In the Hunt
Elmira went into Neumann’s Ice Works rink last weekend and accomplished exactly what it needed to remain in the playoff hunt by sweeping the Knights.
“Breaks that we didn’t get early on in the year, we definitely got this weekend,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “They were two pretty well-played games. Neumann outplayed us pretty well in the first game, but the second game was pretty even the whole way. We got four points and four points on the road against a very good team.”
Despite being out shot 43-29 in Friday’s game, Elmira relied on the power play and great goaltending to win 5-3. Netminder Greg Fargo turned aside 40 of the shots he faced, including all 16 he saw in the first period to give his team a chance to win.
The other key ingredient over the weekend was the recently resurgent Elmira power play. The Soaring Eagles poured in three unanswered power play goals in the first period on Friday to set the tone for the weekend. Elmira ended up scoring on all four power play opportunities Friday night.
Then on Saturday, just to add to the drama of the weekend, the Soaring
Eagles scored a power play goal to tie the game with 22 seconds remaining in regulation, and then another power play goal to win the game with eight seconds left in overtime.
“Earlier in the year, our power play was going pretty good,” said Ceglarski. “Then we went through a drought where we were losing some games and our power play wasn’t clicking very well. We have spent a lot of time lately on our power play, and that is mainly because 5-on-5 we are not scoring a lot of goals. We don’t have the offensive firepower in our lineup that we had last year or the year before that. But we have a much more well-rounded team and a harder-working team, and we need for our power play to step up and execute. By all means, they did that this weekend. It was definitely the difference in the game this past Friday.”
Adding to the Soaring Eagles onslaught was sophomore Michael Richard, who threw in a hat trick during Friday’s game including two power play goals and the eventual game winner. Richard now leads the team in goals during league games, is tied for the lead in goals overall and has tallied Elmira’s only shorthanded goal of the season.
“Mike [Richard] is a kid that we were looking at to fill the void left by graduation of our goal scoring,” Ceglarski said. “He has been kind of snakebit all along, but it was good to see him chip in this weekend and get some. Hopefully he will get a hot stick for the rest of the season.”
The Soaring Eagles have chosen the right time of year to get hot. Elmira is sporting a five-game unbeaten streak as they push to get back into the playoff picture. But they have another tough weekend coming up hosting league leader Manhattanville for a pair of games.
The Valiants defeated Elmira earlier this season 7-4 in their only meeting to date, and the Soaring Eagles are 1-3-1 in their last five contests against Manhattanville. The last time Elmira defeated the Valiants was almost exactly two years ago when the Soaring Eagles thumped them 7-2.
“It is another exciting weekend of ECAC West hockey, for sure,” said Ceglarski. “Our game down there was an exciting game. They ended up getting the better of us, but we are excited about having them here at the Domes. I think we are a much better team and a much different team than when we first played them.”
The only thing that league play accomplished this past weekend was to muddy the waters in the middle of the pack. Manhattanville maintained their three-point lead by squeaking out a 1-1 tie at Utica. Both goaltenders, Jay Chrapala for Manhattanville and Adam Dekker for Utica, had stellar games stopping more than 30 shots each.
Hobart swept a pair of games from a pesky Lebanon Valley to move up in the standings. The Statesmen had a more difficult time Saturday than Friday, having to come back from a 2-1 deficit in the second period to eventually win 4-2.
Utica’s tie, Hobart’s sweep, and Neumann gaining two needed points against Lebanon Valley on Tuesday put these three teams into a dead heat for second place in the league standings.
That logjam should see some movement this weekend as Hobart and Utica square off, while Neumann is idle.
Even though Elmira is in the midst of a heated playoff hunt, the Soaring Eagles still found time this week to continue a nearly 20-year tradition of reaching out to the community.
One of the winter sports sponsored by the Special Olympics is floor hockey, but with a twist. They have combined what we think of as the traditional aspects of American floor hockey with a Canadian sport called Ringette. In Ringette, the puck is replaced with a felt ring and the blades are removed from regular hockey sticks. The rules are a combination of hockey, soccer, and lacrosse.
As a tune-up towards regional and national play by the local Special Olympics chapter in Elmira, the Soaring Eagles’ hockey team plays a game against the local kids each year. The players ensure that the Special Olympic kids have a great time, learn some new skills and gain some confidence by always winning the game.
“It was something that was started long before I got here,” said Ceglarski. “There is a local organization that takes a group of special needs students to Syracuse this weekend for regional play. We go over to their school with 14 guys. It has been almost 20 years since we have been doing it and is the longest losing streak here at the college since we have lost 20 years in a row.”
Perhaps the best aspect of community outreach is that everyone involved gains something from the effort. The Special Olympic kids thoroughly enjoy the time the Elmira players spend with them, and the college kids have a great time off campus.
“The kids really look forward to it all year long and for some it is more anticipated than actually playing in their tournament” added Ceglarski. “When we put the date up on the bulletin board, it isn’t something that we have to pull teeth to get guys to go to. We get a lot of volunteers and usually have to turn guys away.”