No. 1 Elmira Soaring Eagles vs. No. 2 Manhattanville Valiants
So far, the ECAC West playoffs have gone as scripted, with the higher seeded team winning all three games. Elmira and Manhattanville now get to play in the finals this Saturday at the Thunderdomes to see who will take home the league title.
Elmira defeated Hobart 6-3 last Saturday to earn a spot in the finals. A wild four minute span in the middle of the first period, in which four goals were scored, highlighted a closely played contest.
Rusty Masters started the spurt of goals with a hard working play to get Elmira on the board, then Derrick Ryan snuck a second goal off a post past Hobart goaltender Keith Longo less than two minutes later to give the Soaring Eagles a 2-0.
Just when the Thunderdomes got rocking, Hobart took advantage of a lapse in Elmiraâ€™s concentration to score two quick goals of its own to tie the game 2-2. Matthew Wallace and Nick DeCroo tallied just over a minute apart to get the Statesmen back in the game.
â€œThe next face off after Ryanâ€™s goal, we missed all of our coverage and a minute later missed a coverage at the blueline and they went in,â€ said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. â€œAfter that, our guys settled down at the blue line, especially in the second period, and played pretty well.â€
Settle down, indeed, as Elmira scored the next three goals to take control of the game on the way to the victory.
â€œIt was another great college hockey game,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œThe atmosphere with the crowd was amazing. We fell asleep for a minute and a half in the first period, but other than that we were able to solve their forecheck a little bit and break the puck out of the zone.â€
A bit of a fracas erupted early in the third period, as Hobartâ€™s Blake Bonham and Elmiraâ€™s Nicolas Dumoulin tussled. But despite the gloves and helmetâ€™s staying on during the scuffle, the refereeâ€™s were quick to hand out game disqualifications to both players after they were separated.
That means Dumoulin, a key member of Elmiraâ€™s blueline squad, will miss this weekendâ€™s championship game.
Manhattanville had a game of its own against an always hard working Utica team last Saturday in the semi-finals. Thanks to a one man wrecking crew in the form of junior Chris Trafford, who scored four goals during the game, the Valiants rolled over the Pioneers, 6-2, to get to the championship game.
Traffordâ€™s goal outburst was the first time in school history that a player has scored four goals in a single game.
â€œScoring goals is something we have had a hard time doing all year, but it makes life a lot easier,â€ said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal.
Trafford scored Manhattanvilleâ€™s first two goals of the game, both in the opening period, completed the hat trick early in the third period and then chipped in an empty netter with 35 seconds remaining to seal the victory and cap off a night to remember.
â€œHeâ€™s been doing it all year,â€ said Levinthal. â€œHe scores goals. He is a team guy, has been on board and is a finisher. We got a lot of good scoring chances in that game and when he gets those chances he is going to score. We were able to generate a lot of odd many rushes and get traffic in front of their net.â€
Coach Levinthal started freshman goaltender Steve Parry against Utica, only his third start of the season. But after a good game at the end of the regular season against Neumann, Levinthal thought it was worth another start for Parry and it paid dividends for the Valiants as he stopped 19 of Uticaâ€™s 21 shots.
â€œWhen I was in college, I was an English major at Hobart because I couldnâ€™t be a science major,â€ related Levinthal. â€œI wasnâ€™t going to be an econ[omist]. It really came down to English or history. My dad was history, so I figured I would go my own way. So that is kind of how we made the goalie decision last Saturday.â€
Who will be in net for Manhattanville this Saturday in the championship game? Good question. When I talked to Levinthal earlier this week, he and his coaching staff were still evaluating all the factors and hadnâ€™t made a decision.
No matter who ends up in goal, they know that it will be an uphill battle against Elmira in the Thunderdomes.
â€œ[Elmira is] very different than any other team we play in the league,â€ said Levinthal. â€œThey are very thoughtful and disciplined in their approach. Elmira is very methodical and also frighteningly disciplined. It is a big contrast in style and a big challenge for us. There is a reason why they only have two losses so far this season. To go in there and win a game will be a major effort.â€
The same goes from the Soaring Eagles perspective as well, who went 2-0-1 against Manhattanville during the regular season.
â€œIt is hard to beat any time three times in a year,â€ said Ceglarski. â€œManhattanville is a well coached team. Weâ€™ve had three great games against them and developed a very good rivalry. We have similar programs and it will be interesting to see how the weekend unfolds.â€
ECAC West All-USCHO Teams
It has been an incredible year of hockey in the ECAC West. This season has showcased the depth of the talent in the league. I am now pleased to announce my picks for this yearâ€™s ECAC West All-USCHO Teams.
The most difficult category to choose this season was the forwards. There was an abundance of players who had outstanding seasons, both on the scoreboard and winning all the little battles that lead to wins, and narrowing down the list to the top six was very difficult.
Unfortunately, cuts had to be made and several great players fell off the charts. Honorable mentions, if they were handed out, would have gone to players like Nick DeCroo (Hobart), Matt Fitzgibbons (Utica), Kyle Casey (Neumann), and Mark Van Vliet (Neumann).
Choosing defensemen was relatively easy this year, as there were several who rose to the top of the heap, but another tough pick was the rookie goaltender. With the league dominated by veteran netminders, there wasnâ€™t much opportunity for a freshman to find time in net this season.
Chris Trafford is my pick for Player of the Year. He has consistently found the back of the net all season long and has been a large factor in the success that Manhattanville has had.
Rookie of the Year goes to Matthew Wallace from Hobart. The Statesmen have a wealth of young talent this season, but Wallace stood above the rest to get the award.
Last, but certainly not least, Tim Ceglarski (Elmira) is Coach of the Year. The ECAC West coaches picked Elmira to finish fourth in the pre-season poll and I predicted they would end up in third. But Ceglarski got the Soaring Eagles off to a quick start and kept them going all season long, ending up ranked in the top three nationally almost all year.
ECAC West First Team
Forward: Chris Trafford, Manhattanville, Sr.
Forward: Mike Hedden, Neumann, So.
Forward: Michael Richard, Elmira, Sr.
Defense: Mike Gooch, Neumann, Jr.
Defense: Russell Smith, Elmira, Sr.
Goal: Casey Tuttle, Elmira, So.
ECAC West Second Team
Forward: Neil Trimm, Neumann, Jr..
Forward: Jason Murfitt, Manhattanville, Sr.
Forward: Rusty Masters, Elmira, So.
Defense: Nicolas Dumoulin, Elmira, Jr.
Defense: AJ Mikkelson, Manhattanville, So
Goal: Keith Longo, Hobart, Jr.
ECAC West Rookie Team
Forward: Matthew Wallace, Hobart
Forward: Patrick Moriarty, Hobart
Forward: Nick Kulas, Utica
Defense: Karl Linden, Elmira
Defense: Kyle Whitaker, Hobart
Goal: Sergiy Sorokolat, Manhattanville
Player(s) of the Year
Chris Trafford, Manhattanville
Rookie of the Year
Matthew Wallace, Hobart
Coach of the Year
Tim Ceglarski, Elmira
Thatâ€™s a Wrap
And so another season of ECAC West hockey comes to an end. The wonderful thing about this league is that it never fails to provide a season filled with exciting, nail-biting hockey.
I would like to thank both the loyal and the casual readers of my column for your continued support and patronage. The emails and conversations with you throughout the season certainly make the games more entertaining.