ECAC West finals preview

No. 5 Neumann at No. 3 Hobart
It certainly isn’t the most-likely matchup for the ECAC West championship game on Saturday, but it is a testament to the depth of a league that has five of the top 11 teams included in this week’s NCAA eastern regional rankings. No. 5 Neumann travels to The Cooler to take on No. 3 Hobart in a rematch of the 2009 championship game.

Neumann’s road to get here was a difficult but dramatic one. The Knights came back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period of the quarterfinal game at Utica to beat the Pioneers, 4-3, in overtime. Then Neumann roared back from the short end of a 4-1 scoreboard at Elmira in the semifinals to win, 5-4. The Knights have now played in four straight overtime games over the last three weeks.

“I’m getting old fast,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “We had a slow start against Elmira and a tremendous third period. We have a very resilient group. Our group of seniors isn’t going to give up, and that says a lot about their character. To be put in two situations like that and battle back says a lot. We have to get better at certain points of the game.”

Senior Marlon Gardner was key to both victories. He tied the game at Utica to send it to overtime, and scored the game-winner in extra time against Elmira. The senior now leads the team with 11 goals and 15 assists. With fellow seniors Cory Park and Brent Tamane, Gardner is on a mission.

“He has been awesome of late,” said Dawes. “He plays with two other seniors, and they have put the team on their back. They have been our most consistent group the last couple of weeks.”

Hobart has also gotten on a roll at the right time of the year. The Statesmen have strung together four straight wins for the first time this season. The run started at Elmira, then ran through three straight games against Manhattanville, a streak in which Hobart outscored its opponents, 24-9.

“The game against Elmira got us going,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “I like the way we have been playing. It is running on 11 periods of hockey and we haven’t lost one. We have gotten healthy and are getting better every game.”

A key component of Hobart’s late season charge is the return of netminder Nick Broadwater. He was injured on November 26 against Babson, and didn’t start another game until February 11 against Elmira.

Last fall, Hobart adopted a motto that has turned into a rallying point: Luctor et emergo, I struggle and emerge, was found by coach Taylor, and accurately reflects the path the Statesmen have taken this season.

“We are a young team and are playing a different style of hockey,” said Taylor. “It has helped us get to where we are now.”

Neumann’s playoff run is remarkably similar to the start of the path that led to its 2009 national championship. That year, the Knights beat Utica in the ECAC West Quarterfinals, downed Elmira in the semis, and faced the Statesmen in the finals.

“The teams we are playing are similar but I don’t think the two have very much in common,” said Dawes. “A couple of years ago, we were flying by the seat of our pants, a young coach and a group of guys who just wanted to give it one last run. This group has been through a totally different set of circumstances through the course of the year, and it has motivated them in a different way. These guys have been there before.”

The 2009 championship game ended in a 3-2 win for Neumann, a result the Knights are hoping for again. This year, the teams split the regular season games, with Neumann winning in November before the teams tied and Hobart won in early February.

“Hobart is the hardest-working team out there,” said Dawes. “They will bring it every single night. We’ve had three very good games with them, and it is going to come down to who is going to do the little things.”

ECAC West All-USCHO Team
Championship weekend means it is time to announce the ECAC West All-USCHO teams. Unlike the awards announced by the league, the season in its entirety, including conference and nonconference games, is included in the All-USCHO selections.

For the second straight year, Kevin Willer from Elmira is the ECAC West Player of the Year. Willer didn’t record the most goals or assists in the league, but he was near the top in each category.  What set him above the others in my mind was the balance he brings to every situation on the ice. He scored goals on the power play, short-handed, and even-strength, three of which were game-winners.  He was consistently the best player on the ice throughout the season.

Tommaso Traversa is the Rookie of the Year. Traversa tallied 10 goals, including two game-winners and a short-hander, and nine assists on the year.

Every year, it seems like one category is more difficult to choose than the others. This year, goaltending was the troublesome one.  While there were a lot of great games played by netminders this season, none of the goaltenders truly stood out above the rest.  Given that, there were still half a dozen players that could be considered for inclusion on the first and second team.

No freshman goaltender saw enough playing time to qualify for consideration on the All-Rookie team this season.

Aaron Saul from Elmira is the ECAC West Coach of the Year. The Soaring Eagles led the league from start to finish, and despite being shocked by Neumann last Saturday in the semifinal round of the playoffs, Elmira had a very successful season, and is still in the conversation for an NCAA Pool C bid.

ECAC West First Team
Forward: Kevin Willer, Elmira, Sr.
Forward: Evan Chlanda, Utica, Jr.
Forward: Scott Hudson, Manhattanville, Jr.
Defense: William Lacasse, Neumann, Sr.
Defense: Brad Richard, Hobart, Jr.
Goal:     Martin Ausserhofer, Hobart, Jr.

ECAC West Second Team
Forward: Marlon Gardner, Neumann, Sr.
Forward: Frank Salituro, Hobart, Jr.
Forward: Trever Hertz, Utica, So.
Defense: Martin Lee, Elmira, Sr.
Defense: Marcus von Sydow, Manhattanville, Sr.
Goal:     Ross MacKinnon, Neumann, Sr.

ECAC West Rookie Team
Forward: Mark Rivera, Manhattanville
Forward: Tommaso Traversa, Hobart
Forward: Justin Hogan, Utica
Defense: Bronson Kovacs, Hobart
Defense: Eric David, Elmira
Goal:     none

ECAC West Player of the Year
Kevin Willer, Elmira

ECAC West Rookie of the Year
Tommaso Traversa, Hobart

ECAC West Coach of the Year
Aaron Saul, Elmira

End of Another Season
Saturday’s championship game wraps up another wild season in the ECAC West. The league may be small, but with five nationally-ranked teams, it certainly can’t be ignored. I would like to extend my thanks to all of the coaches and administrators who took the time to chat with me all season long, and, of course, thanks to everyone who reads my column and blog. Without you, going to the rinks wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.


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