Splitting the Mustangs
In a bit of a surprise, Elmira split a home-and-home series with the Morrisville Mustangs this past weekend. Coming off a rough and tumble weekend against Oswego, the Soaring Eagles are a bit dinged up and keenly felt the loss of the missing players against Morrisville.
“The games were interesting to say the least,” said Elmira head coach Aaron Saul. “We’re still a young group with only four seniors and have a bit of the injury bug where we have some guys playing different roles. We’re trying to get healthy and hopefully we will get some guys back this week.”
Elmira started out a little slow on Friday night and found itself down 2-0 by the midway point of the second period. But the Soaring Eagles gained momentum as the game went on, outshooting Morrisville by a 58-26 margin during the contest. Sophomore John Clewlow scored early in the third period to make a game of it, but Morrisville’s junior netminder Caylin Relkoff continued his huge night to seal the victory for the Mustangs.
“On Friday night, we got off to a little bit of a slow start,” said Saul. “Their goaltender played extremely well. We started playing better as the game went on. We were trying to score late in the game but hats off to their goaltender. He played awesome.”
Elmira freshman Darren McDonald saw his first action in goal for Friday’s game, making 24 saves during the contest to keep it close.
“[McDonald] played great,” said Saul. “Definitely the loss certainly wasn’t his fault. He made some great saves and looked comfortable in net. I thought he was good.”
Saturday’s rematch at Morrisville was a completely different game. Elmira jumped on the Mustangs early and often, scoring three goals in the opening 11 minutes. The Soaring Eagles kept rolling with another trio of tallies in the second period to finish off Morrisville by a 6-2 margin. After the frustrations of Friday’s game, the victory on Saturday was a bit of a confidence booster for Elmira.
“We got to their goaltender early and scored on our second shift of the game which definitely helped us with our confidence,” said Saul. “We played a pretty solid two periods Friday night and then Saturday we really dominated for three full periods.”
Saturday’s game also saw a resurgence in Elmira’s power play, something that has been sorely missing for the Soaring Eagles so far this year. Prior to the series finale, Elmira had been unable to score on its first 16 man advantages of the season. Things finally clicked on Saturday when the Soaring Eagles chipped in three goals on 11 power-play opportunities. While the new found success is a welcome change, the power play is still a big worry for Elmira.
“It is a concern,” said Saul. “Injuries at that position have a lot to do with it. We are trying certain guys that aren’t normally power play guys just due to injuries. We’re moving the puck but we’re not getting the results. It was nice to get a couple of power-play goals on Saturday. It is definitely something that we will continue to work on.”
Dodging Freight Trains
Utica opened its season with a tough game against defending national champion Neumann on Friday. Helping the Pioneers along were 2,795 screaming fans at the Aud.
The first two periods saw exciting, hard nose hockey, but only a single goal as Utica took a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the contest. The Pioneers chipped in another tally just over two minutes into the third period and it looked like Utica was on its way.
Then Neumann freshman Aaron Keaney scored his first of two goals on the night at 3:45 of the third period. The next thing the Pioneer bench knew, they were picking themselves up from the side of the train tracks and were down 4-2 in less than seven minutes.
“The goals were in bunches,” said Utica head coach Gary Heenan. “When we scored the first goal in the third, we thought we were in pretty good control. Then they get a 4-on-4 goal and like a championship team would they fed off that and came like a freight train and grabbed a hold of the game. We kind of anticipated that but we just couldn’t handle it.”
Utica was able to take some steam out of the Neumann train at 13:23 when sophomore Brian Gibbons tallied on the power play to make the score, 4-3. It came down to a last second play off a faceoff deep in the Neumann zone as the few remaining seconds ticked off the clock before Utica was able to tie it up.
“We put in a faceoff play,” said Heenan. “Everyone kind of picked out. The shot went through seven guys. I don’t think the goaltender ever saw it until it was in the back of the net. Luck was on our side in that case.”
Sophomore Tim Coffman’s goal at 19:59 of the third period tied the game 4-4 and demonstrated a resilience that was missing from last year’s Utica team.
“To come back was pretty good for us,” said Heenan. “Last year, we’d give up some leads and they would be gone. For this early on, to show that kind of character and not give up right to the final second obviously was a huge boost for us. We came away saying we blew the lead but are pretty happy we battled back to get the tie.”
In overtime, Utica got into penalty trouble when freshman Kyle Zobler was sent to the box for hitting from behind, followed by junior Kregg Guestin for crosschecking. But another weak point from last season, the penalty kill, held strong and kept the Knights from scoring in overtime. Utica killed off all seven Neumann man advantages during the game, while scoring one power-play goal on its five chances.
“It was a great night for our PK,” said Heenan. “We put in a design specifically for them and it worked out. We scouted them, had an idea of what they were going to try to do, and it was a great read to stop them.”
Game of the Week
In an unusual scheduling quirk, Neumann and Utica are right back at it again this weekend, as the Knights travel back up to the Aud for a rematch. Given the fireworks from last Friday, fans should expect another hard fought contest between these two heavyweight teams.
“We’re looking forward to the rematch,” said Heenan. “Last week was a playoff hockey game this early in the season. There were a lot of hits going on both ways. To see the resiliency from both teams when they were down in the third period was a testament to the league.
â€œWe expect nothing different this week. Both teams are going to watch some tape, put some new strategy in. Needless to say, [Neumann coach] Dominic [Dawes] is a great coach and he is going to put a wrinkle in for this week, so we have to be prepared for something different. It is a huge game already.”
In conjunction with a Utica men’s/women’s hockey double header on Friday, the teams are going to “Pink the Rink” to raise breast cancer awareness. Both Utica teams will wear special pink jerseys that are being auctioned off for charity, and there will be a myriad of other activities and fundraisers at the Aud to support the cause. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to the games as well.
“I would love to look out into the stands and see 4,000 fans wearing pink,” said Heenan. “The support we have had from the city so far this year has been phenomenal and we hope for the same type of turn out on Nov. 6th.”