No fewer than six Atlantic Hockey teams are a weekend sweep away from first place in the standings, with eight teams within two points of a first-round playoff bye.
Moving up rapidly is Bentley, which has picked up six points in the last two weekends, taking three points each from Robert Morris and Air Force. The Falcons are unbeaten in their last six league games (3-0-3), their longest since moving up to Division I in 1999.
The Falcons have scored exactly two goals each in five of those six games. Their scores against Robert Morris and Air Force were 2-1, 2-2, 2-2 and 2-1.
But goaltender Branden Komm has made those two goals enough. He’s allowed two goals or fewer in his last 10 league starts and leads the league in save percentage (.949).
“Our goaltender has done an exceptional job allowing teams two goals or less,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “We’re confident that we have the ability to score but it’s easier to win allowing two goals or less than it is trying to score four goals.”
Soderquist said his team had a gut-check moment coming back from the holidays when the Falcons were beaten 9-3 by Yale on New Year’s Day.
“Yale thumped us,” he said. “We had to take a hard look in the mirror. We were allowing too many Grade A scoring opportunities. We had to be more responsible as a team.”
So far it’s worked, confirmed by the Falcons’ recent string of low-scoring games that have produced points in the standings.
“We’re playing pretty solid team defense,” said Soderquist. “We’ve been willing to block shots and do hard work on backchecking. It’s been more of a team philosophy than an individual. We’ve had two pretty solid weeks of practices and that’s carried over to Robert Morris and Air Force.”
This weekend, Bentley hosts Rochester Institute of Technology, another team that has found goals hard to come by and is succeeding through defense. The series will feature the top two defenses in the conference.
“I’d expect low-scoring games,” said Soderquist. “That’s the way it has been in the conference. You’re not going to win many 6-5 games anymore.”
Players of the Week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Michael Colavecchia, RIT
The sophomore forward had four goals, including a hat trick on Saturday, to help the Tigers to a sweep of Sacred Heart. Colavecchia leads the team in scoring with 20 points.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Shane Madolora, RIT
Madolora stopped all 41 shots he faced to record back-to-back shutouts, his fourth and fifth of the season and 10th and 11th of his career. That brought his conference goals against average down to 1.54 and save percentage up to .944.
Atlantic Hockey rookies of the week:
Brad McGowan, RIT
Nardo Nagtzaam, Mercyhurst
McGowan had a goal and two assists last weekend, and leads all RIT rookies with 10 points. Nagtzaam also had a goal and a pair of assists, all in Saturday’s 7-2 win over American International. The forward from Nijmegen, The Netherlands, now has 21 points so far this season.
Three with five
Three American International forwards had five-point weeks as the Yellow Jackets split with Mercyhurst and dropped a game at Rensselaer. Senior Nielsson Arcibal (one goal, four assists), sophomore Blake Peake (one goal, four assists) and junior Adam Pleskach (three goals, two assists) all had solid weeks. AIC is currently in 10th place and travels to Niagara this weekend.
Winning the job, for now
Niagara has used four goaltenders so far this season, including freshman Colby Drost and sophomore Cody Campbell, who have both been named AHA goalie of the week. But for the past four games, Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder has been going with senior Chris Noonan. Noonan stopped 67 of 68 shots in a sweep of Army last weekend. His .934 save percentage is tied for third nationally.
Three AHA players have been nominated for the 2012 Hockey Humanitarian Award. Sam Goodwin (Niagara), Kyle Maggard (Army) and Furman South (Robert Morris) are among 23 nominees.
Finalists will announced by the end of this month with the recipient recognized at the Frozen Four in Tampa.
Air Force travels to Army this weekend for the 54th and 55th meeting between the two service academies. Air Force leads the all-time series 30-20-3 but is 0-5-1 in its last six games at Tate rink. Friday’s game will be televised by CBS Sports Network and both nights are already sold out.
A perfect weekend
RIT had one of those weekends where everything comes together. The Tigers defeated Sacred Heart 10-0 and 3-0, setting records for most goals scored in a game and in a weekend their Division I era. The Tigers scored five power-play goals and a short-handed goal, and held Sacred Heart to 0-for-14 on the power play. RIT travels to Bentley this weekend and then comes home for the first time in nine games for a series with first-place Mercyhurst.
Tweet of the week
Mercyhurst’s Grant Gettinger on the fixation by ESPN on pituitary ball, er, basketball at the expense of the superior sport of hockey.
Want to be eligible for TOTW? Follow me at @chrislerch.
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.