Three things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
1. This was the first weekend of two-game inter pod series between teams that will not see each other again unless it’s in the postseason.
The marquee matchup was between Holy Cross and Air Force, two teams that are expected to be near the top of the standings. Nothing was settled with a split. The Crusaders overcame a 2-0 first period deficit on Friday and dominated the rest of the way, outshooting the Falcons 34-17 over the final two periods.
On Saturday, Air Force again held a 2-0 lead after the first period, but this time kept it rolling for a 7-0 win.
The big winners this weekend were Mercyhurst and Niagara, which each captured four points and the season series with Sacred Heart and Connecticut, respectively.
2. Things are shaping up for another log jam in the standings. Sweeps are going to be hard to come by, and the teams which have been at the bottom of the standings are narrowing the gap. Army and American International are showing improvement early in the season. I saw both games of the AIC-RIT series and it was a pair of close, entertaining contests. Rochester Institute of Technology took three points from AIC thanks to a 3-0 win on Saturday. Friday’s 2-2 tie featured a combined 74 shots on goal (42-31 RIT).
3. Which leads me to a discussion of attendance in the the AHA. AIC was generous with its reported attendance of 185 and 237 this weekend. It’s a pity that more weren’t there to see some very entertaining hockey. Right now the bottom six teams in Division I in attendance are Atlantic Hockey teams. In all nine of the bottom twelve are from the AHA. Only the usual suspects, Air Force and RIT are drawing well. Mercyhurst has yet to play a home game, so the Lakers aren’t included. Holy Cross has a smaller rink, so despite being 45th in attendance, the Crusaders have sold out both of their games at the Hart Center, squeezing an average of 1,712 people into a rink that’s listed as holding 1,400. Robert Morris is also filling a respectable 72% of its seats despite a ranking of 53rd. But the rest of the schools near the bottom are filling less than 50% of their arenas so far. Hopefully this will pick up as potential fans are missing some good games. We’ll check back on this in a few weeks.
4. I lied. Four things this week. On Thursday, Atlantic Hockey handed down its most severe sanctions ever, suspending Canisius’s Matthew Grazen seven additional games as a result of his checking-from-behind penalty on Air Force forward George Michalke. Grazen was DQed in the game, mandating a one-game suspension. The league tacked on seven more, including two this past weekend. Grazen will sit the next three and then is suspended for Canisius’ series at Air Force in February. That move, meant to head off any retaliation, is also unprecedented.
These eight total games surpass the six game suspension handed down to Canisius’ Carl Hudson for his part in a brawl that took place at RIT on Feb 9, 2008. Hudson was assessed a double DQ for leaving the penalty box and slamming a player’s head to the ice during the fight. That was worth three games and the league tacked on three more.
Frankly, Grazen’s actions don’t seem as egregious as Hudson’s. I have seen the tape of the Grazen infraction and it’s dangerous but I didn’t see an intent to injure. Seven games is probably excessive but I can’t fault the league in wanting to send a message that these kind of dangerous actions will have severe consequences.