No. 3 Hobart Statesmen vs. No. 4 Neumann Knights
Upsets ruled the day last weekend when the lower seed teams won both of the ECAC West semifinal playoff games. No. 4 seed Neumann toppled No. 1 Elmira, 2-1, at the Thunderdomes and No. 3 seed Hobart finally won at Playland Ice Casino as the Statesmen defeated No. 2 Manhattanville, 3-1.
It was the first time ever that Hobart has beaten the Valiants in their home rink in Rye, NY. When I first read that fact in the Hobart press release late Saturday evening, I couldnâ€™t believe it, but after checking the archives it is indeed true.
â€œI couldnâ€™t believe it either,â€ said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. â€œIt wasnâ€™t a point for me. You want to win those games because they are important games and you want to keep playing. When I read it this morning, I went â€˜Yeah? No kidding?â€™ It is kind of funny that weâ€™ve never won there. Weâ€™ve played some good games there and so have they.â€
It is not quite as surprising to see the third and fourth seed teams in the championship game. It last happened in March 2006 as Elmira and Utica met in the finals at Manhattanville when the league used a final four type format to determine a champion.
â€œIt is pretty evident from how our league worked out that we have five teams that are right there,â€ said Taylor. â€œIf any one of them has got things in line, they are going to win the hockey game. Everybody is pretty much that close.â€
After getting by Utica in the play-in game on Wednesday, Neumann faced Elmira last Saturday night. The Soaring Eagles perched at the top of the standings for most of the regular season and were unbeaten against the Knights this year, but Neumann got out to a quick start in the first period.
â€œIt was a good game,â€ said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. â€œWe played well. The first period was probably the best period we have played all year and we went from there. We did what we wanted to do. Iâ€™ve got some good hockey players here and they are showing that.â€
Senior Erik Stoyanovich got the Knights going just 7:51 into the game with a goal and that swung momentum firmly Neumannâ€™s way.
â€œ[Getting the first goal] was very important,â€ said Dawes. â€œI thought just a good start would be important for us. Just getting out there, getting going, and showing that we could take the play to them was big for us. We fed off that. The first goal was huge to give us a little bit of momentum.â€
Stoyanovich also assisted on the eventual game-winning goal by Jesse Cole midway through the second period to give the Knights enough breathing room for the victory.
â€œ[Stoyanovichâ€™s] first goal was from going hard to the net,â€ said Dawes. â€œHe crashed the net hard and buried the rebound. He had a very good night against both Elmira and Utica as well.â€
Hobart faced the opposite challenge against Manhattanville. Senior Derek Lyndon got the Valiants on the board less than five minutes into the game as Manhattanville dominated play during most of the first period.
â€œThey came out and owned us in the first period,â€ said Taylor. â€œWe did a real good job of getting the ship righted in the second and the third. They were beating us to the puck in the first period and we had to fix that.â€
Hobart was able to settle down in the second period and a pair of goals by junior Gregory Alberti and sophomore Matthew Wallace gave the Statesmen the lead. Junior Nick DeCroo added a power play insurance goal in the third period to seal the victory.
Now Hobart and Neumann face each other in the championship game on Saturday.
â€œ[Neumann] is a very good hockey team,â€ said Taylor. â€œItâ€™s going to come down to who brings it best that night.â€
â€œ[Hobart] is the best coached team in the country,â€ said Dawes. â€œThey all seem to buy in and do all the little things they need to do. Weâ€™ve had two overtime games, one each way, so we know we can play against them. The guys are excited about it.â€
For the Neumann upperclassmen, making it back to the championship game has a little more meaning. This yearâ€™s juniors and seniors played in the schoolâ€™s first league championship game two seasons ago, losing to Manhattanville 5-4 in a hard fought overtime game.
At the time, it appeared that Neumann was well on the path of making it to the NCAA tournament very soon. Since then, however, these players have persevered through a pair of coaching staffs but have managed to maintain a high level of play throughout.
â€œWeâ€™ve got a lot of older guys here and they have a good opportunity ahead of themselves,â€ said Dawes. â€œIt means a lot to them to get back to the championship game. They were there a couple of years ago. For them, it is a bit of showing everybody that they can be there no matter what theyâ€™ve been through. They have gone through more than most kids.â€
ECAC West All-USCHO Teams
It has been another incredibly competitive year in the ECAC West. Games that went down to the wire, a tight regular season race in the standings, and playoff upsets have all kept the fans on the edge of their seats all season long.
With the season coming to a close this weekend, it is time once again to name the ECAC West All-USCHO teams, as well as the usual slate of individual awards.
It is the players, coaches, and staffs that make the ECAC West such a great league to follow, so it is only fitting that we take some time to highlight the best of the best this season.
For the awards, I take in to account the entire season of play, all conference games, non-conference games, and playoff games that have occurred up to this point.
The most difficult decision this year was for the Player of the Year. I was able to narrow it down to three players, but then went round and round trying to decide on a final award winner. The three finalists were Nick DeCroo from Hobart, and Mike Hedden and Matt Ward from Neumann.
I finally settled on senior Mike Hedden as the Player of the Year. What tipped the scales in Heddenâ€™s favor was his balanced game, with 16 goals and 18 assists this season, and the majority of those goals coming at even strength. In his four seasons, Hedden has amassed stellar numbers with 95 goals and 65 assists in 103 games.
Utica freshman Tim Coffman was the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year. In just his first season, Coffman led the ECAC West in points this year (37) with 17 goals and 20 assists, scoring twice as many goals as any other Utica player. Coffman certainly has provided the scoring punch that the Pioneers have been searching for and should be an exciting player to watch over the next few years.
My choice for coach of the year was equally as obvious. Hobart coach Mark Taylor may not be the flashiest coach in Division III, but he certainly is one of the most successful coaches that many fans may not be familiar with.
He turned a downtrodden Hobart Statesmen hockey program into a team the perennially competes for the ECAC West league championship and has had success in the NCAA tournament. Hobartâ€™s victory over Manhattanville last weekend was Taylorâ€™s 129th as head coach, making him the winningest coach in Statesmen history in only nine seasons.
Perhaps the most telling accolade for coach Taylor comes from his peers. Without fail, whenever I ask an opposing coach what their thoughts are of Hobart hockey, they say what a wonderfully coached team the Statesmen are and how well Taylor does at getting his players to buy into his systems and philosophies. It is refreshing in todayâ€™s society when consistency, character, and work ethic are rewarded, and those characteristics are at the heart of a Mark Taylor coached hockey team.
ECAC West First Team
Forward: Matt Hedden, Neumann, Sr.
Forward: Nick DeCroo, Hobart, Jr.
Forward: Chris Trafford, Manhattanville, Sr.
Defense: Karl Linden, Elmira, So.
Defense: AJ Mikkelsen, Manhattanville, Jr.
Goal: Keith Longo, Hobart, Sr.
ECAC West Second Team
Forward: Matt Ward, Neumann, Jr.
Forward: Rusty Masters, Elmira, Jr.
Forward: Tim Coffman, Utica, Fr.
Defense: Andrew Brennan, Hobart, Sr.
Defense: Charles Paterson, Neumann, Jr.
Goal: Sergiy Sorokolat, Manhattanville, So.
ECAC West Rookie Team
Forward: Tim Coffman, Utica
Forward: Marlon Gardner, Neumann
Forward: Brendan Sanders, Elmira
Defense: Jeremy Gates, Neumann
Defense: Dillon Oâ€™Hara, Manhattanville
Goal: Ross MacKinnon, Neumann
Player of the Year
Mike Hedden, Neumann, Sr.
Rookie of the Year
Tim Coffman, Utica
Coach of the Year
Mark Taylor, Hobart
End of Another Season
With the championship game on Saturday, another season of ECAC West hockey will come to a close. It has been a thrilling ride from the start back in October all the way until they present the trophy to the winner late Saturday evening.
As has become customary, I would like to thank you, both the loyal and occasional readers of this column, for another great year. It is the interaction with you that truly makes the season extra special.
I would also like to thank all of the coaches, sports information directors, and players for their tremendous assistance throughout the season. Without your help and patience, my job would be much more difficult. I sincerely appreciate your time and friendship.
Enjoy the ride through the NCAA playoffs. Cheer for all of the ECAC West teams in the national tournament. And Iâ€™ll see you again next October.