Title In Hand
With a hard fought tie and win against Neumann last weekend, Manhattanville clinched the regular season title and home rink throughout the league playoffs.
“I am really proud of our guys,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “Most people thought we were going to be down this year, with a brand new team, and to go in to the final weekend knowing that we are going to host a playoff game is a big accomplishment.”
The wins certainly didn’t come easy for the Valiants as Neumann gave them everything they could handle. The Knights came charging back late in Friday’s game, tying the contest at 3-3 with an extra attacker goal at 19:28 of the third period.
“They were very hard fought and competitive games,” said Levinthal. “I have to give Neumann a lot of credit. They are very good and deserved more than a tie on Friday. The second period, they thoroughly outplayed us on Friday and I called a timeout because we needed to.”
Saturday’s contest was a little easier, as a pair of goals by Jason Murfitt in the first eleven minutes of the game gave the Valiants some breathing room. For the second night in a row, Neumann owned the middle stanza and tied the game on goals from Neil Trimm and Mike Hedden. A.J. Mikkelsen’s tally five minutes in to the third period gave Manhattanville the victory, and the title.
“In the third period on Saturday, we recovered well and showed some guts and character,” said Levinthal.
With only one weekend to go in the regular season, Manhattanville continues to roll and has retained the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com poll since December. But being undefeated as the season winds down can be a mixed blessing at times, as the team starts to feel the pressure of the playoffs and the win-loss record.
“It’s not like we haven’t tasted defeat or faced adversity,” said Levinthal. “This team has won games going in that it was time to let down. But they find a way, and have all year, to overcome difficult challenges. Not losing a game on the road all year is really tough to do in our league. We are not your classic undefeated team, that is for sure. It would be unfair to compare this team to the RIT team that went undefeated until the national championship game [in 2001].”
The only blemish on Manhattanville’s record came in an exhibition game against the US National Development Under-18 team, who defeated the Valiants 7-3 on Jan. 6.
Everywhere But the Scoreboard
Elmira and Hobart squared off last weekend in a home-and-home series along Route 14. Unfortunately for the home fans each night, the visiting team won both games.
With Friday’s game at “The Cooler” in Geneva, it was Elmira that carried play and won a tight 3-2 game. Trailing 3-1 with almost three minutes remaining in the game, Hobart coach Mark Taylor pulled netminder Keith Longo, knowing that playoff positioning was on the line.
Mike Polsonetti, returning from several weeks off due to an injury, tapped in a goal just twelve seconds later to narrow the margin to 3-2. But that was as close as the Statesmen could get, and Elmira held on for the win.
Saturday’s game at the Thunderdomes was the complete opposite. Hobart’s Mike McCarthy potted a goal just forty eight seconds in to the game and Shawn Houde added another two minutes later to set the tone for the night.
“We played well on Friday, but then it got really ugly Saturday night,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski.
Statistically, Elmira won every facet of Saturday’s game. The Soaring Eagles led in shots on goal, power play goals, faceoffs won, and took fewer penalties. But by the end of the debacle, the scoreboard showed Hobart with a dominating 7-2 victory.
“For once, I don’t think the statistics really show what happened in that game,” said Ceglarski. “We gave up goals in the first minute and last minute of the first and second period. I really don’t think we were in the game from beginning to end. Hobart played extremely well. We made several mistakes and never seemed to get in to the flow of the game, and that was disappointing because I thought we played so well on Friday night.”
Saturday’s game may have been a little more disappointing as it was only the second blemish for the Soaring Eagles since the end of December. For the second year in a row, Elmira has put together a torrid second half of the season after a disappointing start to the year.
The big question looming over the Soaring Eagles program is: What has been the difference the last two seasons between the first half team and the second half team?
“If I knew the difference, I think we would be a ranked team right now,” said Ceglarski. “We have talked about it in the office whether or not we work the guys too hard in the beginning of the year, and then don’t have the legs come game time. We always cut back on what we practice the second half. Maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe it takes longer for our guys to adjust? Maybe we aren’t doing our job teaching our guys the right things in the first half of the year? I’m not sure. It is definitely something that we have to look at and change next year, and get off to a better start.”
With Manhattanville having already sewn up the regular season title, and Neumann sitting solidly in second place, the focus this weekend will be in the middle of the pack as Utica, Elmira, and Hobart battle for third through fifth position.
Utica and Hobart will square off in a home-and-home series down the Thruway. Utica is in the drivers seat for third place. Taking three points from Hobart would clinch third place outright, but fewer points would do the job if Elmira doesn’t sweep Manhattanville.
If Hobart sweeps Utica, and Elmira takes two points or less from the Valiants, then the Statesmen will finish in third place.
Elmira has the toughest road of the three teams, playing a pair of games at Manhattanville’s unique Playland Arena.
“We have been fortunate enough recently to have a little bit of success down there,” said Ceglarski. “Down the stretch, we played a little bit better in that building. But right now, it is a different year. Their team is playing with a great deal of confidence and we are coming off a big question mark of why we played poorly last Saturday night.”
Elmira only has two ways to finish in third place. First, sweep Manhattanville and hope that Utica and Hobart split. Or, take three points from the Valiants and have Hobart sweep the Pioneers.
“We can’t worry about what Hobart and Utica are going to do,” concluded Ceglarski. “We are going up against the best team in the country, that is undefeated, and has only lost two games in their building in two years. We have our work cut out for us.”
Looking past the final weekend of the regular season, the format of the league playoffs has changed for this go around. In an effort to hold playoff games on a larger number of campuses, the No. 4 seeded team will host a game on Wednesday, Feb. 21, against the No. 5 seeded team.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 24, Manhattanville will host the winner of the No. 4/No. 5 matchup, while Neumann will host the No. 3 seeded team.
Finally, on Saturday, March 3, the two surviving teams will battle it out at the highest remaining seed for all the marbles.