Sweeping into first

Elmira made a statement last weekend by sweeping Manhattanville on the road. The pair of wins moved the Soaring Eagles into sole possession of first place, but they didn’t come easy. Manhattanville is always tough to play at home.

“It was a little unexpected by a lot of people, but our guys are playing great hockey,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “The two games down there were very physical battles that had a playoff atmosphere.   Down the stretch, there is no better hockey to watch in our league.”

Elmira was looking for a strong first period after getting off the bus for Friday’s game. The Soaring Eagles scored a goal in each of the first two periods to take a 2-0 lead. Manhattanville scored a power-play goal in the third period to make it close, but an empty-netter sealed the win for Elmira.

“The first period was a good road period,” said Saul. “There were some calls that were not going our way or Manhattanville’s way either. It settled down in the third period a little bit and was a good period of hockey.”

Playing with a sense of desperation, Manhattanville came out strong on Saturday. Elmira scored a short-handed goal early in the game, but the Valiants answered with the next two goals to hold a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period.

“Manhattanville played very well on Saturday,” said Saul. “The second period, Manhattanville took the play to us. It was not our best period, and we haven’t played like that in a long time.”

Elmira was able to kill off a full two minutes of a penalty at the start of the third period, and that was the turning point of the game. The Soaring Eagles used that momentum to score three straight goals, eventually winning the game, 4-2, and finish off the weekend sweep.

“We killed off a penalty in the first two minutes of the third period and then just kind of rolled from there,” said Saul. “It was nice to sit back and watch the boys play like they could.”

The Soaring Eagles are riding a nine-game unbeaten streak since early December, 8-0-1 in that span with the only blemish a tie at always-tough Plattsburgh. Elmira struggled through most of November and it finally came to a head at the Skidmore tournament Thanksgiving weekend when the Soaring Eagles tied Southern Maine and lost to Skidmore.

“Thanksgiving was a turning point in our season,” said Saul. “The Skidmore tournament was certainly tough for us to take, but it was something that we needed. The guys finally started playing hard for each other. Even though we had some early wins, it didn’t feel like a team all pushing on the same side of the rock. It kind of got everyone on the same page.”

Since then, Elmira has pulled together and has its fate in its own hands as the team strives for the regular season title. The Soaring Eagles have a four=point lead in the standings.

Elmira finishes up its nonconference schedule this weekend against Cortland. The break from league play might be a bit disruptive, but the Soaring Eagles know the importance that every nonconference game has in the NCAA selection criteria.

“I’d rather just have the league games and keep rolling,” concluded Saul. “But Cortland just swept the North Country, so it will be a game we have to be prepared for. The common opponents means we definitely need to have this game.”

Desperation time
After being swept last weekend, the regular seasons for both Hobart and Manhattanville are on the line this weekend. Both teams find themselves mired in a tie for last place in the league and are playing teams directly in front of them in the standings.

Hobart is hosting Neumann for two games. The Statesmen got outplayed by Utica last weekend and can’t afford to have another off weekend.

Neumann only managed a tie against Brockport last time out and had to score a third period goal to come back for the tie. That hasn’t set well with the Knights, as they have their eyes firmly set forward.

“Every weekend is a doubleheader for Hobart,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “I’m sure they will be gunning after tying Brockport.”

Manhattanville played with desperation against Elmira last weekend, but still came up short. The Valiants can’t afford a repeat this weekend, as they play a home-and-home series against Utica. After winning eight straight nonconference games, Manhattanville has lost three of its last four games within the league.

Neither Manhattanville nor Hobart can afford to let any more games slip through their fingers this weekend.

ECAC West Weekly Awards
Player of the Week: John Clewlow (Jr.) — Elmira. Clewlow registered two goals and one assist in a pair of wins over Manhattanville College. Both of Clewlow’s scores proved to be game-winners.

Goaltender of the Week: Darren MacDonald (So.) — Elmira. MacDonald improved his season record to 11-2-3 with two victories over Manhattanville this weekend. In Friday night’s victory, MacDonald registered 25 saves while he made 23 saves on Saturday.

Rookie of the Week: Steve Charest — Utica. Charest totaled three points on a goal and two assists in a pair of victories over Hobart.