As expected, it came right down to the last game of the season to set the order of finish. Elmira won the regular season title for the fifth season in a row, while Manhattanville and Hobart clinched first-round byes.
Utica will host Neumann on Wednesday to open up postseason play. If the regular season is an indication, any team is capable of winning, as the Pioneers get to host in front of the raucous Aud crowd.
Both teams have stumbled into the playoffs. Utica has a 1-3-1 record over its last five games, while Neumann went 1-4-3 in its last eight. The Knights have begun to recover their footing after the disruption caused by the NCAA sanctions, and at some level are just thankful to be allowed to participate in the postseason.
Two weekends ago, these teams played in a weekend series at The Aud. The Pioneers outshot Neumann, 80-46, across two games, but the Knights were much more opportunistic, romping to a 5-0 win on Friday and then coming from behind twice to earn a 3-3 tie on Saturday.
The teams are very similar. Both had great success outside the league, Neumann going 10-1 and Utica earning an 11-2 record; each also struggled through its conference schedule.
Utica climbed to a .500 record twice during the season but kept sliding back, eventually finishing 4-6-2. Neumann, on the other hand, was .500 in league in early December, and then didn’t earn another league win until the second week of February. The Knights finished 3-6-3.
Utica has been running a goaltender tandem all season long. Evan Smith and Nick Therrien have both seen significant time in net, but Smith has been the hotter hand down the stretch.
Neumann has been riding Ross MacKinnon, who leads the ECAC West with a .913 save percentage.
Both teams can put the puck in the net and have very similar defensive numbers, so statistically, Wednesday should be a very close affair. Whoever wins the special-teams battle will most likely prevail. Hold on tight, as the ride is just beginning.