Both of the semifinal games last weekend were thrillers. In each of the contests, the winning team built multi-goal leads only to see the losing team storm back to within a goal in the waning moments. But the two top ranked teams weathered the storms and will now meet in the championship game this weekend.
No. 1 Manhattanville hosted No. 4 Elmira in a rematch of their season ending weekend series. Unfortunately for the Soaring Eagles, the Valiants were able to establish a 2-0 lead by early in the second period on goals by Mike Ruberto and Zeke Hume.
Elmira’s Darcy Pettie tallied midway through the second period to cut the Valiants lead to one, but again Manhattanville answered with a pair of goals to pull away 4-1.
“Our guys played determined to win and did a lot of the little things well that result in wins,” said Manhattaville coach Keith Levinthal. “As the game wore on, we got better.”
The Soaring Eagles didn’t fold thouugh and Nicolas Dumoulin tallied a pair of goals, including the second one with 1:17 remaining while the Elmira goaltender was on the bench for the extra attacker, and just like that the Valiants were clinging to a narrow 4-3 lead.
On the ensuing center ice faceoff, before Elmira could pull its goaltender again, Chris Mills scored for Manhattanville at 19:14 to seal the 5-3 victory.
“It all happened so fast at the end,” said Levinthal. “We didn’t reach a panic level. We were playing so well for the last ten minutes of the third period. Obviously, it is a relief to move on.”
No. 2 ranked Neumann, in its first playoff game ever, also had its hands full last Saturday hosting No. 3 Utica. Nerves were running high around the Neumann locker room all week as the team prepared for the post season game.
“I didn’t sleep much last week because I was so nervous,” said Neumann coach Dennis Williams. “I was in a playoff game against Hobart when I was the Utica assistant coach but it is a lot different when you are the head coach and it is your guys. Everyone was pretty nervous last week, so we had to relax a bit. I finally got a nap on Sunday.”
The game was also a chance for the campus and community to rally around the program.
“Our Athletic Director made a bunch of t-shirts and gave those away with some jerseys,” said Williams. “We had everyone out, from faculty to staff and the students. It was our biggest crowd ever. It was a fun atmosphere. The community was great and hyped it all week.”
Freshman Matt Ward swatted in two rebounds on power plays in the first seventeen-plus minutes of the first period to stake Neumann to a 2-0 lead.
“Last time we played Utica, they packed it in pretty tight on the penalty kill,” said Williams. “Our stress this week was our guys up top to find holes to get the puck through. They did that and the puck just bounced on to Matt Ward’s stick a couple of times. It is the way you get goals some times.”
After that, Neumann had to hold on as Utica tried to storm back. Knights goaltender Mike Collichio and Pioneers netminder Adam Dekker both made spectacular saves for their teams down the stretch.
Colin Kingston scored for Utica midway through the third period, but 2-1 was as close as the Pioneers could get as Neumann held on for the victory (another first for the team).
The victories have setup Manhattanville and Neumann for what should be a great championship game. For the first time in the last several years, the top two seeds will faceoff against each other in the championship game.
The Knights and Valiants played to two ties and a Manhattanville win during the regular season. The Valiants scored exactly three goals in each of those three games, while Neumann fell one goal short in the only loss.
“The three points we earned [at Neumann] were stolen, in a sense,” said Levinthal. “They are a really good team and have a few kids who are real difference makers on the ice. It will be a tough game.”
It should be a humdinger of a game to wrap up the league for the year.
It is no secret that the ECAC West is known for its great fans. From the old days at Union or the RIT Corner Crew or in a packed Thunderdome, the atmosphere inside the rinks generated by the fans has always been something special.
The Pioneer Posse at Utica has now picked up the flag of the ECAC West fans and has been doing an outstanding job of helping to generate excitement in front of large crowds at the Aud.
The ECAC this year started a new contest searching for the biggest “superfan” of all and one of our own is a finalist. The Fan of the Year contest is sponsored by All World Travel and is being decided by fan voting that was held from Feb. 23 through March 1.
John Salusio is one of the finalists in the contest and has been a member of Utica’s Pioneer Posse since his days as a student, continuing on now that he is an alumni. Joining Salusio as a finalist is Christine Higgins representing UMass-Boston.
I hope that Salusio can bring the hardware home for the ECAC West.
LVC Decision A Positive One
There had been a cloud looming over the league ever since the middle of December when former Lebanon Valley coach Al MacCormack was forced to resign. Rumors started swirling immediately afterwards that the program was doomed to be killed by the administration.
But after a thorough review of the program, Lebanon Valley president Stephen MacDonald announced on Thursday that the men’s ice hockey team will indeed continue play.
Naysayers pointed to the Flying Dutchmen’s lack of success the last three seasons, but input from former players helped turn the tide.
“Our alumni who played varsity hockey for the Valley exhibit a fierce loyalty to the team and to the College,” said MacDonald.
Coaches and administrators from other ECAC West teams also contacted Lebanon Valley during the review period urging them to maintain the team.
MacDonald pledged to increase resources available to the program to increase its chances for success in the future in a letter published to the school and the current players.
“… [W]e will continue to offer student athletes the opportunity to play hockey here, and we will honor the traditions established by the program’s past accomplishments,” said MacDonald. “We will place at the disposal of the hockey program the material and human resources it needs to play successfully in the highly competitive ECAC West. I told [the players] that I am committing myself personally to the hockey program. I asked them to stay with us and to commit themselves as well.”
With the ECAC West championship game this weekend, it is time to wrap up another season of covering the best league in Division III. I must extend my deep appreciation to the ECAC West coaches and Sports Information Directors. I enjoy our little chats every week and appreciate your continued willingness to set aside time in your busy schedules to spend a few moments talking about hockey.
I also would like to thank all of the loyal readers of USCHO, both for continuing to read my blathering every week and also for sharing your thoughts in emails and at the rinks.