The End is nigh

The regular season winds up this weekend. While every team is still playing for something, clarity has come to the regular season standings and the upcoming playoff picture.

It has been a wild ride again this season. With only five teams in the league, each team’s schedules have been composed of a 50/50 mix of league and nonconference games. That has led to some interesting dichotomies and comparison of records between the two types of games.

Manhattanville is probably the most glaring example. The Valiants earned a stellar 12-0-1 record in nonconference games, including knocking off nationally-ranked Norwich and Adrian by a combined 11-3 in the same weekend. The only blemish on the record was a tie against Williams, also nationally ranked.

However, Manhattanville has been clobbered in league games. The Valiants are 2-8 heading into the final weekend of play, with the only victories coming at Hobart and at Neumann. Manhattanville is 0-4 at home in league play.

Hobart is in similar shape, going 10-2-1 outside the league but 3-6-1 inside. The Statesmen beat Oswego, Hamilton and Wisconsin-Stevens Point, but have been swept by Utica.

Elmira is at the other end of the spectrum, winning the regular season title in the league with an 8-2 record, but struggling through a 7-3-3 mark in nonconference play.

Go figure!
Elmira clinched the regular season title with a shutout sweep of Hobart last weekend. It is the fourth straight regular season title for the Soaring Eagles. The title assures Elmira home rink advantage throughout the upcoming ECAC West playoffs.

Neumann also swept Utica last weekend, and that has given the Knights a one-point lead over the Pioneers for second place in the league. These two teams will battle for second place this weekend, as both play at Elmira.

Neumann faces the Soaring Eagles first on Friday night. If the Knights can earn a tie or win, they will clinch second place in the standings because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Utica.

Finishing in second place gains the team a home playoff game in the semifinal round of the league playoffs.

Further down the standings, Hobart and Manhattanville are playing for fourth place, with the prize being the right to host the play-in game next Wednesday.

Hobart holds the upper hand as the teams face-off for a pair of games this weekend at Playland Ice Casino. The Statesmen currently hold a three -point lead on Manhattanville and only need to gain two points somehow this weekend, from a win or a pair of ties, to clinch fourth place.

Looking farther ahead, all five teams in the league are also battling for NCAA bids.

As would be expected, regular season champion Elmira is in the best shape of all the ECAC West teams for a Pool B bid. Unless the Soaring Eagles stumble badly this weekend and in the league playoffs, they almost certainly have the bid sewn up.

Utica and Hobart both have strong shots at Pool C bids. Utica seemed a lock just a week ago, but being swept by Neumann has weakened its case somewhat. Utica can’t afford another weekend like that if it wants to extend its season beyond the league playoffs.

Given the NCAA East Region rankings this week, Hobart is also looking good for a  Pool C bid, but just like Utica, the sweep the Statesmen suffered last weekend has made their hopes somewhat tenuous.  Another sweep this weekend at the hands of Manhattanville might prove disastrous.

Neumann’s sweep of Utica last weekend has raised them into consideration for a Pool C bid, but they are on the outside looking in right now. The Knights’ case is slightly weaker than Utica’s and Hobart’s because the Knights went 6-3-4 in nonconference play.

Manhattanville is playing for the league playoff title, and not much more, unless they win out through the league playoffs. Even then, the chips would have to fall perfectly in other leagues around college hockey for the Valiants to climb high enough to gain a Pool C bid.

Every team in the league has something to play for as the final weekend of the regular season arrives.  Whether it is trying to earn a home playoff game or solidifying a NCAA resume, there is still a lot on the line for everyone.

ECAC West Weekly Awards

Co-Players of the Week: Jesper Strale (Fr.) — Elmira. Strale scored three goals in as Elmira swept Hobart. In game one, Strale scored the game’s opening goal in a 3-0 win. In the second game, Strale scored the game’s opening goal and then notched his second of the game late in the second period. Elmira went on to win 4-0.

Goaltender of the Week: Darren McDonald (So.) –Elmira. MacDonald earned a pair of ECAC West wins as Elmira took on the Statesmen of Hobart College. In the first game, MacDonald made 21 saves in a 3-0 win and followed it up with a 32-save effort in a 4-0 win at home against Hobart.

Rookie of the Week: Michael Rey — Neumann. Rey scored two goals in a 5-1 win over No. 10 Utica on Friday evening. The freshman scored the fourth and fifth goals of the game, one coming on the power play, to seal the win.

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