Three things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
First things first
When the dust settled, Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross and Connecticut earned the top four positions in the standings and first-round byes.
First round playoff pairings are:
No. 12 Sacred Heart at No. 5 Robert Morris
No. 11 Army at No. 6 Mercyhurst
No. 10 Bentley at No. 7 Canisius
No. 9 American International at No. 8 Rochester Institute of Technology
The series are best-of-three affairs and begin this Friday.
It’s something you rarely see, but it happened three times on Saturday: a team pulling its goalie in overtime. Mercyhurst opted for an extra attacker against Robert Morris, pulling Max Strang late in the extra session. The Colonials failed to convert on the opportunity, and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
The Lakers needed a win to leapfrog the Colonials into fifth place. There was no downside, because a loss or tie would have kept Mercyhurst in sixth.
American International used the same strategy in overtime at Bentley. The Yellow Jackets needed a win to move past the Falcons into ninth place. A loss or tie would leave them in tenth. AIC goalie Ben Meisner was removed late in overtime, but returned to the net when the Yellow Jackets took a penalty with 12 seconds to play.
It was then Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist’s turn to gamble, and he called Branden Komm to the bench for a six-on-four opportunity. But the plan backfired when AIC’s Blake Peake swatted the puck from his own zone down the ice and into the empty net with 1.3 seconds to play, giving the Yellow Jackets the 4-3 win and jumping them past Bentley into ninth place.
It was AIC’s 12th win of the season, tying for the most in the team’s Division I era. The Yellow Jackets also posted 12 victories in 1998-1999, their first year in the MAAC.
Niagara has been successful in its three seasons in Atlantic Hockey, compiling a 49-21-11 record in conference play over that span, including a 20-5-2 mark and a regular championship this season.
But Air Force has been the king of the hill since joining the conference in 2006, winning five of the six playoff championships. The Falcons showed this weekend that the road to an AHA title still goes through Air Force. They swept Niagara 5-2 and 6-1 to clinch the No. 2 seed in the upcoming playoffs.
“This weekend was a pretty dominating performance,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. ”Our guys played very good against a very good opponent. I thought we’d play well this weekend and I thought the games would be entertaining, but I didn’t think we put almost 100 shots on them and win two games the way we did.”
The sweep knocked Niagara from eighth to 13th in the USCHO.com PairWise rankings. Both the Falcons and Purple Eagles are off until March 13 when each will host a quarterfinal series.