The Elmira Soaring Eagles (18-8-1) built three separate one-goal leads during the first 60 minutes of play in tonight’s ECAC West Championship game, only to see the Manhattanville Valiants (20-6-1) answer each time to tie the game.
Elmira carried a 3-2 lead as the third period wound down, but Manhattanville pulled goaltender Pierre-Olivier Lemieux and junior Lem Randall scored with one second remaining in regulation to tie the game 3-3 and send it to overtime.
After killing off an Elmira power play, Manhattanville took its first and only lead of the game 8:06 into overtime when sophomore Niclas Wennerlof gained control of a turnover behind the Elmira net and wrapped it around the far post to give the Valiants a 4-3 victory.
“Every time we got the momentum and tied the game up, we had to deal with a little adversity shortly thereafter,” said Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal. “To the credit of our guys, it is a 60-minute game and you have to play 60 minutes.”
The victory gave Manhattanville its fourth league championship in the last six years.
Senior Arlen Marshall from Manhattanville was named the ECAC West tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Elmira got the scoring going just 2:12 into the first period just a minute into the team’s first power play. The Soaring Eagles moved the puck around the perimeter looking for a hole in the Manhattanville penalty killers. Soaring Eagles’ sophomore Kevin Willer threw a shot towards the net from the left half boards and the puck found its way through a crowd of players and tucked inside the post to give Elmira a 1-0 lead.
“Penalty killing is something that we worked hard on, and it didn’t work tonight,” said Levinthal. “We got the most important kill in the end, the one in overtime.”
Manhattanville evened the game up at 6:49 when sophomore Dillon O’Hara scored. O’Hara blasted a shot from the right point along the ice that Elmira goaltender Casey Tuttle reacted to a little late and the game was tied 1-1.
The Valiants almost took the lead six minutes later when senior Arlen Marshall snuck behind the Elmira defense and dinged a shot off the far post.
Elmira re-established its lead midway through the second period, just seconds after a power play ended. Senior Rusty Masters let a shot go from the right faceoff circle that was saved by Manhattanville goaltender Lemieux. The puck went to the back boards, where it was dug out by sophomore Brendan Sanders. Sanders spotted fellow sophomore Darcy Vaillancourt to the right of the crease, fed him the puck, and Vaillancourt crammed it home at 10:55 to give Elmira the 2-1 lead.
“He has really come on this year and is a special player,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul.
Both teams found it difficult to get the puck to the opposing net, as the defenses clamped down in the second period.
“It was a pretty good game,” said Saul. “Manhattanville was very well prepared with their trap, and obviously they played it very well tonight. They packed it in and blocked a lot of shots, but we didn’t do a good enough job of getting the puck to the net.”
Manhattanville climbed back to tie the game 2-2 midway through the third period when freshman Derek Serdachny put a sneaky backhand from the low slot past Tuttle.
“Through two periods our fourth line, Jason Bowles, Brett Skalski, and Derek Sedachny, was our best line,” said Levinthal. “After the second period, I was really hard on our guys. Our best line of the night was our three freshmen in the biggest game of the year. I was all over them about that.”
For the third time, Elmira retook a one-goal lead at 11:38 while on a power play. Vaillancourt scored his second goal of the game with a blast from the top of the right faceoff circle.
The Valiants threw everything they had at the Elmira net, pulling goaltender Lemieux with 1:18 remaining. The pressure finally paid off when Randall swatted in a goal off a scramble in front with one second remaining to send the game to overtime.