The emails and tweets from Mercyhurst started around 11:30 p.m. EST on Saturday. In Colorado Springs, 1,500 miles and two time zones away, Rochester Institute of Technology had just hung on to defeat Air Force 3-2.
The Lakers needed a series of events to occur to lock up their first Atlantic Hockey regular season title before the season’s final weekend: a Lakers win or a tie at Niagara and losses by Bentley, Robert Morris and Air Force.
All of them happened.
So with one weekend and two games to go for each AHA team, Mercyhurst knows where it will be when the playoffs commence: idle with a bye and as the top seed, awaiting the lowest surviving seed from the first round to show up in Erie, Pa., for a quarterfinal series starting March 14.
Army also knows most of its fate. The Black Knights are locked into the 12th seed and will travel to the fifth-seeded team, which will be either Bentley, Air Force, Connecticut or Robert Morris.
The final finishing order of the remaining 10 teams is less certain.
The AHA playoff format calls for byes for the top four teams, which will then each host a quarterfinal series. Seeds five through eight will host first-round series, squaring off against the bottom four seeds.
All series are best-of-three.
The four quarterfinal winners advance to the championships again held at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
Let’s take a look at what’s on the line for each squad, but first, the tiebreakers used by Atlantic Hockey are:
1. Winning percentage head-to-head
2. Conference wins
3. Goal differential in head-to-head contests
4. Goals allowed in head-to-head contests (which seems to me to be redundant)
5. Winning percentage head-to-head against teams seeded 1 thru 12, starting with the No. 1 seed.
6. Goal differential in games against teams seeded 1 thru 12, starting with the No. 1 seed.
With those in mind, here’s the breakdown:
Mercyhurst (16-4-5, 37 points, first)
Final opponent: Robert Morris (home on Friday; away on Saturday)
Outlook: For the Lakers, it’s about keeping the momentum going into the playoffs. After getting swept at Air Force three weeks ago, Mercyhurst has rebounded to go 3-0-1 heading into the final weekend.
Bentley (14-7-4, 32 points, second)
Final opponent: American International (home on Friday; away on Saturday)
Outlook: The Falcons lead a group of four teams (Bentley, Air Force, Connecticut and Robert Morris) that are still in the running for the three remaining byes. The odd team out will host Army in the first round. Bentley needs two points this weekend to guarantee a spot in the top four.
Air Force (14-8-3, 31 points, tie-third)
Final opponent: at Niagara (away Friday and Saturday)
Outlook: The Falcons hold the tiebreaker with Connecticut (we have to go to the fifth tiebreaker, winning percentage beginning with the top seed — UConn tied Mercyhurst twice while Air Force was 2-1 against the Lakers). But Air Force falls in a tiebreaker with Robert Morris. That means the Falcons need a sweep of Niagara to lock up a home-ice spot. There are plenty of other combinations of losses by UConn, Bentley and Robert Morris that clinch a bye.
Connecticut (14-8-3, 31 points, tie-third)
Final opponent: Sacred Heart (away Friday and Saturday)
Outlook: UConn loses its tiebreaker to Air Force, but currently holds it over Robert Morris (the teams split a pair of games, but the Huskies have one more conference win at the moment). Therefore the Huskies need three points to clinch a bye, and can also claim one if Robert Morris gets fewer than two points.
Robert Morris (13-8-4, 30 points, fifth)
Final opponent: Mercyhurst (away on Friday; home on Saturday)
Outlook: Right now the Colonials are on the outside of the top four, but barely. They don’t control their own destiny in terms of a bye, but still could finish as high as second if Bentley, Air Force and Connecticut all falter. RMU holds the tiebreaker with Air Force but not Bentley or Connecticut — the latter could change based on the number of conference wins each gets this weekend. RMU is better off with a win and a loss than two ties.
Canisius (11-11-3, 25 points, tie-sixth)
Final opponent: RIT (home on Friday; away on Saturday)
Outlook: There’s a five-point drop off from fifth to sixth place, where the Golden Griffins currently reside. Canisius can finish no lower than eighth, so coach Dave Smith can book ice for a home playoff series, the last his team will play at Buffalo State.
Niagara (10-10-5, 31 points, tie-sixth)
Final opponent: Air Force (home Friday and Saturday)
Outlook: See Canisius. Niagara is also going to be at home for the first round of the playoffs.
Holy Cross (10-13-3, 23 points, eighth)
Final opponent: Army (home on Friday; away on Saturday)
Outlook: Holy Cross leads Sacred Heart by three points for the final home-ice playoff spot. The Crusaders hold the tiebreaker with the Pioneers, so that means Holy Cross needs a single point this weekend against last-place Army to finish in the top eight.
Sacred Heart (10-15-0, 20 points, ninth)
Final opponent: Connecticut (home on Friday and Saturday)
Outlook: See Holy Cross. Sacred Heart will be on the road in the first round unless it sweeps UConn and Holy Cross gets swept by Army. Likely first round opponents are Canisius, Niagara or Holy Cross.
Rochester Institute of Technology (8-14-3, 19 points, tie-10th)
Final opponent: Canisius (away on Friday; home on Saturday)
Outlook: The Tigers can finish no higher than ninth and will not be hosting a playoff series for the first time since becoming eligible in 2008. RIT plays Canisius in a home-and-home series that will feature the final regular season games played in each barn as Canisius moves from Buffalo State to the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo next year, and RIT ends its 46-year tenure at Ritter Arena in favor of the Gene Polisseni Center. There’s a decent chance that these teams could meet again the following weekend in the first round of the playoffs.
American International (9-15-1, 19 points, tie-10th)
Final opponent: Bentley (away on Friday; home on Saturday)
Outlook: AIC can match its best finish in league history, a ninth-place finish achieved last season. The Yellow Jackets can also play spoilers against Bentley, something they did last season, knocking the Falcons out of a home-ice spot. Likely first round opponents are the same as for the other teams in the ninth-through-11th spots: Canisius, Niagara and Holy Cross.
Army (4-21-0, 8 points, 12th)
Final opponent: Holy Cross (away on Friday; home on Saturday)
Outlook: The Black Knights haven’t caught many breaks this season but look to play spoiler against Holy Cross, which needs at least a point in this series to secure home ice for the first round. Army will open the playoffs on the road in the first round against the No. 5 seed, which at this point could be Bentley, Air Force, Connecticut or Robert Morris.
Check the Atlantic Hockey Blog on Saturday for updated playoff possibilities.
One hundred points is a benchmark often used to distinguish between a good college hockey career and a great one. This time of the season often sees players achieve this career milestone. Here are the current batch of 100-point players, several of which only recently punched their ticket to the century club.
In descending order of career points:
157 — Brent Gensler (Bentley): The senior reached 100 points last season and is currently first in career points in Bentley’s Division I era.
122 — Kyle Gibbons (Canisius): He reached the magic number back on Nov. 19 against RIT.
111 — Dan O’Donoghue (Mercyhurst): The senior got his 100th on Dec. 14 against Robert Morris.
109 — Mike Colavecchia (RIT): His 100th point came on Jan. 11 at Bentley.
109 — Brant Harris (Connecticut): He reached the milestone on Jan. 18 against Mercyhurst. Harris is the all-time point leader at UConn in the program’s Division I era.
107 — Adam Schmidt (Holy Cross): Schmidt got his 100th point Feb. 1 at RIT.
102 — Alex Grieve (Bentley): Grieve, only a junior, is the newest member of this exclusive club, hitting the century mark last weekend (Feb. 21) against Sacred Heart.
101 — Jordan Sims (Connecticut): Sims reached the milestone on Feb. 15 at Holy Cross.
Several players are on the doorstep. Cole Gunner (Air Force) has 98 points going into the final weekend of the regular season. Mercyhurst junior Matt Zay has 93 points to date, and classmate Ryan Misiak has 90. Also within striking distance are Connecticut’s Billy Latta (96 points), Jon Puskar from AIC (93) and Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo (91).
Canisius senior Kyle Gibbons is the lone Atlantic Hockey representative among the 10 finalists for the 2014 college hockey Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award.
The award celebrates seniors who excel in four categories: community, classroom, character and competition.
Last year, five of the 10 finalists were from AHA schools, with Army’s Cheyne Rocha winning the award.
USCHO weekly awards
I differ with the league on one selection this week:
Player of the week — Drew George (Sacred Heart): The junior forward had a pair of goals and two assists to lead the Pioneers to a sweep of Bentley. George has nine points in his last four games.
Goalie of the week — Parker Gahagen (Army): The freshman made 42 saves in a 4-3 win over Connecticut. The league went with Mercyhurst’s Jimmy Sarjeant, who stopped 44 of 47 shots in a win and tie against Niagara.
Rookie of the week — Spencer Graboski (Sacred Heart): Graboski contributed two goals and two assists in the Pioneers’ sweep of Bentley.
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.