This Week in the ECAC West: Jan. 14, 2010

Putting the Pieces Together

Since early December, the Hobart Statesmen have been quietly getting on a bit of a roll. They have won four of their last five games, with the only defeat coming at the hands of top ranked Oswego.

“We have a lot of good things, a lot of good pieces,” said Hobart head coach Mark Taylor. “We’ll see if we pull it together. I’m in a positive, exciting place, but we want to get there a little quicker.”

Hobart struggled early in the season, finding itself with a 3-5-2 record at Thanksgiving and unable to string together more than a pair of wins. In addition to fighting off the flu bug, as many teams struggled through, Hobart also suffered a rash of injuries that started before the season even began and ran into the first few months of the season.

The Statesmen saw top scorers Nick DeCroo and Thomas Capalbo fall out of the lineup, as well as role players such as Jordan Zitoun. In Hobart’s recent game against Brockport, nine players were scratched from the lineup due to injuries.

There is some light on the horizon as coach Taylor hopes to start to get some players back into the lineup in the next two weeks. The injuries have provided plenty of opportunities for the freshmen to step into the limelight.

“Getting some guys back would be a good shot in the arm,” said Taylor. “The challenge has been good for us.”

Freshman Chris Cannizzaro has definitely been a bright spot for the Statesmen this season, leading the team in points with nine goals and nine assists.

Another freshman that has stepped up has been goaltender Nick Broadwater, who has started 12 of Hobart’s 15 games this season and is ranked second in the league in goaltending stats.

“I really like Nick,” said Taylor. “He is pretty honest about his play. Even in most of our losses this year, I’ve been real happy with our goaltending.”

This season’s journey has been a bumpy one so far for the Statesmen, but they appear to be pulling things together just in time to make a late season run.

“Sometimes when you are struggling as a team and folks are pointing at leadership, that is when you are going to have the best leadership,” said Taylor. “There is more to leadership than just the captains. It is character kids playing character hockey. When you watch teams for four years, you see character guys not playing character hockey. They think they have to be something different, but they don’t. We still have to get things pieced together a little bit better.”

Killing Better

In its first games since mid-December, Neumann split a weekend series at Potsdam last weekend. Fearing a bit of rust, as so many teams suffer coming off a month long break, the Neumann coaching staff stressed getting off to a quick start on Friday.

The Knights did just that, scoring four goals in the first period to take a commanding lead. Freshman Cory Park scored two of those goals and Neumann romped to a 5-1 victory.

“We had talked a lot about getting off to better starts,” said Neumann head coach Dominick Dawes. “One of our goals of the game was to get on them early. We came out hard and it gave us the momentum through the game.”

Potsdam got stronger as Friday’s game progressed and it set up a back-and-forth affair Saturday night. The teams traded goals through the opening two periods on Saturday and Neumann found itself down 3-2 entering the third period.

“The second two periods the first night, they started to get going a little bit,” said Dawes. “I knew they were going to come hard on Saturday. It was one of those back-and-forth games. We made a couple of bad mistakes that cost us.”

Sophomore Matthew Valois tallied a power-play goal early in the third period to tie things up and send the game to overtime. It appeared as if the game would fittingly end in a tie until the last few seconds of the extra stanza.

A Potsdam player threw the puck from the corner of the Neumann zone as the final seconds clicked off the scoreboard. A Knights defender tried to clear the puck back into the corner but it tipped off a Potsdam stick, bounced through other players, and landed right on a Bears’ stick about three feet in front of the net. Colin MacLennan scored with one second left on the clock to give Potsdam the victory.

“It was a bad break,” said Dawes. “Our guy was in the right position trying to make the right play but it just got deflected and landed on the right person’s stick three feet from the goalie.”

One of the areas of the game that Neumann has been trying to improve on is penalty killing. The Knights were abysmal at the beginning of the season, only stopping 63% of the opponent’s power plays during the first two months of the season.

Since Dec. 1, Neumann has gotten a lot better and are now shutting down 83% of the opposing man advantages. The penalty killing improvement is obviously having an impact on the scoreboard as the Knights are 5-1 during that time span.

“We were terrible early on in the year,” said Dawes. “But the second half of the first semester we did a lot better on it. We have continued to work on. We made some subtle changes, but are doing a better job of getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots.”

Neumann also added a bit of depth at goaltending for the second semester.

Junior Jonathan La Rose has put on the Neumann sweater. La Rose played his first two season at Amherst where he put up stellar numbers with a 1.74 goals against average and 94.4 save percentage in 25 games. La Rose did not return to Amherst this fall, instead deciding to stay at home, but has signed on with Neumann now and adds to the Knights young but strong goaltending duo.

“A big part of it is trying to even out our classes a little bit and to gain a little bit more experience,” said Dawes. “I have total confidence in the guys that are here. We had the opportunity to get a very good goalie and I expect him to step in and compete as well.”

Game of the Week

Looking at the ECAC West schedule this week, I am hard pressed to find a Game of the Week. It’s not that there aren’t good games on the schedule as most teams finish up their non-conference schedule.

Potsdam at Elmira should be a very good contest as Soaring Eagles head coach Aaron Saul goes up against his former players.

Morrisville has been playing everyone tough this season and I expect no less when they visit Neumann for a pair of games.

Hobart should have its hands full playing nationally ranked Wentworth.

But there isn’t a single game that really stands out as stellar to me. Perhaps I am guilty, as many folks seem to be, of looking past this weekend’s games for league play to begin again in earnest.

So definitely catch an ECAC West game or two this weekend and enjoy some great hockey if you are able to, for the real excitement starts next week as teams run to the playoffs.

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