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Three Things: On to Albany

What doesn’t kill you

Every team faces some measure of adversity during the college hockey season, a 25-week marathon.

But Rochester Institute of Technology had more than its fare share. Coach Wayne Wilson said this season has been the most challenging in his 17 years behind the Tigers’ bench.

But RIT came through it stronger as a result, and this past weekend claimed its second consecutive Atlantic Hockey title, coming from a fifth-place regular season finish to outlast Air Force 2-1 in overtime on Friday and then roll past top-seeded Robert Morris 7-4 in the title game.

“We never complained, never got dejected,” said Wilson, whose Tigers uncharacteristically struggled on home ice, and were so decimated by injuries that a club goalie was pressed into starting four games late in the season.

“It was important to get the bye (that came with a fifth place finish),” said Wilson. “We really needed the break to get healthy.”

Junior goaltender Mike Rotolo, who was injured on January 3, was cleared to play just a week before the playoffs began and led RIT to a quarterfinal sweep of Mercyhurst and two wins this weekend.

Sophomore Myles Powell scored the game-winner in both contests and racked up five points on the weekend to earn tournament MVP honors.

RIT returns to Albany for the NCAA East Regional, the site of the greatest moment in the school’s Division I history. In 2010, the Tigers defeated Denver and New Hampshire at the Times Union Center to advance to the Frozen Four.

Making history

Robert Morris came up one win short of its goal of a second Atlantic Hockey title, but its nine seniors have a lot to be proud of.

The class of 2016 claimed 87 victories, a school record.

“They led us to five championships,” said RMU coach Derek Schooley. “Two Three Rivers Classic titles, two regular season trophies and a playoff championship and trip to the NCAA tournament.”

Zac Lynch, the league’s player of the year and a Hobey Baker finalist, ended with 156 career points, a school record.

Goaltender Terry Shafer’s 43 career wins is also a program record, as is his eight shutouts.

Bright future

The two teams that didn’t make the championship game also distinguished themselves in Rochester. Air Force and Army West Point, two of the youngest squads in the conference, each fell Friday in overtime, 2-1.

Both squads are ahead of schedule, with Army expected to finish tenth this season in the preseason coaches poll, and Air Force picked seventh.

“In 30 years, this is most fun I’ve had coaching,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “It was a great group of guys to work with.”

Expect to see both of these teams again in the mix next season.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, March 18-19: Championship Edition

Last week:

Dan: 7-4
Chris: 8-3

On the season:

Dan: 129-81-28 (.601)
Chris: 144-66-28 (.664)

With just three picks left and a lead of 15 games, Chris has won his third straight title and bragging rights for another season. Better luck next year, Dan!

This Week’s Picks:

Friday, March 18
Atlantic Hockey Tournament
Semifinals
Blue Cross Arena, Rochester, N.Y.

Army West Point vs. Robert Morris
Dan: Robert Morris taught us one incontrovertible fact about the, in the postseason last week. They’re a ridiculously talented team that would probably win every single best-of-three series they would play. But if they’re not careful, they can lose a single game. That’s what makes this game so intriguing. Teams essentially have to play perfect because a single bad night can cost them the season. With Army West Point coming in playing incredibly hot, there’s a very good chance (one might even say “50-50″) that the Black Knights are playing on Saturday. But RMU was our preseason pick, and as they showed in Games Two and Three last week, they are ridiculously talented, capable of shutting a team down and scoring at will. Robert Morris wins.
Chris: These final picks are always the toughest of the season because by now, you have four very good teams that could each win the whole thing. I’m really looking forward to this one, which pits Army West Point’s stingy defense against RMU’s high-powered offense. This is the Colonials’ third straight appearance in this game and I think that experience could be the difference. Robert Morris wins.

Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Air Force
Dan: Air Force looks a little bit like a team of destiny with how they handled Canisius last week. And even though RIT is the defending champions with their goaltender back between the pipes, I think there’s a decided edge to the Falcons. Shane Starrett is on the verge of doing something very special, and I think the better of the two teams during the season comes east and wins it. Don’t discount how wild this crowd is going to be in favor of the Tigers, though. Air Force wins.
Chris:This won’t be a neutral ice game, being played 10 miles from RIT’s Campus. But Air Force has done very well in the past in “pumpkin convention” games, as Falcons coach Frank Serratore has referred to the sea of orange expected at Blue Cross Arena. Air Force is 3-0 against RIT in this building, outscoring the Tigers 10-0 over that span dating back to 2008. The Tigers got a measure of revenge last season with a quarterfinal sweep at the Polisseni Center, but in this building, I’m going with the higher-seeded Falcons. Air Force wins.

Saturday, March 19
Atlantic Hockey Tournament
Championship
Blue Cross Arena, Rochester, N.Y.

RIT/Air Force vs. Army West Point/Robert Morris
Dan: This is what we all would want – the two best teams in the league from the season coming forward to the championship (though the prospect of an Army-Air Force championship is enough to make even the most casual fan excited). If that’s the case, and I’m proven right, it’s going to be an incredible hockey game. But RMU is built to win it all, and they have something to prove after they didn’t win it last year. So I’m going with the Colonials to go to the tournament and represent the AHC. Robert Morris wins.
Chris: The Colonials are experienced, skilled and battle tested. Assuming my semifinal picks are correct (and even if RIT advances instead of Air Force), I like the Colonials to win it all. RMU was heavily favored last season but ran into a hot goalie and fell in the semifinals. I think that’s the extra motivation required to get it done. Robert Morris wins.

Three Things: We’re Onto Rochester

Atlantic Hockey’s heart-stopping, pulse-pounding, nerve-quaking, house-rocking year is rounding up. After a 28-game regular season for each team, 18 playoff games round us into the simplest of forms from now on. It’s single elimination. Win and move on for a chance to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. Lose and go home.

In the early game, sixth-seeded Army West Point takes on the league’s regular season champion, Robert Morris. Then in the late game, second-seeded Air Force exchanges pleasantries with fifth-seeded Rochester Institute of Technology.

This is how we got there:

The Boys Are Back

The defending league champions will defend their crown on their home turf.  After limping into the playoffs (literally, given their injury woes in net), RIT went on the road and outscored the Mercyhurst, 6-2, to sweep the host Lakers out of the postseason.

On Friday, the Tigers held the Lakers to just 22 shots on net. That allowed goalie Mike Rotolo, who helped RIT win the league tournament last season, to get reacclimated with a net he hadn’t played in front of in months. Sidelined with an injury, Rotolo played in only 14 games during the season. But after a first night in which he wasn’t tasked with saving too much, he made 31 saves on Saturday. It was his first 30-save performance since a November loss to Boston College and his first 30-save performance in a victory since January 24, 2015 – last season – against Bentley.

So now Atlantic Hockey has a wolf…er, tiger…in the hen house. When the series shifts to Blue Cross Arena, a team that utilizes the rink as its second home will have a game there, in primetime. Gear up for a lot of orange in those seats come next weekend.

Air Force Takes Flight

When RIT takes the ice on Friday, they’ll have a familiar face on the opposing bench. The Tigers joined the league in 2006-2007, the same year as Air Force. But that year, Air Force was eligible for the conference tournament while RIT, reclassifying from Division III, was not. RIT won the league regular season, but Air Force won the conference tournament.

RIT and Air Force crossed paths more than once through the years. This is the sixth time they’ll both be at Blue Cross Arena, and it’s their third time having played each other head-to-head in single elimination games. That doesn’t count last year’s playoff series in Rochester in the quarterfinals. Seven Atlantic Hockey championship banners hang between the two schools.

Air Force comes east thanks to a two-game sweep of Canisius. In a form that’s become their own this year, they went out and owned the series, winning back-to-back 4-1 games. The Falcons held the visiting Golden Griffins to 25 or less shots on both nights, including a 17-2 margin in the first period on Friday to set the tone for the weekend.

Make no mistake – this was not a bad Canisius team they were facing. Over the past couple of years, Canisius is actually the team with more postseason experience, winning a league championship and having advanced deep into the playoffs more frequently than Air Force. But Air Force continued a run that’s been incredibly special this year as a surprise second place team and a developing roster that’s looking to return the academy to the glory it had when it won five titles in six years.

The “It” Factor

If there’s one team everyone should be noting in Rochester, it’s Army West Point. The Black Knights finished sixth this year after an incredibly hot second half, and after sweeping Holy Cross on the road, they’re starting to shape into a team that simply has “it.”

Army posted back-to-back wins over the Crusaders thanks to 67 saves by Parker Gahagen, who followed up a 31-save shutout in Game 1 with a 36-save performance in Game 2. Gahagen now has a .972 save percentage in the postseason alone with a 0.80 GAA, and he enters Rochester with 138 postseason saves alone. That comes after a regular season in which he led the league in save percentage and was 0.09 goals per game away from Shane Starrett.

What’s amazing is that Army West Point is getting this far with exactly one 10-goal scorer. An incredibly deep roster, 10 players have five or more goals, an example of Moneyball hockey where the sum is greater than its parts. Then again, if the term “sum is greater than its parts” doesn’t summarize what West Point stands for in general, I don’t know what does.

But more importantly, Army West Point is starting to resemble the teams of past few years – the Robert Morris and Canisius type teams that got hot at the right time. Prior to the season, I said to more than one person that this team frightened/excited me because I felt they had the pieces. Now it seems, the pieces are coming together as they continue to win another one for Jack.

 

Simply The Best?

As the league’s best team in the regular season, Robert Morris earned the right to have what was supposed to be the “easiest road” to the championships. When each round reseeds, they’re supposed to play the team with the highest possible number, which is how they wound up with eighth-seeded Bentley in the quarterfinal round.

But RMU found out the hard way that getting to Rochester wasn’t easy. After losing on Friday night, they won on Saturday, but they trailed at the end of the first period of Game Three, 1-0, to a depleted Falcons roster. Then the Colonials went on a tear, scoring five in the second period, clinching their third straight trip to Blue Cross Arena with a 6-3 victory.

Unless they make a run to the Frozen Four, they won’t catch the RIT teams that won 90 or 91 games in their history. But what RMU can do is something those Tigers didn’t even do – win two championships. Even though RIT would win all of those games, they only won one championship during that magical Frozen Four series of 2010.

With 23 wins on the year, RMU’s senior class now has 86 wins on their career. By advancing, they now have a chance to put their stamp as one of the all-time best classes in Atlantic Hockey history.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, February March 11-13: Quarterfinal Edition

Last week:

Dan: 8-1
Chris: 8-1

On the season:

Dan: 122-77-28 (.599)
Chris: 136-63-28 (.660)

 

This Week’s Picks:

Friday, March 11, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 (if necessary)
Atlantic Hockey Tournament
Quarterfinal Round
Best-of-Three Series

Bentley at Robert Morris
Dan: Based on our preseason picks, this is actually an incredibly marquee matchup (we had Bentley finishing third behind first place RMU). Beyond that, this is a test of the Rubin jinx. If I pick RMU, I could be picking them solely to jinx them and get the team I work for through to Rochester for the first time since 2009. If I pick Bentley, then there’s the no respect card about picking against the top seed – also, I think that makes me a “wikkid homah.” So I’m divesting this pick to my wife, who says Robert Morris in three.
Chris: It used to be that the early playoff rounds were automatic in Atlantic Hockey, but in recent years they’ve been a minefield for top seeds. That said, I think RMU is motivated to get back to Rochester and will if they don’t overlook a Bentley team that they dominated earlier in the season. Robert Morris in two.

Canisius at Air Force
Dan: Based on my conversation with Dave Smith this week, I really believe Canisius is the one team best suited to make that trip west and upend the Falcons. But, like Chris points out, Air Force exceeded expectations all season long, and their home ice advantage needs to count for something. Otherwise, nobody would bring it up or try to disprove that it exists. I think Canisius pushes this one to the brink, but I think the Falcons get it. Air Force in three.
Chris: The last two times Canisius made it to the AHC Championship game, they were the 7th seed in the tournament, as they are now. One of those times was in 2013, when the Golden Griffins won a quarterfinal series at Air Force. But the Falcons have exceed expectations all season. Why stop now? Air Force in two.

Army at Holy Cross
Dan: I really can’t wait for this series. Army West Point is buoyed by a deep offense and tremendous defense/goaltending. Holy Cross is a great defensive team built around a team style. If anyone wants to watch a great series, this is it. Underlying storyline – Holy Cross basketball beat Army in the Patriot League tournament in basketball en route to winning the championship. Army West Point gains revenge here. Army in three.
Chris: This might be the most entertaining series of the weekend, despite the defense-first approach both teams take. Every year there’s at least one team that gets hot at the right time and makes a deep run in the playoffs, and I think that’s Army this time out. I’m taking the upset in a series that I expect to go the distance. Army in Three.

Rochester Institute of Technology at Mercyhurst
Dan: There’s one thing I fear in picking RIT is that they aren’t quite all the way back. Even though they’re getting healthier, I just feel like it’s too much for them to overcome. Had this series been played in Rochester, it would be one thing. But I’m picking the Lakers to advance with a little bit more postseason “Mercyhurst Magic.” Lakers in two.
Chris: This is a rematch of last year’s championship game. The teams split their season series with each sweeping on the road. I expect three close games here and with RIT getting several players back from injury,  I think that will give the Tigers a boost. RIT in three.

Three Things: Going the distance

All three Atlantic Hockey first-round series went the full three games, but in the end the higher seeds triumphed. It sure was interesting, though.

Battle in the 716

Canisius and Niagara met for the fifth time on Sunday, a record number of times for the Western New York rivals in a single season. And like the previous two postgame meetings between the schools, it was the Golden Griffins that advanced.

After dropping Game One 3-2, Canisius defeated the Purple Eagles 1-0 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday. In all three games, the team that led in shots on goal lost.

Shane Conacher factored in five of Canisius’ seven goals on the weekend. He scored the game-winner on Sunday, his school record sixth GWG of the season.

Canisius moves on to visit Air Force. The Golden Griffins are the seventh seed, and the last two times they’ve made the AHC finals, they were also No. 7, including winning it all in 2013. Canisius’ march to the title that year included a quarterfinal sweep at Air Force.

This season, Air Force won the regular season series, 2-1-1.

Going to extremes

Army West Point and American International’s series was a tale of extremes: the Black Knights dominated Games One (5-0) and Three (4-0) and lost Game Two to the Yellow Jackets, 3-2 in overtime.

Junior goaltender Parker Gahagen posted his second and third shutouts of the season to lead the way, while Conor Andrle and Ian Mansfield led a balanced Army West Point attack with a pair of goals each in the series.

The Black Knights advance to face Holy Cross. Army West Point took three of four points from the Crusaders in Worcester a month ago.

This one had it all

Sacred Heart and Bentley usually bring out the best in each other, and their series at the John A Ryan Skating Arena lived up to expectations.

Friday’s game featured unanswered runs by both teams, as Bentley opened a 3-0 lead only to see the Pioneers get the next three. A pair of Bentley goals in the third gave the Falcons the lead, which held up despite a late SHU talley.

Game Two was a goaltender’s battle between Bentley’s Gabe Antoni (37 saves) and Sacred Heart’s Brett Magnus (36) that needed 13 minutes of overtime before Justin Danforth won it for the Pioneers, 2-1.

The Falcons entered the third period on Sunday clinging to a 2-1 lead, but a pair of goals by Kyle Schmidt in the final two minutes clinched the game and the series.

Junior Max French returned from injury to score three goals in the series. Injuries limited him to 29 games this season, but he leads the team in goals (21) and is tied for points (43) so far.

Bentley now draws top-seeded Robert Morris in the quarterfinals. The Colonials swept the Falcons in convincing fashion (5-1 and 5-0) in early January.

Playoff picture

So to recap, the quarterfinals matchups are:

No. 8 Bentley at No. 1 Robert Morris
No. 7 Canisius at No. 2 Air Force
No. 6 Army at No. 3 Holy Cross
No. 5 Rochester Institute of Technology at No. 4 Mercyhurst

Atlantic Hockey Picks, February March 4-6: First Round Edition

Last week:

Dan: 5-4-2
Chris: 6-3-2

On the season:

Dan: 114-76-28 (.587)
Chris: 128-62-28 (.651)

 

This Week’s Picks:

Friday, March 4, Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6 (if necessary)
Atlantic Hockey Tournament
First Round
Best-of-Three Series

American International at Army West Point
Dan: I had the chance to see Army last weekend for two games. They’re big, physical, and tough. They like to bruise and bang, and they have incredible depth scoring. They also have a goalie who is a) capable of stealing them a weekend and b) capable of getting hot. That indicates them as a Cinderella sleeper pick in this year’s tournament. Army West Point sweeps.
Chris:  Despite AIC winning the two regular season meetings between the schools, Army is playing much better hockey since then and AIC isn’t. I’m going with a Black Knights sweep.

Sacred Heart at Bentley
Dan: It’s the postseason, which means the chatter about Bentley’s playoff results will happen, especially if they run into struggles. But there’s a reason we picked them to finish in the top three of the league to start the season, and although I think this is a bad matchup for the Falcons, I think they can pull it out. That said, Sacred Heart is the one team who is going to give them fits and starts for an entire series, having always (and I mean always) played tough at the JAR. At least one of these games is going to overtime, and the goalies are going to steal the show. I’m picking the Falcons, but I still think the Pioneers have a 50-50 toss-up shot at winning the series. This will be a shining example of what hockey playoffs are all about. Bentley in three.
Chris: Both teams are struggling right now, but I think this will be a dynamite series. Fate hasn’t been kind to the Falcons at the JAR the past couple of postseasons, but I think they find a way to advance. Bentley in three.

Niagara at Canisius
Dan: Rivalries always have a way of making playoff postseason series a little weird, and both teams are backing into the playoffs. Canisius won their way into home ice when they swept Bentley, but they really backdoored their way into the #6 seed after both Bentley and Sacred Heart failed to overtake them. I’m going to agree with Chris here, but I don’t necessarily think this is as easy to pick as people might think. Canisius in three.
Chris: The local rivals square off in the postseason for the first time since 2013, when both teams made the NCAA tournament. Canisius has knocked Niagara out of the tournament twice, both times as the lower seed. This time the Purple Eagles are the underdogs. I think this will go the distance. Canisius in three.

Three Things: Let’s get wild!!

The 2015-2016 regular season is over, and in true Atlantic Hockey fashion, it went out with an incredible bang over the past weekend. Six places in the standings changed over the course of the final night on Saturday after a wild Friday set up a mad dash to the finish. After completion, the dust settled with a divisional style format and everyone with a silver lining to wherever they could’ve finished.

Let’s start at the end.

Since the season is over, let’s start with what we know, then work backwards at how we got there. Robert Morris finished first with 40 points, clinching their second straight regular season championship. Air Force finishes second thanks to a third-level tiebreaker, pushing Holy Cross into third place. RIT and Mercyhurst swapped positions, meaning the Tigers go to Erie after the Lakers swept them.

Further down the line, Army West Point finished sixth and will host 11th place American International while Canisius landed sevent and hosts 10th place Niagara. Sacred Heart will go to Bentley in the final playoff matchup.

That’s how we ended. How we got there? That’s where the fun REALLY begins.

Army strong

Before the season, I said to a number of people that I really believed Army West Point could be a team to which I could hitch up my bandwagon. Even after they started 0-5-2, I really just had a vibe that they would be a tough out down the line.

Since that start to their season, the Black Knights are 10-8-7, and they’re starting to round into form as one of those teams prepping for a potentially magical run through the postseason. Starting with late January, they enter the playoffs on a 5-2-3 run, having gone from ninth in the standings to sixth in the course of a month.

They enter the playoffs with a defense that’s allowed more than two goals only twice through this last stretch. Parker Gahagen is tied for the league’s second best save percentage at .931, and his 2.23 goals against average is fourth best. This has all happened strictly under the radar behind some of the more glamorous programs, and it’s happened with an offense that lacks a flashy scorer.

On their senior night, Army WP trailed Bentley, 2-0, then pounded the Falcons at Tate Rink. On Saturday, when Canisius trailed Robert Morris, the Black Knights came back from down a goal in the third period to tie Bentley on the road, 2-2, assuring the program of its first home playoff game since 2011 and its first best-of-three home playoff series since 2008.

A few tricks left up their sleeves

Bentley is a team ravaged on its lineup. Missing six players from their forwards, head coach Ryan Soderquist forced his hand, cobbling together lines with a number of players who were either out of position, out of their regular slot on the chart, or just flat out out of the lineup.

So when Bentley tied AIC on Wednesday and lost to Army WP on Friday, the Falcons extended a winless streak to five games and looked like a team that would eventually fall out of the home ice race or backdoor their way in depending on what happened with Sacred Heart-Holy Cross.

Instead, Bentley rallied behind a fourth line with a little-used senior forward and two freshmen defensemen flanking him. On Friday, despite giving up six unanswered goals, Bentley raced out to a 2-0 lead thanks to the first career goal from senior Tyler Krause. Krause, who to that point only played in six games on the season and 44 games in his career, would later tally two assists on Saturday’s tie that sent the Falcons to home ice in the first round and put him in the conversation for Atlantic Hockey’s Player of the Week.

Those two goals on Saturday came from those two defensemen. Freshman Andy Chugg, a 6’4″ blue-liner from Mesa, Arizona with barely five games’ experience, scored the first after a dangle and toe-drag straight out of a video game, and Alexey Solovyev, a defenseman out of Moscow, Russia, scored the second on an absolute bomb. Both linemates collected assists on both goals as they all finished +2 on the weekend.

Couple that with Danny Kucerovy’s first career goal that staked Bentley to 2-0 lead on Friday before it turned into all Army, and every Falcon goal went to the bench and locker room for the firsts of everyone’s career.

Just the way they drew it up, right? To think I didn’t think this had “series of the weekend” potential written on it is crazy, but the true wildness is that Bentley, despite entering the playoffs on a six-game winless streak, managed to gain that point when they absolutely needed it with unsung heroes and true grinders.

Absolute craziness

As Bentley’s 2-2 tie on Saturday night was heading to overtime, both teams were clinching home ice. That’s because Holy Cross was able to complete a weekend sweep of Sacred Heart. The Pioneers, who were forced to play Saturday’s game without three players, including leading scorer Justin Danforth, will now travel to Bentley in a rematch of the 2012 First Round, in a building where they’ve had nominal success through the years.

Oh and Holy Cross? They won their way into at least a mathematical equation for second place but lost out on a tiebreaker to Air Force thanks to the tertiary tie-breaker. Splitting their four head-to-head matchups with the same amount of conference wins, Air Force’s +2 goal differential means they finish second and the Crusaders finish third.

Then there’s Mercyhurst. Entering the weekend with a mathematical probability to finish fifth for the second straight year, the Lakers swept RIT to earn the quarterfinals home series. RIT, who despite having Christian Short return to the ice, now goes on the road for the playoffs for the second time in three years, even though it’s with a bye. They’ll also wind up playing four or five straight games against the same opponent.

A quick standings and playoff possibilites update

With Wednesday’s tie between Bentley and Air Force in the books, there are ten games left in the Atlantic Hockey regular season.

Here are each team’s chances heading into the final weekend, updated with Wednesday’s tie:

1. Robert Morris
Games left: at Canisius, home against Canisius
Can finish: 1st-4th
Outlook: The Colonials control their own destiny, and can clinch their second consecutive regular season title with a win. A single point guarantees them at least a share of the title. They are already ensured of a home quarterfinal series.

T2. Air Force
Games left: At Niagara (2x)
Can finish: 1st-5th
Outlook: The Falcons are tied for second with RIT and Holy Cross, but hold tiebreakers with both.

T2. Holy Cross
Games left: at Sacred Heart; home against Sacred Heart
Can finish: 1st-5th
Outlook: Like Air Force and RIT, the Crusaders still have an outside chance to win the regular season title. CHC’s tiebreaker with RIT is yet to be determined because they are even all the way to the fifth tiebreaker, which is winning percentage against the No. 1 seed, then No. 2 if still tied, etc.

T2. Rochester Institute of Technology
Games left: home against Mercyhrust; at Mercyhurst
Can finish: 1st-5th. The Tigers are among a group of four (Air Force, Holy Cross, RIT and Mercyhurst) that have clinched a bye but not home ice in the quarterfinals, which goes to the top four seeds. They lose tiebreakers to Robert Morris and Air Force and cannot end in a tie in the standings with Mercyhurst.

5. Mercyhurst
Games left: at RIT; home against RIT
Can finish: 2nd-5th.
Outlook: If the Lakers fail to get three points, they can finish no higher than fifth. They hold the tiebreaker with Air Force, and lose to Robert Morris and Holy Cross.

6. Canisius
Games left: home against Robert Morris; at Robert Morris
Can finish: 6th-8th
Outlook: Since Bentley and Army play each other this weekend, both can’t tie or pass Canisius, so that means the Golden Griffins have clinched home ice in the first round. Canisius holds tiebreakers over the Falcons but not the Black Knights or Sacred Heart.

T7. Bentley
Games left: at Army West Point; home against Army West Point
Can finish: 6th-9th
Outlook: The Falcons are competing with Army and Sacred Heart for two of the three remaining home ice slots in the first round. Bentley has the tiebreaker with Sacred Heart, but not Canisius. Army and Bentley cannot end up tied.

T7. Sacred Heart
Games left: home against Holy Cross; at Holy Cross
Can finish: 6th-9th
Outlook: See Bentley. SHU loses in a tiebreaker to Bentley and Army West Point, but wins against Canisius.

9. Army West Point
Games left: home against Bentley; at Bentley
Can finish: 6th-9th
Outlook: See Bentley and Canisius. The Black Knights have the tiebreaker advantage over Sacred Heart and Canisius. Army and Bentley cannot finish tied.

10. Niagara
Games left: home against Air Force (2x)
Can finish: 10th
Outlook: Niagara is locked into the tenth seed regardless of what happens this weekend. The Purple Eagles will travel to the No. 7 seed for the first round of the playoffs.

11. American International
Games left: none
Can finish: 11th
The Yellow Jackets are currently even in points with Niagara, but have no games left and lose the tiebreaker, so they will finish last and travel to the No. 6 seed.

 

 

 

 

Atlantic Hockey Picks, February 24-27

Last week:

Dan: 5-3-2
Chris: 3-5-2

On the season:

Dan: 109-72-26 (.589)
Chris: 122-59-26 (.652)

 

This Week’s Picks:

Wednesday, February 24
Bentley at American International
Dan: This game is incredibly critical to the rest of the weekend. If Bentley wins, they’ll need only a tie against Army West Point to assure themselves of home ice in the first round. If they tie or AIC wins, the Falcons will need two points against the Black Knights. On the flip side, AIC can finish 10th with a win but will finish 11th with a tie or loss. I’m taking Bentley to win in a tight game.
Chris: This is AIC’s final game of the regular season, but Bentley has more to play for here, so I’m going with the Falcons to win.

Friday, February 26 and Saturday, February 27
Bentley vs. Army West Point
Dan: Bentley is the only team with three games this weekend, so there’s a lot that’s going to hinge on how they play on Wednesday night. Army West Point, meanwhile, is one of the hottest teams in the league. If Bentley is able to stop the bleeding of a three game losing streak against AIC, I think they have a real chance to win at Tate Rink and wrap up home ice. Army West Point can still clinch home ice if Sacred Heart falters, so I’m taking the road team in each game. I think they’re playing each other next weekend in Watertown. Bentley wins on Friday. Army West Point wins on Saturday.
Chris: If either or both of these teams survive the first round, I think they’ll give their quarterfinal opponents all they can handle. Here, I’m going with Bentley on Friday and Army on Saturday.

Robert Morris vs. Canisius
Dan: Robert Morris knows what’s at stake this weekend, needing only one point to clinch the league’s top seed. But I know they want to be pumping on all cylinders into the playoffs, meaning they aren’t taking a night off. Canisius losing opens the door for Sacred Heart to finish sixth, and I don’t think they want to leave that to chance. Again, I’m taking the road teams. RMU wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Like Dan, I think RMU will take care of business on Friday, and then I expect a winning effort by Canisius, which will have more to play for the following night. So it’s Robert Morris on Friday and Canisius on Saturday.

Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: I’m on record saying this is the series of the weekend. Sacred Heart hosts on Friday against a Crusader team that posted a 10-game unbeaten streak earlier this year. But Holy Cross is 4-3-4 down the stretch, which leaves a chance SHU could take it to them. Breaking out of a funk last week is huge for the Pioneers, who I predicted would be a sleeper team come playoff time. I’m going with Sacred Heart to shock us all and take four points.SHU sweeps.
Chris: These teams are separated by 10 points in the standings, but I have them on equal footing heading into this weekend. SHU is coming off a sweep of Canisius (and giving RMU all it could handle the week before) while Holy Cross has been a .500 team lately. So I’m going with a split. Sacred Heart wins Friday; Holy Cross on Saturday.

Mercyhurst vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Nick Amato’s had two weekends against the league’s bottom two teams to get ready for this series. A Mercyhurst sweep means the Tigers would go on the road next weekend, but if it means the team gets healthy, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. Amato’s played his heart out, and the team’s been ultra resilient in front of him, but I think the Lakers’ offense is too potent. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: RIT’s Goaltending is the unknown in this series. Will Nick Amato, called up from RIT’s club team at the beginning of the season as a practice goalie, but pressed into play due to injuries to the Tigers’ two main netminders, find some magic against the Lakers? Amato went 2-1-1 against AIC and Niagara, but Mercyhurst presents a stronger challenge. In any case, and despite the Lakers’ lack of success against the Tigers recently, I’m going with a Mercyhurst sweep.

Air Force at Niagara
Dan: Air Force comes east with a chance to finish first and the inside track to finishing second. Someone’s going west in two weeks to face a team that’s going to be incredibly tough to beat. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Just like AIC-Bentley, I’m going with the team that has more to play for. Avoiding the basement is certainly motivation for Niagara, but a home-ice quaterfinal (as well as a very outside chance at the regular season title) means more for Air Force. I’m going with a Falcons sweep.

Three Things: Bye Bye

Bye Bye

The penultimate weekend of the regular season is in the rear view mirror now, and the road ahead is clearing.

The eleven Atlantic Hockey teams have formed around three clusters:

  • Those with byes, now jockeying to avoid fifth place and the road quarterfinal series that comes with it.
  • A gang of four teams looking to host one of three first-round series.
  • A pair of squads trying to avoid finishing last.

 

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown:

  • Robert Morris: The Colonials are the only team so far to clinch a top-four finish. They’ll get a first-round bye and host a quarterfinal series. RMU needs two points to win the regular season title. They can also clinch first with losses by Holy Cross, Air Force and RIT.
  • Air Force, Holy Cross and RIT: Have a (very) outside chance to finish first, and can do no worse than fifth.
  • Mercyhurst: Has also clinched a bye, but can’t finish first. Second through fifth are the possible outcomes.
  • Canisius, Sacred Heart, Army and Bentley: Will end up between sixth and ninth.
  • Niagara and AIC: Will finish in the bottom two slots and are traveling in the opening round of the playoffs.

A playoff atmosphere

This past weekend’s series between first-place Robert Morris and second-place Air Force lived up to its billing.

The teams took turns knocking each other around, with RMU jumping out to a 4-0 lead on Friday en route to a 7-4 victory. The Falcons turned the tables on Saturday, scoring three times in the the first period, including a pair of goals in the opening 1:04 of the contest, and coasted to a 4-1 win.

The split means each school got something out of the weekend: Robert Morris clinched a home quarterfinal series and Air Force guaranteed itself a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

And with the win on Saturday, Air Force joined Robert Morris as the only schools to record a victory against every other league opponent this season.

Consistency is key

Sacred Heart’s twin 4-3 wins against Canisius knocked the Golden Griffins out of contention for a bye, and ruined their streak of getting at least one point out of every weekend conference series to date.

It’s no surprise that the three teams that have been able to collect points every weekend so far are at the top of the standings: Robert Morris, Air Force and Holy Cross. None have been swept so far.

RMU finishes up with a home-and home series with Canisius, while Air Force travels to Niagara and Holy Cross travels to, and then hosts, Sacred Heart.

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