This Week in the ECAC West

Searching for an Identity

Elmira has arguably faced one of the most difficult schedules to open the season. The Soaring Eagles hosted Oswego three weeks ago and then hit the road for a game at Plattsburgh and a rematch in the Lakers’ barn. The stretch started off well with a 3-2 win over the Lakers, but Elmira came up on the short end of the games at Plattsburgh and Oswego.

“I thought Plattsburgh was going to be the No. 1 team in the country,” said Elmira coach Tim Celgarski. “They didn’t graduate a lot from their team and they were as good as I expected them to be.”

The game at Plattsburgh also opened up the newly renovated Stafford Arena, and the pumped up Cardinals jumped all over Elmira from the opening face-off. Plattsburgh scored a controversial goal just nine seconds into the game and then added a second tally at 3:29 to put Elmira deep in a hole that it couldn’t dig out of.

“I thought the first goal was a high sticking goal,” said Ceglarski. “But their energy level and their skating is amazing, especially in their own building. They just had two new faces in the lineup that we faced in the semi-final game and we had nine. They are a very good hockey team.”

Elmira played well in the pair of games against Oswego, at least for the first five periods. But the Lakers took advantage of the Soaring Eagles in the third period of their game this past weekend, outscoring Elmira 4-2 in that stanza to win the game 6-4.

“The first game at our place was back and forth, pretty intense and pretty physical,” said Ceglarski. “The same for two periods anyway this past weekend. I thought it was a really good game for 40 minutes. They outplayed us pretty badly in the third period and I was a little disappointed in our guys. To get a split with Oswego this early in the year, against a team that is going to be ranked pretty highly in the nation, and doing so with a young group of guys, I’ll take the split anytime.”

Elmira has been dressing seven or more freshmen in each of its games so far this season and the youngsters have been answering the call. Rookies have chipped in over a third of the goals for the Soaring Eagles.

“The freshmen are playing well,” said Ceglarski. “We really need some of our veteran guys to step up and start playing better. One of the reasons we brought the freshmen in was to chip in on the offensive end and we’re excited that they are doing that early.”

Besides a productive freshmen class, what has the Elmira coaching staff learned about the team now that they are four games into the season?

“Not a whole hell of a lot, to be honest,” said Ceglarski. “We talked about it Saturday night when we got back and again this week with the captains. We are waiting for this team to take on its own identity. Three years ago when we went to the final four, it was the ‘never say die’ kids, winning games late. That team just never gave up and were never counted out. Last year’s team was a great start, great defense, and could win any game that we played.”

To be successful, teams often need more than just a sniper or a hot goalie. Many times it is chemistry, character, or some other special factor to define the team and provide that magic ingredient.

How will this year’s Soaring Eagle team start to define itself?

“This year, we’re not so sure what that’s going to be yet,” said Ceglarski. “We need to find our own identity and realize that we are not the same team we were last year. We are faster than we were last year but we have a lot of guys that haven’t faced much adversity. The sophomores this year started off 17-0-2 last season and haven’t lost two games in a row ever. The new guys don’t really know what to expect. It is kind of a question mark now that needs to get ironed out before league play starts.”

Hump Day Hockey

Utica and Lebanon Valley wrapped up an unusual pair of Wednesday games this week. The Pioneers traveled down to the Giant Center in Hershey on October 29 and put a pasting on the Flying Dutchmen. Utica ripped off five goals in the first period, and went 5 for 10 on the power play to cruise to a 11-1 victory that didn’t quite follow the history of close games between these two teams.

“We did a history of our games down there and you’re looking at a lot of 2-1 or 3-1 wins for us,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “It has always been a tough place to play with a big building and nobody there. We go down and back on game day. It’s tough getting up for classes on Thursday.”

Utica repeated the same trip on Wednesday this week, playing this time at Lebanon Valley’s home rink of Hersheypark Arena. The odd schedule is made possible by Utica’s academic schedule as classes on Wednesday end at noon.

“If we are going to play a mid-week game, we’d rather do it on Wednesday so the guys don’t miss classes,” said Heenan. “Lebanon Valley agreed to that.”
Despite the number of goals that Utica racked up against the Flying Dutchmen, the Pioneers are seeing improvements in Lebanon Valley.

“{Lebanon Valley is} a young team that is full of energy and believing in themselves,” said Heenan. “I think Teddy (Lebanon Valley coach Ted Russell) has some new ideas and systems and has a more disciplined team this year in terms of systems.”

Game of the Week

Hobart and Elmira games tend to be some of the most entertaining hockey in the ECAC West. Both teams like to play an up-tempo style in games that are always competitive.

Last season, the teams split four meetings, with each getting a win in one game and the other two games ending in ties. Elmira got the last laugh, however, by defeating the Statesmen, 6-3, in the league playoffs.

“Mark Taylor does a great job with his team and they love playing for him,” said Ceglarski. “We play very similar styles in that we like to move the puck. It’s always exciting to play Hobart.”

Both teams are coming off a quartet of non-conference games against SUNYAC and starting their league schedule this Friday. Elmira has played the more difficult schedule but Hobart has had more success so far. Watch on Friday to see whether preparation through ‘trial by fire’ or ‘confidence’ will win out.