manage a 1-1 tie on Saturday to keep at least a glimmer of its playoff hopes alive.

Where It Stands

In the league standings, Elmira is on life support for a playoff berth. With eight games left to play, the Soaring Eagles are five points behind fourth place Hobart. Elmira hosts the Statesmen on Saturday at the Thunderdomes.

This is a “must win” for Elmira. If Hobart wins the game, Elmira will find itself seven points out of the playoffs with seven games to go. While still mathematically alive, the chances of overcoming a deficit of that size are not good.

The only other league games this weekend are Lebanon Valley traveling to Playland for a pair with Manhattanville. While the Flying Dutchmen are almost certainly not going anywhere in the standings this year, the games give Manhattanville a chance to re-stake its claim at the top of the league.

These games will even up the teams, with each having played eight league games by the end of this weekend, which means we will have a much better idea of where everyone stands heading into the last four weeks of action.