And Down the Stretch They Come
The top two positions in Atlantic Hockey have been settled, but, going into the final weekend of the regular season, little else is. RIT clinched its third regular season title in four seasons with a sweep of Air Force, and Sacred Heart guaranteed itself the second seed by taking two games from Holy Cross.
Air Force, Canisius and Mercyhurst are battling for the remaining two home-ice spots, all having clinched at least a first-round bye. Army, Holy Cross and Bentley will fight it out for the sixth and final bye position. The two teams that don’t get a bye will have to console themselves with hosting a first-round playoff game next weekend. American International and Connecticut will finish in the bottom two positions in the standings and will be on the road in the first round as a result.
“It’s great for the league, coming down to the last weekend with so much to be decided,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “It keeps the intensity up and keeps everyone honest.”
Wilson’s Tigers got an overtime goal from Tyler Mazzei on Friday to defeat Air Force 3-2, and a 27-save shutout from Jared DeMichiel on Saturday in a 3-0 win.
As a result, Air Force finds itself winless in its last six games going into a crucial final weekend at home against Sacred Heart.
“We have to be better and we have to keep coming,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore after Saturday’s game. “We are in playoff mode right now. We played a real good team tonight and sometimes you have to give your opponent credit. I’m coaching the team’s confidence and spirit right now.”
Air Force could very well find itself on the road in the playoffs, unless it can snap out of its funk (just eight goals in its last six games) or get some help from RIT and UConn. Mercyhurst travels to UConn this weekend, holding on to third place by a single point over Air Force and Canisius. Should there be a tie, the Falcons hold the tiebreaker over Canisius but not Mercyhurst, while Canisius has the tiebreaker over Mercyhurst.
RIT has nothing to play for this weekend other than staying sharp and trying to prevail in what has become a good Western New York rivalry.
“[Canisius'] top line is as good as any line in the country,” said Wilson. “Down the stretch we’ve seen some very good lines: Air Force with [Jacques] Lamoureux’s line, and Sacred Heart with [Dave] Jarman and [Nick] Johnson. We have our work cut out for us again.”
The Scoop, Final Version
Crunching the numbers going the final weekend of the regular season:
RIT has clinched first and a first-round bye.
Sacred Heart has clinched second and a first round bye.
Mercyhurst can finish no lower than fifth place and needs to sweep this weekend to assure home ice. The Lakers can finish no higher than third, and have clinched a first-round bye.
Air Force can finish no lower than fifth place and needs help to finish as high as third. The Falcons have clinched a first-round bye.
Canisius can finish no lower than fifth place and needs help to finish as high as third. The Griffins have clinched a first-round bye.
Army can finish no lower than eighth place and can clinch the final first-round bye with a sweep of AIC this weekend.
Holy Cross can finish as high as sixth and as low as eighth. The Crusaders need help to finish any higher than seventh.
Bentley cannot finish any higher than sixth place and any lower than eighth. The Falcons need help to finish higher than seventh.
AIC will finish either ninth or 10th and will be on the road in the first round.
Connecticut will finish either ninth or 10th and be on the road in the first round.
Here are the tiebreakers:
1. Points head-to-head.
2. Goal differential head-to-head.
3. Conference wins.
4. Goal differential in conference games.
5. Goals allowed in conference games.
6. Goals scored in conference games.
Player of the Week for Feb. 22:
Josh Heidinger — Canisius
The senior forward had six points last weekend as the Griffins picked up three points. He factored in six of Canisius’ seven goals, including posting four assists on Sunday, tying a school record for assists in a game. Heidinger is the all-time leading scorer at Canisius with 123 career points.
Goalie of the Week for Feb. 22:
Jared DeMichiel — RIT
The senior from Avon, Conn., wins the award for the second week in a row and fourth time this season. DeMichiel stopped 51 of 53 shots last weekend, including a 27-save shutout, to lead the Tigers to a sweep of Air Force. He’s 19-4-1 in league play this season with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
Rookie of the Week for Feb. 22:
Eric Delong — Sacred Heart
DeLong had five points (two goals and three assists) last weekend to help the Pioneers to a sweep of Holy Cross. He leads all AHA rookies in scoring with 27 points on the season.
Saluting the Seniors
Around the league the this weekend (and last weekend) teams will pay tribute to their seniors. Let’s take a look at the players at each AHA school who are winding down their college careers:
American International — The Yellow Jackets say goodbye to Chris Campanale (two-time captain), Josh Frose, Mike McMillan (60 career points leads the team) and Dean Yakura. They played in a combined 410 games.
Air Force — Matt Fairchild, Jeff Hajner, Brandon Johnson, Brett Nylander and Andrew Volkening have won an AHA title each of their first three seasons and already have more wins than any class in school history.
Army — Playing their final regular season home game this weekend are Owen Meyer (124 career points), Eric Sefchik (team-leading 31 points this season) and goaltender Joey Spracklen. This class won a regular season title in 2008.
Bentley — The Falcons graduate six players: Brendan Harrison, Justin Kemmerer, Marc Menzione (100 career points), Anders Olson, Bobby Preece and Nick Vitale.
Canisius — This class leaves its program in much better shape than when it started: Dave Cianfrini, Josh Heidinger, Carl Hudson, Andrew Loewen,Vincent Amigone,Ryan Klusendorf,Peter MacDougallandJason Weeks. Heidinger is Canisius’ all-time leading scorer (123 points so far) and Weeks holds the school’s goal-scoring record (50 to date).
Connecticut — The Huskies say goodbye to just two players: Mike Coppola (135 games) and Brendan Olinyk (91).
Holy Cross — Seniors Ian Dams, Rob Forshner, Peter Lorinser, Brodie Sheahan and two-time captain Ryan Driscoll will be finishing up their final seasons in the coming weeks. Sheahan has 89 points to date, while Ian Dams has been in net for 49 games.
Mercyhurst — This class has played in two AHA title games: Cullen Eddy, Neil Graham, Matt Fennel, Chris Risi, Nick Vandenbeld and Derek Fisher.
RIT — These seniors have celebrated three regular season titles in four years: Dan Ringwald (113 career points), Al Mazur (95), Stevan Matic, Brent Alexin and Jared DeMichiel,
Sacred Heart — This class will be tough to replace: Nick Johnson (102 points), Dave Jarman (105 points), Erik Boisvert, Paul Ferraro, Matt Gordon, Corey Laureysen, Greg Rodriguez and Mike Rosata.
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.