This Week in D-III: Nov 20, 2008

Elmira defends their No. 1 Ranking

The Elmira College Soaring Eagles faced their sternest test to their top ranked position this past weekend as they took three of four points from ECAC West rival R.I.T. at the Murray Athletic Center in Pine Valley, N.Y.

On Friday night, Elmira pounded the Tigers 6-1 behind senior forward Jamie Huntley’s hat trick. Melanie Henshaw, Lauryn DePaul, and Lindsay Mitchell each tallied a goal for the Soaring Eagles to round out the scoring. Erica Owczarczak scored R.I.T’s lone goal of the contest in the first period to initially tie the score at one.

However, that’s the best it got for R.I.T. on Friday as Huntley went to work putting her first goal of the night in just 2:31 into the second period. Huntley then added her other two goals in the third period to put the nail in the coffin and seal up a big win for the Soaring Eagles.

Elmira head coach Greg Fargo credited Huntley’s effort on the weekend and believed she deserved every bit of it.

“Jamie had an outstanding individual effort,” Fargo said. “She’s one of our hardest working players day in and day out. She’s determined to cap off a great career with a bang and she’s been a great addition to the line-up every night.”

R.I.T. head coach Scott McDonald said it was exciting but also frustrating on witnessing Huntley’s spectacular weekend.

“I was certainly getting tired of hearing her name on the PA,” McDonald jokingly said. “She was creating her own chances and getting her own bounces. It was certainly a very impressive performance and she’s a very talented hockey player. It was tough being on the other side of it.”

Between the pipes, Allison Cubberley went the distance for Elmira picking up her fifth win of the season to improve to 5-0 on the year. Cubberley made 18 stops to pick up her third shutout of the season.

Sandra Grant made 18 stops and gave up four goals on the night before being replaced by Amy Torgerson. Grant took the loss, her first of the season to drop to 2-1 on the year.

On Saturday, things went a little better for R.I.T. as they used short-handed goals to battle their way back from one-goal deficits to skate to a 3-3 tie with the Soaring Eagles.

“Giving up two shorthanded goals in one game is always going to be a little bit concerning,” Fargo said. “We had a little bit of a lack of urgency when they had possession in our defensive zone as we left the front of the net wide open on one of their goals. Special teams are a huge part of the game every night and we’re going to have kill off penalties and not give up shorthanded goals if we’re going to keep being successful.”

Once again, Jamie Huntley was the story scoring Elmira’s first two goals with one coming on a 5 on 3 opportunity in the first period and then another power play goal a little over 13 minutes into the second period to give Elmira a 2-1 lead.

Dayna Birch did what she could to salvage R.I.T.’s weekend. Birsch scored the Tigers’ second shorthanded goal with just under five minutes to go in the game. Neither side could put home the game winner in the remaining few minutes. After a five minute overtime they were still deadlocked as both teams left with a point when the dust settled.

McDonald called Saturday’s game an almost desperate game because of Friday night’s disaster.

“The first night we struggled heavily and came out flat, nothing really sparked us,” McDonald said. “We were taking too many penalties and you can’t give a team like Elmira a power play for half the game. We came back hard on Saturday with a lot of energy and emotion and we focused on taking care of business in our end in a game we really needed.”

Fargo thought the Soaring Eagles were able to grab hold of the momentum in both of the games but with different results on opposite nights.

“I was really happy with the way we played on both nights,” Fargo said. “The effort was there for us and we capitalized on our chances Friday while not doing that as well Saturday. On Friday our power play moved the puck well and the bench was feeding off the energy. We got a big goal to start off the third period and I think it really took a lot of the wind out of R.I.T.’s sails on Friday.

On Saturday we had the momentum early but we weren’t able to hold onto it as the game was back and forth for a majority of it but the flow lacked due to the number of penalties called on both sides.”

Penalties marred Saturday’s game as R.I.T. committed 14 for 28 minutes and Elmira committed 13 penalties for 26 minutes. These two sides are no strangers to physical games but the whistle controlled most of the play on Saturday and not the players.

“I though the officials did a great job calling the game on Friday,” Fargo said. “They called what needed to be called and let the players decide the game for the most part. Saturday was a different game as there wasn’t much flow. We’ve got to be more conscious of our penalties in the future and make some better choices.”

McDonald agreed with Fargo on the officiating.

“The referees are calling certain things this year,” McDonald said. “It seems to change from night to night. It was two competitive sides battling it out and there were a lot of calls that could have been made and not made on both sides. Personally I didn’t think there were 30 minutes of penalties in the game Saturday.”

Elmira will once again face another stern test this weekend as they head to the Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh, N.Y. where the Soaring Eagles will face third-ranked Middlebury on Friday afternoon. The winner will move on to face the winner of the Williams vs. Plattsburgh nightcap game.

“Middlebury is a great team,” Fargo said. “I don’t think anything changes on our end though. We need to do the same things we do to be successful. We’re going to be excited to play the third-ranked team. Energy and effort every time we step on the ice are things we focus on in practice and I’m sure it’s going to be a 60 or 65 minute battle.”

R.I.T. on the other hand will travel up to the North Country as well. However, the Tigers will be facing ECAC West foe Potsdam for a two game series that R.I.T. needs do well in.

“We need to win both to keep pace with Plattsburgh, Elmira, and Utica,” McDonald said. “We need to focus and take care of business and get four points.”

The Weekend Ahead

This weekend features another exciting set of match-ups with none bigger than those featured in the Cardinal Classic, hosted at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The top three teams in the nation will converge on Cardinal country this weekend in what will be an important early season test for every team to find out what they have and need to work on for the rest of the season.

It will certainly be very tough for Elmira to emerge with their number one ranking intact having to go through both Middlebury and most likely Plattsburgh on consecutive nights. This will be a chance for the whole country to see how far the Soaring Eagles have come under the direction of new head coach Greg Fargo.

Plattsburgh in my opinion has to be considered the favorite since they are on home ice and will certainly be playing with a chip on their shoulder after losing to Utica a few weekends ago. The Cardinals also have the easier first round match-up but they can’t be caught overlooking Williams or they might get caught with their hand in the cookie jar against a team that could steal a win with the right bounces.

Out west, Stevens Point and River Falls will meet in a battle of two NCHA heavyweights. River Falls has rolled through their first four games with a perfect record but they’ll be facing their toughest test this weekend in the Pointers. I’ll be very intrigued to see those results this weekend and the winner of the series will take the inside track to the NCHA regular season crown and a strong start to building their NCAA resume.

The last series I’ll be keeping my eye on is one a lot of people are probably overlooking is Utica vs. Neumann. However, I feel this series is of vital importance for both teams as Utica looks to shed last year’s tough start to the season where they lost games they shouldn’t have and really hurt their Pool C chances. Utica split with Plattsburgh for the first time ever and then tied Potsdam in a game where Hilary Hitchman stood on her head all night to keep the Bears in the game.

Neumann on the other hand continues to try and make in roads towards the powerhouse four of the ECAC West and this will be their chance this weekend. I saw the Knights in action this past weekend in Oswego and they surely can skate. They’ve got some big playmakers on the blue-line and a very good goaltender in Mel Brunet. The Knights should definitely be competitive and give the Pioneers everything they have.