This Week In The ECAC West: Dec. 8, 2006

Whether a college is on the semester or quarter academic system, everyone is receiving their grades this time of year. So perhaps it is appropriate that grades are also handed out to the teams of the ECAC West. Teams have completed between a third and a half of their schedule, so let’s see how they have stacked up to the pre-season expectations.

Manhattanville Valiants

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: Fourth
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: Third
Current League Standing: First
Grade: A-

The Valiants may be young, but they have done a wonderful job of playing well right out of the gate this year. Last season, Manhattanville was 10-0 at this point, so some might see its current 9-0-2 record as somewhat of a downturn. The only two blemishes have been on Saturdays, the second game of busy league play weekends against Neumann and Utica.

Those ties have also been the only ones in which the Valiants have scored less than four goals. An explosive offense, particularly in the third period, has been a hallmark of Manhattanville so far this season, outscoring its opponents 25-4 in the third period

Goaltending has also been a highlight of the first half of the season for Manhattanville. Senior Andrew Gallant is having a stellar season, with a save percentage over 94% and a goals against of 1.52.

All of this has vaulted Manhattanville to the No.1 spot in the national rankings, and the lead in the league standings.

Not quite all is rosy for the Valiants however, as a small disciplinary issue two weeks ago showed that the young team might be having a little trouble coming together. That is the only reason Manhattanville didn’t earn a perfect mid-season grade.

Neumann Knights

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: Fifth
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: Fifth
Current League Standing: Second
Grade: A

Given the preseason predictions for Neumann to finish near the bottom of the league, it is hard not be impressed by the team so far this season. The Knights have used grit, determination, and just plain hard work to climb all the way to the No. 7 ranking in the nation.

The Knights have been road warriors so far this season and it won’t let up much in the second half. Neumann played its first ten games on the road, and will play eight of its last thirteen games away from the Ice Works as well.

That makes Neumann’s 8-1-3 overall record, and unblemished 3-0-3 league record, even more remarkable.

The Knights lead the league in offense, with five players already over twenty points and junior Neil Trimm leading the nation with a remarkable 2.67 points per game. Exactly half of Neumann’s goals this season have been on the power play, which is clicking along at a remarkable 29.6% success rate.

Neumann is one of the most improved teams in the nation and just keeps rolling along this season, earning the top grade in the league so far.

Utica Pioneers

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: Tied Second
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: Fourth
Current League Standing: Third
Grade: B

Utica has played the fewest games so far, only eight contests with six of them being within the league. After an early stumble against Oswego, the Pioneers had been rolling along until last weekend. A loss and a tie to Manhattanville at home were definitely a drag both on their record and on their first half grade.

Defense has been a constant at Utica for many years, and this year the Pioneers continue to stymie their opponents who have only been able to score a total of nineteen goals in eight games.

Utica has gone from dead last in scoring last season to the middle of the pack this year, tallying almost a goal a game more. Even the power play has come alive this year, moving along at a quite nice 23.2%.

Goaltending has been a little disappointing so far this year. Junior Adam Dekker, while posting what would be good numbers for most goaltenders, is playing a step below his normal stellar self.

Utica got a big morale boost with the unexpected comeback of senior Jared Allison two weeks ago, who is tied for the team lead in points.

Overall, for a team loaded with a dozen freshmen, Utica is playing well and has a lot of upside potential heading down the stretch if it can start to string together some wins.

Hobart Statesmen

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: Tied Second
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: Second
Current League Standing: Fourth
Grade: B-

Hobart, perhaps the most experienced team in the league, is racking up the statistics but just can’t seem to get the W’s. The Statesmen are unblemished in play outside the league, but are a disappointing 2-2-1 inside.

For the second year in a row, Hobart dropped its first two league contests and has been trying to dig out of the hole ever since. The Statesmen, while technically undefeated since those losses, have been alternating between wins and ties making it hard to gain any ground.

Hobart started the season with the best goaltending tandem in the league, but with junior Dmitri Papaevagelou going down to injury three weeks ago, the load has fallen to sophomore Keith Longo. Longo has stepped up in a big way, racking up a 94.5 save percentage and paltry 1.74 goals against average.

One weakness for Hobart is the power play. The Statesmen have only scored on 13.8% of their opportunities, after going O’fer during the first thirty four man-up situations to start the season.

Hobart hockey has been described as workmanlike at times. While that style of play may not always be glamorous or get the headlines, it also means that you can count on them to be there at the end and this year will be no exception.

Elmira Soaring Eagles

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: First
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: First
Current League Standing: Fifth
Grade: C-

Elmira has been anything but soaring this season. Both statistically and in the standings, the first half of the season has been a colossal disappointment for Elmira and its fans. Everyone now has a much higher appreciation of just how special last year’s run to the final four was.

From scoring, to special teams, to goaltending, Elmira is playing well below both expectations and their apparent ability. Through nine games, the Soaring Eagles have yet to get a player with more than single digit points and have been outscored overall in all three periods of play.

On special teams, Elmira’s power play is a low 14.5% and the penalty kill is at less than 80%. Combine that with a disappointing start for heir-apparent goaltender Raphael Cundari, and things are looking bleak in the Thunderdomes.

But maybe all is not lost. Elmira showed some heart with a two goal third period comeback to salvage a tie at always tough Plattsburgh two weeks ago. And there have been signs lately of the team starting to play together.

Repeating the magical run of last season is probably unlikely at this point, but if Elmira can start to play well during the second half then something can be made of the season after all.

Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen

2006-07 Coach’s Poll: Sixth
2006-07 USCHO predicted finish: Sixth
Current League Standing: Sixth
Grade: D-

Unfortunately, Lebanon Valley has gone from bad to worse this season. The Flying Dutchmen appear to be regressing, instead of being able to make the improvements that everyone in the league has been hoping for.

Things started falling apart during the middle of last season and Lebanon Valley just can’t seem to get out of the hole this year either. They are winless both inside and outside of the league, giving up double digit goals in three of its nine games so far.

It is hard to find any positives so far for the Flying Dutchmen. Perhaps the only one is that two of the four players currently tied for the points lead on the team with four are freshman, including Adam Orsini leading the team with four goals.

Lebanon Valley will need to hold on to whatever hope they can over the holidays. While turning the ship around in the second half won’t be easy, there are several winnable games on the schedule that might give the Flying Dutchmen something to grasp.

Holiday Greetings

At this time of the year, it is traditional to wish everyone the best holiday wishes and a joyous New year. While I certainly would like to extend those same wishes, I am writing this final column of 2006 while watching the Victoria Secrets fashion show on television. Perhaps the shows concluding theme music put it best with “A little more Love. A little more Peace. Whatever it takes.”

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with family, food, and fun. Then afterwards join all of us back here at USCHO, doing whatever it takes to bring you all the coverage for the second half of the season.

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