Three things from a wild and ever-changing big story weekend for the Atlantic Hockey Association.
In its 10-plus season existence, no AHA program had ever beaten the Boston College Eagles. Earlier this year, Army went to Conte Forum and allowed 11 goals. But resident giant killer Holy Cross, the team that became the first AHA program to win an NCAA Tournament game back in 2006, jumped out to a 5-1 second period lead over the 7th-ranked Eagles, then held off a furious third period rally to win, 5-4.
It was a seminal breakout moment for the Crusaders, who were outscored, 37-24, by opponents entering Friday night. But they controlled the middle of the ice and scored four of their five goals on a rush. They also received 34 saves from goalie Matt Ginn, who head coach Paul Pearl credited with a great performance after the game. “He was able to square up to the puck and keep composed in those scrambling situations,” said Pearl after the game.
For Atlantic Hockey, this was the biggest, most resounding win since Sacred Heart upended UMass-Lowell to start the year. The league is struggling through one of its worst non-conference showings ever, and wins against quality opponents are few and far between. But they’re 3-10 against Hockey East and 8-43-5 against every other league. Neither number is great. But considering five Hockey East teams occupy spots in the national poll and the AHA has wins against two of them (the 7th and 8th ranked teams in the nation as of press time)? That’s a silver lining if there ever was one.
Battle of Falcons Goes to the East
In a weekend where the western division reminded the east who’s boss, a bright spot came from Bentley, who traveled west to Colorado to take on their Falcon counterparts at Air Force. For the second time in three years, Bentley took three points, having now not lost a game at the academy since November, 2009. In the first game, Bentley rallied from down 1-0 and 2-1 to force two ties and eventually take the lead. Brett Switzer scored the game-tying goal in the second period after Jason Torf saved Brett Gensler’s initial shot, then tacked on the game-winner with about four minutes left in regulation. Justin Breton added an empty net strike to give Bentley the win.
Playing with house money, Bentley rallied again from down a goal in the first period to take a 2-1 lead following goals by Alex Grieve and Gensler. But Frank Serratore made the bold decision to pull his goalie with two minutes left, and Chad Demers scored with just about 30 seconds left to salvage a point.
Bentley is now undefeated in its last four games and has lost only once in its last six – an 8-7 loss to AIC considered by both teams to be a fluke of a game. The Falcons are now tied with Air Force for second in the league, one point back of Mercyhurst. They also now have wins in hand as the east continues to struggle with the western scheduling pod. They’ll entertain Robert Morris at home next weekend.
West Dominates East….Again
As mentioned in my column last week, the western scheduling pod usually dominates the east. And once again, that held true despite Bentley’s weekend against Air Force. The west went otherwise undefeated en route to a 5-1-2 weekend, taking four points with RIT sweeping at Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst sweeping at AIC and taking three points with Canisius’ win and tie over UConn.
Entering the weekend, there was a total logjam thanks to the evenly played intradivisional rivalries. As the teams play out across divisional boundaries, the shift and separation will begin in the standings. After starting out 3-0 in league play, AIC has lost four straight, falling from first to seventh. In contrast, Mercyhurst is now 5-1 and threatening the same type of separation Niagara had a year ago.
The east-west matchups continue next week. Key games will include 11th-place Robert Morris (who split their only series with an eastern school when they hosted Holy Cross) at 2nd-place Bentley (1-3-3 against RMU as AHA members); Air Force (the other team tied for second) at Holy Cross (one of four teams tied for 7th); and Niagara at Connecticut in games between two sixth-place teams.