Three observations from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Shows You What I Know
Let me rewind the weekend back to Friday when I made the following statement:
“I’m going to go out on a limb and will say that Robert Morris will not sweep AIC this weekend…I think they have a great chance to pick up a win. Problem is, I can’t figure out what night that’ll be, so I can’t pick them in my right mind.”
In the week they fell out of the national polls, the Colonials went out and proved any naysayers or doubters wrong. On Friday, they opened up a 4-0 lead in the third period, then staved off a Yellow Jacket rally to pick up a 5-3 win. On Saturday, they led 3-2 after the second period, then scored six in the third to pound AIC, 9-4, before a sellout crowd at the 84 Lumber Arena.
The top line of Scott Jacklin, Zac Lynch, and Cody Wydo combined for 13 points, with Wydo and Jacklin scoring five points apiece. Wydo scored a hat trick and tied up Boston University wunderkind Jack Eichel for the national scoring lead. In the process, he became the all-time scoring leader in the short history of Colonial hockey.
It wasn’t that AIC played poorly; the box score indicates otherwise. Down 4-0 on Friday, the Jackets kept coming and coming until they made the game closer than RMU probably wanted it. On Saturday, despite the six goal third period, they scored two of their own, and sophomore Austin Orszulak is in the lead for the AHC’s version of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for goal scoring (which doesn’t exist, by the way). It’s just that they ran into a speeding bullet train that refused to be denied.
Side note – they also wore some pretty sweet sweaters while doing it:
Series of the Weekend
Seldom does anything in sports actually live up to the hype surrounding it. That said, that’s exactly what Mercyhurst and Holy Cross did this weekend. Meeting for the 15th and 16th times since the 2011-2012 season, the Lakers and Crusaders turned in what might’ve been the series of 2014-2015.
Scoreless through the first on Friday, Kyle Just scored his seventh goal of the season to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead. Five minutes into the second, the Lakers made it 2-0 off the stick of Kyle Cook, who notched his second goal of the year on a power play. But when Alec Shields went to the box for tripping with under four minutes to go in the game, Jake Bolton scored to cut the lead to 2-1. Holy Cross pulled their goalie late to try and tie things up but failed and lost 2-1 in a thriller.
On Saturday, Holy Cross jumped out a two-goal lead with 9:35 left in the first period, but Mercyhurst scored twice – 30 seconds after the second Crusader goal and again with 32 seconds left on the power play in the period – to tie it up into the locker room.
In the second period, Jack Riley took a penalty ten seconds into the frame, and Joe McNamara scored six seconds later to give Holy Cross a power play lead 16 seconds into the period. They scored again on the power play five minutes later to go up 4-2. But Mercyhurst channeled their inner New England Patriots by rallying from a two-score deficit again, tying the game with thanks to Kyle Just’s power play goal and Daniel Bahntge’s score with under a minute to go.
In overtime, Tyler Shiplo gave the Lakers their only lead, ending the game with a 5-4 result 3:09 into free hockey. It was the only shot on goal in the period.
While Spencer Bacon played on Friday and started on Saturday, Brandon Wildung came off the bench to pick up the win in relief on the second night. Starting both nights in place of the injured Matt Ginn (who was hurt last week against Canisius), Paul Berrafato played very well but remains in search of his first career win.
Still Not Quite Over The Hump
One of the running storylines over the years has been the perceived success of the western AHC teams over the east. During division-based scheduling, the west would dominate, resulting in multiple teams receiving byes with the one eastern team breaking away from their brethren.
During the three years of the standard 12-team playoff, that’s what happened. In 2012, all four bye teams came from the west, followed by the fifth and sixth seed coming from the east. All four western bye teams advanced to the semifinals. In ’13, Holy Cross and Connecticut received first round byes, but the other four eastern-based teams all went on the road in the first round after finishing 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. Last year, two eastern teams received byes (Bentley and UConn), with the remaining eastern teams finishing 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th.
Canisius, Robert Morris, and Mercyhurst all started breaking away with huge weekends against eastern teams, allowing them to give the west the inside track to those coveted byes. With eight wins already, the Lakers have six games left over the next three weekends against the east. Conversely, RMU (seven wins vs. east) only has a two game series at Holy Cross remaining this week, although they have a commanding lead already in the standings for first place. Canisius (six wins vs. east) has arguably the toughest road to sealing up the bye with only two games left against the east and games left against the Colonials and Lakers.
Further back is where things will get really interesting, thanks in part to the unbalanced schedule. Bentley (5-3-2 against the west) has seven games left against the east; Holy Cross (4-4-2 vs. western teams) has five. That said, three of those are against each other. Further beyond that, they both still have to play Sacred Heart; the Pioneers are 1-2-1 against them this year and have picked up late season points against either or both programs every year since 2003-2004.
Air Force has 18 points, one back of both Bentley and Holy Cross for the last bye slot. Four of their remaining games are against AIC, currently 2-6-4 against the west. RIT (4-2-2 vs. east) is tied with the Falcons for sixth place, but their four games left against eastern teams are against Bentley and Holy Cross (combined 9-7-2 against the west). Sacred Heart (3-7-2 vs. west) is in the last home ice spot but has four games left against the west. Their run to the end goes through both Bentley and Holy Cross – two of the top five teams but teams they’ve sustained success against.
While the games are becoming more competitive and playoff seedings were irrelevant to who actually won Atlantic Hockey, coaches still want their teams to have the best possible finish in the season. In order to get to that point, we have A LOT of hockey left, and things are going to get A LOT more insane.