Slowly but surely, Lebanon Valley is showing signs of a turn around in its fortunes. An increased level of competitiveness and its first victory this past weekend are all signs of hope.
Admittedly, the season got off to a rough start with a 9-1 thrashing by Brockport, who scored two goals in the first 1:40 of the game. As several players hung their heads exiting the ice after the game, it was easy to see the team faced its first gut check of the season.
Hosting Cortland for its home opener a week later, Lebanon Valley again came up on the short end of the stick. But this time the Flying Dutchmen got off to a faster 3-1 lead before failing to withstand a furious Cortland counter attack and five straight goals to lose, 6-3.
Then came Lebanon Valleyâ€™s first league contest on November 2, against a fast starting Elmira team. Anthony Ventura got the Flying Dutchmen going midway through the first period, and Lebanon Valley held on throughout the game until finally falling to the Soaring Eagles 4-2.
â€œLebanon Valley played a great game,â€ said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. â€œThey tried to spread us out over the ice and our goaltender played well to keep us in the game. We might have taken them lightly for the first period and a half, but their goaltender played great.â€
Perhaps the hardest praise to earn in all of college hockey is from the opposing fans, but even the Elmira faithful took notice of Lebanon Valley in that game.
â€œOur booster club people and parents that were watching the game definitely said they are a much improved team,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œThey were a little bit undisciplined with some penalties but that always comes with time. Their goaltender played a fantastic game against us.â€
The Elmira game was the first indication that new head coach Ted Russell and his staff might be on the right path and that the playerâ€™s hard work is starting to pay off.
â€œThe Elmira game was a huge step,â€ said Russell. â€œThe first game was a lesson for all of us. Against Cortland, we played pretty hard. Then at Elmira we played a full 60 minutes. Our kids have to believe that when we play a certain way, we will be successful.â€
Then came this past weekend, when four different players tallied goals on Saturday night to earn the Flying Dutchmen their first victory with a 4-2 win over SUNY-Morrisville. Aaron Miller made 42 saves during the game to backstop Lebanon Valley in the win.
A key ingredient for any building program is leadership, to be able to weather the inevitable rough times and also to get everyone playing to the same game plan. Lebanon Valley is getting just that kind of leadership from the seniors down to the new freshmen.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter what class youâ€™re in, we need everyone to be leaders,â€ said Russell.
The Flying Dutchmen get thrown to the wolves a bit this weekend, hosting Utica and Manhattanville. But donâ€™t be surprised to see Lebanon Valley steal a point or two from the leagueâ€™s perennial powers as the season progresses.
The enclosing of Hobartâ€™s home rink at the Geneva Recreation Center is nearing completion, with a grand dedication ceremony planned for the end of January when Manhattanville visits for a pair of games.
I saw the improvements a week ago, with only a few panes of glass remaining to be installed and finishing touches to be made to the new press box. It is amazing how the well designed glass enclosure changes the look and feel of the venerable rink.
Equally incredible is the new press box which extends above both benches. While many of the final installations still need to be made, the press box gives an incredible — and close — view of the game and might be the best in the league once it is complete.
The renovations are the result of years of effort by many within the Hobart family, but most of all by coach Mark Taylor who was finally able to garner enough support from both the community and the school to complete the project. Throughout Taylorâ€™s tenure at Hobart, he has worked tirelessly to move the program forward, sometimes with small projects and other times with major renovations.
â€œYou buy a new couch for your living room, you feel a little better,â€ said Taylor. â€œBuy a new chair, and you feel even better. This is like new siding and a roof. It adds to your momentum as a program as people see that you are getting things done and moving on to the next thing.â€
The enclosure of the rink, adding a world class press box, and installing a dehumidification system are all steps along the way. Taylor has already seen many benefits from a boost in recruiting to increased community support.
But with the new accommodation also comes a sense of the end of an era, one that the players at Hobart embraced with pride and used to their advantage many times over the years. Lost is college hockeyâ€™s last outdoor rink, one that provided a unique home field advantage to a Statesmen team that embraced playing in an environment exposed to the chill winds blowing in from nearby Seneca Lake.
â€œThere is also some nostalgia, kind of like getting rid of that old convertible,â€ said Taylor. â€œGuys felt the identity of what this rink gave us. There was a certain amount of pride there.â€
I felt some of the same feelings walking around the Geneva Rec. Center two weeks ago, as the rink stood silently waiting for the fans to begin to arrive. It is the end of an era, one that will almost certainly never return. There was always a small sense of pride as I told my co-workers where I had spent the weekend covering games, and they looked back as if I was crazy.
Somehow I doubt I will feel so nostalgic when I visit again in late January during the depths of winter for the dedication ceremony.
Game of the Week
It is a battle of undefeated teams between the ECAC West and the SUNYAC on Saturday as Plattsburgh travels to Elmira to renew their intense rivalry.
The ECAC West has accumulated an impressive 11-4-2 record against the SUNYAC this season, but stats get thrown out the window in games like this one. Each team has one win, one loss, and one tie in the last three meetings between the Soaring Eagles and the Cardinals.
Expect this game to be a hard fought contest right down to the final buzzer. The Thunderdomes should be rockinâ€™ on Saturday.