Hobart, Neumann, Elmira could be big three in ECAC West

One big-time player to watch this season in the ECAC West looks to be Elmira forward Jarryd ten Vaanholt (photo: Trinni Studios).

Last year saw Hobart win the ECAC West regular-season title and then the conference tournament with an overtime win against Neumann.

The Statesmen then subsequently suffered a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament to Oswego.

Both finalists from last season ranked high in the preseason coaches’ poll, but this always-competitive conference, without the automatic qualifier status, creates that added performance element that will see all the teams looking for the top spot.

The Favorites

“I think the coaches probably got it right in the preseason poll,” stated Hobart coach Mark Taylor about rival Neumann earning the preseason nod. “They return a large core of their team from last season that reached the finals in the conference and should be good again this year.”

One change from last year’s team is the new coach behind the Knights’ bench. Alum Matt Tendler takes the reins from Dominick Dawes, who departed for a Stevenson program slated to enter the league next season. If continuity translates between the coaches, Neumann certainly has the talent to compete for the title.

Hobart lost some key players, particularly in the offensive end of the ice. Those losses don’t have Taylor worried about this year’s team based on what last year’s seniors did in their freshman season.

“We want have a better start than we had last year,” noted Taylor. “We didn’t have results early and this conference is not a place to fall behind early. There is no AQ in the league, so every game in and out of conference is important. Winning our conference is always a goal in trying to compete for a national championship.”

The Dark Horse

If both favorites stumble, don’t be surprised if an experienced Elmira team makes a run for supremacy in the ECAC West. The Soaring Eagles return their top six forwards, so offense should be a strong suit for coach Aaron Saul.

“Our top six forwards are as good as anybody’s first two lines,” said Saul. “We have a real good group of seniors that we are looking to for leadership and getting off to a better start to the season than we had in the first half last year. This conference is so evenly matched that you can’t get in a hole early by not being ready to play at a high level. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are all 3-3 in the first round of games around the conference – it is going to be that tight.”

Hobart goaltender Frank Oplinger fashioned a 14-3-0 mark in 2014-15 with a 2.09 GAA and a .932 save percentage (photo: Kevin Colton/Hobart William Smith College).

Players to Watch

Elmira: Jarryd ten Vaanholt – forward; Tommy Sumi – forward
Hobart: Frank Oplinger – goalie; Bo Webster – forward
Manhattanville: Stephen Gaul – forward
Nazareth: Don Olivieri – defense
Neumann: Mike Davis – forward; Doug Rose – defense
Utica: Dylan Wells – goalie; Dalton Carter – defense

USCHO.com Predicted Finish

1. Elmira
2. Hobart
3. Neumann
4. Utica
5. Nazareth
6. Manhattanville

The ECAC West is always one of the most competitive conferences in the nation and without the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament, winning games in the league and in key nonconference matchups will be critical for qualification in the national tournament next spring.

The first weekend of the season finds some critical nonconference match-ups in the very first games of the season. Hobart travels to face ECAC East contender Babson, while Utica hosts Castleton and Manhattanville takes on a strong Salve Regina team. Expect the action intensity to ramp up in this conference from the very first drop of the puck.