Elmira Clinches Regular Season Title
With a three point series against Manhattanville last weekend, Elmira secured the regular season title. But it certainly wasnâ€™t easy, and started out with a rocky game on Friday.
Manhattanvilleâ€™s Vinny Ciardullo scored on a turnover at center ice midway through the first period, and the Valiantsâ€™ trap gave the Soaring Eagles all kinds of trouble.
â€œThere was a lot of neutral zone trapping going on, which is what you see when you play Manhattanville,â€ said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. â€œWe didnâ€™t do a very good job of pressuring that. We really took our time on our breakout and let them set up, and that didnâ€™t work very well. Our young team didnâ€™t react very well to seeing the trap in our rink.â€
Elmira came back in the second period with a pair of goals, sandwiched around another tally for Manhattanville, to even the game, 2-2. But despite a great opportunity for the Valiants in overtime, the game ended in a tie.
â€œFirst goal they scored was a turnover in the neutral zone, second goal was a bad play by us,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œThey capitalized on almost all of their opportunities. They had a clear chance in overtime on a 2-on-1 slap shot from the hash marks that missed and would have won the game for them. We were lucky to get out of there with a tie and get the one point we needed.â€
Saturday was a different night and a different strategy from Elmira. Instead of trying to set up a deliberate breakout to get through the Manhattanville players at center ice, the Soaring Eagles aggressively attacked and bulled their way through.
â€œSaturday was entirely different,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œWe took the play to them and prevented them from setting up. Our composure was the best it has been all year long. We had some real nice goals where guys were moving the puck really well. Our team probably played the best game they have all year long and it was at the best time.â€
The change in tactics paid off. Elmira scored first late in the opening period and then it was off to the races as the Soaring Eagles rolled to a 5-1 victory and the regular season title.
If you had to boil Elmiraâ€™s success this season down to a single factor, it would be team defense. Everyone on the team, forwards, defensemen, and goalies, have all bought into the system and are executing it to a â€œTâ€.
â€œOur team defense has been crucial,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œOur group of defensemen are extremely strong. [Goaltender] Casey [Tuttle] is not only making the saves he is supposed to make but is making some big saves along the way. The way that our forwards have bought into our team defense concept has been great.â€
Around the League One Last Time
Even though Elmira has clinched the regular season title and home rink throughout the league playoffs, donâ€™t expect to see the Soaring Eagles take this weekend off or play the scrubs like happens in the NFL.
â€œWeâ€™re not going to relax at all, but it does feel good that we have a home game on March 1,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œThere is no pressure on our guys about having to get one point or two points this weekend. Our goal all year long has been to win the series against every team in our league. We have a few guys who have been out due to injury, and this is a good opportunity to get them back in the lineup.â€
Since the ECAC West doesnâ€™t have an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, Elmiraâ€™s games against Hobart still have national playoff implications for both teams. Both teams are trying to firm up their resumes for when the NCAA selection committee convenes and decides on the Pool B and C bids, and also where the quarterfinal games will be played if they get in.
â€œThe series against Hobart has a huge impact in NCAA selection,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œWinning the series against every team in our league is going to be crucial in one of the components. Our intention is to approach it as if national tournament aspirations are on the line. Weâ€™re not going to sit back at all.â€
Manhattanville and Neumann are only separated by two points and meet this weekend at Playland Ice Pavilion to decide things. In all but one whacky scenario, this series will determine the No. 2 seed in the league playoffs. That seed gets home ice for the semifinal round so it is a prize worth playing for.
That single weird scenario is if Neumann secures three points on the weekend. If that happens, then Manhattanville and Neumann would finish tied for second place. And the Knights hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
However, if that happens, and if either Hobart and/or Utica sweep their weekends, we could end up with a three-way or four-way tie for second place, with each team at 17 points. In this case, we get into a case of circular reasoning, where each team holds at least one of the tiebreakers against another team and there is no clear cut favorite. Iâ€™m not quite sure how the ECAC West would sort this scenario out.
Idle last weekend, Neumann — for the second straight season — has five players above 30 points.
Both Manhattanville and Neumann can both make strong cases to the NCAA selection committee for a tournament bid. But the teams need to be careful because getting swept this weekend by the other would tarnish the luster.
Hobart always seems to play Elmira tougher than any other ECAC West team. The Statesmen have been playing at an inspired level of late, but consistency within a game has been a problem. A sweep of Elmira would get them rolling into the playoffs, and also look great on a NCAA rÃ©sumÃ© when combined with their perfect non-conference record.
Utica has to watch out for the proverbial trap this weekend as a pesky Lebanon Valley team visits the Aud. A Pioneers sweep would put them in the running to perhaps host a playoff game, depending on how the other series play out.
A player who has really stood out for the Pioneers down the stretch is freshman Nick Kulas, last weekâ€™s Rookie of the Week. He has been on a roll, including scoring a pretty goal to get Utica going last Friday, finishing with two goals and an assist in the pair of games last weekend.
Kulas is the top ranked freshman in scoring for Utica, second overall on the team, with nine goals and seven assists.
â€œHeâ€™s a scorer,â€ said Utica coach Gary Heenan. â€œHeâ€™s been scoring for us. He is so cool and calm with the puck and has been consistent all year. His confidence keeps growing. That is a freshman out there who is playing on our first line and getting things done and has been a good addition for us.â€