Neumann had a wild up-and-down series against Utica last weekend. The Knights scored four goals in the first period on Friday night and then cruised to a 9-2 victory. Things were looking equally good in Saturdayâ€™s game as Neumann found itself on top 3-2 after two periods. But then the wheels came off the proverbial bus and Utica tallied five third period goals to win, 7-3.
â€œIt was a strange weekend,â€ said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. â€œThe first night we played very well. It was one of our best nightâ€™s of the year where we were all over the puck. The second night, it went well for 40 minutes.
â€œTo [Uticaâ€™s] credit, theyâ€™ve been struggling a little bit but didnâ€™t stop. They came at us in the third. Their goalie played very well and kept them in it. We had a lot of opportunities in the second period that we should have taken advantage of and put it away. They stayed on us, scored on a few chances, and that was it. We played five great periods on the weekend, but it caught up with us in the sixth period.â€
A highlight of the weekend for Neumann was the power play as the Knights scored five extra attacker goals on 15 power plays over the course of the two games against Uticaâ€™s normally stingy penalty kill. The Neumann power play is currently the fifth best in the nation, clicking along at a robust 27.0%.
â€œThe power play for us has pretty much been going well all year,â€ said Dawes. â€œIâ€™ve got some older guys that have been on it for a few years now and they have found a groove with each other. But for the last couple of weeks, our second unit has also been pitching in. Gearing up for the stretch run,
that will help take some pressure off the other guys.â€
Neumann hits the road for the last two weeks of the season against Hobart and Lebanon Valley. If the Knights can avoid another late game swoon, a sweep of these two teams just might vault them into position for a home playoff game.
â€œWe need to continue to get better every day,â€ said Dawes. â€œTake the games one period at a time, one shift at a time, and continue to improve. Itâ€™s going to come down to who comes to play that day. We need to continue to work on the things we need to improve upon because when the playoffs approach in a couple of weeks, itâ€™s going to be who wants to lay it on the line for a full 60 minutes.â€
Down the Stretch
Weâ€™ve hit the final two weeks of the regular season in the ECAC West and most of the teams are already in playoff mode, whether they are fighting for the regular season title, jockeying for position towards an NCAA at-large berth, or simply trying to avoid the dreaded play-in game.
Letâ€™s take a look around the league at each team. But first, a quick review of the conferenceâ€™s playoff format and tiebreaking criteria.
The top five teams in the league make the playoffs. The No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 team in a play-in game on February 25.
The top two teams with host the semifinal round on February 28. The No. 1 seed will host the winner of the play-in game, while the No. 3 team will travel to the No. 2 seedâ€™s rink.
Finally, on March 7, the two semifinal game winners will meet at the higher seedâ€™s rink to crown a champion.
The regular season tiebreaker criteria remain the same this season, and are:
1. Comparison of game results between the tied teams (head-to-head)
2. Number of league wins
3. Comparison of results against common opponents
4. Overall record
Elmira and Hobart are currently tied atop the league with 16 points each, however the Soaring Eagles have the easier schedule as they host Lebanon Valley for a pair of games and then play a home-and-home series against Utica on the final weekend. Elmira also owns the tiebreaker against Hobart with a head to head record of 2-1.
If Elmira can avoid a let down in these potential trap games, the Soaring Eagles can wrap up their second straight regular season league title.
Hobart, on the other had, has its work cut out for itself as the Statesmen host Neumann this weekend and then travel to Manhattanville for a pair next weekend. Of all the contenders vying for the regular season title, the Statesmen have the toughest road to the top.
Manhattanville is just two points behind the leaders and after a rough start to the season has been gaining on them ever since. The Valiants play in the raucous Utica Aud this weekend and then host Hobart to finish out the schedule.
Four points back from the leaders, Neumann still has an outside chance of the regular season title but it would take a lot of help from other teams to make it happen. The Knights would need to sweep both Hobart and Lebanon Valley on the final two weekends of the season, have Elmira lose three of its four games, and also have Manhattanville split or worse during its last four games to take the title. Itâ€™s a remote chance, but still a possibility.
More realistically, Neumann needs to take as many points as it can during its remaining four games to try and avoid the play-in game.
Utica is eight point points back from the top and the best the Pioneers can reach for is third place to avoid the play-in game. With a pair of games at the Aud against Manhattanville, and then the home-and-home series with Elmira, even third place may be out of reach.
A reachable target for the Pioneers as the regular season comes to a close is fourth place. This would give the Pioneer fans one last home game in the play-in round to cheer on their team.
Lebanon Valley will once again not make the playoffs. The only solace the Flying Dutchmen can try for in the last two weeks of the season is to steal a point or two from a team and salvage what has been another disappointing year.
In addition to moving into a tie for first place with a big win against Elmira last weekend, Hobart continues to make the news off the rink.
For the second straight year, Ryan Adler has been nominated for the Bank of New York Mellon Hockey Humanitarian award. Adler has continued his work for the Wounded Warriors project, in conjunction with the Hobart Hockey Helpers organization that he founded.
There are a total of 21 nominees for the award, which will be presented just prior to the Frozen Four Skills Challenge in Washington, DC on Friday, April 10. Adler is one of five who received another nomination for the award and is amongst a group of five nominees from Division III.
For the second year in a row, Adler designed and procured distinctive jerseys for the Hobart hockey team to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior project. The team will wear this yearâ€™s jerseys for the remainder of the season and then will auction them off.
Adler has also contacted other teams to join in supporting the Wounded Warrior Project. The University of Maine menâ€™s hockey team will wear similar sweaters on Valentineâ€™s Day.
Also making the news is Keith Longo, who has been nominated to participate in the 2009 Frozen Four Skills Challenge. In its fourth year, this event is inspired by the NHL All-Star game skill challenge. For the college version, only seniors who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility can be nominated to participate.
Sixty-eight male and female student athletes, from Division I, II and III, have been nominated for the challenge. The fans will have a say in determining which players, six position players and two goalies of each gender, are selected to participate.
Vote early and often for Hobartâ€™s Keith Longo and the rest of the Division III players to participate in the NCAA Skills Challenge. Voting ends Monday, February 16.