Every team wants to peak at the right time, and that time is coming. There are six weekends left in the Atlantic Hockey regular season and just three points separate positions two through nine in the standings.
“You play 27 games to settle the regular season and solidify the playoffs [seedings], but where you finish in a league like this may not matter that much,” Rochester Institute of Technology coach Wayne Wilson said. “Winning a regular season [title] can still get you bounced in the first round.
“We used to have eight teams that can win a championship; it’s probably 10 teams this season. At one time it might have been four teams, but this league has gotten so much better. The games are so close, so tight that a break one way or another can make all the difference.”
Wilson’s Tigers got off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season but are 3-1 in league play since the holidays, including a sweep last weekend at then-second-place Army. Only Niagara (4-1) and Bentley (3-1) have performed as well.
RIT’s offense has been clicking all season but it took shoring up things on the defensive side to put more games in the win column. The Tigers are allowing almost a goal a game fewer since the middle of November.
“We’re playing better,” Wilson said. “Special teams has been consistent but I think we’re playing better on those as well.
“The league is so tight that you have to play really, really well to win. Splits are the norm and sweeps are extremely difficult to come by. I just watched [last week's series between] Niagara and Holy Cross. Those games were as close as can be.”
The Tigers are led in scoring by senior Jeff Smith, who chalked up five points last weekend and has a team-best 10 goals on the season despite missing several games to injury.
“Even when he was injured he’s been an important part of the team,” Wilson said. “His success is due to hard work. He’s getting rewarded for it. Not everyone does, but coaches and teammates appreciate it even when you don’t get the points.
“He’s a leader when it comes to attitude. Forechecking and blocking shots, and scoring big goals, too. As a coach you can’t ask for more.”
RIT plays first-place Niagara this weekend, at home on Friday and then at Dwyer Arena on Saturday. That series highlights several strong matchups on tap.
“It’s exciting for fans, and for players and coaches,” Wilson said. “Look at this weekend. Bentley and Holy Cross. Canisius and Mercyhurst, Robert Morris and Air Force, even our military academy against another military academy (the exhibition between Army and Canada’s Royal Military Academy). Good stuff.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Jeff Smith, RIT
The senior from Spokane, Wash., wins the award for the second time this season. Smith had four goals and an assist to lead the Tigers to a sweep at Army. He leads his team with 10 goals and is averaging a point per game.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Max Strang, Mercyhurst
Strang gave his team the lift it needed with a 5-0 shutout on Saturday at Connecticut. After the Lakers dropped a 5-4 decision the night before, Strang stopped all 40 shots he faced to get the weekend split. It was his second shutout of the season and fifth in his collegiate career.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Andrew Gladiuk, Bentley
Gladiuk wins the award for the fourth time this season. This time he racked up two goals and three assists against Canisius in a Falcons sweep. He leads all freshmen in Division I with 12 goals and is third in points per game (1.10).
When Bentley’s Brett Switzer scored in overtime for a 3-2 win over Canisius last Friday, it was the first time in almost nine years that the Falcons had won an overtime game on home ice. You have to go back to March 6, 2004, to find the last time that happened, a span of 25 games in which Bentley went 0-4-21.
For Canisius, the overtime loss to Bentley on Friday was already its third in extra time this season. The Golden Griffins are 0-3-5 in overtime so far and last won an overtime contest on March 12, 2011, in the second game of a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Holy Cross. That capped off an amazing 12 overtime games played by Canisius in the 2010-11 season, and the Griffs are on a pace to outdo that this season.
Canisius is 0-7 in one goal games this season, including 0-4 in league play. Saturday’s 7-2 loss was the first time the Griffs have lost an AHA game in regulation since Nov. 16.
‘Hockey’s finest citizen’
The Hockey Humanitarian Award committee has announced the finalists for 2012-13 and Atlantic Hockey has placed two players on the list of 11, which includes men and women from Division I and Division III.
Niagara senior Jason Beattie and Holy Cross junior Jeffrey Reppucci are among the finalists for the award, which will be handed out during the Frozen Four.
A decade of great players
Both Atlantic Hockey and CBS Sports Network are celebrating 10 years in existence his season, and both are compiling lists of memorable players.
Atlantic Hockey has put together a list of finalists for its All-Decade team. Coaches and journalists are to submit a ballot listing their top nine forwards, top six defenseman and top three goalies.
My ballot is due Feb. 7 and I will publish it in next week’s column. Feel free to share yours — I’m open to suggestions as I compile mine. Respond in the comments or
shoot me an email.
The finalists are:
Forwards: Eric Ehn, Air Force (2006-08); Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force (2008-11); Adam Pleskach, American International (2009-present); Owen Meyer, Army (2006-10); Dain Prewitt, Bentley (2005-09); Brett Gensler, Bentley (2010-present); Cory Conacher, Canisius (2007-11); Vincent Scarsella, Canisius (2007-11); Dave Kostuch, Canisius (2008-10); Tim Olsen, Connecticut (2003-05); Matt Scherer, Connecticut (2003-07); Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross (2003-06); James Sixsmith, Holy Cross (2003-07); Jeff Dams, Holy Cross (2003-04); Pierre Napert-Frenette, Holy Cross (2003-06); Scott Pitt, Mercyhurst (2007-11); Ben Cottreau, Mercyhurst, (2004-08); Dave Borrelli, Mercyhurst (2003-06); Dave Wrigley, Mercyhurst (2003-05); Scott Champagne (2003-07); Paul Zanette, Niagara (2010-11); Simon Lambert, RIT (2006-09); Nathan Longpre, Robert Morris (2010-11); Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart (2003-07); Alexander Parent, Sacred Heart (2004-08); Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart (2005-09); Nick Johnson, Sacred Heart (2006-10); Dave Jarman, Sacred Heart (2006-10); Garrett Larson, Sacred Heart (2003-05).
Defensemen: Greg Flynn, Air Force (2006-09); Tim Kirby, Air Force (2008-12); Zach McKelvie, Army (2005-09); Carl Hudson, Canisius (2006-10); Jon Landry, Holy Cross (2003-07); Cullen Eddy, Mercyhurst (2006-10); Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst (2003-06); TJ Kemp, Mercyhurst (2003-05); Chris Tanev, RIT (2009-10); Dan Ringwald, RIT (2006-10); Denny Urban, Robert Morris (2010-11); Dave Grimson, Sacred Heart (2005-09).
Goaltenders: Andrew Volkening, Air Force (2006-10); Josh Kassel, Army (2005-09); Bryan Worosz, Canisius (2003-05); Tony Quesada, Holy Cross (2003-06); Ryan Zapolski, Mercyhurst (2007-11); Jared DeMichiel, RIT (2006-10); Shane Madolora, RIT (2009-12).
Virtually all of the finalists earned various all-league honors and awards. On a national level:
Eric Ehn, second team 2006-07
Josh Kassel, second team 2007-08
Jacques Lamoureux, second team 2008-09
Nick Johnson, second team 2009-10
Paul Zanette, second team 2010-11
Tim Kirby, second team 2011-12
Hobey Baker Award finalists:
Simon Lambert, 2007-08
Those honors will influence my vote for sure.
The CBS Sports Network list of college hockey’s best players of the past 10 years was
compiled by broadcaster Dave Starman. He mentions a pair of Atlantic Hockey players: Ehn and Conacher.
Starman ultimately gives the nod to Conacher, who is making waves in his NHL debut with Tampa Bay. Conacher has five points in three games, including a pair of goals.
But strictly using college careers as a guide, I’ve got to go with Ehn, who was an All-American and Hobey Hat Trick finalist in 2007. Ehn was injured most of his senior year but his junior campaign was one of the best, if not the best, by an Atlantic Hockey player. Ehn had 64 points that season, including 24 goals, and led the Falcons to their first of five AHA titles.
Again, wade in with your thoughts. Ehn or Conacher or both? Does anyone else from the AHA deserve to be on the list? I’ll publish a consensus next week.
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.