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College Hockey:
Three Things: January 26, 2014

The weekend in Atlantic Hockey was remarkably tame compared to what happened in ECAC. Two points for you to contrast:

  • There were three 5-on-3 advantages granted the whole weekend in AHA play.  There were three 5-on-3 advantages granted to Yale in the first 15 minutes of their game against Brown, including, at one point, a 41-4 penalty minute difference between the Bears and Bulldogs, respectively, with two ejections.
  • ECAC officials assessed 125 minutes worth of penalties to Union and RPI as a result of the fracas at the end of the game.  There will no doubt be exchanges of phone calls between the league and those two institutions this week with further discipline on the way.  For the AHA’s entire weekend, there 190 penalty minutes across nine games, excluding the exhibition between Army and the Royal Military College of Canada.

That’s not included in my three things, but I just wanted to point those two out.  Whenever something like those extremities happen, there is almost assuredly some type of review from the league office.  I’m not saying the teams, the leagues, or the style of play are better in the AHA.  I’m just saying that this week is one where I’m sure league officials are sitting back and quietly breathing easy that they don’t have to sort through the mess that happened elsewhere.

Let’s jump into the three (okay, I lied… four… actually, let’s make it five. This was a phenomenal weekend.) things coming out of the AHA weekend that was:

Collision Course Set For Erie

First place Mercyhurst and second place Bentley will meet next weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. They will enter the weekend separated by just two points thanks to Canisius’ rally on Saturday (more on that in a couple paragraphs). It is arguably the biggest weekend of games in the league to this point in the season.

The Falcons got to this point by dispatch archnemesis Holy Cross for the third time this year. Once again, it was a back-and-forth game where the ‘Saders never really went away. Even after Bentley took a 4-2 lead late, Holy Cross kept hanging around, cutting the lead to 4-3 before the road team tacked on an empty net strike. It sealed the first season sweep for Bentley of Holy Cross since 2009, coincidentally the last time they won a season series with their rival and the last time they went to the conference final four. They also broke more records in the process (again, more on that later).

Mercyhurst rallied to win on Thursday in their rivalry weekend game with Canisius, but the Golden Griffins scored five unanswered to pummel the Lakers on Saturday. It was a shocking display against a normally fundamentally sound Laker team, and it exposed a flaw in their game. Coach Rick Gotkin’s team has very quietly been running through the league all season, but in the last two weeks, they’re now 1-1-2 with some alarming collapses. They led 3-2 in the third period against UConn in both games last week and tied both (they also led the second game, 3-0, in the second period). They led Canisius 3-1 before losing 7-4. And their win came as a result of a mad dash comeback down 1-0 late with three goals in the final three minutes.

Record Setting Season Continues for Bentley

The Bentley Falcons broke more records this weekend with their 5-3 win over Holy Cross. Andrew Gladiuk scored his 11th and 12th power play goals on the year. That breaks the record of 11 at the Division I level and ties the all-time program record. And Steve Weinstein got his 29th and 30th assists, breaking the Division I record held by his coach, Ryan Soderquist, and coming within striking distance of the all-time record of 31. He is the first D1 Bentley player with 30 assists in a single season, and he did it in 24 games.

They become the fourth and fifth program records to fall for Bentley this season after Brett Gensler broke the Division I scoring and Division I goals records and Branden Komm broke the all-time program wins record by a goalie while becoming just the second goalie to appear in 100 career games. The power play for Bentley is ranked second in the nation at 28.1%. Mercyhurst has been the tape-to-tape leader in the league to this point, but the argument is that Bentley has the potential to be the most dominant. They’re also on pace to shatter the team’s record for regular season wins (17 in 2008-2009).

What’s all of this mean? It means that Bentley is finally becoming the team we all thought they were last season. They’re borderline a complete team, and this weekend, they’ll have the chance to prove that the stats aren’t just stats and that they are backing it up when they take on one of the league’s best. They’ll get to go from a good team with a limitless ceiling to a league powerhouse. So far, Bentley’s beaten pretty much everyone; they’ll have their hands full when they head west for a titan battle with the league’s preseason favorite.

Hottest Team in the League

I love it when a team proves me right. This week, I talked to Derek Schooley about his streaky hot Robert Morris Colonial team. One of the things he talked about was his team’s need to compartmentalize and have short memories about a slow start in 2013. They needed to go shift-by-shift and play game-by-game against tough opponents to try and make some noise within the second half of the season. He didn’t write off his teams chances but acknowledged they’d have a tougher time than others at making up ground.

Facing their biggest test of the second half of the season, RMU hosted Air Force and punched the Falcons right in the mouth. Outshooting the academy on Friday by a 41-24 margin, the Colonials essentially won a 3-0 game, giving up a goal with less than 10 seconds left after they already scored the obligatory empty-netter. On Saturday, they struck three times in the second period alone, putting an end to Air Force’s chances and sending the cadets back west with zero points.

All of a sudden, Robert Morris is in fifth place, two points out of fourth. They’re the hottest team in the west. They’re playing complete hockey and getting hot. And all of a sudden, nobody should want to play them. Before the year, I said I thought RMU was going to be a force this year. After failing the first part of the season, they’re going to be a factor as the playoffs draw closer.

RMU hosts Army this weekend.

Fast Times in the AHA

Updating the playoff race for you, Bentley and Mercyhurst both have a chance to clinch home ice for at least the first round this weekend with more than two points. Likewise, Army is on the verge of being eliminated from first round bye consideration if they don’t come away with two points against Robert Morris.

We’re starting to see some separation; Bentley and Mercyhurst are forming a breakaway at the top with UConn successfully fighting to keep pace. Air Force and RMU could catch UConn, but they’re forming a third pack with Canisius in the fight for the final first round bye. Niagara and RIT are jostling for the same positioning RIT and Canisius fought for last year (with some work ahead of them to get into the race for a bye), while Holy Cross is in position to get home ice once we get into the bulk of the conference schedule due to weaker remaining opponents. AIC and Sacred Heart are factors but need a team to really falter in order to get first round home ice, and Army is increasingly appearing as the 12th seeded team.

But this is Atlantic Hockey. Next week? Something different.

A Final Word

One of my all-time favorite things took place this week when Army played the Royal Military College of Canada. The RMC Paladins is located in Kingston, Ontario, and the two teams played at the Rogers K-Rock Centre. Army won, 5-2, to win the Challenge Cup in its first visit to Canada since 2006, while wearing their black jerseys with “DM” stickers on the backs of their helmets in memory of Major Danny MacLeod. Maj. MacLeod was a former RMC head coach who helped maintain this rivalry over several decades.

Regardless of politics, the game serves as a reminder that these hockey players are united in their goals to protect and serve the great nations they represent Despite a normally intense hockey game, there’s little after-the-whistle funny business. With this being the final game of a three-year deal, I can only hope that it continues a great tradition into the future.

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