This Week in the ECAC West: Feb. 18, 2010

Quietly Playing Well

Two weeks ago, it looked like Elmira had run away with the regular season title and that Manhattanville and Hobart would have to be content with battling for second place. Oh how things have changed.

Elmira has taken a nose dive, losing its last three games. The Soaring Eagles special teams collapsed against Hobart on Feb. 6, allowing three power-play goals and a shorthander in a 5-3 defeat. Then Elmira got swept last weekend at Neumann and all of the sudden the regular season is up for grabs heading into the final weekend.

Manhattanville, only one point behind Elmira in the standings, has been rolling along on the road all season long. All five Valiants losses on the season have been at home in the usually friendly confines of Playland Ice Casino. That has proven a frustration point throughout the season, but Manhattanville may have finally worked things out two weekends ago in a home loss to Neumann.

“The first Neumann game was kind of a wakeup call to us,” said Manhattanville head coach Keith Levinthal. “We have figured out a few of the reasons why we have been so good on the road and not good at home, maybe in terms of lineup that we’ve been using.”

With the exception of the weekend against Neumann, Manhattanville has won every game since Dec. 8 and has been building towards making a run in the playoffs.

“We have been quietly playing well for a while now,” said Levinthal. “The last three games at home we have played very, very well. We are operating on all cylinders right now.”

The table is now set for this weekend when Manhattanville travels to Elmira to determine the regular season title. The Valiants enter the weekend with momentum on their side, while Elmira has stumbled lately and needs to regain its footing.

“It’s shaping up to be a great weekend,” said Levinthal. “It is a rink that we have played well in the last few times. They are a really good team and a different kind of team than we have played in a while. Never mind playing on the road and a tough place to play, the challenge will be playing a different kind of team.”

Elmira and Manhattanville play contrasting styles of hockey creating an interesting matchup this weekend.

“Elmira is as good a transition team as you can get,” said Levinthal. “They protect the puck very well and are a very good skating team. If we are going to go back and forth down the ice with these guys at 80 miles an hour, that’s their game. That isn’t the game I want to see us play on Friday.”

The clash of styles between Elmira and Manhattanville adds another layer to the battle for the title.

Lack of Leadership

On Jan. 20, Lebanon Valley Director of Athletics Rick Beard announced the resignation of head coach Ted Russell. Since then, the team has continued to play out the season as competitively as possible, admirably reflecting the strong character of the players.

The announcement resurrected speculation on the future of the program. Beard has repeatedly asserted that no decisions have been made, and won’t be until the season is over and a thorough review is performed.

Beard’s stance is understandable and keeps open some level of hope for a team that has measurably improved. However, it also leaves teams both inside and outside the ECAC West in limbo.

Do the SUNYAC teams, and teams from other leagues, that have games scheduled with Lebanon Valley need to look for other opponents?

Should the ECAC West teams adjust their league schedule for next season?

Should the Flying Dutchmen players start looking for other teams to play on, before all of the available positions are taken by new recruits?

Those are just three of the areas that are in limbo pending a decision on the fate of the program.

What is truly lacking in this situation is leadership from the league office. The ECAC West, as the name implies, is operated under the auspices of the ECAC.

But through the years, as the league has seen teams leave for various reasons, the ECAC has paid little more than lip service to the problem of the diminishing membership. Have any efforts been expended to recruit new teams into the league? What about realignment to rebalance the teams amongst the ECAC East, West, and Northeast? Are there any teams that can be lured in from non-ECAC leagues?

This is the time when the league office needs to step in, work with the teams both within the league and with the other leagues, and provide the leadership necessary to ensure that all of the leagues have strong and healthy futures.

Is the ECAC nothing more than an organization that assigns referees and compiles weekly awards? Or is the ECAC a governing body, assisting its members to grow while maintaining the integrity of the sport?

Time will tell. It would be a travesty if the ECAC let a league with the history and competitiveness of the ECAC West wither on the vine until it is no more.

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