Middle of the Pack
The teams in the middle of the ECAC West standings re-exerted themselves this past weekend, demonstrating the depth of the league. In the Game of the Week highlighted in this column, third place Hobart went into the Thunderdomes last Saturday and handed Elmira its first conference loss, 5-3.
Special teams were key for the Statesmen as they used a shorthanded tally to get going in the first period and scored a trio of power-play goals. Elmira is still in the driverâ€™s seat for the regular season title, but the margin has now been narrowed.
Fourth place Neumann also found success on the road, taking three of four point at Manhattanville. The near-sweep kept alive the Knightsâ€™ hopes for a second place finish in the standings.
â€œWe had a pretty good weekend,â€ said Neumann head coach Dominick Dawes. â€œAnytime anyone can go into a lot of the places we go and come out with three points is a good thing.â€
Friday nightâ€™s game was a true back-and-forth affair as each team held a lead but also had to battle back from a deficit during the contest. Neumann sophomore Marlon Gardner finally scored the game winner with just over five minutes remaining in the third period to give the Knights the 4-3 victory.
â€œFriday was very physical, very up tempo,â€ said Dawes. â€œOur guys rose to the occasion and played very hard. It was a good back-and-forth hockey game.â€
Saturdayâ€™s rematch was an unusual game, ending in a 0-0 tie. My personal ECAC West records go all the way back to the 1993-94 season, and there has not been a 0-0 tie in a game involving an ECAC West team during that time.
â€œSaturday wasnâ€™t as physical,â€ said Dawes. â€œManhattanville came out very hungry, having lost Friday, and really took it to us in the first period. After that, we settled down and played a lot better. Both goaltenders played very well.â€
The goaltenders really shone during the contest, as would be expected during a scoreless game. Manhattanvilleâ€™s Pierre-Olivier Lemieux turned aside all 27 shots he faced, lowering his goals against average to 2.41.
In net for Neumann was newcomer Jonathan La Rose, starting only his second game since joining the team in January. He stopped the 39 shots on goal from Manhattanville during the game.
Manhattanville had a stellar opportunity to win the game when a flurry of penalties near the end of regulation resulted in the Valiants with three minutes of power play in overtime. Despite pouring 11 shots on net during the man advantage, Manhattanville couldnâ€™t bury the puck and the game ended in a tie.
Utica took care of business this past weekend, sweeping its final home weekend of games against Lebanon Valley, but the games were not easy.
Despite being without a head coach, and the program holding on to its very existence by a thread, the Flying Dutchmen are playing strong, upholding the integrity of the game and themselves.
â€œThey work hard and are playing disciplined hockey,â€ said Utica head coach Gary Heenan. â€œIt is hard to imagine they havenâ€™t won a game because they are doing a lot of good things.â€
Utica held a 6-2 lead heading into the third period in Fridayâ€™s game, but as has happened too often this season, the Pioneers played terrible in the third. Lebanon Valley scored a trio of goals in the third period, including an extra attacker goal with 39 seconds remaining, but ran out of time and lost 6-5.
â€œWe put a good 40 minutes together the first night,â€ said Heenan. â€œAs weâ€™ve been doing in third periods, we kind of collapsed. It was touch and go for the last minute of the hockey game. Fortunately, we held on.â€
The Pioneers were a little steadier on Saturday. After rolling out to a 3-1 lead in the first period, Utica played a strong third, outshooting Lebanon Valley 21-2 and winning 4-1.
â€œWe had a grasp on the game from the drop of the puck,â€ said Heenan. â€œTheir goalie played extremely well on Saturday, extremely well. The third period, even though all we got was the empty netter, it was in their end the entire third period.â€
Injuries have hit Utica like the plague all season long and have driven the story behind the Pioneers disappointing season. While goal scoring is up from previous years, and the Pioneers seem to have finally found the key to a successful power play, injuries have forced young players to have to step in to key roles much sooner than expected and it has led to problems late in games.
â€œIt has been a weird year,â€ said Heenan. â€œWe all as coaches have gone thru injuries before, but the extent of these, the longevity of these, and the key players it is hitting has been a blow to our team. It has forced us to put some young guys in key situations and it has led to some third period collapses. It has been a tough year and has affected us in a lot of different areas.â€
It is hoped the unlooked for experience that the Utica underclassmen are getting this season will pay benefits over the course of their future collegiate careers.
Game of the Week
Utica hits the road this weekend travelling down to Manhattanville. When these two teams met three weeks ago, it was an even game until late in the third period when Utica collapsed. The Valiants ripped off three quick goals to seal a 6-3 victory.
That loss has left a bad taste for the Pioneers.
â€œRealistically, to host a playoff game we have to win three out of four,â€ said Heenan. â€œUp here against Manhattanville was a great hockey game, 3-3 with seven minutes to go and we let it slip away. Two teams that know each other well in a small barn should be tightly contested. Our power play didnâ€™t perform extremely well the last two weekends. That has been a positive area for us throughout the year, so we have to get that back on track. Weâ€™re kind of in that weâ€™ve got nothing to lose underdog role.â€
Manhattanville also has something to prove this weekend. The Valiants had their ten game winning streak ended by Neumann last weekend. They need to get back on the horse if they want to be able to catch Elmira at the top of the standings.