If pushed, most coaches would admit that their goal is to peak in the second half, just in time for the playoffs and a possible national tournament run. Elmira coach Tim Crowley says that has definitely been a characteristic of his team in recent years, as they have learned from minor spats of adversity in the first half to build to second half success.
“I think for us the last couple of years as soon as we get back from break, we seem to play really great hockey and kind of come together as a group,” said Crowley. “I think this year, kind of same thing. We have a pretty skilled group up front, and obviously the D corps has been chipping in, too, as well. I like the way that our forwards are playing. We’re being creative in our offensive zone and making some really nice plays.”
Since losing to Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Nov. 30, Elmira has gone on an 11-0-2 tear. Crowley points to the series right after the Eau Claire game, when the Soaring Eagles hosted Williams and Amherst, as a big part of the run.
“We kind of had a little bit of a rough patch at Thanksgiving, and it carried on to that Williams-Amherst weekend, and for whatever reason, we kind of woke up or started playing our best hockey after that,” said Crowley. “I think for us, it was certainly a wake-up call. Like last year, we started to play our best hockey once a little bit of adversity hit.”
When you look at Elmira as a complete team, you can pick your favorite part. Offense? Sure, the team has the second-best offense in the country, averaging nearly five goals a game. Power-play goals? Elmira is ranked fifth with 22 goals and a 26.51 conversion rate. However, it’s the defense that really stands out. Elmira has the best defense in the country with only 0.60 goals allowed per game, and its penalty kill is nearly as good, having given up only four power-play goals in 76 chances, a 94.74 percentage that ranks third nationally.
“We really stress as soon as they get on campus that we’re a D-zone first mentality program,” said Crowley. “We want to make sure that we’re able to play in our D zone before we can play in the other two. We stress to the group if we can’t play in that end, then you can’t play in the other two because you’re going to be defending the whole game. Obviously, it starts in the net, and Lizzy (Elizabeth Hanson) has been having a tremendous year for us, as has Steph (Martin). I think it’s a good problem to have. If you look at the years that both are having, we have two very quality and capable goaltenders. Then obviously with Maggie (Gilman) being our third, she’s more than capable of playing some games for us, too. Our D corps, sometimes they get overshadowed just because of the games that you mentioned, the 9-0, 8-0 type of games. It starts with our D corps moving pucks north and getting it to our forwards. It’s something where all of them are having a really great year.”
Of course, scoring a lot of goals helps, and Elmira has plenty of forwards who can put the puck in the net. Four players average over a point a game, and three are just under that. Elmira’s leading scorer is Emma Crocker, who has 32 points in 20 games and is currently eighth in the country in scoring. She also has the fourth best points per game average.
“It’s exciting to see some of the success that our forward group is having,” said Crowley. “Emma, obviously I’m a little bit biased with what we see throughout the year. She’s somebody that made the transition from wing to center this year. She’s really took off and is somebody that’s really good on both sides of the puck. You mentioned Morgan (Mordini), who when we got her, we certainly knew what type of player we had talent-wise. It just took her a year to kind of settle in and get some chemistry with some of her linemates, Eliza (Beaudin) being one of them and Emma the other one. Eliza is just a natural goal scorer. She’s somebody who came in and produced right away, a 200-foot player, high-end hockey IQ, and somebody that we really lean on in big games and big moments.
“If you look at our group down throughout our line chart, Devyn Gilman’s somebody who’s having a really good year for us, and Jess Adams too. Tristen Tolan is another one. If you look at us last year compared to this year, a lot of their production has really taken off, and that’s a credit to them putting in the work and staying with it their first couple of years.”
This weekend, the Soaring Eagles have a huge test when they face No. 1 Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh. As good as Elmira has been, the ranked teams have given them a challenge, as they are 1-1-2 in games against the top 10.
“Looking at Friday, we respect that program and understand what they’ve accomplished as of late,” said Crowley. “I think if you look at our games against them the last 2-3 years now, it’s been pretty even. I’m not sure what the record is, but we’ve had the opportunity to beat them a couple of times, and they beat us a couple times. I think when you look at the match-up, we certainly respect them and the year that they’re having. I think talent-wise, we match up really well against them. We’re really looking forward to the game on Friday. I think it’s going to be something where it’s two really good teams, it’s going to be back and forth. I think special teams is going to be a big component of it.
“The ranked opponent side, after the Eau Claire game, I think we played really well against ranked teams, tying two really good teams. I think Amherst and Williams, that weekend, I think they’re two of the better teams that we’ve seen this year, and I think those two wins are going to help us later on in the year. Knock on wood, when you look at the record, the only game that we’ve dropped against a ranked team is Eau Claire, and I count those Williams and Amherst wins as wins against ranked opponents.”