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College Hockey:
Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – December 15, 2013

Three things (okay, four) from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:

Oh the weather outside is frightful.

People in Rochester, New York went to a snowstorm at a baseball field and watched a hockey game break out.  With about a foot and a half of snow falling in the upstate area, the RIT Tigers and Niagara Purple Eagles battled through a slopfest outside.  The snow was so thick during the women’s game earlier that timeouts caused delays as players and work crews shoveled the ice off.  The men’s game had more of the same, and pregame ceremonies were shortened to avoid the ice becoming too snow covered.

So snow covered was the game that skaters left wakes of snow piles as they skated through the rink.  Skating with the puck wasn’t an option, and players were forced to lift the puck to make passes.  Predictably, the game ended in a 2-2 tie, even after the teams adjusted to the conditions.

“We just wanted to get the puck in, the way it was snowing out there,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson after the game.  “We wanted to get the puck deep and shoot anything at the net.”

Somewhere in Rochester this morning, children among the 5,000 fans in attendance at Frontier Field are shoveling off a frozen lake to play some shinny.  While the game play was sloppy and tough to deal with, they’ll be happy to try and recreate the 16-degree frigid winter wonderland they saw last night.  “I was worried about rain, sun, and warm temperatures, and we got January,” joked Wilson after the game.  But he put it into perspective saying, “It was a great event for our players, our school, and the Rochester community.  The weather definitely made for some tough play, but both teams adjusted well.”

The “Snow Game” will resonate in the standings.

The fact that the game ended in a tie is something that can’t be lost on the AHA faithful.  Because of the conditions, goals and shots were at a premium; both teams had nine shots in the second period but scored three goals (two by RIT).  But had this game been played inside, an RIT team that’s been undefeated in their previous five games might’ve had a different result against a Niagara team swept last weekend by UConn.  Instead, the tie resulted in RIT getting one point instead of two.  That cost them a chance to move into third place and a one-point lead over Connecticut and Air Force.  With just one point, the Tigers are now tied with the two schools, two points back of Bentley for second and four back of Mercyhurst for first.

I’m not going to say that better weather or playing the game indoors would’ve resulted in a different final score, but if RIT or Niagara misses out on a first round bye or first round home series by one point, this game will be the one I point to and say, “That had the biggest impact later down the road.”

How the Falcons Stole BU Christmas

After a dizzying week of varying opinions about Bentley’s chances at Boston University on Saturday, the result finally boiled down to where it matters – on the ice.  In that regard, the Falcons dominated; deemed an upset by most, they shocked the college hockey and sports world but didn’t shock themselves.  They controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, had BU scouted perfectly, and forced the Terriers into their game style.  For the better part of about 53 minutes, the Terriers looked predictable, slow, and, at times, disheartened or frustrated to the point where head coach David Quinn promised changes upcoming in his postgame press conference.

BU turned the light on for the last seven minutes of the third period in a last ditch comeback attempt, but at that point, they were already down 3-0.  After scoring a goal to make it 3-1, BU pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker.  Danny O’Regan had a wide open look on the stick side that Bentley netminder Branden Komm stopped.  It was a dastardly form of robbery, the back-breaking save that slammed whatever crack was open in the door.  Bentley added an empty net strike, and Komm became the all-time winningest goalie in program history with victory #36.

Bentley was outshot, 43-37, but their defense stood strong in front of Komm.  They went into the dirty areas, fought for pucks, and gave up their bodies.  Senior Zach Marginsky took a Brendan Collier slapshot right off the leg, went down the tunnel to his locker room, and returned less than four minutes later to deliver two quality shifts down the stretch late in the third.  And they found unsung heroes in players like Mike Berry and Kyle O’Brien, both of whom turned in solid efforts from the blue line.

Bentley is now 6-0-1 in their last seven, 7-1-1 in their last nine.  In the eight games in which they haven’t lost, their GAA is 1.71.  They’re over .500 for the first time since they were 11-10-1 last year.  They haven’t been multiple games over .500 since they were 9-7-3 on January 8, 2010.  As they’ve proven they can rise to the occasion as the stakes get higher, they’ll have another chance with even higher stakes.  Their next game is December 28th when they “host” Holy Cross at Fenway Park.

The 12 Pains of Christmas

AIC traveled to Orono, Maine this weekend for a weekend set with Hockey East’s surprise squad of the year, the Maine Black Bears.  And for two nights, the Yellow Jackets again served as a tune-up for a more powerful team, getting outscored 12-2 over the weekend and receiving losses 11 and 12 on the year.  It was a painful reminder of the long haul of a season after they stole the hearts and minds of the media and fans with their 3-0 start to conference play.

In our AIC season preview capsule, I prognosticated that AIC would tumble back to the bottom of the standings if they couldn’t replace what was arguably the program’s best senior class.  The freshmen coming in would experience growing pains, ultimately leading to a season with more losses.  And much of it hinged on the defense, which lost some of the league’s most underrated players in Chris Markiewicz and Jeff Ceccacci.  There was also the task of replacing Ben Meisner, the all-everything AHA goalie capable of winning a game all on his own.

Opponents are putting the puck on the AIC net to the tune of 41.3 shots per game.  In 15 games, all three goalies faced a combined total of 620 shots.  Combining that fact with the transition to a new goaltending regime, the Yellow Jackets are giving up over five goals per game, dead last in the NCAA.  Since beating Holy Cross, 1-0, back on November 15th, they’re 0-9.  Across those nine losses, they’ve given up less than four goals only once.

Despite this, some positives.  AIC is 3-0 when leading after two periods, and they’re 2-3 in one-goal games (2-2 in the AHA).  They’re also 2-3 when scoring first.  It proves that, when they can protect the goalie and/or get a game-changing performance in back, they’re capable of stealing wins.  When the offense is clicking, they’re capable of winning.  But it won’t get any easier after their break for the holidays.  They’ll return to action on January 3rd and 4th when they play Air Force.

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