After starting the season 2-2-1, Elmira finished the season winning 8 of 10 games including three in the UCHC playoffs leading to their first ever UCHC championship. The playoff wins included a 6-0 quarterfinal home-ice victory over Chatham before the visiting Soaring Eagles knocked off No. 1 seed Utica in triple overtime in the semifinals. The championship run was complete with a 3-0 win at No. 2 Stevenson and the team finished the pandemic-influenced season with a 10-4-1 record.
“We had so many new people on the team,” said head coach Aaron Saul. “That combined with playing half a season meant we needed to develop our game quickly and we did that. Everyone was so excited to play ,and the seniors were a big factor in engaging the young players and helping them into the culture we have built here. I think the big moment for us was the game we played against the USDP U17 squad. We got beat pretty good, but it showed the players where we needed to be. That got us very focused and driven.”
It always helps a young team to know that their mistakes are covered as they develop by a really good goaltender. With four freshman defensemen seeing a regular shift, that pressure shifted to senior Chris Janzen who showed his rock-solid form all the way to the MVP of the UCHC tournament where he allowed just one goal in three games. Janzen stopped 122 of 123 shots for a .992 save percentage in the tournament including two shutouts.
“I skated up to Chris during a practice and told him I thought he was the best goaltender in the league and in the playoffs – that I knew he could get it done,” noted Saul. “He just simply said “no problem coach, I got it.”
With Janzen backstopping the Soaring Eagles the young roster needed to find some goals. In the second half of the season and into the playoffs, some big goal magic emerged from a local Elmira native, freshman Bailey Krawczyk.
We call him “Big-Goal Bailey” now,” said Saul. “He had kind of a slow start but really got going in the Utica game where we resumed the game postponed due to COVID protocols playing just the third period in a game we were down 5-2. Ryan [Reifler] scores in the opening minute and then Bailey nets two in a couple of minute span and we are tied at 5-5. They scored late to beat us, but I told the team I didn’t care that we lost – we played a really good period of hockey. Bailey was one of the players who took off from there.
Krawczyk was the offensive hero in the triple overtime win against Utica in the tournament semifinals when he scored the game winner at 5:46 of the third extra session. In the championship game against Stevenson, Krawczyk scored a power play goal just 3:51 into the first period that proved to be the game winner. He sealed the win with a shorthanded empty-net goal with just under three minutes remaining in the third period to give Elmira their 11th conference championship but first in the UCHC.
The title sets the tone for a roster that is ready to fly into a new conference next season. Elmira will be joining the NEHC next fall and this season’s success has the coach excited about playing in a new league against some of the best teams in D-III.
“Like any team you want to play against the best every night,” stated Saul. “Playing teams like Hobart, Norwich, Babson, UMass-Boston, New England College and all the others is going to be a great challenge and opportunity for us. We have been travel partners with Hobart for a long time and the last time there was a national tournament seeded, the NEHC had three teams set to play before play was canceled.”
With a deep roster returning including Janzen for another season, the Soaring Eagles are likely to garner a lot of attention from their new conference opponents come the 2021-22 season.