This Week In The ECAC West: Jan. 5, 2007

Tournament Madness

Four teams from the ECAC West played in New Year’s tournaments, racking up a first, two seconds, and a third place finish against some of the top teams in the country.

The team that came out of the tournaments on top was Neumann, as the Knights carried the ECAC West banner high.

“We obviously cheer when we go out of conference for our conference to win,” said Neumann head coach Dennis Williams. “We love to see the other teams win, without a doubt, but when we are on the ice we concentrate just on ourselves.”

Neumann not only had to come from behind in its first game against Babson and then survive an overtime with Plattsburgh to take home the title, they also had to overcome illness during the championship game on Saturday. Whether it was a stomach infection or bad food is unknown, but between fourteen and sixteen players were vomiting before, during, and after the game. The trip home took an extra long time as the bus made numerous stops along the highway for the players.

Illness aside, Neumann’s play on the ice showed a remarkable resiliency as well. In the opening game, Babson scored a goal just six minutes into the contest and held that 1-0 lead through the second intermission. Neumann then ripped off three goals in a ten-minute span of the third to take control of the game.

“We came out not really the way we wanted,” said Williams. “To Babson’s credit, they worked hard and got a goal on us early. It was not a great night for our power play. We were gripping the stick too much. We came in [to the locker room] after the second, and said we had been down before and told everyone to relax. It was a good gut check for our players.”

A 3-2 victory over Babson sent Neumann on to the championship game against host Plattsburgh. The Knights and Cardinals traded a pair of goals in the first period, each answering the other quickly.

Neumann got some daylight in the second period, before Plattsburgh tied the game 3-3 in the third to force overtime.

“Plattsburgh has a great arena and great fans. It was a fun atmosphere,” said Williams. “It was back and forth right off the bat. [Plattsburgh] jumped out to a quick start on us, and that is exactly what we didn’t want to happen. We wanted to weather the storm for the first five minutes. Plattsburgh is a very good team, much better than their record.”

A turnover at the blue line by Plattsburgh gave Neil Trimm and Mark Van Vliet the opening they needed to score the game winning goal in overtime to take the title home to southeastern Pennsylvania.

“It was a good win, definitely,” said Williams. “It was a big win for the guys, who played hard and battled through it all. When the goal finally went in, they could celebrate like kids again. That’s what pays off for coaches.”

The win over Plattsburgh could become even more important down the road, since it brought the Cardinals in to consideration as a common opponent with Elmira for both ECAC West tiebreakers and NCAA bids.

Hobart almost took home the title from the Middlebury tournament. The Statesmen rolled past Trinity 5-2 in the semifinal, before tying Middlebury 3-3 in the finals. Unlike the Plattsburgh tournament which scheduled a full 20-minute overtime period, the Middlebury tournament chose to only play a five-minute extra stanza.

The Statesmen and Panthers were tied after the five additional minutes, so the game went to a shootout to resolve the battle for the hardware. Middlebury outscored Hobart 3-1 in the shootout and the Statesmen settled for a second place finish.

Elmira finally started to show some life in the inaugural Oswego tournament, putting a strong 7-3 thumping on St. Thomas. The Tommies put in two quick goals in the first four minutes of the game, but Elmira didn’t fold, rattling off the next six to take control of the game.

The Soaring Eagles next faced nemesis Oswego in the championship game and despite a gutsy performance fell short in the third period to finish in second place.

Utica had a disappointing trip to the Times Argus Tournament in Norwich, drawing the Cadets in the first round, the most difficult first-round opponent of any team in the league.

The Pioneers were playing well in the semifinal game, leading 2-1, until midway through the third period when the team lost its composure after an apparent goal was disallowed. Norwich then ripped off four straight goals to take the win.

Utica next took on club team Rhode Island and got a confidence boost in an 8-0 drubbing of the Rams.

Turnover at the Bottom

Lebanon Valley coach Al MacCormack resigned Dec. 19 amid growing dissatisfaction from players, parents and fans after an 0-11 start to the season.

MacCormack had led the Flying Dutchmen since the program was started in the 1998-1999 season, playing originally in the ECAC Northeast.

Right from the start, Lebanon Valley found success in that conference, amassing a record of 114-40-6 over six seasons. The high point came in 2001, when the Flying Dutchmen took the ECAC Northeast title before finally losing to RIT in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA playoffs.

However, cost containment was a focus of the ECAC Northeast. A growing number of teams became reluctant to travel to Lebanon Valley, which is located in central Pennsylvania well away from the hub of the league in eastern New England. The ground swell finally succeeded in forcing Lebanon Valley from the league, and in 2004 the school joined the ECAC West.

Unfortunately for MacCormack and the team, the administrators at the school have failed to increase the resources dedicated to the team despite joining a much tougher league. The Flying Dutchmen have struggled in the ECAC West ever since, going 9-51-1 over the last two plus seasons.

While it probably was time for new coaching blood at Lebanon Valley, the entirety of the blame for the Flying Dutchmen’s perennial ECAC West cellar dwelling can’t be placed fully on MacCormack’s shoulders.

Taking over the reigns at Lebanon Valley is interim head coach Howard Hutton, who had been in his second year as an assistant with the program. Hutton came to Lebanon Valley after coaching the Farmingdale State club team.

Hutton will be put right to the test this weekend with a tough pair of road games at Elmira, and is looking to change the mindset of his players for the second half of the season.

“First of all, there has got to be a renewed sense of commitment here to getting ready to work from when we show up at the rink,” said Hutton. “From the minute we get out on the ice, we have to work a little harder. Accountability and commitment will be the key over the next couple of weeks. We have a chance here. We have the talent. We have the players. We have a great freshman class. We need to concentrate a little more on what needs to happen on the ice.”

MacCormack, meanwhile, is already looking for other opportunities and has several “pokers in the fire” including calls from the professional ranks. After 27 seasons as a collegiate head coach, it might be time for another change as well.

Game of the Week

Only one point separates Utica and Neumann in the standings, who battled to a tie almost two months ago in Utica.

Neumann is riding a 12 game unbeaten streak with its wins in Plattsburgh this past weekend. The Knights are looking to follow up their eye-popping first half road record by protecting their home turf, but last season’s late swoon is still in the back of the Knights mind.

Meanwhile, after self-destructing late in its the game against Norwich last Friday, Utica got a feel-good victory over Rhode Island in the consolation game.

“These games coming down the stretch are for all the marbles,” said Williams. “It comes down to nine league games to jockey for position. Last year as a team we kind of faltered. This year, we want to make sure that we turn that around and finish strong.”

All those factors come in to play this weekend as Utica heads to Aston for a pair of league games.

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