Hobart walked into the Aud in Utica last Friday night on a roll. The Statesmen had won each of their last five games, outscoring their opponents 31-12 in that span, and had not lost a game since early December.
But as the 2,900 plus fans filtered into their seats, working in the back of the Hobart mindset was the lack of success the Statesmen have had in the Aud. Hobart hadnâ€™t won a game there since November 3, 2001. But this weekend was destined to be different.
Hobart rolled Utica in both games, shutting out the Pioneers on the weekend by 4-0 and 6-0 scores.
â€œThe way we played Friday night was very good, and the way we played Saturday night was very special,â€ said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. â€œEverybody was on the same page. Everybody was playing for each other. There were a lot of little things that you want to see done. The focus and the purpose was at an all-time high. Their minds and hearts and priorities are in the right place now. I thought we played very well. The refs did a great job. Everybody loves playing in front of a big crowd.â€
A key element in any run to the playoffs is goaltending and Hobart senior netminder Keith Longo is on a roll. Longo stopped all 68 shots he faced last weekend, improving his season goals against average to 2.42 and save percentage to 92.9%.
Longo tied his own school record with two consecutive whitewashings, and set a new Hobart record with seven career shutouts.
â€œYouâ€™re happy with any shutout in our league,â€ said Taylor. â€œTo do two back-to-back in somebody elseâ€™s barn against a good team that is well coached is special. They were coming hard but we did everything we needed to do.â€
Leading the Statesmen on the scoreboard was sophomore Chris Bower who scored the first goal in both games, and tallied three times total in the weekend series.
â€œChris is someone who has a great upside,â€ said Taylor. â€œHeâ€™s starting to do the things that he needs to do to bring those things out for us.â€
The pair of wins solidified Hobartâ€™s second place position in the league standings. The Statesmen are four points ahead of Manhattanville and Neumann, who are tied for third place, and only trail league leader Elmira by two points. Hobart is playing solid, workman-like hockey as they head into the final three weeks of the regular season.
â€œWeâ€™re focusing on the kinds of things we need to do to play the kind of hockey we want to play,â€ said Taylor. â€œYou control part of your own destiny and partly you donâ€™t. You just need to go out and play. Iâ€™m a big believer of win hockey games and things will take care of themselves. In order to win hockey games, you have to play the best you can play.â€
Just When You Get Rolling Along
Manhattanville completed their non-conference schedule on January 26, wrapping up with a near perfect 8-0-1 record. It was the third time in the schoolâ€™s 10 year history that the Valiants have gone undefeated outside of the league.
The wins were also part of a 13 game unbeaten streak going all the way back to early November.
But then came along Elmira last weekend and the Valiants hit a bump in the road.
â€œWe win 13 games and I never hear from you,â€ joked Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal when I called him earlier this week. â€œThen we lose one and you call. That is how you media guys are.â€
At least I think he was joking.
In Fridayâ€™s game, Manhattanvilleâ€™s leading scorer Chris Trafford tallied first, but after that it was all Elmira on the scoreboard as the Soaring Eagles eventually rolled to a 4-1 victory. Elmira scored a pair of power-play goals on six man advantages and kept the Valiants special team off the scoreboard.
â€œElmira played very well,â€ said Levinthal. â€œOn Friday, I think we wanted to win but werenâ€™t willing to do what it would have taken to win. Elmira deserves a lot of credit because they were very good and deserved to win. That was the best performance Iâ€™ve seen from a visiting team here. Sometimes youâ€™re not good because the other team is good.â€
Manhattanville came out on Saturday much more willing to do the little things around the ice. Elmira scored a power-play goal to open the first period, but Manhattanville answered early in the second and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
â€œSaturday, it was a different game,â€ said Levinthal. â€œI was really impressed with our guys on Saturday. We played really hard, were physical, and were ready to play. It was a great hockey game, back and forth, and both teams got great chances. Maybe it was fitting that it ended in a tie. Looking back on the weekend, that is a pretty darn good Elmira hockey team.â€
After Fridayâ€™s disappointing game, the Manhattanville coaching staff made some adjustments, including a number of lineup changes, to spur the team forward on Saturday.
Freshman goaltender Pierre-Olivier Lemieux got the start on Saturday, replacing sophomore Sergiy Sorokolat who played in Fridayâ€™s game, but that change was planned all week long. The Valiants have been alternating netminders the last few weekends and it seems to have solidified the teamâ€™s goaltending.
â€œWeâ€™ve alternated goaltenders the last couple of weeks,â€ said Levinthal. â€œIt was part of the plan before the weekend even began. We made some changes in our lineup in response to Friday, but the goaltender wasnâ€™t one of them. The other five guys that sat out Saturday were in reaction to Friday, but not the goaltender.â€
One sign of a good team is that they learn something from every game — win, lose, or tie. Manhattanville certainly took that to heart this past weekend as they re-entered league play and were quickly reminded just how difficult the other teams in the ECAC West can be.
â€œWe had better learn fast with the remaining league games that we have got to be ready to go both days,â€ said Levinthal. â€œI think our guys forgot what it really takes to win a league game like Elmira. With six league games left, hopefully they understand that if we want to play in late March, we canâ€™t take anything for granted. Weâ€™ve got to win our games.â€
Game of the Week
Elmira and Hobart each only play a single game this weekend, against each other at the Thunderdomes on Saturday evening. When the first and second place teams get together, you know it will be a barnburner.
Both teams have extended unbeaten streaks on the line. Elmira is 7-0-2 in its last nine games compared to Hobartâ€™s seven game winning streak. The teams each average more than four goals a game on offense, and sport defenses that give up less than three tallies per contest.
â€œItâ€™s probably a broken record from every coach, but at this point in the season every weekend, no matter who you are playing, you want to give yourself every advantage you can,â€ said Taylor. â€œWhat separates the teams in the league is a small point. You want to have as many edges as you can. Any weekend is big.â€œ
Elmira defeated Hobart twice before the holiday break, by nearly identical 4-2 and 4-3 scores. Both games went right down to the final buzzer.
No matter how much coach Taylor may try to downplay the hype, the fans should be treated to a heck of a hockey game at the Thunderdomes on Saturday as both teams attempt to solidify their conference and national standing.