A Different Approach
A month ago, following a sloppy 4-0 win at Brockport, Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal publicly lambasted his players for exhibiting a noticeable lack of competitiveness.
â€œWe have the killer instinct of a small mouse right now,â€ said Levinthal.
â€œWeâ€™ve only played three games, but our commitment to working hard for each other at this point in the year is not nearly what it had been for past teams.â€
Since then, the Valiants have won four of their five games with the only loss coming in a back and fourth contest at Neumann, 4-3. Most coaches would be happy starting the season 6-1-1, especially since seven of those eight games have been on the road.
But with the exception of the game at Lebanon Valley, Manhattanville is finding itself struggling a bit to have a real breakout game and play up to their potential. While the Valiants have averaged scoring just over three goals per game, what has been the key is the defense and goaltending limiting opponents to only averaging 1.5 goals per game.
The Manhattanville coaching staff is now looking inward, at their own methods, in an attempt to find the answer that they have been searching for since the season began.
â€œOn the drive home [from Williams on Sunday] I thought about that,â€ said Levinthal. â€œI donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve done a good job with this team. I just realized that I think I am still coaching this team like maybe some teams of the past.
We graduated nineteen guys in the last two years and the personality of this team is just so different. Maybe I need to change first in terms of how I deal with them. We havenâ€™t done the things I would like to see us do more of to win hockey games. It starts with me and I need to make the adjustment.â€
One thing that doesnâ€™t need adjusting is the goaltending situation, an area of great concern as the season began. Senior Paul Reimer (.937 save percentage 1.25 goals against average) and freshman Sergiy Sorokolat (.925, 1.97) have been alternating in net, with both putting up gaudy numbers.
Sorokolat in particular has been stellar, stepping right in to the fray to share time with his senior netminding partner.
â€œ[Sorokolat] was great at Williams,â€ said Levinthal. â€œWe have rotated goalies back and forth so far. [At Williams] he was the difference. The last six minutes of the game, Williams had a couple of kids in on him alone and he came up big.
Weâ€™re going to take it day by day. He is obviously the future of the program and we are going to allow him to develop at his speed. We arenâ€™t going to force him into anything he isnâ€™t ready for.â€
Senior Jason Murfitt hit a milestone on November 17 when he scored a goal and an assist to tie the Valiants career goal scoring mark of 46. Murfitt (46 goals, 59 assists, 105 points) is only the second Manhattanville player to ever cross the 100 career point mark, and is quickly chasing down Chris Seifertâ€™s school record of 116 career points.
Even as Murfitt sets new school offensive records, his true value to the Manhattanville team is strong defensive play.
â€œThe thing about Jason which is unfortunate is that he is a tremendous defensive hockey player,â€ said Levinthal. â€œI canâ€™t get him on the ice enough. I think his offensive numbers would be a lot better if I didnâ€™t have to use him so much in defensive situations.â€
Getting to Know the Guys
After having the target placed on its back as the preseason number one pick by the ECAC West coaches, Neumann got off to a strong 3-0 start.
But a horrendous third period against Adrian on October 28 saw the Knightsâ€™ 6-2 lead turn in to a 7-6 overtime loss. Neumann also lost 2006 First Team All-ECAC West forward Neil Trimm to an injury during the game.
Since that Adrian game, Neumann has been trying to regain its step. After back-to-back one goal losses to Hobart and Elmira, the Knights bounced back to defeat Manhattanville by a single goal. Things were starting to look up, until a slow start the next night against Utica put Neumann right back down.
â€œAfter Manhattanville, we thought things were moving in the right direction,â€ said Neumann coach Phil Roy. â€œBut then we came out somewhat flat against Utica and werenâ€™t able to capitalize there. A lot of guys had something to prove to themselves and their teammates.â€
But a strong showing at the Rutland Herald Invitational tournament this past weekend has put a bounce back in the step of the Neumann team. The Knights defeated Tufts (6-3) and Castleton (3-2) on the way to taking the tournament crown.
â€œThe most important thing for us was Sundayâ€™s game,â€ said Roy. â€œGuys decided to play for the whole length of the game. It was a good game to be in and exciting for the fans. Iâ€™m very pleased with the way guys reacted this weekend.â€
Neumann lost all three games while Trimm was out, including the Adrian game where he was injured, but has gone 3-1 since his return two weekends ago. While the Knights are definitely not a one man team, it is apparent that Trimm is an important ingredient to their success.
â€œHe is a piece of the puzzle, but it was an opportunity for other guys to step up to the plate,â€ said Roy. â€œThe leadership was picked up by other guys. Neil brings an offensive flair, but we didnâ€™t feel as a team that we were hopping on one leg without him. It was important for us to show that it isnâ€™t a one man team, and that message was clear internally.â€
After starting at Neumann in August, Coach Roy is beginning to settle in now that the season is approaching its midway point. His team has tasted success and faced adversity, and is starting to come together as the process of building personal relationships with the players, their families, and the fans continues.
â€œI know more of the guys at a personal level now, that is the biggest part,â€ said Roy. â€œThe one on one relationships and understanding the dynamics takes time. Now that we are almost at the midpoint of the season, it is something I would have liked to have at the beginning of the season, but you canâ€™t force things that take time.â€
Two new milestones were attained at Hobart recently. Coach Mark Taylor won his 100th game on November 18 when the Statesmen downed Brockport, 6-5.
And Hobart attained its highest national ranking ever, hitting the No. 2 spot in this weekâ€™s USCHO poll.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the Statesmenâ€™s current 8-0 record is that there are no players with double digit points. Two players, Shawn Houde and Bobby Cahill, each have nine points, with eight more players having between five and eight points.
Hobart has been a textbook example of balanced scoring so far this season.
Game of the Week
It is a battle at the top of the USCHO polls this weekend, as sixth ranked Manhattanville hosts No. 2 Hobart and No. 4 Elmira. Both visiting teams are undefeated heading in to this weekend.
It is unheard of for the Valiants to be the underdog for a pair of games at its own Playland Ice Casino, but that is the case this weekend.
â€œI think this is the first time in quite some time that we have gone into a home weekend where we are clearly the underdogs in both games,â€ said Levinthal. â€œGiven the way Elmira and Hobart have played, and how we have played, they are clearly the favorites.â€
Manhattanville will need goaltenders Reimer and Sorokolat to remain steady this weekend, and exhibit some of its new found competitiveness to defend their home rink from Elmira and Hobart.