Thanks to a less-than-impressive showing outside of Atlantic Hockey, no AHA teams are in contention for an at-large NCAA berth. That means for the 10 Atlantic Hockey teams, the NCAA tournament starts this weekend. Win and move on; lose and go home.
The opening round of the AHA playoffs has Connecticut at Bentley and American International at Holy Cross. The lowest surviving seed will travel to RIT for the best-of-three quarterfinals. The next lowest seed goes to Sacred Heart. Other quarterfinals already set feature natural rivals Army at Air Force and Canisius at Mercyhurst.
The last weekend of the regular season was not without some drama, as well as a pair of unexpectedly lopsided results.
On Friday, Canisius and RIT squared off with the Tigers having already clinched the regular season title and the top seed in the playoffs, and the Griffs desperately needing a win to stay in the hunt for a home playoff series. All that went out the window when RIT scored twice in the first three minutes and coasted to an 8-0 win.
“We weren’t expecting that,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Sometimes everything goes your way. [Canisius] is a much better team than that.”
On Saturday, Air Force, which could have found itself on the road in the quarterfinals, pummeled second-place Sacred Heart 8-1 to lock up third place. The Pioneers had been one of the hottest teams in college hockey before getting swept in Colorado Springs.
“For us to score 14 goals in just over five periods after we have struggled to score the last six games, I would have never thought that,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “I knew we would compete well on our ice and I was very optimistic. … This weekend, everything fell into place for us.”
Mercyhurst went into Saturday’s game at ninth-place Connecticut needing a win or tie to lock up third place, but the Huskies rallied back from a 2-0 deficit, including an extra-attacker goal with 35 seconds to play, and then won the game in overtime on Jason Krispel’s second goal of the game.
“The kids deserve it; they’ve been battling all year,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said after the game. “We really haven’t been that far away. If we could start the season over with a few of the things we learned, then we might have a little more success than what shows in the wins and the losses.”
“The truth is I thought we got what we deserved,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “I don’t think we played nearly well enough to beat a good UConn team tonight. I was disappointed with our overall effort. They’re much better then what their record shows.”
Player of the Week for March 1:
Tim Kirby — Air Force
The sophomore defenseman had a goal and six assists last weekend to help the Falcons to a home sweep of Sacred Heart. His five assists on Saturday set a school record.
Goalie of the Week for March 1:
Jared DeMichiel — RIT
DeMichiel wins the award for the third week in a row, and it’s no coincidence that the Tigers are 6-0 over that span. Last weekend the senior stopped 45 of 49 shots to help his team to a 8-0, 5-4 sweep of Canisius. DeMichiel is 21-4-1 in AHA play this season with a 1.78 goals against average and .932 save percentage.
Rookie of the Week for March 1:
Adam Hartley — RIT
Hartley had a pair of goals and a pair of assists last weekend, including three points on Saturday.
Player of the Month for February:
Cameron Burt — RIT
Burt had 15 points in February to help the Tigers to a 7-1 record for the month. He leads RIT with 13 goals and is second in overall points with 36 points through 33 games.
Other players nominated: Tim Kirby, Air Force; Steve McLeod, AIC; Josh Heidinger, Canisius; Andrew Olson, Connecticut; Jordan Cyr; Holy Cross; Mike Gurtler, Mercyhurst; Nick Johnson, Sacred Heart.
Goalie of the Month for February:
Jared DeMichiel — RIT
No surprise here has DeMichiel has been named AHA goalie of the week for the past three weeks. He had a 1.91 GAA and .930 save percentage in February, including a pair of shutouts.
Other goalies Nominated: Thomas Tysowsky, Holy Cross.
Rookie of the Month for February:
Eric Delong — Sacred Heart
DeLong had four goals and six assists in February. He leads all AHA rookies and is sixth nationally with 30 points so far this season.
Other rookies nominated: Adam Pleskach, AIC; Joe Campanelli, Bentley; Grant Blakey, Mercyhurst.
Here’s your playoff outlook for the first round:
Friday, March 5:
No. 10 American International at No. 7 Holy Cross
How they got here: AIC was picked to finish last in the AHA preseason poll, and that’s where the Yellow Jackets wound up. Holy Cross showed this year that despite a seventh-place finish, it can play with anyone in the league. The Crusaders took points from every team except for Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart. However, AIC won the season series between the two teams 2-0-2.
How AIC wins: Keep doing what it did against Holy Cross all season: win low-scoring games. The Yellow Jackets have shut out the Crusaders twice, limiting them to a total of five goals in four games.
How Holy Cross wins: AIC’s defense is the worst in the league, allowing almost four goals a game. But against the Crusaders? Only 1.25 goals allowed per game. Holy Cross needs to get an early goal and build from there. The Crusaders can’t afford another power outage in a single elimination game.
Yellow Jacket to watch: Freshman Ben Meisner has shut out the Crusaders twice this season, so he’s the obvious choice in net.
Crusader to watch: Another rookie goaltender, Thomas Tysowsky is fourth in the league in GAA (2.44) and fifth in save percentage (.909).
Saturday, March 6:
No. 8 Connecticut at No. 7 Bentley
How they got here: Connecticut has just six wins this season, but two of those have come in its last four games. The Huskies have knocked off RIT and Mercyhurst, so they’re dangerous in a single game situation. Bentley has faltered down the stretch. Since becoming the only AHA team to beat RIT at Frank Ritter Arena on Jan. 30, the Falcons have gone 1-6-1. Losing Dustin Cloutier to injury in mid-January has hurt.
How Connecticut wins: The comeback win over Mercyhurst last Saturday has to give Marshall’s club a boost. They’ve beaten Bentley once already this season.
How Bentley wins: The Falcons need to stay out of the box — they’ve got the worst penalty kill in the league at 78.6 percent.
Husky to watch: Yet another rookie goaltender will be key: Garrett Bartus, who joined the team after the holidays and has posted a .903 save percentage to date.
Falcon to watch: Senior forward Marc Menzione leads the team with 11 goals and 29 points. He’s the go-to guy on the power play and has chipped in two shorthanded goals as well.
Contributing: Nate Owen
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.