ECAC West teams search for an identity

Most teams have played the first third of their season already and certain things are now becoming very clear. First is that the teams in the ECAC West are very evenly matched from top to bottom. So little separates the skill of the players and the preparation of the coaching staffs that the old proverb of “any given team on any given night” could not be more true.

“When you watch video, you can see adjustments that people are making,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “People are working very hard in the league. There are some really smart people that are really prepared. Teams come in really well prepared and it brings teams really close together.”

The parity within the league is making the nonconference games even more important. With half of each team’s schedule made up of games outside the league, those games will play a large part in determining who will received bids to the NCAA tournament in March.

After a successful trio of games last week, in which Manhattanville beat both Western New England and Amherst and tied Williams, the Valiants have realized just how important these games might be down the road.

“The nonconference games are absolutely essential,” said Levinthal. “The number one way to get in the NCAA tournament is to win your nonconference games. I don’t know how you will get out of our league with more than eight conference wins.”

Elmira, on the other hand, has been struggling outside the league and that is becoming a point of concern. After a loss and tie at the Skidmore Invitational last weekend, the Soaring Eagles are now 2-3-2 in nonconference play. With only six nonconference games left, Elmira can’t afford to squander any more opportunities.

“With that record out of conference, it is going to make it really difficult for us down the stretch run when the NCAA selection committee is taking a look at who they want to pick for the national tournament,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul.

Part of Elmira’s troubles the last few weeks has been a tendency to get behind early in games. In three of the Soaring Eagles last four games, their opponents have been up by at least two goals by the end of the first period. Elmira has shown a huge depth of character to stage comebacks to make a game of it each time. However, the Soaring Eagles are 0-2-1 in those three games, as the holes were just too deep.

“In the last two weeks it definitely has been a trend,” said Saul. “The teams that we play every game, you can’t afford to get down by two or three goals. There are too many teams that are too good, too well coached, for you to spot two or three goals to and then come back. It shows the kind of character we have in the locker room that we have the ability to do that, but when you have to do it several games in a row, it is not a good sign for your program.”

“Defensively, we need to get better in our own end and cut down on the shots against and quality chances against,” continued Saul. “With such a big group of new players sometimes that takes some time.”

Manhattanville is also trying to become more consistent as the season nears the midway point. The Valiants have let in 14 goals in their last four games as they try to get the lines to gel together.

“I don’t think we know our identity yet,” said Levinthal. “The last couple of years, we have not been a very good team in November to begin with. We have been a much better team in February and played better down the stretch. Until we get this identity of who we are and what it takes to win games, we’re going to have some hiccups along the way.”

Contributing to the problems has been the absence of sophomore Scott Hudson from the lineup. Hudson is sidelined with an injury  and isn’t expected to return until at least the holidays. The Valiants are missing his more-than-a-point-per-game production.

“Our lineup doesn’t feel the same anymore,” said Levinthal. “One guy shouldn’t make that much of a difference, but we’ve had a hard time scoring goals against good teams. He is a guy where when we aren’t playing well, he can score a goal and change the momentum of a game.”

As teams head towards the midway point of the season, it is time to finish “finding their identity” and start winning games to position themselves for the playoffs.

ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week: Mickey Lang (Sr.) — Manhattanville
Lang scored four goals and assisted on two others for six points in three games last week. Lang had two
goals and an assist in a wild 7-6 win over Western New England on Tuesday, then came back with a goal and an assist against No. 10 Amherst on Friday and a go-ahead goal in the third period of Sunday’s eventual 3-3 tie with No. 8 Williams.

Goaltender of the Week: Pierre-Olivier Lemieux (Jr.) — Manhattanville
Lemieux backstopped Manhattanville to an unbeaten week after coming on in relief to earn the win against Western New England on Tuesday. He then held No. 10 Amherst and No. 8 Williams to just three goals in 125 minutes, including 28 saves in a 5-0 shutout.

Rookie of the Week: Michael Rey — Neumann
Rey notched two goals and two assists as Neumann went 2-0 in nonconference action. On Friday evening, Rey scored the game-winning goal with just 46 seconds left in regulation. Earlier in the game, the freshman assisted on the Knight’s first goal in the 3-2 win. In Saturday’s game, Rey scored and then assisted on a goal as the Knights tallied two goals in the final minute of play in the first period.