ELMIRA, N.Y. — The Elmira College men’s ice hockey team starts the march back to the United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC) championships on Friday, November 1, when the Soaring Eagles open the campaign against Route 14 rival and No. 5-ranked Hobart at 7:00 p.m. at the Murray Athletic Center.
The Purple and Gold made their second consecutive postseason appearance last season but ended the year with unfinished business. Manhattanville snuck past EC in the semifinals, leaving Elmira on the outside of the championship picture looking in.
Despite the premature postseason exit, Head Coach Aaron Saul ’98, now in his 11th season at the helm of the Purple and Gold, firmly believes that this group can ascend to the top of the UCHC mountain after being selected second in the conference’s preseason poll. Elmira returns the majority of its scoring from last season, highlighted by a pair of AHCA All-Americans in Connor Powell ’20 and Nick Ford ’20. On the other end of the ice, the Soaring Eagles boast a deep and experienced crop of blueliners, creating an exciting mix of talent for Saul to deploy in pursuit of postseason glory.
The Soaring Eagles will once again boast one of the most talented offensive tridents in all of Division III. Powell, Ford, and classmate Matthew Cuce ’20 combined for 108 points (51g-57a) last season, a remarkable 44.8% of the team’s point total. Powell and Ford joined Elmira’s prestigious 100-point club a season ago, and Cuce needs only three points to reach the milestone. With records primed to fall and postseason glory firmly in their sites, the trio will drive Elmira’s success by shouldering the scoring load one final time.
“Those three are the heartbeat and leadership of our team,” Saul stated. “Three guys like that don’t come around very often. They are a pleasure to coach, they work hard, they compete, and they want to win all of the time. Hopefully, that will be infectious throughout the team. When they’re going, the whole team is going.”
Anthony Parrucci ’20, Andrew Pucci ’20, Patrick Schmelzinger ’20, and Spencer MacLean ’20 bring even more experience to the Soaring Eagles’ forward group. The quartet brings a hard-nosed work ethic and a physicality that wears down opponents.
Justin Robertson ’21, Aleksi Ojala ’21, Marty Kapoian ’22, and Matthew Stewart ’22 all flashed potential for the Soaring Eagles last winter. Kapoian showcased his playmaking ability by leading all first- and second-year forwards with 12 points (7g-5a). The Purple and Gold will need them to take another step forward this season.
Elmira added an infusion of five newcomers to its forward lines heading into the 2019-20 season. Alex Gagnon ’23, Jake Russo ’23, Graham Denomme ’23, Larry Niland ’23, and Kale Kane ’21 are all looking to make an impact for EC this year. Kane, a transfer from NCAA runner-up Norwich, has experience playing championship-caliber hockey and will slot into a spot on the wings from the start of the season.
EC’s freshmen join the Purple and Gold after extremely successful junior careers. Russo should add an immediate impact on Elmira’s goal-scoring efforts after registering 113 points (36g-77a) across two seasons with the Philadelphia Revolution of the Eastern Hockey League (EHL).
“I think Alex [Gagnon], Graham [Denomme], and Jake [Russo] will all be able to learn from our upperclassmen this season and pick up how to play the game the right way,” Saul added. “They all have great potential and should help us in the future.”
Despite losing a vocal leader and captain in Blake O’Neill ’19 to graduation, the Soaring Eagles return six members of their d-corps from last season.
Seniors Spencer Carter ’20 and Harry Kramer ’20 will look to replicate O’Neill’s leadership and act as calming presences at the blue line. A newcomer to the Soaring Eagles will be relied on to bolster EC’s leadership further, as Christian Lloyd’20 joins the fray. A senior transfer from Division I Sacred Heart, Lloyd’s talent, physicality, and puck-moving ability will be crucial for the Purple and Gold.
“Harry has done a lot of things the right way through his time here,” said Saul. It’s huge for our young guys to have Harry in place and to have Christian come into the program as a transfer. Those two seniors will really help set an example for our underclassmen.”
The talented duo of Matthew Cousino ’22 and Nick Grinvalds ’22 will play heavy minutes once again after cementing themselves as critical parts of Elmira’s defensive unit as freshmen. Cousino’s two-way play and ability to captain the power play will be influential this season after the Charlotte, North Carolina, native led EC’s freshmen with 14 points (4g-10a) a year ago.
“Matthew really came on at the start of the year for us offensively and was really good down the stretch last season,” Saul added. “Nick is more of a stay-at-home, steady type of d-man and is solid for us back there. They’re going to be leaders for sure.”
Adding to Saul’s options on defense is rookie Tommy Donnelly ’23. Donnelly profiles as a physical puck-moving defenseman after posting nine goals and 21 assists with the Philadelphia Revolution. Look for the Point Pleasant, New Jersey, native to earn time in EC’s defensive pairings in his debut season.
The battle to become Elmira’s No. 1 option in goal this season has been fierce and wide open as four netminders have impressed throughout the offseason.
“Goaltender is the most important position on the team and we have great competition this year,” Saul added. “It was a bit of a slow start coming out of camp and we didn’t necessarily have a bona fide No. 1 option that most coaches like to have at the start of the year. It’s been a great battle.”
Junior transfer Chris Janzen ’21, who previously suited up between the pipes for Division I Clarkson, has showcased his pedigree during the preseason. Janzen brings a wealth of experience and savvy after playing behind two-time Mike Richter Award (most outstanding NCAA goaltender) Jake Kielly. Janzen is firmly in the mix to get the nod in goal for the Soaring Eagles on opening night.
Ben Fleischman ’21 is the lone returner in the group. Fleischman has come in ready to work as a junior and has looked strong in goal throughout Elmira’s practices.
Logan Bateman ’23 and Jeffrey Zero ’23 round out Elmira’s goaltending options. Bateman comes to EC after a championship season with the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), while Zero backstopped the Binghamton Jr. Senators to two consecutive North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) playoff appearances.
“Logan, Jeffrey, and Chris are new to the program and have been great,” said Saul. “Ben has been with the program; he knows the expectations, and has really been competing and working hard. It’s a good situation for us to be in. We can go with several different options and feel comfortable in any game.”
The Soaring Eagles open the 2019-20 campaign against a familiar foe when they welcome fifth-ranked Hobart to the Murray Athletic Center on Friday, November 1, for a 7:00 p.m. tilt. Elmira fell to the Statesman in pair of contests last season, but history is on the Purple and Gold’s side, as EC owns a record of 59-29-2 against its Route 14 rival.
Toppling the Statesmen will be no small task for the Soaring Eagles, however. Hobart is fresh off an NCAA Semifinal appearance and returns 23 skaters from last season’s squad. Leading the charge for the Statesmen will be Zach Tyson, who paced the team with 27 points (7g-20a) last season.
Despite the stiff test to open the season, Saul is confident that the Soaring Eagles will be ready to come out and make a statement against one of the top teams in the nation. They did just that when EC upset the then-No. 10/9 nationally-ranked Statesmen at the Murray Athletic Center in the 2017-18 opener.
“Hobart is ranked No. 5 this season and it’s deservingly so, they have a great team,” Saul said. “I think our guys want to get off to a good start and win some games early. They know that feeling from a few years ago, but we want to leave that in the past. It’s a fresh start. We have a nationally-ranked opponent for two games this weekend and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
D 6′ 1″ 190 lbs Senior ’19
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D 5′ 11″ 180 lbs Junior ’21
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D 6′ 2″ 200 lbs Sophomore ’22
F 5′ 10″ 202 lbs Sophomore ’22
D 6′ 2″ 180 lbs Senior ’20