Elliot Olshansky, NCAA.com
When No. 4 Manhattanville won its seventh consecutive game on Sunday with a 6-3 victory against Morrisville State, the most notable aspect of the Valiants’ victory wasn’t that it gave them the third longest unbeaten streak in Division III, or that they survived 12 Morrisville power plays.
It was that the Valiants got only the third goal of the year from both Mike Henrici and Ronnie Smith, and both the second and third of the season from Brennan Turner, with players up and down the lineup chipping in to make up for the absence of one of the nation’s top goal-scorers, senior forward Mickey Lang, who missed the contest with a sprained shoulder.
“Offensively, we did a good job making the most of our chances,” said head coach Keith Levinthal. “We haven’t had a full lineup in a while, and we’ve been talking about getting opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them. It was good to see, offensively, that when we had our chances, we made the best of them.”
That said, however, Levinthal and the Valiants will be very happy to see the return of the former ECAC West Player of the Year, which could come as soon as Thursday night’s game against conference rival Curry.
“He is an absolute National Player of the Year Candidate,” Levinthal said. “He is dangerous every time he steps on the ice, and he’s super-fast. When you have a guy that fast and that skilled, he’s a handle for other teams.”
While Lang’s speed and skill have been missed in the two games he’s been out, the Reno, Nev. native has put his time out of the lineup to good use.
Lang says that he’s been using his time spent in the stands on “a few things, mostly the power play and the penalty kill, you see what’s effective and what’s not. I think that’s a major thing. And then, just seeing that the guys that work hard are usually rewarded with goals and have success out there.”
Of course, Lang’s game has already grown since last season, when he was a finalist for the Sid Watson Award as the Division III Player of the Year. In 14 games this year, Lang has 14 goals and eight assists, raising his points-per-game average to 1.57 (from 1.46 last season), while cutting his penalty minutes from 2.00 per game to 0.86 per game. With Lang ranked third in the nation in goals per game, there’s no doubt that his presence in the Manhattanville lineup has been missed.
“I miss him wheeling around,” said Valiants captain Lem Randall, who normally plays on a line with Lang, “and me just parking myself in front of the net, and him firing the puck in there. He’s definitely very fun to play with and just a great player.”
The fact that Lang has accomplished this while attracting more attention from opposing teams speaks to the work he’s put in to improve.
“He’s an exceptionally hard-working kid,” Levinthal said. “You can argue that he’s the hardest-working kid we have, and I think that has helped him have a good year.”
Lang, for his part, chalks it up to having a player like Randall – who transferred from Maine after the 2008-09 season – on his line to stop opponents from giving him too much attention.
“It definitely gets a little tighter in the offensive zone,” Lang said. “I think guys are playing more man-on-man, but it’s also a good thing to have a guy like Lem Randall on your line. It’s hard to overplay somebody when you have a guy like Lem on the line.”
The true test, however, will come in the home stretch of ECAC West play.
“We’re really going to learn about that when we start playing our league games,” Levinthal said, “because our league teams know each other so well. We’ve certainly noticed teams matching lines against his line, but it’s different in league games. Then it’s outright, they’re out to get him.”
The Valiants won the ECAC West a season ago, but were not selected for the NCAA Tournament. This season, in his last chance at an NCAA Championship, Lang and his teammates want to leave no doubts about their worthiness to compete for the title.
“Last year was really disappointing,” Lang said, “because I think what cost us in the end was a few games we played in October and November. This year, we’re making sure that there’s no question marks at the end of the year. So, we’re taking care of our business in non-conference, and we’ll absolutely try to win the ECAC West once again.”
With No. 11 Utica and No. 15 Neumann also vying for the top spot in the ECAC West, winning the conference title for a second consecutve year will not be an easy task. However, with one of Division III’s top goal-scorers leading the way in Lang, the Valiants will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.