A look back at the lessons learned in the world of Atlantic Hockey this past weekend.
Non-conference struggles continue.
Last week, the only wins for the AHA in non-conference play came in a big way, as Sacred Heart defeated #1-ranked UMass-Lowell and Bentley defeated Nebraska-Omaha. Despite those highs, the league went 2-14. A week later, the struggles continued as Sacred Heart was blown out by RPI for the second time in two weeks, 7-1. Despite taking a 1-0 lead and tying Providence College 1-1 through the first period (and despite trailing by only one over halfway through the second period), AIC gave up five third period goals and lost, 10-4. UConn absorbed two losses to Minnesota State in Mankato, and Holy Cross took two losses in a home-and-home with Northeastern. The only bright spots were a 0-1-1 weekend by RIT, a split by Mercyhurst at Merrimack, and a sweep in Colorado by Air Force of Penn State. Earlier in the week, Mercyhurst lost at home against Ferris State, leaving the league with a 4-25-1 record in non-conference play.
It won’t get any easier this week, either, with Bentley taking on Quinnipiac and Harvard; Holy Cross will also Quinnipiac; Niagara plays Denver before continuing conference play with Air Force; Robert Morris has a home-and-home with Ohio State; Mercyhurst heads to Fairbanks to play Alaska; RIT plays Penn State; and Connecticut hosts Union. There’s going to be substantial work left to do if the AHA wants to come close to its 25 non-conference wins from a year ago.
Bentley turns back the clock, for better and for worse.
Bentley gave Red Gendron and his Maine Black Bears all they could handle in their first home game of the season, losing 2-1 and displaying flashes of a stingy and physical defense that became the team’s hallmark over the past five years. But while the defense has started to bear down by displaying a new attitude after last year’s horrible finish, the team’s highly-touted offense has struggled, especially on the power play which was only 11% two years ago before last year’s breakout. Bentley failed on multiple 5-on-3 opportunities in the second period and on two power plays in the last five minutes of the third (including one with under two minutes to play), dropping to 3-for-21 along the way. Part of the team’s problem is that its top returning scorer, Brett Gensler, has just one assist with no goals and is -2 since registering two goals and a +1 against Nebraska-Omaha on the season’s opening night.
“We’re right there,” said Ryan Soderquist following the loss on Saturday in Orono, “but we always seem to be missing that one thing that can tie it all together. That starts at the top with our power play and our top line. Instead of standing and looking for a pass, we need to be able to move without the puck and get into position for that pass and that good look on net. There’s been too much standing around (over the first four games). Once we get that figured out, we’ll be an exciting team that can compete at a high level.”
CHA Rivalry Renewed in Big Way
Game of the week honors have to be considered for the conference game turned in by Niagara and Robert Morris in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The teams combined for 77 shots (39 for Niagara, 38 for RMU) and traded the lead by scoring one goal apiece in each period. The Purple Eagles struck first at the 5:35 mark of the first period, but Robert Morris responded less than three minutes later. The Colonials then took the lead on the power play to start the second period, striking at 10:10 off the stick of Ben Robillard, but Niagara tied the game with a man-up strike of their own from Tyler Akeson with less than a minute to go in the second frame. Robert Morris took the lead back when David Friedmann scored at 6:49 on the power play, but Niagara tied it when Mike Conderman found Isaac Kohls with 9:15 to go. Adrian Ignani and Terry Shafer were tremendous in net for both teams, with Ignani saving 35 shots for Niagara and RMU’s Shafer stopping 36.
This marked another weekend of solid conference play for Niagara, once again illustrating the parity and competitiveness within the league ranks seen throughout the past week. Robert Morris will see Niagara next on Valentine’s Day weekend in February.