Eight is enough right now in Atlantic Hockey, with the four survivors from the first round of the playoffs traveling to the four bye teams for the quarterfinals.
For Robert Morris, last weekend was a roller coaster. The Colonials won their opening game with American International 5-3 but dropped a wild second game 7-5. In Sunday’s deciding contest, Robert Morris led 3-0 with 16 minutes to play, but AIC’s Nielsson Arcibal scored three straight times, including the tying goal with 11 seconds to play.
With the Colonials’ season on the brink, they recovered in the overtime and won the game on Brandon Blandina’s goal just 2:13 into the extra session.
“We went though the majority of emotions in the last 16 minutes of the game,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “I thought we didn’t let up and continued to play well but they played well, too, and got some bounces and made the most of their opportunities.”
Schooley said he and his assistants were as devastated as the players.
“As a coaching staff we had to deal with the emotions of what just happened to pick [the team] up,” said Schooley. “First we had to give them time to grieve and then go in again and pick them up.
“We had to put our game faces on because were still in good shape, we were getting good shots and we knew we just needed to keep working. Our upperclassmen are a great group of guys and I give them a lot of credit for us being able to come back.”
Next up for the Colonials is former CHA rival Niagara. The seniors on each team have already faced the other 19 times, or about one in seven of all the games they have played.
“Obviously, we’re very familiar with them when you see a team that much,” said Schooley. “We have a pretty good handle on them and they have a pretty good handle on us.
“[Niagara] has excellent goaltending and good team speed, and they’re physical. Our games this year with them were 2-1, 2-1 [losses] and a 2-2 tie. We expect nothing different.”
Here’s a breakdown of the AHA quarterfinals. Each series is a best-of-three.
No. 8 Connecticut at No. 1 Air Force
How they got here: Air Force has cooled off a bit, but is still the team to beat. The Falcons have lost just twice since Jan. 14, but both losses have been in their last three games. UConn slumped in February but looked good in a first-round sweep of Canisius last weekend.
Outlook: UConn has the advantage in special teams, but Air Force has more big-game experience and is 9-2-1 at home in AHA play, including a sweep of the Huskies back in November.
Huskies player to watch: Cole Schneider is tied for second in the league in scoring (30 points) and also is tied for first in goals (16).
Falcons player to watch: Defenseman Tim Kirby is the favorite for player of the year in the AHA. His 22 points in league play lead all Atlantic Hockey defensemen.
No. 7 Robert Morris at No. 2 Niagara
How they got here: The Colonials were pushed to the limit by American International last weekend, but survived in overtime in the deciding game to win their first playoff series. Niagara is undefeated in its last five games and finished a point away from a tie for first place.
Outlook: Niagara won the regular season series 2-0-1, but both wins were by a 2-1 score. The Purple Eagles will put their second-ranked power play up against the Colonials’ top-rated penalty kill.
Colonials player to watch: Senior Adam Brace leads the team with 14 goals.
Purple Eagles player to watch: Senior goaltender Chris Noonan leads the nation in save percentage (.941).
No. 6 Bentley at No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology
How they got here: The Falcons had to survive a Game 3 against Sacred Heart in the first round, saving the best for last with a 5-0 win on Sunday. RIT finished third, its lowest position ever in the regular season, but was still only two points out of first.
Outlook: The Tigers are 8-1 all-time in the quarterfinal series, with every game played on home ice. They swept the Falcons in Waltham this season, but both games were close (1-0 and 2-1).
Falcons player to watch: Goaltender Branden Komm will be called on to play at least as well as he did the last time he faced RIT (three goals allowed in two games).
Tigers player to watch: Senior goalie Shane Madolora is third in the league in goals against average (1.71) and tied for third in save percentage (.939). He outdueled Komm earlier in the season, allowing just one goal in the teams’ two-game series.
No. 5 Holy Cross at No. 4 Mercyhurst
How they got here: Both teams tied for third with RIT, but thanks to Mercyhurst’s 1-0-1 record against the Crusaders, the Lakers got a first-round bye while the Crusaders had to play in the opening round, sweeping Army.
Outlook: Both of the games between the two teams went to overtime this season. Holy Cross has the top offense in the league (3.44 goals per game), while the Lakers were ranked fifth (2.93).
Crusaders player to watch: Sophomore Adam Schmidt was the national player of the month for February.
Lakers player to watch: Junior forward Paul Chiasson leads the team with 13 goals.
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Trevor Lewis, Robert Morris
The senior captain had eight points (one goal, seven assists) to lead the Colonials to their first playoff series victory, defeating American International two games to one. Lewis is tied for the team lead with 29 points.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Garrett Bartus, Connecticut
Bartus led the Huskies to a sweep of Canisius, including his program-record fifth shutout of the season on Saturday.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Matt Ginn, Holy Cross
Ginn stayed hot with two more victories, this time a sweep of Army. He’s 16-6-2, the best record in Atlantic Hockey.
Men of the month
If it’s time for hockey’s version of March madness, that means February has come to an end. Here are the players of the month:
Atlantic Hockey player of the month:
Adam Schmidt, Holy Cross
The sophomore forward led the Crusaders with 16 points in February, including seven goals and nine assists. He had at least one point in all eight games in February, helping Holy Cross to a 7-0-1 record.
Other players nominated: Brett Gensler, Bentley; Ryan Murphy, Niagara; Greg Noyes, RIT; Adam Brace, Robert Morris.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the month:
Jason Torf, Air Force
Torf had a 1.11 goals against average and a .956 save percentage in February to help lead the Falcons to the regular season title. He had four shutouts, including one each against the second-, third- and fourth-place teams in the final standings.
Other goalies nominated: Branden Komm, Bentley; Max Strang, Mercyhurst; Chris Noonan, Niagara; Shane Madolora, RIT; Brooks Ostergard, Robert Morris.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the month:
Matt Ginn, Holy Cross
This is the second time Ginn has won the award. Ginn went 7-0-1 in February with a 1.61 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.
Other rookies nominated: Chad Demers, Air Force; Chris Lochner, Niagara; Tyson Wilson, Robert Morris; Drew George, Sacred Heart.
The AHA players of the month are also nominated for the Hockey Commissioners Association monthly awards, and Schmidt and Ginn are the first two national winners of the award this season from Atlantic Hockey.
Tweet of the week
Blogger Ryan Lambert quoting Boston University coach Jack Parker on why college hockey is better than the CHL. And yes, he really did say that.
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.