Old Neumann Hockey
When you think of Neumann hockey, particularly since the team started to become competitive in the ECAC West four seasons ago, a few common traits come to mind. Attributes like hard-nosed skilled forwards and solid goaltending are usually bantered about.
The Knights have had so much turnover in the last two seasons, in all aspects of the program, most fans have wondered how the new members of the team would define themselves. With an impressive sweep of Manhattanville this past weekend, perhaps weâ€™ve started to learn the answer.
â€œWeâ€™re starting to become the team we want to be,â€ said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. â€œWeâ€™re starting, little by little, to get things together. Iâ€™m the third coach here in three years. There is an adjustment to be made. As the weeks have gone on here, the guys have bought in and gotten back to that old Neumann hockey, hard-nosed and get the job done.â€
Neumann started the season with up and down split weekends at Geneseo and Adrian. During the Geneseo weekend, Neumann played well in Fridayâ€™s game but lost, and then came out flat on Saturday yet squeaked out a 4-3 victory thanks mainly to a hat trick by freshman Marlon Gardner.
The Adrian weekend was the opposite. The Knights played a stellar game on Friday night, controlling the high flying Adrian offense for much of the game, and earned a solid 4-2 victory. But Saturday, Neumann was completely flat and lost by a lopsided 10-1 score.
You can understand why both the fans and the team werenâ€™t sure which Neumann team was going to show up last weekend for the Manhattanville games. When the Knights swept the weekend, you could almost hear the sigh of relief.
â€œIt was our best weekend of the year,â€ said Dawes. â€œIt was good to put out two in a row and get away from the whole split thing. It means a lot to us. It was good to see that we could put the two nights together. That is where we struggled. The first weekend of the year, we outplayed Geneseo the first night but then they outplayed us the second night.
â€œAdrian, we won a very good game the first night and then the second night we were nowhere to be found. We had a lot of changes in the lineup that night, but that is no excuse. We just didnâ€™t show up. It was good to rebound from such a bad game, to play well and win.â€
In Friday nightâ€™s against Manhattanville, it was the Marlon Gardner show. The freshman forward scored three power-play goals during the game to earn his second hat trick of a young college career, pacing Neumann to a 4-2 victory.
â€œThe kid [Gardner] can shoot the puck,â€ said Dawes. â€œIt says a lot about the two guys that he plays with as well, though. He is on our top line and there are some pretty good guys on that line. That helps him. He has a great release and gets shots through. Heâ€™s off to a good start and hopefully he can keep going.â€
Saturdayâ€™s rematch was anything but normal. Manhattanville started with a vengeance when Dillon Henningson scored just 24 seconds into the game.
The Valiants held their lead until the waning seconds of the second period when a fluke bounce tied the game for Neumann. Freshman Knight Bill Foster flipped the puck in from center ice intending it as a dump in but the puck bounced, glancing off Manhattanville goaltender Steve Parryâ€™s glove and into the net for a goal.
â€œIt was kind of a funny game,â€ said Dawes. â€œThere were a lot of penalties. They scored right off the bat and then we scored with not a lot of time left in the second period, dumping the puck in. We flipped it in and the puck bounced in. It was kind of a funny goal.â€
The goal gave Neumann life and the Knights came out strong in the third period, scoring a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
â€œWe came out of the gate pretty good in the third period and buried a couple of opportunities,â€ said Dawes. â€œ[Manhattanville] didnâ€™t give up, scratched and clawed at the end.â€
Manhattanville certainly wasnâ€™t done, as coach Dawes said. The Valiants
pulled their goaltender with 1:41 remaining and junior Arlen Marshall scored twice with the extra attacker to tie the game 3-3. The game-tying goal came after a sloppy Neumann penalty gave Manhattanville a 6-on-4 power play.
â€œWe took a bad penalty late and they capitalized,â€ said Dawes.
As time wound down in the overtime period, it looked like the game would end in a tie. But Jeff Rodell wound a shot from the top of the slot through a crowd of players to score the game winner for Neumann with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
â€œIt showed a lot about my guys rebounding, going out there in overtime, and getting the job done after kind of blowing it,â€ said Dawes.
A key component of Neumannâ€™s success this past weekend was another freshman, goaltender Ross MacKinnon, who made 42 saves over the two games. MacKinnon has started four of Neumannâ€™s six games so far and appears to be settling into the starting role for the Knights.
â€œHeâ€™s proven himself and played well,â€ said Dawes. â€œIt is his to lose. We have a couple of other guys that can do just as well, but he has done everything you can ask of him every time heâ€™s played. Heâ€™s a confident kid that plays well, controls his rebound, plays within himself.â€
Led by their freshmen, with the steadying hand of the seniors, the Knights seem to be returning to the formula that has put them in the hunt for the league title each of the last two seasons.
Neumann isnâ€™t the only team getting stellar early play out of its freshmen class.
All across the ECAC West, first year players are having an impact.
Three of the four top scorers in the league are freshmen. Tim Coffman (seven goals, six assists, 13 points) and Mike Leone (4-7-11) have added a needed scoring punch to Utica, while Marlon Gardner (6-3-9) is tied for third with Hobartâ€™s Jason Merritt (3-6-9), the only upperclassman in the group.
The trio of freshmen also lead, or are tied for the lead, in every other offensive category in the league.
If you arenâ€™t a freshman, garnering accolades has been difficult this season.
Through the first three weeks of the season, freshmen have captured six of the nine weekly league awards, including a clean sweep this week (see sidebar).
Tim Coffman has gone three for three in the ECAC West awards category with two Freshman of the Week awards and one Player of the Week award.
Most teams entered this season with their rosters loaded with freshmen. If the early indications hold, this should be a very entertaining class to watch over their four year careers.
Game of the Week
Neumann continues in the eye of the storm this weekend as it hosts Elmira and Hobart. The Knights took advantage of a couple of bounces against Manhattanville to vault to the top of the league standings last weekend.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a tough schedule to start the year and it doesnâ€™t get any easier,â€ said Dawes.
â€œEvery weekend, the level has kind of gone up for us. It went up a little bit at Adrian, up this past weekend with Manhattanville, and I think itâ€™s going to go up again with Hobart and Elmira coming into town. It has been a good progression for us. These 10 guys that are freshmen now know what it is like to play at the highest level of Division III. It has been a good learning experience for them.â€
Neumann will need to put together another pair of consistent games if it wants to stay in first place. However, Elmira and Hobart will both have something to say about that.