Focusing on Challenges
Elmira kept rolling in league play last weekend, steamrolling Utica in a pair of games. The Soaring Eagles poured 49 shots on net Friday night, tallying seven goals to defeat the Pioneers, 7-3.
â€œThe guys played great,â€ said Elmira head coach Aaron Saul. â€œIt is the time of the year where you need to start focusing on yourself as a team. We are a focused group and are starting to play well.â€
Despite outshooting Utica by a 45-23 margin on Saturday, the repeat game was much more difficult for Elmira. The Pioneers came into the contest with a strong game plan and took it to the Soaring Eagles through the first 45 minutes of the game.
â€œUtica made some great adjustments for Saturday,â€ said Saul. â€œThey were playing hard. There were times in the second where we were dominating but their goaltender was playing well. Going into the third period, you could tell our guys were ready to come out hard. The chances that we had were going in and it snowballed from there.â€
Utica netminder Anthony Luckow stopped all but one of the first 27 shots he faced during the opening two periods. Elmira sophomore Andrew Wilcox scored a shorthanded goal 5:32 into the third period and then the flood gates opened. The Soaring Eagles ripped off four more goals to win the game going away, 6-1.
Two big factors for Elmira still being undefeated in league play are penalty killing and goaltending. This past weekend, Elmira kept the Pioneers off the scoreboard during all nine of their power plays and have killed off a remarkable 93% shorthanded opportunities overall in league play.
â€œWe took a few more penalties than we wanted,â€ said Saul. â€œThere were a couple of selfish ones. We addressed that. Our PK has done a great job, especially in the backend with our defense.â€
Backend defense has certainly been a strong point for Elmira. The Soaring Eagles have only let in 18 goals in 10 league contests this season, by far the lowest in the league.
â€œThe group of six defensemen that usually play are an extremely talented group,â€ said Saul. â€œEvery day, they seem to want to keep the goals under two. They take a lot of pride defensively in their own end.â€
The second big factor has been goaltending. Senior Casey Tuttle has been a standout ever since he came into the league as a freshman. He currently leads the ECAC West in goal against average (2.27) and is second in save percentage (.916).
â€œHeâ€™s getting challenged every day with our two other goaltenders,â€ said Saul. â€œHeâ€™s had some time off, when the other guys have gotten a chance to play and done well. In that position, we are very strong and deep. Casey has benefitted from the other two guys pushing him in practice week to week.â€
Junior Kevin Bolin and freshman Darren McDonald have spelled Tuttle in three games each this season, putting up strong goaltending numbers themselves to create one of the best trioâ€™s of netminders in division III.
With only three weekends of play remaining in the regular season, the league standings are starting to sort out. The upper echelon of teams are creating some distance from those further down but there are still plenty of battles to come.
With its pair of losses this past weekend, Utica can now finish no higher than second place. Even that is a lofty goal at this point as the Pioneers would almost have to win out to make that happen. It is crucial for Utica to sweep Lebanon Valley at home this weekend to keep the Pioneers hope of a home playoff game alive.
Neumann also finds itself eliminated from the regular season title. The Knights can strengthen their case for second place this weekend as they host Manhattanville. If Neumann can sweep the Valiants, they will pull within two points of that coveted position.
Hobart is still in the hunt for first place — at least mathematically. But unless the Statesmen can knock Elmira off their roll this weekend, the Statesmen will find themselves battling with all of the rest for second place.
Manhattanville has the best chance to chase down Elmira for the regular season title, but the Valiants must hold serve over the next two weekends. If they can fend off Neumann and Utica, Manhattanville would setup a final weekend showdown against Elmira for the title.
The magic number for Elmira is seven points. If the Soaring Eagles can gain at least three wins and a tie in their last five games, Elmira will clinch the regular season title no matter what any other team does.
Game of the Week
Elmira hosts Hobart this weekend in the only game for each team. Elmira won the previous two meetings between these teams this season back in November by scores of 3-2 and 2-0.
However, the Soaring Eagles havenâ€™t swept Hobart in a season since 2001-2002. That was Mark Taylorâ€™s second year as head coach of the Statesmen and he has brought the team quite a ways since then.
Games between Elmira and Hobart are always exciting affairs with so much on the line.
â€œIt will be an exciting one,â€ said Saul. â€œHobart is playing really well. It is going to be a tough challenge for us. They are an extremely hard working team and wonâ€™t quite until the last buzzer goes. They have great team speed and their work ethic is incredible.â€