There have been 12 weekend series so far this season in Atlantic Hockey, and in all but two, both teams have come away with points. Seven series have ended in splits, with the other three resulting in one team taking three points in the two games.
“You have to take points every weekend to stay in the hunt,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson after his Tigers earned a split with Air Force last Saturday. “Obviously if you can sweep it gives you a big advantage. Get swept and you can find yourself in a big hole.”
The lone team that got four points last weekend was Army, which beat AIC 4-3 and 7-1.
“That’s been our theme the whole year,” said Black Knights coach Brian Riley. “Getting points every weekend, and four last weekend is a huge bonus. I think things are going to be so close in this league that more than one spot is going to be decided by the tiebreaker rules.”
Riley said the first game, especially, was a battle.
“Typical AIC-Army game,” he said. “They have always given us a hard time and as usual it came down to the final period. We were up by two going into the third but then they made it 3-2 early. We were fortunate to make it 4-2.
“The next night we jumped on them early. But even when we were up 4-0, they scored to make it 4-1 and I thought ‘Oh my God, here they come.’ But then we were able to score on the next shift and put the game away. We were fortunate that (AIC goalie Tom) Fenton had an off night — he’s usually so good.”
The points on Saturday were especially important since they came on the road. Army has traditionally struggled away from Tate Rink, but last season the Black Knights began to have success on the road, and that has carried over to this season.
“We’ve got an older team that got the experience last season and understands what it takes to win road games,” said Riley.
Another thing uncharacteristic about this Army team is its offense. Traditionally relying on goaltending and solid defense to win games, the Black Knights are averaging over four goals a game in league play — tops in the AHA. Sophomore Owen Meyer scored four times last weekend to raise his total to seven goals on the season, tied for first in the league. Senior Luke Flicek’s 12 points lead the league.
“It’s nice to score goals but we’re not planning on being an offensive juggernaut all season,” said Riley. “Our top line is doing well, but our main focus continues to be on defense and hard work.”
And goaltending. Army might have the deepest set of netminders in the league, with all-star junior Josh Kassel, freshman Jay Clark, who has a .960 save percentage in two starts, and sophomore Joey Spracklen, who becomes eligible soon.
“We went through a few years where we didn’t have a lot of depth at this position and now I think we have more (depth) at goal than at any other position on our team,” said Riley.
Army hosts Bentley this weekend in a battle between the two teams at the top of the standings.
“Bentley was probably underrated in our poll,” said Riley. “You know, if you’d taken it on another day you might have gotten teams in a totally different order. Things are that close.”
So don’t be surprised if the teams split this weekend.
The Best 1-8-1 Team Around
Ohio State. Notre Dame. Maine. Maine again. Michigan State. Michigan State again. Throw in a pair with Air Force and you have a schedule that includes the national champs plus three other teams that made the NCAA tournament last season.
And thus a 1-8-1 record so far for the Mercyhurst Lakers.
“It’s not a total surprise,” said coach Rick Gotkin of his team’s record. “We’ve played one of the hardest, if not the hardest schedule out there.”
Gotkin told me at the beginning of the season that he expected a rough start, but says the goal in mind is to make his team battle-ready for the AHA portion of its schedule.
“I like our schedule,” he said. “It’ll make us better down the road. It was pretty demanding on our kids, but that’s how this league is going to be. It gets better and better every year and the gap between us and the big time programs gets smaller every year. ”
Gotkin’s squad has faced not only the adversity of a tough schedule, mostly on the road, but has had its share of injuries, most notably to goaltender Matt Lundin, who was hurt in the first game of the season. That’s pressed Ryan Zapolski into the starter’s role — a baptism by fire for the freshman. Mercyhurst’s only other goalie is a walk-on from its club team.
“Ryan’s played well,” said Gotkin. “We didn’t expect to have him play so much so early, but he’s risen to the occasion and given us a chance to win some of those games. I thought the Ohio State game was a winnable game. We were ahead after two periods. We could have been ahead 3-0 after one period if we’d had some breaks. I thought the second game against Maine was a winnable game.
“Notre Dame was clearly better. Not light-years better the way it used to be, but still better. I thought Michigan State played unbelievable. They’re not flashy, not overly physical, but solid.”
After the Lakers play a pair at RIT this weekend, they’ll be on home ice for nine of their next ten games.
“In some ways, playing RIT this weekend will be just as tough as playing Michigan State. We’re going to have to work hard to win. It’ll be a hostile environment and we’ll be facing the regular-season champions.
“We’ll be glad to be home after that, but we’ve got Sacred Heart coming in, and then Canisius and Michigan Tech. It’s doesn’t get any easier, really. We’ve got to compete and play well every night. But the guys are working hard and I think we’re getting better.”
Certainly better than 1-8-1.
On March 3, 1997, RIT defeated Canisius in overtime in the semifinals of the ECAC West tournament. The Tigers lost the next night in the title game to Elmira … in overtime. That extra-period win on home ice over ten years ago was RIT’s last. Since then, the Tigers are 0-7-8 at home in overtime (including a 2-1 loss to Air Force last Friday), amazing for a team with a combined record of 195-73-22 over that span. RIT is 3-2-14 in overtime games away from Ritter Arena since 1997.
“There’s no way to explain it,” said coach Wayne Wilson. “It’s not something you think about. Maybe your last loss in overtime, you think about that for a couple of days. But most of those (losses) were different teams and different players.”
So do teams have the Tigers where they want them if they can get an extra five minutes at Ritter Arena?
“We’re not going to play for a tie, especially at home.” said Wilson. “We’re not going to do anything differently.”
Player of the Week for November 11, 2007:
Owen Meyer — Army
The sophomore forward lit the lamp four times last weekend, including a hat trick to help lead the Black Knights to a sweep of AIC.
Goaltender of the Week for November 11 2007:
Andrew Loewen — Canisius
The netminder made 28 saves on 30 shots as Canisius came back to earn a split with Holy Cross with a 4-2 win on Saturday.
Rookie of the Week for November 11, 2007:
Jay Clark — Army
Clark, making his second career start, allowed one goal on 24 shots to pick up his first collegiate win in a 7-1 victory over AIC.
Around the League
Air Force: After another pair of one-goal games with RIT last weekend, eight of the last nine meetings between the schools have been decided by one goal or ended in a tie. Senior Eric Ehn had four points last weekend, doubling his season total to that point. Coach Frank Serratore needs one more victory to becoming the winningest coach in Air Force history.
Canisius: The Griffs have lost the first game of each of their weekend series so far (0-4) but are undefeated in the following game (2-0-2).
Connecticut: Saturday’s 3-2 overtime victory over Bentley was the first for the Huskies since January 19, 1997. UConn had played in only three other overtime games over that 10-year span, going 0-1-2.
Holy Cross: Senior Dale Reinhardt’s two assists against Canisius on Saturday gave him 101 career points, the 38th player in Crusader history and the eighth in the Division I era to reach the century mark.
Sacred Heart: The Pioneers will attempt to do something this Friday and Saturday that no team has been able to do for 20 games — beat Niagara at home. The Eagles are 18-0-2 at Dwyer Arena since losing to Air Force on February 10, 2006.
USCHO covers Atlantic Hockey all week long on the Atlantic Hockey Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.