Top seeds square off

No. 2 Neumann at No. 1 Elmira
Elmira coach Aaron Saul returned home earlier this week after visiting his brother Adrian in Germany.  Adrian suffered a serious neck injury last week in a hockey game, but fortunately is doing well.

“Adrian’s doing great,” said Aaron Saul. “He walked around the whole lobby of the hospital. The doctors say it is going to be a full recovery. We are all feeling relieved and very fortunate that there wasn’t more damage. It was tough.”

Coach Saul missed last weekend’s semifinal game, but his players rallied around assistant coach Dean Jackson to defeat Hobart 5-2.

“During the week is when all of the coaching really happens anyways,” said Saul. “I was fully confident in Dean Jackson taking my place. I knew they were going to rally around each other.”

Now, top seed Elmira will host second seed Neumann on Saturday in the ECAC West Championship game. Both teams reached the finals with a 5-2 victory last weekend, Neumann over Utica and Elmira over Hobart.
Neumann’s last trip to the league championship game was two seasons ago, when the Knights defeated Hobart 3-2 on their way to winning the national championship.

Elmira lost to Manhattanville in last year’s league title game, 4-3 in overtime, after the Valiants scored with one second left in regulation time to tie the game 3-3 and send it into overtime. Elmira also lost to Manhattanville 1-0 the last time the Soaring Eagles hosted the championship game in 2008.

“It is an ECAC West championship that we have had a couple of opportunities to win it and haven’t in the past, so our focus is to win a West championship,” said Saul.

Elmira and Neumann have met three times this season. Freshman Michael Rey of Neumann scored the only goal of the game on November 12 midway through the second period as the Knights won the first meeting 1-0.

The Soaring Eagles won the second meeting 4-2 two weeks later. They rattled off four straight goals in the last 20:20 of the game to win 4-2. That weekend started Elmira on its unbeaten roll that would last through the middle of February.

Neumann ended Elmira’s unbeaten streak two weeks ago when the Knights scored a pair of third period goals for a 4-2 victory at Elmira.

“We didn’t play our best hockey that night,” said Saul. “It was a learning lesson for us.”

Meeting in a championship game is a completely different situation from the regular season, with a lot more on the line. With two teams that are so familiar with each other, it can’t help but be a great game.

“It will be a fun night,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “In my three years here, it seems like we’ve played each other 20 times. Everyone is familiar with each other. It is about which team is going to go out there and execute. We’ve had three pretty good games this year. Both teams are playing for a championship, so everything else gets thrown out the window.”

“Obviously we’re excited,” concluded Saul. “We know what kind of team Neumann has and they have been playing pretty well the last month since they finally got all their guys back. We’re expecting a good game out of them.”

ECAC West All-USCHO Team

With the end of the ECAC West season upon us, it must be time for this year’s ECAC West All-USCHO Teams selection. As usual, there were a lot of players this season deserving of post-season honors.

It was particularly difficult to narrow down the list of forwards. There were at least a dozen players that could have easily been included this year.

Kevin Willer from Elmira is my ECAC West Player of the Year. Willer’s balanced attack, with 16 goals and 16assists, has helped lead the Soaring Eagles to the regular season title and beyond.

Rookie of the Year was a bit of an easier choice, as Michael Rey of Neumann earned the honor. Rey led the Knights in scoring and was tied for second in assists. As one of only three players to suit up for every game this season, Rey played a significant role in helping Neumann get through all of the injuries this season.

Gary Heenan is the ECAC West Coach of the Year. With 16 freshmen this season, everyone thought that Utica would need a bit more seasoning before being competitive. However Heenan realized early on that this was a talented young class and he gave them the freedom to find themselves on the ice. The Pioneers were on the verge of an NCAA bid this season, and the experience should prove invaluable next season.

ECAC West First Team
Forward:    Kevin Willer, Elmira, Jr.
Forward:    Tom Coffman, Utica, Jr.
Forward:    Matthew Wallace, Hobart, Sr.
Defense:    William Lacasse, Neumann, Jr.
Defense:    Karl Linden, Elmira, Sr.
Goal:        Darren McDonald, Elmira, So.

ECAC West Second Team
Forward:    Darcy Vaillancourt, Elmira, Jr.
Forward:    Mickey Lang, Manhattanville, Sr.
Forward:    Evan Chlanda, Utica, So.
Defense:    Brad Richard, Hobart, So.
Defense:    Scott Farrell, Neumann, So.
Goal:        Nick Broadwater, Utica, So.

ECAC West Rookie Team

Forward:    Michael Rey, Neumann
Forward:    Trever Hertz, Utica
Forward:    Jon Gaffney, Utica
Defense:    Adam Young, Manhattanville
Defense:    Mike Slowikowski, Utica
Goal:        Evan Smith, Utica

ECAC West Player of the Year:
Kevin Willer, Elmira
ECAC West Rookie of the Year: Michael Rey, Neumann
ECAC West Coach of the Year: Gary Heenan, Utica

End of Another Season
Another year of the ECAC West is wrapping up this Saturday, which brings this column to a close as well.  I would like to thank the coaches in particular for all of their assistance throughout this season.  Without their willingness to take time out of their busy schedules to talk with me, this column would be impossible.

Finally, thanks to all of you, the loyal fans of the ECAC West.  Our league may be small and neglected by the powers that be, but your rabid enthusiasm and loyalty is what sets the ECAC West apart from the rest.