Playoff preview: ECAC West

Elmira Soaring Eagles
League: SUNYAC
Conference record: 8-2-2 (First)
Overall record: 15-8-3
NCAA history: 18th appearance, second — 1980, 1988, third — 1993, 2006, 2008
Scoring offense: 3.73 g/gm
Scoring defense: 2.88 g/gm
Scoring margin: plus-22 (.85 g/gm)
Power play: 17.0 percent
Penalty kill: 79.0 percent
Penalties: 16.7 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Brendan Sanders (13)
Assists: Darcy Vaillancourt, Kevin Willer (21)
Points: Kevin Willer (33)
Power-play goals: Kevin Willer (7)
Short-handed goals: Brendan Sanders (2)
Goals against average: Darren McDonald (3.01)
Save percentage: Darren McDonald (.892)

Conference Playoffs
Semifinals: lost to Neumann, 5-4 (OT)

The Elmira Soaring Eagles won their fifth straight ECAC West regular season title in February, but then stumbled in the league playoffs. Despite leading Neumann 4-1 entering the third period of the semifinal game, Elmira ended up losing 5-4 in overtime.

That loss led to a nervous week as the Soaring Eagles waited for the NCAA selection show on Sunday.

“It was tough for our seniors not wanting for their last game to be like it ended,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “They are relieved. We were watching the whole weekend and were surprised it worked out the way it did. We were happy with the results.”

As the final scores came in from the other championship games around Division III, Elmira frantically did the math to see how it matched up against the other teams in the selection criteria. With the favorites winning the NESCAC and ECAC East titles, the Soaring Eagles breathed a sigh of relief.

“With our body of work from the start of the year through the end of the season, we try to play the best teams we can to try to have a strong schedule,” said Saul. “When it comes down to criteria like this, that helps us.”

The Soaring Eagles have been led this year by a strong set of seniors. Five of the top six scorers on the team are making one final run at the title. The group is led by ECAC West player of the year Kevin Willer with 12 goals and 21 assists, second in the ECAC West in points.

“The seniors have been great for us for four years,” said Saul. “This is their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament. Not many players can say that. They are glad they still have a game to play, and what better environment to play in than Oswego?”

Elmira and Oswego met for a home-and-home series just one week after full practices were allowed to open the 2011-2012 season. The Lakers won both games convincingly, 7-3 and 6-2.

“When you have four or five practices and then you play a team like Oswego, it is very tough,” said Saul. “They have gotten better over the course of the year, as have we.”

Both teams have been ranked in the USCHO national poll all season long and have matured quite a bit, so the Soaring Eagles know they have their work cut out for them.

“Oswego is one of the best teams in the country, if not the best team,” said Saul. “Offensively, they are very gifted, lines one through four, transition game is great, defensemen are very good and have a solid goaltender. We know how good they are, and the intangibles they bring. We are going to work on some things this week to get prepared.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here