The regular season is over, and playoff hockey is in the air throughout Division III. The ECAC West is no exception. Hobart defeated Neumann 3-2 on Wednesday to keep their season alive. Next up is the semifinal round this Saturday with games hosted by Elmira and Manhattanville.
No. 1 Elmira Soaring Eagles vs. No. 4 Hobart Statesmen
The Elmira coaching staff and players must have let out a bit of a groan a little after 9 p.m. Wednesday when Hobart defeated Neumann in the ECAC West Play-In game. After all, Hobart is the only team that has gone undefeated against Elmira all season long, winning once and tying the Soaring Eagles twice.
Even thought Elmira didnâ€™t know their opponent until late on Wednesday, it hasnâ€™t affected it preparations for Saturday nightâ€™s game in the friendly confines of the Thunderdomes.
â€œThe last couple of weeks we have tried to tweak our game a little bit to adapt to the teams that we are playing, but it hasnâ€™t been as successful as we would have liked,â€ said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski.
â€œWe are familiar with their systems and it just comes down to being able to using the home ice advantage.â€
Hobart has the three day turn around, but immediately after Wednesdayâ€™s game they were already thinking ahead to Elmira and the one-and-done nature of the playoff format.
â€œWe tied last time,â€ said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. â€œWeâ€™ve got to win to get someplace, and so do they. They are a great hockey team.â€
Although Hobart has some individual players who have rose above the pack this season, particularly in net and some special freshmen, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts when the Statesmen are hitting on all cylinders.
â€œThe whole team is a strength,â€ said Taylor. â€œDefinitely great goaltending is a strength, but it is the whole team. We have depth in every position and when that depth comes to play weâ€™ll have a hockey game.â€
Elmira, on the other hand, is relying on veteran leadership to get the team ready for the playoffs. Leadership has been critical to the Soaring Eaglesâ€™ success all season long.
â€œWe have some veteran leadership that has been in the playoffs before and knows what it takes to get into the national tournament and be successful within our league,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œThe older guys are definitely going to have to show the rest of our guys the proper way to prepare and play with the level of intensity that is needed to win every game from here on out.â€
The Soaring Eagles most likely have at least an NCAA Pool C bid sewn up and are the front runners for the Pool B bid. However, nothing can be taken for granted this time of year since the ECAC West doesnâ€™t receive a Pool A auto-bid. Elmira is looking to sprint into the NCAA tournament starting on Saturday.
â€œWe need to focus in on the big picture,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œWe have known that we have clinched first place, and some other teams have been jockeying for positions. We just have to realize that no matter what our record is, it could be one loss and the season is over. We donâ€™t want to have to rely on selection committees and others making decisions, instead of us just worrying about ourselves.â€
Hobart coach Taylor has harped about consistency to his players for most of the second half of the season. When the entire team plays a full game, the team can compete with anyone and that will be needed on Saturday to keep their season alive.
â€œAll guys need to show up and play good hockey,â€ said Taylor. â€œIf that happens, it will put us in the best position we can be in. This time of the year, you have to go out there and play your best hockey game.â€
No. 2 Manhattanville Valiants vs. No. 3 Utica Pioneers
Manhattanville and Utica split their regular season series right down the middle with a win, a loss, and a tie each. The Valiants took the opening game of the series way back on November 9 with a 3-1 home victory.
But then a late season home-and-home series went Uticaâ€™s way, with a 4-4 tie at The Aud and a 4-2 Pioneers victory at Playland.
â€œNinety percent of our games with [Utica] have been hard fought and low scoring,â€ said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. â€œThey are playing really well right now and work extraordinarily hard. We joked that we should trade the home date and play there. For whatever reason, historically we have played extremely well in their rink.â€
The Valiants and Pioneers have a long history and quite a rivalry has developed. The teams have met in the ECAC West playoffs two of the last three years, splitting the games between them.
â€œ[Manhattanville is a] big strong team that we always play tight,â€ said Utica coach Gary Heenan. â€œIt has always been a great rivalry. We seem to play them every single year in the playoffs. They have beaten us here in important games and the playoffs and we have beaten them there in important games and the playoffs. So it is a coin toss.â€
The Pioneers are riding a wave of confidence heading into the playoffs. Ever since a holiday trip to Europe, the offense has been rolling. Utica has been averaging nearly twice as many goals per game after the holidays (5.00) as before (2.69).
â€œThe strength we have is that confidence is up right now,â€ said Heenan. â€œWe have played good hockey the last two months and it has been an upward trend all year. We struggled a little bit early on. The four other teams have been in the national picture all year long, but we have been nowhere to be found. People today are asking how did Utica finish third in that league?â€
Meanwhile, the Valiants have been stressing team defense for most of the season, trying to keep the puck out of their own net as they have struggled at times to find the Midas Touch of their own. Manhattanville has gone to extremes at times, including running an extremely boring five man trap February 15 at Elmira, but the variety of tactics have worked to stay in the hunt.
â€œWe have outplayed, out chanced, and out shot pretty much everyone we have played this year,â€ said Levinthal. â€œBut we havenâ€™t always been able to finish. To the credit of our team, we have done a really good job of limiting teams offensive chances. That has clearly been the best thing we have done all year.â€
The Valiants offense is averaging a goal plus per game less this season (2.04) compared to last (3.46), while goals against has stayed even. That difference in scoring has plagued Manhattanville all season.
â€œWe need to finish,â€ said Levinthal. â€œIt is really hard to win games when you are not stopping pucks and are not scoring goals. We have had too many games where we have had several grade A scoring chances and have come up with nothing. We need to capitalize on those opportunities.â€
Uticaâ€™s new found offense against Manhattanvilleâ€™s team defense. Sounds like the ingredients to a whale of a playoff hockey game at Playland Arena.
â€œThe first goal in the playoffs is always important,â€ concluded Heenan. â€œWeâ€™re riding the tide and feel good about going down there. They have lost less than ten times at home ever, but we have beaten them the most times there of anyone in their building.â€