With most ECAC West teams winding up their non-league games and heading back into league play this weekend, it is time for my annual mid-season review. The first half of the season has been a wild ride, with surprises, disappointment, and some incredible hockey.
The ECAC West has done an outstanding job in the non-conference games this season, amassing an amazing 39-11-4 record and a winning mark against every other league in Division III. Of particular note is the league’s 20-7-3 record against the SUNYAC, a long time rival of the
Hobart carried the flag for the ECAC West in non-conference play, going a perfect 10-0, with Elmira not far behind with a 7-0-2 record outside of league.
But the teams did a pretty good job of beating each other up inside the league. Elmira was the only team to come out of the first half of the season with its league record unscathed. Every other team carries two or more league losses into the latter half of the season.
A sign of the strength of the league is the number of national categories that you can find the ECAC West at or near the top of:
Goalie save percentage: 1st Keith Longo .950% (Hobart), 2nd Paul Reimer .944% (Manhattanville)
Goals Against Average: 1st Paul Reimer 1.29 (Manhattanville)
Scoring Defense: 1st Manhattanville 1.62, 2nd Elmira 1.69, 4th Hobart 1.93
Scoring Offense: 2nd Neumann 5.31
Penalty Kill: 2nd Manhattanville 89.9%, 3rd Elmira 89.1%, 4th Utica 88.6%
Not a bad first half at all. But now it is into the stretch run for the teams, with league play dominating the thoughts of players, coaches, and fans alike. Let’s review each team individually.
The Elmira Soaring Eagles have to be the surprise of the season so far, going undefeated through its first thirteen games. The only blemishes on an otherwise perfect 11-0-2 record are a pair of 4-4 ties at the hands of Oswego and Brockport.
Besides the ties, the stingy Elmira defense has only allowed three goals in one other contest (against Manhattanville), and has pitched a total of four shutouts if you include their preseason exhibition game against the Greater Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (GMJHL) All-Stars.
Elmira has been led this year by its captain, Michael Richard, both on and off the ice. Richard leads the team in points with four goals and 17 assists, and also was instrumental in getting the new players integrated into the team early and avoiding the Soaring Eagles usual slow start to the season.
Surprisingly enough, despite having a nearly perfect first half, Elmira only leads the league in two statistical categories. Goaltender Casey Tuttle, who has played in all but one game, naturally has the league’s best winning percentage at .917. And Rusty Masters is tied for the lead in game winning goals in the league and the nation with four.
Despite going a perfect 10-0 outside the league for the second straight season, the Hobart Statesmen had two in-conference stumbles in a single disastrous road weekend against Manhattanville (3-1) and Utica (3-2). The Statesmen have only allowed four or more goals against in a single game, a 6-5 win over Brockport.
It has been a youth movement leading Hobart on the scoreboard, with five of its six top scorers either freshmen or sophomores. The three top freshmen scorers in the league are all Statesmen: Matthew Wallace (13 points), Thomas Capalbo (12), and Patrick Moriarty (11).
The only upper classman on the list is Shawn Houde, who leads Hobart with eight goals and six assists.
Opponents should seriously thing about declining penalties that are whistled against the Statesmen. Hobart has scored an amazing seven shorthanded goals, more than doubling the next closest ECAC West team’s total, and have no shorthanded goals scored against.
Netminder Keith Longo leads the nation in save percentage stopping 320 of 337 shots faced, for a stratospheric 95.0%.
All of this goodness helped Hobart attain its highest poll ranking ever, sliding into the No. 2 spot in the November 27th USCHO poll.
Despite only having a 1-13-1 record, comparable to its 2-15 record at this point last season, several coaches have commented to me that Lebanon Valley is showing signs of improvement. The scores are certainly getting closer.
Six of the Flying Dutchmen’s fifteen games have been decided by two goals or less. They have only had double digits posted on them twice this season (happened three times by this point last season), and Lebanon Valley has not been shutout (once by now last year).
There are no players with double digit points yet, but five of the top six scorers for the Flying Dutchmen are freshmen or sophomores. Three freshmen, Anthony Venture, Ray Nicks, and Brad Surdam are knocking on the double digit door with nine points so far.
Lebanon Valley has platooned goaltenders this year, with sophomore Aaron Miller and freshman Rich Drazin seeing equal time in net.
Despite pitching three shutouts this season, the Manhattanville Valiants have had a hard time stringing more than three consecutive wins together. Last year, the Valiants were 12-0-2 by mid-January and on a roll that took them all the way to the final four.
This season, Manhattanville is a rather mediocre (by its standards) 9-3-1 and seem to be still trying to find themselves both on and off the ice. This team certainly has a different personality than past Valiant teams.
Only one player is in the double digit scoring category, senior Jason Murfitt with eleven assists, although there is a mix of five players with double digit points.
What has kept Manhattanville in games this year is play in its own zone. The Valiants sport the best defense in the nation, only allowing an average of 1.62 goals per game, and the second best
penalty kill in the country with an 89.9%.
Senior netminder Paul Reimer has come out of the goaltending shadow left by Andrew Gallant and has played stellar hockey. He leads the nation in goals against average of 1.29, and is second in the nation in save percentage of 94.4%.
If you like scoring then the Neumann Knights are the team for you this season. Neumann is averaging 5.31 goals per game, second best in the nation.
Senior Neil Trimm leads all of division III with 2.69 points per game, while junior Mike Hedden is out in front in goals with 25 thanks to his five game hat trick streak.
The top five scorers in the league are all from Neumann, including the only three players with double digit goals: Hedden (25), Trimm (13), and Kyle Casey (12).
With such an explosive corps of forwards, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that senior Mike Gooch leads the league’s defensemen in scoring with two goals and 21 assists.
Opponents definitely want to stay out of the penalty box against the Knights. Their power play is clicking along at 29.3%, tallying 36 goals so far this season.
But the season didn’t start out so rosy for Neumann as they struggled out of the gate, having amassed a 4-4 record by the middle of November, and only a 1-3 mark in league.
Since November 24, though, the Knights have been rolling, winning eight straight games and scoring an amazing 58 goals.
It has been an up and down season so far for the Utica Pioneers. Win three games, lose two. Win three more, then lose another.
While the Utica defense is solid again this season, the offense is averaging about half a goal less per game. Unfortunately, that difference is coming at inopportune times for the Pioneers as three of their five losses have been by only a goal.
An anemic power play hasn’t helped either as Utica stumbles along at a pathetic 9.6%, tied for second to last in all the nation.
Despite all that, the Pioneers find themselves with a very respectable 9-5 overall record, 3-2 in the league and in a three way tie for second.
In the good news department for Utica has been the performance of freshman Nick Kulas, who is tied for fourth amongst the league’s freshmen in scoring with five goals and four assists.
A feel-good trip to France over the holidays seems to have been just the ticket for the Pioneers. Utica outscored its four opponents 39-13 during the trip, and kept the offensive explosion going in its first game back in the States against Nichols 7-3, its highest goal total all season long.
Game of the Week
The most interesting series this weekend is Hobart at Neumann for a pair of games. Both teams are part of the three way log jam in second place and match up quite well on the ice.
Neumann’s high power offense will be tested against Hobart goaltender Keith Longo’s nation leading save percentage.
This series could set the tone for the second half of the league season.