This one’s been circled on the calendar for quite some time — Air Force travels to RIT this weekend to settle the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title. Commissioner Bob DiGregorio will be on hand to present the trophy, but he may need two. The teams are tied for first with identical 19-5-2 records. If they split, they’ll share the league title, with tiebreakers coming into play to determine the top seed for the playoffs. The teams split their earlier series this season with the Falcons coming out ahead in goal differential 4-3.
Both coaches are downplaying the importance of the regular-season title, but obviously are in it to win it.
“It’s nice (to win the regular season title), but it doesn’t come with anything,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Our focus is the playoffs, and making the NCAA tournament. But these games are big for us and our fans.”
“To me, winning the regular season at the expense of the playoffs is not where we want to be, because the playoff championship is going to get you the NCAA tournament,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “But it’s there, and that’s what we’re competing for on the short end.”
One More Weekend
There’s not just a battle for first place at stake. There are two teams in the hunt for the remaining home-ice quarterfinal slot, and also a pair of teams battling to avoid the play-in round.
Here’s each team’s outlook heading into the final weekend. The tiebreakers are:
1. Points in head-to-head play.
2. Goal differential in head-to-head play.
3. Conference wins.
4. Goal differential in conference games.
5. Goals allowed in conference games.
6. Goals scored in conference games.
Air Force — Can win the regular-season title outright by taking three points from RIT this weekend. If the teams split or tie twice, they will share the regular-season title and the top seed will be determined by aggregate goal differential over their four games played this season. Air Force currently leads this by a goal. If the teams split and end up tied in goal differential, it will fall to the fourth tiebreaker, goal differential in conference games, which Air Force wins. Air Force can finish no worse than second.
RIT — See Air Force. The scenario for the Tigers is the same.
Mercyhurst — The Lakers need three points this weekend against Canisius to assure themselves third place. They can only finish as low as fourth, so they have already wrapped up a home-ice quarterfinal game.
Bentley — The Falcons are two points behind Mercyhurst for third place, and hold the tiebreak over the Lakers should they be tied in points at the end of the weekend. Bentley needs a single point this weekend against Connecticut to lock in the final home-ice spot. The Falcons can finish as low as fifth if they are swept and Canisius sweeps Mercyhurst.
Canisius — The Golden Griffins need a lot of help to clinch a home-ice quarterfinal — a sweep of Mercyhurst and a UConn sweep of Bentley. Any other scenario leaves Canisius in fifth place.
Army — The Black Knights lead Holy Cross by two points for the final first-round bye. The teams tied in their only two contests this year, so should they wind up tied in the standings, conference wins (currently tied) and conference goal differential (also currently tied) might come into play. Army controls its own destiny and can clinch sixth place outright with three points against AIC this weekend.
Holy Cross — See Army. The Crusaders need to gain more than two points on the Black Knights this weekend, or at least even things up and then prevail in the tiebreakers. Holy Cross can also finish as low as eighth based on how they do against Sacred Heart.
Sacred Heart — The Pioneers will finish either seventh or eighth, so they know they will be hosting a first-round playoff game against either Connecticut or AIC.
Connecticut — The Huskies are locked into ninth place and will travel to either Holy Cross or Sacred Heart on March 7.
AIC — Last place has been assured for the Yellow Jackets, who will travel to either Army, Holy Cross, or Sacred Heart for the first round.
Player of the Week for February 23, 2009
Sean Erickson — Connecticut
The senior defenseman had five points in three games last week, including the game-winning goal against Canisius in overtime. The Huskies captain is 11th all-time in scoring at UConn and needs five more points to move into the Top Ten.
Goaltender of the Week for February 23, 2009:
Kyle Rank — Bentley
Rank was recognized last week in the rookie category, and he had another stellar outing, stopping 35 of 36 shots to help the Falcons to a 3-1 win over Mercyhurst. Rank has now won eight games in a row.
Rookie of the Week for February 23, 2009:
Phil Ginand — Mercyhurst
Ginand is another repeat winner, getting the Player-of-the-Week last week. This time he tallied two goals, including the game winner in a 6-4 win over Bentley on Friday. Ginand has 32 points to date, tops among rookies in the AHA.
Shootouts? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shootouts
If you were fortunate enough to be at Tate Rink for the RIT-Army game last Saturday, you saw a terrific contest with a fair ending — a tie.
“It was probably our most exciting game of the year,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “It was a hell of a hockey game.”
Army coach Brian Riley concurred. “It was a great game,” he said. “I was happy with our effort. Both teams played great. It was a very entertaining game for the fans.”
A 1-1 tie entertaining? You bet. The game had a playoff atmosphere and featured great plays, great goaltending, and lots of hard hitting. A shootout would have been anticlimactic and not fair to either team.
Meyer’s the Man
The most exciting player to watch on Saturday (and Friday was well) was Army junior forward Owen Meyer. Meyer had a goal on Friday and logged tons of ice time both nights.
“Trying to keep Owen Meyer off the scoreboard was all we could handle,” said Wilson. “What a very special hockey player.”
“He’s a great kid,” said Riley. “He means a lot to our team.”
Meyer broke his hand the last time the Tigers and Black Knights met, back on Nov. 14. He was out six games, and the Black Knights went 1-5 in those contests. Meyer leads the Black Knights in scoring with 30 points in 26 games.
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.