Crossing the Pond
Over the last couple of years, Manhattanvilleâ€™s roster has taken on a very international flavor. It has been the norm for years to see NCAA college hockey rosters loaded with hometowns in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, or British Columbia.
But the Valiants have extended the recruiting path even farther and now count almost a third of their players from Europe. Scandinavia and Eastern Europe have been the prime recruiting grounds for Manhattanvilleâ€™s head coach Keith Levinthal.
â€œTapping into the European recruits makes sense given the weakness of the US dollar,â€ said Levinthal. â€œWe basically go in two different directions, poor or wealthy.â€
Four European freshmen have been added to the Valiants roster this season, joining five upperclassmen who hail from across the pond.
While the financial benefits are obvious in todayâ€™s economy, bringing in European recruits does have its risks. The game of hockey is played differently on the two continents, and language and cultural barriers can also present a challenge.
â€œOne of the biggest differences is that they donâ€™t really forecheck there like we forecheck here,â€ said Levinthal. â€œDefensemen actually have time to go back and get the puck. Combine that with the Playland rink which is a little narrow, their adjustment to the different style of game may take time. It is a huge adjustment compared to the game here.â€
The length of season is also very different. The European leagues can play anywhere from 40 to more than 80 games during the regular season, compared to the 25 in the ECAC West. But that adjustment also must be made for the players coming out of the North American junior system as well.
â€œThey need to adjust to every game here being game seven of the NCAA tournament,â€ said Levinthal. â€œWhen you have a lot of new guys, just getting them to understand that that is true even for North American guys coming out of the junior system.â€
Fortunately, coach Levinthal has a group of upperclassmen who have made these kinds of adjustments before, both in style of play and importance of every game.
â€œNicholas Berntsson is a guy who we are going to rely on in both areas a ton,â€ said Levinthal. â€œNevermind some of the other veterans like Chris Trafford, Arlen Marshall, and Chris Galiotti, those guys making sure that we maintain the right culture is absolutely imperative.â€
Shooting It Out
Utica opened the season last weekend hosting a pair of games against Fredonia. The Pioneers outshot the Blue Devils 45-17 in Fridayâ€™s game and held a 3-1 lead entering the third period. But Fredonia scored twice midway through the final frame to tie the game and send it to overtime.
â€œWe played very well, came out with fire and had time of possession in our favor,â€ said Utica coach Gary Heenan. â€œAs a young team, we let a two goal lead get away at home. On the weekend, we didnâ€™t make a lot of mistakes but the ones we made were big ones. We coughed it up in prime scoring areas.â€
The fun was just beginning at a raucous Aud filled with over three thousand fans. Coach Heenan had discussed the idea of a shootout if the games ended in a tie with Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith during the offseason.
â€œI called Fredonia and they were all for it as experimental,â€ said Heenan. â€œI checked with the league and they said no, but then I went to the NCAA and they said yeah, itâ€™s your choice in an out of conference [game] as long as the other team agrees.â€
Neither team scored in overtime and the shootout began. It took seven rounds of shooters, with each team scoring goals along the way only to have the other team answer, before Utica finally came out on top.
â€œWe had an unbelievable crowd,â€ said Heenan. â€œThey were all on their feet for the shootout. It went to seven shooters. Even though we won the shootout, Jeff Meredith came off the bench and said that was fun. The players loved it, the coaches loved it, and the fans fell in love with it. I think the ECAC West is missing the boat.â€
The ECAC West considered using a shootout format to eliminate ties during league play but the motion was defeated for this season.
â€œThe league said no to our vote,â€ related Heenan. â€œThe coaches want it and Utica wants it. But the other five athletic directors voted it down.â€
While shootouts are exciting to watch and can lead to highlight reel finishes of games, personally Iâ€™m just as glad that the ECAC West decided against shootouts. Determining the winner of a team game via individual one-on-one competitions doesnâ€™t seem like a good idea, no matter how exciting the shootout might be.
But thatâ€™s just my opinion. The fans and players certainly seemed to enjoy themselves during the shootout last Friday at the Aud.
Game of the Week
Elmira hosted Oswego two weeks ago at the Thunderdomes, mounting a strong second period comeback to eke out a 3-2 victory. The Soaring Eagles tallied a pair of power-play goals in the second period, with Karl Linden scoring the first and last goals of the game to earn the ECAC Player of the Week award.
This Saturday, Oswego will be looking for a measure of revenge when Elmira travels north to the shores of Lake Ontario for a rematch.
Elmira, on the other hand, will try to do its part to reverse a rare early season inter-league deficit the ECAC West has amassed with the SUNYAC. The ECAC West has only put up a disappointing 5-6-1 record against the nationâ€™s other premier conference in the seasonâ€™s first two weeks.