The Elmira Soaring Eagles have been stuck in a rut the last two seasons. They start slow, look like they are about to fold their proverbial tents, and then get on a roll in January to save the season.
For months now, head coach Tim Ceglarski has been wracking his brain to put in place the mechanisms to gain a quicker start this season.
â€œWe have tried a bunch of different things,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œWe have changed the way we approach things. We let our captains get on the ice earlier with our recruited guys, rather than waiting until after tryouts and selections have been made, to get the guys together sooner. We have tried to do a lot more teaching of systems earlier on to get our guys into the fold quicker. We are spending a lot more time educating our guys on the teams we play and the systems they use.â€
Opening the season with a home and home against defending national champion Oswego certainly wonâ€™t make a quick start easy for Elmira. But an influx of new players might.
In the tight confines of the Thunderdomes, defense is key, and defensemen who can handle the puck through a quick transition are even more valued.
Joining Elmira this year are two freshmen from Europe who played together last season for the Bradford Rattlers (GJMHL), Karl Linden and Sebastian Gulder.
â€œI think Karl [Linden] is going to do great things for us,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œHe is a very skilled European style defenseman who plays sound defensively, but can move the puck as well as anyone I have seen and has a knack for offense as well.â€
â€œHis partner, Sebastian [Gulder], is more of a stay at home physical defenseman,â€ continued Ceglarski. â€œHe moves the puck extremely well and can shoot it pretty hard too.â€
At the end of last season, goaltending was also a question for Elmira. Raphael Cundari began last year as the de facto starter, but lost the job mid-season to then freshman Casey Tuttle. But Tuttle was severely injured in the ECAC West Quarterfinal game against Hobart and has spent all summer recuperating.
Just in case, coach Ceglarski recruited two new goaltenders and appears to have struck gold. Cundari failed to make it through team tryouts, so Casey Tuttle will be the go-to guy backed up by freshmen Kevin Bolin and Rob Kunka.
â€œThere is no question in our mind that Casey Tuttle is our guy,â€ said Ceglarski.
â€œHe is very sound, looking great in practice, and hopefully he will carry the workload for us.â€
Elmira returns its top three lines almost intact, but will also look to five new freshmen forwards to generate the needed offense.
One newcomer is Rick Shrank, who â€œis a big power forward who does everything well. He skates well, hits hard, can shoot the puck a ton. He is probably going to jump right up on our first line with Michael Richard and Rusty Masters our first weekend,â€ according to Ceglarski.
Solid play in the defensive zone, combined with a rejuvenated offense, will be key to Elmira getting off to a quicker start this season.