The postseason turned out to be a wild time for the ECAC West. Late game heroics, stellar goaltending and great coaching led to the most intriguing and successful postseason ever for the league. In the seven playoff contests played by ECAC West teams, only two were decided by more than one goal and two other games took overtime or multiple overtimes to settle on a winner.
ECAC West Playoffs
The drama started in the first semifinal game of the league playoffs at
Manhattanville’s Playland Ice Casino. Elmira and Hobart traded the lead back and forth throughout the game, only to enter the last 10 minutes of the contest tied 4-4.
“It was kind of a back and forth game,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor.
“We did some good things in the first period, but the second was kind of stale for both teams. The third period picked up. We had a breakdown near the end and they capitalized on it.”
In stepped Justin Joy to begin a very magical playoff run for both himself and the Soaring Eagles. Joy scored the game winner with just
1:28 remaining to keep Elmira rolling with a 4-3 victory.
“The game against Hobart was with a very familiar opponent,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “We played them a lot down the stretch. Our guys came out in the second period and played pretty well. Greg Fargo played exceptional in net. Coming into the third period, tied up at two, I thought either team had a good chance to win. Hobart is a well coached team and I thought it was their turn for a little while. Our guys were able to put some pressure on their goaltender and their defense down low. With Justin [Joy’s] goal when he walked out from below the goal line, it was pretty exciting to say the least.”
The second semifinal saw a pesky fourth seed Utica team playing the heavily favored host Manhattanville Valiants.
The Valiants scored first, just over four minutes into the game, but then Utica started a trend that would keep going all night. Every time
Manhattanville, Utica found a way to answer right back. Three times during the game, the Pioneers scored right after a Manhattanville tally.
An extra Utica goal late in the second and another late in third allowed the Pioneers to pull away to a 5-3 win.
“Utica played well and deserved to win the game,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “It’s tough to play from behind, and we had to keep fighting back. They would score right away. They worked hard and made a couple more plays than we did.”
This set up a showdown between the third and fourth seed in the tournament for all the marbles. This is the first time that a No. 3 and
No. 4 has met in the league title game in at least the last 15 years and perhaps longer.
Utica jumped out to a two-goal lead by early in the second period, and it was looking like the Pioneers were on their way to becoming the first No. 4 seed to ever win an ECAC West title.
“Both games on the weekend, and I don’t know why, we came out not nervous but a little on edge,” said Ceglarski. “We had a lot of young guys in the lineup and only a handful of guys who have played in a championship game. I don’t think our guys knew what to expect. The first six or seven minutes, I thought we controlled play but they got kind of a fluke goal.”
Then, during the middle of the second period, the tide changed. Sports psychology is a fickle thing, and can change dramatically in a very short time span.
“Our guys could have rolled over and died, but exactly halfway through the second period the guys started rallying together on the bench,” said Ceglarski. “You could see the momentum change and then to get three goals in just over four minutes was kind of fitting because that is how our season has gone. Beginning of the year, everyone counted us out, and then the guys decided they wanted to play good hockey. That is exactly what happened in the second period in the Utica game.”
With those three quick goals in the last half of the second period,
Elmira went from being all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in the middle of January to the 2005-2006 ECAC West Champions.
It is certainly one of the most remarkable turnarounds of a season in the history of the league.
NCAA Quarterfinal Surprises
Prior to the league playoffs, pundits were predicting two teams from the ECAC West to receive bids to the NCAA playoffs. Manhattanville and
Hobart looked like there were locks. The last time the league got two bids was in 1997 when both Elmira and RIT went.
But with Elmira’s dramatic league championship, the selection committee was left with a dilemma, and after several hours of discussion awarded
NCAA tournament bids to three teams from the ECAC West.
With Hobart visiting Norwich and Elmira at Manhattanville in the NCAA
Quarterfinal round, odds were that the ECAC West would only see one team advance to the final weekend.
Fans should have known, however, that events just weren’t destined to transpire as expected during this postseason.
Hobart took on Norwich with a stellar game plan and played it to perfection. Thanks to two early goals, and outstanding goaltending by freshman Keith Longo, the Statesmen beat the Cadets for the first time ever by a score of 3-1.
Meanwhile, down at Playland, through the first 59 minutes of play it appeared that the Valiants would be advancing to the final weekend.
While Elmira stood up to everything Manhattanville could throw at it, the Valiants were able to sneak a goal in early in the second period and appeared to be in control of the game.
“It was a really exciting game,” said Ceglarski. “Both teams had some chances in regulation to put it away. Manhattanville had some chances to open up a larger lead but for some reason were unable to put it away. Our guys showed a lot of resiliency and determination.”
With eight seconds left in the game, and the Elmira goalie sitting on the bench, the Soaring Eagles were whistled for a hand pass in the corner of the Valiants zone. The ensuing faceoff came out to the neutral zone and it looked like Elmira’s storybook season was about to come to an end.
“The last eight seconds of the game were unbelievable,” said Ceglarski.
“‘That was it’ was kind of going through my mind for a minute. When that faceoff occurred, I was remembering back to Neumann when we scored late in regulation and late in overtime, which really set the ball in motion for this late season run. We had the right personnel out on the ice. If that draw is either a tie or we lose it, the game is over.”
After all, the only thing Manhattanville had to do was either win the
faceoff or at least tie up the puck for eight measly seconds, right?
But Elmira’s Mark Mazzetti won the faceoff, Andrew Bedford carried it into the zone and put a shot on net, Brandon Rose chipped at the rebound but Manhattanville goaltender Andrew Gallant made the save, and then Justin Joy batted home the puck with just 1.8 seconds remaining on the clock to tie the game 1-1. What a remarkable last eight seconds of the third period.
“Honestly, it was pretty much desperation,” said Joy. “I was just hoping to maybe get a chance. There were doubts, with eight seconds left, it wasn’t a good feeling. After we scored it was just unbelievable.”
Manhattanville and Elmira battled through the first twenty minute overtime but neither team could gain an advantage.
“It was very warm in the building and we had a lot of guys who were really starting to dehydrate,” said Ceglarski. “After the first overtime, we spent the intermission hydrating our guys. It was just a matter of making sure that we didn’t have any turnovers in the neutral zone and make sure the puck got in deep. If we had the chance to go wide on a defenseman, we were going to do that.”
And that is exactly what Justin Joy did midway through the second overtime. He carried the puck down the left side of the Valiants zone, went wide on the lone defenseman, and backhanded it in for the double-overtime game-winning goal.
The Story Ends
Elmira and Hobart acquitted both themselves and the league well in the
NCAA semifinal games at Elmira’s First Arena, but both came up one goal short of moving on to the championship game.
Hobart twice came back from one-goal deficits to take St. Norbert to overtime, but the Green Knights scored midway through the extra stanza to win the game 5-4. This was the Statesmen’s first ever trip to the final four and much of that success came from this year’s senior class who amassed the most successful four years of Hobart hockey ever with a record of 63-32-11.
“These guys have made me such a better coach,” said Taylor. “I want the alumni to know that these guys left it all out there. These guys can hold their heads up high. They have brought this program to a place for future classes to build on.”
Elmira also kept its game close against eventual champion Middlebury in the other semifinal game. The Soaring Eagles scored first, but couldn’t hold off the Panthers who scored the game winner with two minutes remaining in the third period to earn the 2-1 victory.
By any measurable standard, the 2005-2006 season will go down in the record books as the most impressive one ever in the league’s history. It was shown that very little separates the top four or five teams in the league, and that any one of those teams can compete successfully on the national stage. Even Lebanon Valley showed that it is improving and will soon be able to compete. It certainly has been a remarkable season.
All League Teams
With the 2005-2006 season finally wrapped up, I now present to you my
All League Teams. As in previous years, my awards take into account the entire season, including league play, non-conference games and the postseason.
While most of the picks are pretty obvious, I need to explain my Player of the Year (POY) pick since it is pretty unusual. Normally, the league’s top point scorer is a shoe-in for the POY. For the ECAC West this season, that would have been Neil Trimm from Neumann with Jason Murfitt and Jordan Menzies from Manhattanville close behind.
While those players are certainly very deserving and would make great selections, one of the factors that I consider in making my decision is the impact that a player has on their team.
Elmira’s remarkable mid-season turnaround and run to the final four was certainly the most eye-popping story of the season. While good coaching laid the foundation for that to occur, the most instrumental people in the mix were the Soaring Eagles captains and assistant captains. So, after much thought and consideration, I have chosen the student-athlete leadership of Elmira as my Player(s) of the Year.
ECAC West First Team
Forward: Jason Murfitt, Manhattanville, So.
Forward: Justin Joy, Elmira, Jr.
Forward: Neil Trimm, Neumann, So.
Defense: Greg Gallagher, Hobart, Sr.
Defense: Chad Van Diemen, Manhattanville, Sr.
Goal: Greg Fargo, Elmira, Sr.
ECAC West Second Team
Forward: Connor Bradley, Hobart, Jr.
Forward: Jordan Menzies, Manhattanville, Jr.
Forward: Justin Todd, Lebanon Valley, So.
Defense: Jason Slusher, Lebanon Valley, Sr.
Defense: Tony Wiseman, Utica, So.
Goal: Andrew Gallant, Manhattanville, Jr.
ECAC West Rookie Team
Forward: Colin Kingston, Utica
Forward: Mike Hedden, Neumann
Forward: Jesse Cole, Neumann
Defense: Nicolas Dimoulin, Elmira
Defense: Tyler Cann, Elmira
Goal: Keith Longo, Hobart
Player(s) of the Year
Elmira captain Brandon Rose and assistant captains Ashton McLean, Randy
Campolini, and Darcy Pettie
Rookie of the Year
Keith Longo, Hobart
Coach of the Year
Tim Ceglarski, Elmira