This Week in the ECAC West: Mar. 4, 2010

No. 1 Elmira vs. No. 2 Manhattanville

The top two teams square off for the league title on Saturday at the Thunderdomes. Elmira and Manhattanville found themselves in scraps last weekend during the semifinal games, but both prevailed in the end by identical 4-2 scores.

Manhattanville hosted third seeded Hobart, who came out flying during the first half of the game. The Statesmen built a 2-0 lead by the middle of the second period and had the Valiants on their heels.

“The first 30 minutes of the game, Hobart did a lot of things that contributed to us not being very good,” said Manhattanville head coach Keith Levinthal. “The last half of the game, we stepped it up and really started to take the game over. Once it was 2-1, we started to generate a lot of good scoring opportunities and I thought we would be okay.”

Levinthal called a timeout at 12:17 of the second period to settle his team down. The plan worked like a charm as freshman Brett Skalski scored less than two minutes later to get Manhattanville on the board. Momentum swung to the Valiants side of the ice and Manhattanville ripped off three goals in the third period to win the game.

“I’ve been calling timeouts all year in the middle of the games,” said Levinthal. “All I did was try to refocus. We were not skating, trying to over-handle the puck, over-complicate the game, and all we did was say to simplify the game. Let’s just get pucks in deep, make sure we finish our hits, not try and make fancy plays, and let’s calm down. What was happening for us was a little adversity in a playoff game, one and done deal, and we started being individuals. I wanted us to get back to being a team.”

Elmira found themselves down not once, but twice, against fourth seed Neumann in its semifinal game. The Knights established leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first two periods, but each time Elmira sophomore Kevin Willer answered the call with a goal to tie the game up.

Senior Rusty Masters finally scored at 16:20 of the third period to give Elmira its only, and most important, lead of the night to propel the Soaring Eagles to the championship game.

“We were playing pretty well, got down and came right back, then got down and came back again,” said Elmira head coach Aaron Saul. “The third period, we played pretty strong, put a lot of pressure on them and it was a matter of time until we got that late goal. Neumann played their hearts out and it was a good college hockey game to watch.”

Now it is all on the line Saturday as Elmira and Manhattanville square off for the league title.

They have met three previous times this season, with each one winning a game in the other’s barn. All three games were decided by a single goal, as Elmira won games 5-4 and 3-2, while Manhattanville took the last meeting between the teams 1-0 just two weekends ago.

“It will be an interesting game because it is the third time we’ve played each other in a short period of time,” said Levinthal. “You really get to know each other in the ECAC West and it comes down to who can execute.“

The teams won’t have to watch much game tape to prepare this week, both because of familiarity and because both teams play similar up-tempo styles.

“Both teams are real similar as far as their speed,” said Saul. “Offensively, they have some quick forwards and we do as well. In the back end, they are very strong as are we. The two teams are very evenly matched on both sides of the puck.”

“It is a great challenge because Elmira is a really good team,” said Levinthal. “Going into this game, both Elmira and us are playing well. We have played well in that rink. Both teams have a lot on the line and it is going to be one hell of a game.”

Looking ahead to the work of the NCAA selection committee on Sunday, the winner of this game will make the national tournament, while the loser will be on the bubble.

Everything is on the line in a single game showdown.

“These are two very good teams,” said Saul. “Manhattanville has been pretty steady all year long and have had a great second half. Right now, they are playing their best hockey. It is going to be a game for the ages.”

On the Lighter Side

Fans of the game certainly know that college hockey players are a rare breed. Lessons learned both on and off the ice last a lifetime. One such case was recently brought to my attention by Hobart head coach Mark Taylor.

Cameron Lochhead, a 1982 Hobart graduate who scored 46 goals and 35 assists during his collegiate career, is still lacing up the skates and recently participated in the World Pond Hockey Championship held in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.

Lochhead decided to take things a step further and used the opportunity to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders to aid their Haitian relief efforts. He and his teammates solicited pledges and donations from former teammates, Hobart alumni, and elsewhere to raise over $10,000 for a very worthy cause.

ECAC West All-USCHO Team

The 2009-2010 ECAC West season will come to an end on Saturday. It has been a year of ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad. The hockey on the ice has been as entertaining and thrilling as ever.

It is time now to name the ECAC West All-USCHO teams, as well as the usual array of individual awards.

The players, coaches, and staffs are who make the ECAC West such a great league to follow, so it is only fitting that we take some time to highlight the best of the best this season.

For the awards, I take in to account the entire season of play, all conference games, non-conference games, and playoff games that have occurred up to this point.

Player of the Year honors goes to Darcy Vaillancourt of Elmira. Although only a sophomore, Vaillancourt had a spectacular season, scoring 16 goals and adding 20 assists to lead the league with 1.50 points per game. Vaillancourt increased his point production four fold over his freshman year as he settled into a leading role on the Elmira power play.

Nick Broadwater, who started all but five games this year for Hobart, is the Rookie of the Year. Broadwater led the league with a 92.5 save percentage and his 2.41 goals against average ranked second. Entering the season with a trio of freshmen goaltenders, Hobart coach Mark Taylor wasn’t sure what he had in net, but the Statesmen have found a gem in Broadwater.

The Coach of the Year award goes to Aaron Saul at Elmira. After two seasons at the helm of Potsdam, Saul returned to his alma mater last summer. His Soaring Eagles were thrown right into the fire, opening up with a home-and-home series against powerhouse Oswego and gained a split. Elmira didn’t miss a beat under its new coach and finished the season atop the league standings for the third consecutive season.

ECAC West First Team

Forward: Darcy Vaillancourt, Elmira, So.
Forward: Tim Coffman, Utica, So.
Forward: Mickey Lang, Manhattanville, Jr.
Defense: William Lacasse, Neumann, So.
Defense: AJ Mikkelsen, Manhattanville, Sr.
Goal: Pierre-Olivier Lemieux, Manhattanville, So.

ECAC West Second Team

Forward: Arlen Marshall, Manhattanville, Sr.
Forward: Rusty Masters, Elmira, Sr.
Forward: Matthew Wallace, Hobart, Jr.
Defense: Greg Moore, Elmira, Sr.
Defense: Dillon O’Hara, Manhattanville, So.
Goal: Casey Tuttle, Elmira, Sr.

ECAC West Rookie Team

Forward: Chris Cannizzaro, Hobart
Forward: Scott Hudson, Manhattanville
Forward: Jordan Zalba, Neumann
Defense: Brad Richard, Hobart
Defense: William Brown, Lebanon Valley
Goal: Nick Broadwater, Hobart

Player of the Year

Darcy Vaillancourt, Elmira

Rookie of the Year

Nick Broadwater, Hobart

Coach of the Year

Aaron Saul, Elmira

End of Another Season

The presentation of the championship trophy to either Elmira or Manhattanville on Saturday will mark the end of another thrilling ECAC West season.

I would like to express my appreciation to everyone who has lent a hand to my weekly column this season. First of all, thanks to the coaches who willingly take time out of their busy schedules to chat with me each week.

Next to thank are the sports information directors, players, and league officials who have also helped out during the year.

Last, but certainly not least, I most appreciate you the readers, without whose support this column wouldn’t exist.

Enjoy the run to crown a national champion over the next two weeks, and I’ll see everyone next season.

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