New Kids on the Block
My column last week went to press too early to get official reaction to the admission of Niagara and Robert Morris to Atlantic Hockey.
The Colonials held a press conference on Wednesday, formally making their announcement.
“This is a big day for our program,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “Atlantic Hockey has proven to be a very competitive conference and we are very proud to be members of this conference.
“We are thankful to the members of Atlantic Hockey for allowing us membership in their conference. We are going to be competing against some very strong programs and we will be able to bring some new geographical rivals to Pittsburgh. This is very good news for Robert Morris University, the athletic department and our hockey program.”
“We are excited that Robert Morris has accepted admission to the Atlantic Hockey Association and that they bring a highly visible and competitive program into the league,” said Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio. “We will now have a pair of institutions in Western Pennsylvania, and our hope is that this will provide fans of both Mercyhurst and Robert Morris a chance to see Division I hockey and the start of a great rivalry between the two schools.”
Niagara’s official announcement is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 12. The school and league issued a press release last Friday confirming the news.
“We are excited that Niagara has accepted admission to the Atlantic Hockey Association and that they bring a highly visible and competitive program into the league,” said DeGregorio. “We will now have three teams in the Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Rochester area and we, as a conference, are excited that rivalries will continue on an annual basis between Niagara, Canisius and RIT for a long time.”
“Our goal when deciding on the future of our hockey program was to find a conference with other institutions like us, both athletically and academically,” said Niagara Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin said. “The other main component was to ensure that our student-athletes would be able to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth every year. I firmly believe that we have accomplished that goal.”
Robert Morris’ press conference was originally scheduled for last Tuesday, but was moved to Wednesday so as not to conflict with the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl parade.
Air Force had a 13-game winning streak to open its season. RIT has won 11 games in a row. And quietly, Holy Cross has been working on a nine-game unbeaten streak, the second-longest in school history. Two more games without a loss and that record, set in 1979, will fall.
The 5-0-4 stretch started with a 2-2 tie at fifth-ranked Denver back on Jan. 2 and has included wins over Rensselaer, a pair of ties at Army, and a tie at No. 18 Dartmouth.
Prior to this streak, the Crusaders were just 6-11-1.
“I don’t think there was a turning point that got us on track,” said coach Paul Pearl. “We’ve been playing hard all season, and playing pretty well. With the exception of the RIT series (5-1 and 5-2 losses), I’ve been happy with our execution and the way we’ve competed.”
Ties can be a mixed blessing, but getting them against the likes of Denver and Dartmouth were positives, according to Pearl.
“We’ve had some great ties,” he said. “We played a couple of pretty good teams and matched them goal for goal. And in this league, you have to get points any way you can, and ties are points in the bank.”
Up next for the Crusaders is a crucial series with another hot team, the Bentley Falcons. Bentley is 7-2 in its last nine games, and is coming off a road sweep at Army. The Falcons are tied for third place with Mercyhurst, while Holy Cross is tied with Canisius for fifth place, just two points behind the Lakers and Falcons.
“They’re a very talented team and the fact that they’re doing so well doesn’t surprise me,” said Pearl. “They have a lot of good young players, some talented veterans, and they have great team speed.
“We’re playing pretty well, but there are still things we can improve on. Our power play needs work. We’ve won three of these (league titles) and you can’t win without a power play and team defense.”
Player of the Week for February 2, 2009
Jason Weeks — Canisius
The junior forward had four goals and an assist to help the Griffs to a win and a tie against Sacred Heart. In Saturday’s 5-1 win, Weeks had a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal and an even-strength goal, becoming the first Canisius player to accomplish that feat.
Goaltender of the Week for February 2, 2009:
Joe Calvi — Bentley
Calvi stopped all 32 shots he faced to post his second shutout of the season in a 6-0 win at Army.
Rookie of the Week for February 2, 2009:
Kyle Rank — Bentley
Another Bentley goalie is recognized by the league. Rank allowed one goal on 25 shots in a 4-1 win at Army to help the Falcons complete the sweep.
Player of the Month for January, 2009
Dain Prewitt — Bentley
The senior forward had three game-winning goals in the month of January, helping the Falcons to a 7-4 record to open 2009.
Other players nominated: Owen Meyer, Army; Jason Weeks, Canisius; Jason Krispel, Connecticut; Jordan Cyr, Holy Cross; Steve Cameron, Mercyhurst; Matt Crowell, RIT; Eric Giosa, Sacred Heart.
Goaltender of the Month for January, 2009
Ryan Zapolski — Mercyhurst
The sophomore netminder was 5-1-1 in January, posting a 1.54 GAA and a .952 save percentage.
Other goalies nominated: Ian Dams, Holy Cross; Jared DeMichiel, RIT.
Rookie of the Month for January, 2009
Kyle Rank — Bentley
Rank was 5-1-1 in January, including making 35 saves in a 3-1 win at Maine.
Other rookies nominated: Dave Kostuch, Canisius; Marcello Ranallo, Connecticut; Luke Miller, Holy Cross; Tyler Brenner, RIT; Matt Gingera, Sacred Heart.
Army coach Brian Riley suspended 10 players for terms ranging from one game to the rest of the season for violations of team rules during the Black Knights’ trip to Air Force on Jan 23 and 24.
That meant a pretty short bench last weekend, with just 14 skaters dressed on Friday and 15 on Saturday in a pair of losses to Bentley.
Cody Omilusik and Drew Pierson were suspended for one game each, while Bill Leahy, Scott Warner, Mike Hull, Jack Barnes, Mark Dube, Bryant Skarda, Danny Colvin and Kyle Maggard remain in the doghouse for an undetermined (for those outside the program anyway) amount of time.
On a more positive note, two AHA players were recognized this week for their achievements on and off the ice.
Air Force sophomore Jacques Lamoureux is one of 21 nominees for the Bank of New York Mellon Hockey Humanitarian Award, given annually to “college hockey’s finest citizen.” A list of finalists will be announced in a few weeks, with the winner honored at the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.
Also, Dain Prewitt of Bentley is one of 16 semifinalists for the Walter Brown Award, given annually for the past 56 years to the top American-born men’s hockey player in New England. The winner will be announced at the end of the season.
Congratulations and good luck to both players.
With all due respect, Buffalo News writer Bob DiCesare doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well, what he’s writing about, anyway. DiCesare wrote a scathing column over the weekend, lambasting Niagara for its decision to join Atlantic Hockey. He called Niagara Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin’s decision “defeatist, shortsighted and impulsive.” It was, of course, none of the above. Let’s tear Bob apart assertion by assertion:
“Defeatist” — DiCesare wails that Niagara will now only “dabble” in college hockey, and “banish thoughts of competing with Michigan and Boston University and New Hampshire and the other marquee programs Niagara has defeated over the years.” Well, tell that to Minnesota, Cornell, Denver, Colorado College and Maine — all have been beaten by AHA teams in the past two seasons. No College Hockey America team has ever won an NCAA tournament game. Not so for the AHA. Besides, Niagara’s non-conference schedule has been no stronger than several AHA teams in recent years.
“Shortsighted” — Actually, this move is exactly the opposite. Niagara and the other CHA schools were coming to the end of a long road, and there was a cliff looming. Contrary to what DiCesare thinks, Niagara could not have gone it alone as an independent and wait for a better offer. While the Purple Eagles had some success as an independent 10 years ago, they had to get into a conference ultimately to survive, and they need to be in a conference now to survive. This is a move to ensure the long-term future of the program, which is hardly shortsighted.
“Impulsive” — How impulsive can something be that has been under consideration for years? The CHA has been on borrowed time since Findlay dropped hockey and Air Force bolted. Niagara had no other options. ECAC? Not interested. CCHA? Not interested. Atlantic Hockey stepped up and took in two programs for the good of college hockey. Yes, losing scholarships will hurt, but not as much as DiCesare thinks it will. Holy Cross wasn’t offering scholarships when it beat Minnesota in 2006. RIT can’t offer scholarships, but has beaten at least one ranked team each season, won the AHA regular season in 2007, and is currently in first place and getting more votes in the national polls than Niagara.
Sorry to break it to you, Bob, but Niagara was never and is never going to be Michigan, BU or Wisconsin. This was the right move for college hockey, the right move for the AHA, and the right move for Niagara.
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.