This Week in the ECAC West: Jan. 21, 2010

Mediocrity

With all but one non-conference game now behind the ECAC West teams, it is a good time to take stock of the season so far and see what teams need to do with the remaining league schedule.

The teams of the ECAC West did not fare well in non-conference play this season. Over the past five years, the league has won 66.4% of its non-league games overall, and has enjoyed a 61.2% success rate against its arch-rival SUNYAC.

But this season, the league was woefully mediocre in outside play, with only a .508 record overall and .512 against SUNYAC.

The lone remaining non-conference game will be played this Sunday when Manhattanville travels to SUNY Morrisville. All of the ECAC West will be watching this game as the Valiants will look to ensure that the league maintains its long-standing tradition of a winning record against the SUNYAC. Currently the league is only one game up on the state schools at 20-19-4.

League Stretch

With non-conference nearly finished, all eyes are squarely focused on the remaining league schedule as the teams sprint to the playoffs. Just five weeks remain in the season, and all six teams are jockeying for playoff positions.

Here is a rundown of each team, their current position, and what they need to do to end up on top.

Elmira Soaring Eagles

Elmira was the only team to go a perfect 6-0 in the first half of the league schedule and is sitting pretty with a game in hand on all teams except Utica. The Soaring Eagles’ schedule includes a single home game against Hobart and a pair of games against all other ECAC West teams.

The key to Elmira’s success so far this season has been its power play. When it is clicking, the Soaring Eagles have been unstoppable, but when it goes cold, they struggle. Take this past weekend as an example.

Elmira rolled in four power-play goals on 11 opportunities on Friday against Potsdam, dominating the game from the start. But the extra attacker units went cold on Saturday — they were shutout on all nine power plays they had — and Elmira struggled to a 3-0 victory over Cortland, which included a late empty net shorthanded tally.

During the first half of the league schedule, Elmira scored 15 goals on 41 power plays. If the Soaring Eagles can get their special teams rolling like that again, they might be unstoppable down the stretch.

Manhattanville Valiants

The Valiants currently stand in second place in the ECAC West, only two points behind Elmira. However, three of Manhattanville’s five league wins were against Lebanon Valley and the Valiants have the toughest remaining league schedule.

To make matters worse, Manhattanville ended the first half of the season on a down note with a pair of home league losses against Elmira and Hobart.

Things have been looking up for the Valiants since then, however. Manhattanville has rolled off seven straight non-conference victories, outscoring its opponents 34-15. Manhattanville has a tradition of going on long winning streaks, which would bode well for the Valiants down the stretch.

Junior Mickey Lang has been a scoring monster so far this season and is tied for the lead in the nation with 17 goals.

The Valiants have owned the second period throughout this season, scoring 24 more times overall than their opponents during that stanza to take control of games.

With home weekends against Neumann and Utica, and an all important road weekend finale at Elmira, February is going to determine Manhattanville’s fate in the regular season standings.

Hobart Statesmen

Hobart currently sits in third place in the league, but the Statesmen’s 3-3-1 league record doesn’t fully show the struggles that the Statesmen have faced.

Injuries have ravaged the team, particularly early in the season. Just two weeks ago, nine players were out for various injuries. The resulting changes have rippled through the lineup and special team units as freshmen have been called on to step in earlier than expected.

Hobart hopes to start getting some of those missing players back into the lineup, and it can’t come soon enough. Five of their remaining eight games for the Statesmen are on the road.

Hobart will need to string wins together — something it hasn’t done all season — for at least three quarters of those games if the Statesmen hope to see themselves at the top of the leader board.

Neumann Knights

Outside the league, Neumann posted a solid 7-3 record this season, but inside the conference was another story. The Knights struggled during the first half of conference play, posting a disappointing 2-3-1 record.

What really hurt the defending national champions early was an abysmal penalty kill. The Knights only killed off 65.5% of the opposing power plays during the opening conference schedule.

Neumann has been working long and hard on its penalty killing strategy since then and has shown marked improvement, limiting non-conference opponents to a much more respectable 20% success rate on their power plays.

Fortunately for the Knights, all but two of their remaining games will be played in the friendly confines of the Ice Works, and that has the team looking to move up the standings.

“We are in pretty good shape,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “We have started to find some line combinations. The kids are excited about getting to play at home.”

Utica Pioneers

Utica finds itself in fifth place, one point behind Neumann in the standings but with a game in hand.

The Pioneers are another team that just hasn’t been able to find a way to get on a roll. The longest unbeaten streak all season has only been 2-0-1, something Utica has done twice only to promptly drop a game or two.

It is hard to put a label on why: scoring is up so far this year, mainly thanks to the 12 goals scored by sophomore Tim Coffman.

The Utica power play is also performing spectacularly well compared to past years, scoring an amazing 34.2% of the time in league play.

And yet the Pioneers find themselves near the bottom of the standings with a very difficult path upwards. Utica will need to figure out how to be road warriors as the season winds down, when six of its last nine games are away from the packed house of The Aud.

Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen

There is little doubt that Lebanon Valley continues to show improvement this year. The Flying Dutchmen have not allowed any team to run up double digits on them yet, something they failed to accomplish since joining the league five years ago.

Scoring is up also, averaging nearly three goals per game since the holiday break.

Victories, however, continue to elude Lebanon Valley which is proving very frustrating. With league games remaining against ever team except for Manhattanville, the Flying Dutchmen are poised to play spoilers, trying to finish off the season on a high note as they continue to rebuild the program.

Late Wednesday, Lebanon Valley Athletic Director Rick Beard announced that head coach Ted Russell has resigned effective immediately, after slightly less than three seasons. Russell was an assistant coach with the team from 2001-2006.

Coaching duties for the remainder of the season will be handled by assistant coach Brendon Herr, with help from current senior captain Spiros Anastas who is currently out of action due to injury.

Beard will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the team.

Game of the Week

Eyes this week turn to Manhattanville’s visit to The Aud to play Utica. The Pioneers need to take advantage of their few remaining home games and hold serve against the Valiants.

Manhattanville, on the other hand, is riding a seven game winning streak and would like nothing better than to extend that momentum into league play.

It should be a war in front of a huge crowd in Utica and is certainly the place to be this Friday night.

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