Ready for the Grind
Five weeks, that is all the time that the ECAC West teams have left to make or break their season. With the exception of two non-conference games, all of the remaining contests on the schedule are within the league. The stretch run begins now.
With the non-conference part of the schedule nearly complete, letâ€™s take a look back at how the ECAC West faired and then forward at the rest of the leagueâ€™s season.
The main rivalry for the ECAC West has always been the SUNYAC. It started back in the days before the SUNYAC split off from the ECAC West, when combined the league was called the NYCHA. The rivalries are intense, filled with history, and even extend to the USCHO staff where SUNYAC correspondent Russell Jaslow and I exchange numerous barbs at each other each season.
I have to admit, I was seriously worried in December when the ECAC West had a losing record against the SUNYAC. The state schools have had a winning record against the ECAC West only once in the last ten years, in 2004-2005 when the ECAC West went 17-25-7 against the SUNYAC.
At the holiday break, the two leagues were tied 9-9-1, but over the last two weekends the ECAC West pulled through and now lead the SUNYAC by a commanding 19-12-1 margin. Bragging rights against the SUNYAC (and Jaslow) are intact for another season.
The next most common opponent for the ECAC West has been the ECAC Northeast this season, against whom the league posted a strong 10-3-1 record.
The ECAC West only played a smattering of games against the remainder of the leagues. Overall, the ECAC West has a higher winning percentage in non-conference play than any other Division III league.
But thatâ€™s almost done now and only league play will matter from here on out.
Elmira currently sits atop the ECAC West standings with 10 points, but has only a slim one point margin over second place Neumann. The Soaring Eagles only blemish in league play to date came in a 5-4 overtime loss to Manhattanville in early December.
Elmira led that game with just over a minute to go in the third period when the Valiants called a timeout, pulled goaltender Sergiy Sorokolat, scored the game-tying goal off the ensuing faceoff, and then won it with less than 30 seconds left in overtime.
Neumann had an up-and-down opening half of the league season. Taking five of six points in three games against Manhattanville was definitely a highlight for the Knights.
Comparatively, the low point was a weekend in the middle of November when the Knights lost games at Elmira and Hobart (in overtime).
Six of Neumannâ€™s eight remaining games are on the road, adding to the challenges the Knights face as they try to find some consistency.
Third through fifth place is a logjam between Manhattanville, Hobart, and Utica, all separated by only a point in the standings.
Manhattanville currently holds the third spot with seven points, which is coveted because the top three teams in the league avoid the first-round midweek playoff game.
The Valiants currently have the second longest unbeaten streak in D-III and are on the third longest unbeaten streak in school history. Manhattanville last lost when Neumann swept them in early November, and have been on a 9-0-2 roll ever since.
Surprisingly, defense has been key to the Valiantsâ€™ success, who have only allowed seven goals in their last seven games. Goaltender Sergiy Sorokolat has notched three shutouts in his last four games and the Manhattanville defense has been rock solid keeping opponentâ€™s shot counts down.
Hobart and Utica are tied for fourth place in the league with six points apiece. Hobart has had a steady season, winning three out of every four games. No, really, the Statesmen have a perfect pattern so far this season of winning three games, lose the fourth, win three more games, lose the fourth.
It is uncanny.
Utica, on the other had, has been less steady. The Pioneers have shown signs of an explosive offense at times, scoring five or more goals in seven games this season. On the flip side, Utica has given up some late game that it wishes it had back, most recently last weekend against Curry when the Pioneers gave up a three goal lead in the third period and eventually lost in overtime.
Utica has the most difficult schedule remaining as the Pioneers have already completed their games against Lebanon Valley.
Speaking of the Flying Dutchmen, Lebanon Valley is looking to play the spoiler role as the season winds down. If they can get a win or two against one of the other teams, they could have a hand in determining the final standings and continue to build towards next season.
Last year, Hobartâ€™s Ryan Adler was selected as one of eight finalists for the prestigious Hockey Humanitarian Award in recognition of his work for the Wounded Warrior Project. Adler raised funds and awareness to assist soldiers coming home from the wars overseas.
Adler, now a senior, hasnâ€™t slowed down during his final season of college hockey. He continues, with his teammates and support from the school, to work in the local community on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project and Hobart Hockey Helpers, an organization that he founded.
At Saturdayâ€™s afternoon contest against Lebanon Valley, Hobart will host Veteranâ€™s Recognition Day. In addition to recognizing the efforts of veterans, donations from a local bank will be made to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Geneva American Legion.
The Statesmen will also be wearing special jerseys with the Wounded Warrior logon on the front during the game that are being sold to raise further funds for these worthwhile causes. Last season, the team wore camouflage jerseys and donated the proceeds as well.
Adler was also recently named as a finalist for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup. This award, sponsored by Athletes for a Better World in tribute to legendary coach John Wooden, is given to a collegiate and a professional athlete who have made the greatest positive influence in the lives of others.
University of Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow won the award, but it is a reflection of the impact Ryan Adler has had to be nominated as a finalist.
Game of the Week
The best series this weekend should be Neumann at Elmira. This two game set features the top teams in the league entering the weekend.
Both teams are on a bit of a roll and most recently met in the consolation game of the Times-Argus tournament three weeks ago. Elmira came out on top in that non-conference game by a 4-2 score, but the Soaring Eagles had to withstand a third period charge by the Knights to earn the victory.
These games should be a pair of barn burners at the Thunderdomes.