Men’s D-III Playoff Preview: Elmira

Elmira Soaring Eagles
Last NCAA Appearance: 2010 (First Round win 4-1 against Curry, Quarterfinal OT loss 2-1 to Norwich), 17th NCAA appearance in 36 years (4th straight)
Best NCAA Finish: Second — 1980, 1988; Third — 1993, 2006, 2008; Fourth — 1978, 1991

Elmira Team Stats
ECAC West Regular Season: 8-3-1 (First)
Overall Record: 17-6-4
Power Play: 22.0 percent
Penalty Kill: 82.0 percent
Offense: 3.89 goals per game
Defense: 2.41 goals per game

Elmira Individual Stats
Scoring Leaders
Kevin Willer (Jr.) — 16 goals, 18 assists
Darcy Vaillancourt (Jr.) — 14 goals, 18 assists
Brendan Sanders (Jr.) — 4 goals, 17 assists

Darren McDonald (Jr.) — .935 save percentage, 2.03 goals against average

After winning the ECAC West Championship on Saturday, Elmira was all but assured of the NCAA Pool B bid. The suspense on Sunday and Monday wasn’t whether they would make the national tournament, but who the Soaring Eagles would play and if they would host.

The answer to both questions came as a bit of a shock Monday morning when Elmira found out they would have to travel 496 miles by bus to play at Adrian College. Despite having won 17 games playing the most difficult schedule in all of Division III men’s hockey, Elmira found itself ranked third in the eastern region, behind Oswego and Plattsburgh.

As the closest playoff team geographically to Adrian, Elmira was matched up against the Bulldogs mainly for transportation reasons.

“I felt a bit slighted when I first found out about it,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “At this time of year, we’ll play anyone anywhere. I was a little shocked that Oswego was No. 1 and Plattsburgh was No. 2. Plattsburgh didn’t even beat the number one in their league. They finished fourth in their league and they get an East seed at home. I was trying to figure out how that works.”

Elmira enters the tournament off a strong run through the ECAC West playoffs. The Soaring Eagles defeated Hobart, 5-2, in the semifinals, scoring three unanswered goals in the second.

Neumann fell to Elmira in the championship game 5-1 last weekend. Elmira’s power play scored a pair of goals that proved the difference in the game. The Soaring Eagles entered the third period clinging to a slim 2-1 lead and played a very strong third period to finish off the Knights and claim their first league title since 2006.

“In Saturday’s game in particular, the third period that we had definitely was proof to ourselves that we can play with the best teams in the country and play at an elite level,” said Saul. “It was a confidence builder. Finally getting the chance to win the league after four years of heartbreak just has made our team a little more confident in themselves.”

Elmira and Adrian have never played each other, but that doesn’t mean that the Soaring Eagles are completely unfamiliar with the Bulldogs. Before returning to coach his alma mater, Saul was the head coach at Potsdam.

The Bears played Adrian in a pair of games in 2007, the first two games ever for Adrian, and helped to open the Bulldogs’ new rink. Potsdam and Adrian split those two games. Little did coach Saul know then that he would be returning to that same rink nearly four years later at the helm of a different team playing in the NCAA tournament.

“My first year coaching at Potsdam in ’07-’08, we went there to open up their new building,” said Saul. “So I just know them from that weekend. They are a skilled team, really good offensively. There aren’t any bad teams when you get to this point in the season.”