A look back at the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Best 3-24 Team in the Nation
Because of the overall struggles this year by the AHA, Army ranks as the 59th team in the nation according to statistical rankings. But anyone who’s watched the Black Knights over the course of their current 13-game losing streak would see a team that’s falling just short in a case of almost-not-quite on almost every night.
Army held a 1-0 lead on Friday through 20 minutes of play, outplaying the high-powered, second-place Bentley Falcons at Tate Rink. The steady, powerful forecheck by the Black Knights outhustled the faster, more agile and quick Falcons, and a team averaging over three goals per game mustered just six shots on goal. But the cadets surrendered five goals in the second period en route to a 6-1 defeat.
On Saturday, Army once again took a 1-0 lead on a great offensive move by forward CJ Reuschlein. Undressing goalie Branden Komm, he made a perfect deke to the backhand and went top shelf on a play that shocked many of the 700 fans in attendance. But again Army couldn’t hold, and Bentley tied the game late in the period, then scored three unanswered over the next 30 minutes or so to take a 4-1 lead. This time, though, Army rallied back to tie the game with an extra-attacker power play goal with under a minute to go. Bentley would ultimately win in overtime, but it was one of those games where the winning team left with a feeling of defeat.
“I thought our guys showed great resiliency and really battled back,” said Army head coach Brian Riley following Saturday’s game. “We played a great hockey game against a great hockey team, and we just couldn’t get over the top. I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played, especially when we were down 4-1 and never gave up. Our players deserved a better fate, but I think it showed we’re a lot better than our record would indicate.”
Once again, Army played Bentley tough in Bentley’s barn, a trend that’s occurred over the last few years to result in a great respect and admiration between the two sides. “I certainly give Army credit,” said Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist. “They were phenomenal (on Saturday). They are a great team and played with a lot of energy. They should really be proud of their game.”
“What (Soderquist) and his staff have accomplished (at Bentley) have done to make this a championship type program is amazing,” said Riley. “That was a great hockey game, and I love playing against Bentley.”
Unfortunately for Army, the loss sealed their fate as the 12th place team in Atlantic Hockey this year. They’ll travel to the fifth seed in three weeks when the playoffs begin. Bentley, meanwhile, remains two points back of first place Mercyhurst.
Another Rough Showing at Ritter
I’ll talk about it more this week in the weekly column, but RIT’s really struggling to close the doors on Ritter Arena. This past weekend, they were blown out in their final home games before the season finale, losing 6-3 and 6-2 to first place Mercyhurst. Nardo Natzgaam had three goals on the weekend as the Lakers put up 12 goals despite being outshot on Saturday by a 42-29 margin.
Kyle Cook added a goal and two assists in the second game on the weekend as the Lakers scored three times on just eight shots. “We fired a lot of shots,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson after the game. “But we didn’t get enough good looks. The weekend came down to a lot of little things, which was the difference. We have to keep a good mental frame and continue to compete hard.”
RIT finished a six game homestand with an 0-4-2 record. More alarming is that they’ve tumbled to 10th place in the standings, one point ahead of Sacred Heart, with three of their last four games on the road. Failing to defend Ritter Arena, they may not get a chance to extend the arena’s lifeline after they close the doors on the season finale. They’ll head to Air Force this weekend before a home-and-home brings the curtain down on the Ritter in two weeks against Canisius.
Best Series You Probably Didn’t Watch
AIC and Sacred Heart split this past weekend with a pair of heart-stopping and clutch-pounding games. Sacred Heart traveled up to the Olympia Ice Center on Friday, blowing a 4-1 second period lead before wining in overtime over the host Yellow Jackets, 5-4. AIC returned the favor on Saturday, heading down to Milford, Connecticut and winning a wild 7-6 affair.
On Saturday, AIC held a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period but blew it to allow the Pioneers to tie the game at 4-4 after two. The Jackets then scored three times to Sacred Heart’s one, getting the final goal as an empty net strike with under 30 seconds left. But STILL that wasn’t enough, as the Pioneers scored nine seconds after the empty net goal to cut the lead to 7-6. It was too little too late, and AIC walked away with two points in one of the most exciting games of the year.
It was one of the most intense weekends of the year. But if the most intense weekend of the year happens and nobody was around to see it, did it really happen? A listed attendance of 76 went to the game on Friday with 144 reported for Saturday’s game.
AIC stands tied with Holy Cross for the last home slot in the standings. Before they have to play Bentley next week in the season finale, they’ll play this week in a home-and-home against those Crusaders. Saturday’s game is in Springfield. Consider this my open challenge to the student base to get out and support their Yellow Jackets, who have never hosted a playoff series in the history of Atlantic Hockey and are poised with a golden opportunity to seal that honor up with a good showing this weekend.