The goaltender missed more than two months with a lower-body injury but returned to help the Tigers sweep Mercyhurst.
On the season:
Dan: 104-69-24 (.589)
Chris: 119-54-24 (.665)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 19 and Saturday, February 20
Robert Morris at Air Force
Dan:The two best teams in the league are going head to head, with RMU as the team that’s been on top tape-to-tape for a second straight year essentially. But Air Force has a brilliant opportunity, at home, to all of a sudden retake the lead as the standard bearer. With all of that behind them, this is a good opportunity to, as Bruce Springsteen would say, find out if you’re “real, baby, or just a brilliant disguise.” I’m going with the home team in the altitude.Air Force sweeps.
Chris: You can’t ask for a better late season matchup, with first-place RMU and second-place Air Force tangling on the penultimate weekend of the regular season. Air Force just doesn’t get swept at home, so even though I think RMU might be “Tougher Than the Rest”, I’m going with a split. Air Force wins Friday; Robert Morris on Saturday.
American International vs. Holy Cross
Dan:Holy Cross hosts on Friday before heading to Springfield on Saturday. Fun fact: Holy Cross hasn’t lost to the Yellow Jackets since November 15, 2013, and they haven’t lost in Springfield since January 16, 2010. Alex Murray is probably the league’s most underrated goalie, and he could easily steal a game, but I’m taking a team searching for “Glory Days” in the form of a first round bye.Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, there’s no “Fade Away” in AIC, which has lost some heartbreakers. But I think the Crusaders will be up to the task as they close in on a first-round bye. Holy Cross sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Army West Point
Dan: Army West Point is absolutely on “Fire” at this point, led by goalie Parker Gahagen. We’ve been showering the with love, but the reality is that they’re drawing an incredibly tough team this weekend. I love the Black Knights, and I don’t think they’re going to lose, but I don’t necessarily think they’re going to sweep either when playing a Laker team with so much to play for. That said, stay tuned for “The Rising” of Army, who I still think is a team to watch heading into the postseason.Army wins on Friday. Mercyhurst wins on Saturday.
Chris: As we’ve pointed out in the past, there’s a nice connection between these teams, some family “Ties That Bind” between Army West Point coach Brian Riley and his son Jack, who’s a key player for Mercyhurst. I’m going with a split here. Army wins Friday; Mercyhurst wins Saturday.
Sacred Heart at Canisius
Dan:Sacred Heart’s struggled to pick up wins, having only beaten UConn since their last league win against Mercyhurst over a month ago, but they were able to reset last week thanks to a bye week. Canisius is 4-1-3 over that same stretch, coming off a huge weekend in which they outscored Bentley, 9-4. Needless to say, the winner of this weekend will have “No Surrender” in them.Canisius sweeps but don’t be shocked if the Pioneers take something back from Buffalo with them.
Chris:I’m looking for Canisius to build off a great weekend at Bentley and take care of business at home. The Golden Griffins are within striking distance of the “Promised Land” of a first round bye, and success here will affirm they’re a team that’s peaking at the right time. Canisius sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Niagara
Dan:This series starts out in Niagara Falls on Friday before turning back to Rochester on Saturday. Given RIT’s offense scoring nearly three goals per game, we’ll really find out how “Born to Run” they are against Niagara, a team entering tied for 50th in scoring defense at 3.37 goals per game. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This series pairs teams from “My Hometown” as well as that of the girl I told, “I Wanna Marry You” over 25 years ago. With RIT’s goaltending situation uncertain and Niagara’s propensity for finishing strong, I’m going with a Niagara sweep.
Dan was fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen a couple of weeks ago in Boston, and I will be in the house for his concert in Rochester next weekend. Dan trails me in our head-to-head picks battle by a wide margin, but with the Boss’ encouragement, he’s “Working on a Dream.”
So here we are again in Atlantic Hockey, another postseason run to the roses upon us. It’s amazing how the start of the playoffs, a time of tumultuous finishes (especially for a one-berth league to the national tournament), is essentially calmer than the storm leading up to it. In typical AHC fashion, an 11-team demolition derby heads into its final two weeks with virtually nothing fully decided.
There’s been some separation, with Air Force pulling two points ahead of Holy Cross in second place and RIT riding the crest of goalie Nick Amato (more on him in a bit) to a weekend split with AIC. Further down, though, only four points separate what would be a quarterfinals home series from a first round series from Holy Cross to Canisius.
Then there’s more separation, with the Golden Griffins now three points up on Bentley thanks to a four-point weekend. But the Falcons, who enter a bye week, are only three points up on Sacred Heart, meaning they could, conceivably, go, in two weeks time, from a team on the rise with a five game unbeaten streak threatening for fifth place to a team on the road in the first round.
Even down in the bottom of the league, where Niagara beat AIC a couple of weeks ago, there’s a tie for 10th place.
The bottom line is that the entire AHC is going to bounce like a pinball against bumpers and buzzers. There has to be a twist, but there really isn’t. However it shakes out will leave a well-paved road to the final. For right now, however, the big story, once again, remains that things are coming to focus on the long and winding road.
After losing on Friday to Holy Cross, Air Force rallied on Saturday for a 4-2 victory over the host Crusaders. It was a game where the Falcons never trailed but wound up tied on multiple occasions. Holy Cross rallied from down 1-0 and 2-1 to tie the game up, but each time the Falcons managed to strike first to break up the tie games.
That puts Air Force in cruising altitude. Robert Morris still controls the league table with 34 points, but the Falcons’ 31 points all but assures them of a first round bye. They have a six point lead on sixth place Canisius with eight remaining points up for grabs, meaning they’ve essentially stamped their ticket to the quarterfinals round along with the Colonials.
Friday’s loss was the first Falcon loss since Bentley beat Air Force out in Colorado, 5-3. In the time since, Air Force is 8-1-3, outscoring opponents 37-16. It was also the first time they allowed three or more goals since that Bentley loss.
Despite the split, Air Force is continuing to roll. That’s a frightening prospect entering the postseason stretch, where the Falcons created a virtual playground. After winning five titles in six years, however, Air Force is looking for their first trophy in four years, and they’re putting pressure on Robert Morris for the top seed along the way.
Watch out for West Point
As predicted (although on wrong nights), Army West Point picked up a split with first place Robert Morris this weekend, winning a 3-1 game on Friday before dropping a 3-0 decision on Saturday.
It was a weekend all about Black Knight goalie Parker Gahagen, who made 39 saves. We’ve been looking for the team who could be the dark horse candidate coming down the stretch hot, and it’s beginning to appear, more and more, like Army is that squad. Gahagen added 43 saves in the defeat on Saturday, putting him at the front of the line for weekly honors.
He’s made 35-plus saves in three of his last four games, making 38 in a tie against Holy Cross last weekend. With their recent run that included a six game unbeaten stretch, Army’s pulled within striking distance of sixth place. They sit in eighth place, good enough for a home series if the season ended today, one point back of seventh place Bentley and four points behind sixth place Canisius.
The last Army West Point home playoff game was in 2011, but that stands to fall this year. The cadets play three of their final four games at home, with two home games coming up this week against Mercyhurst. That’ll lead to a season-ending home-and-home with Bentley, the team sitting directly in front of them (and who is idle this week). Army sits one point behind those Falcons, four points behind sixth place Canisius.
With the Golden Griffins playing Sacred Heart (the team two points behind Army for the final home playoff slot), things are going to get very interesting in the race for home ice in the first round.
Who is this guy?
So in full disclosure, I was typing this up on Saturday night and accidentally wound up publishing it. So if you’re reading this late, you’re not crazy – I really only did two things instead of three. But nevertheless, here’s the third:
If you haven’t heard of Nick Amato, you’re probably not alone. A 5’7″ netminder who played last year for the RIT club hockey team, he probably thought this weekend would be spent playing the final two games of the year against Drexel. But with Christian Short and Mike Rotolo both sidelined, the diminutive goalie from the hockey hotbed of Fort Lauderdale, Florida found himself in net, starting for a top four team in the AHC, in a key playoff race series against AIC.
There were growing pains. Despite RIT outshooting the Yellow Jackets by a 103-37 margin over the course of the weekend, the Tigers only earned a split in a pair of one-goal games. But the fact remains that one of the stories of the weekend is that “next man up” duties fell to a guy who, when thrust into the spotlight, managed to get a first career varsity win.
With the split, RIT managed to stay ahead of the game in third place, currently in a position for a first round bye and quarterfinals home series. In a season about team hockey, if this isn’t an indication of what that means, then I don’t know what is.
With the Friday night games in the books this weekend, let’s reset the playoff race heading into tonight, including some clinching scenarios that are on the table. A website that I use for this is playoffstatus.com, which provides (most of the time) up to the minute statuses on clinching and elimination scenarios, along with likely percentages for all finishing spots. The following are only the clinching scenarios heading into tonight, although scenarios do exist where teams could be eliminated from finishing in particular slots:
1. Robert Morris – 32 points
T-2. Air Force – 29 points
T-2. Holy Cross – 29 points
4. RIT – 28 points
5. Mercyhurst – 26 points
6. Canisius – 23 points
7. Bentley – 22 points
8. Army West Point – 21 points
9. Sacred Heart – 19 points
10. American Int’l – 14 points
11. Niagara – 13 points
If the playoffs started today (first round):
Niagara at Canisius
AIC at Bentley
Sacred Heart at Army West Point
Mercyhurst at RIT in the quarterfinals
RMU, Air Force, and Holy Cross would await series winners, reseeded.
What can be clinched tonight (teams in order of current standings):
Clinches at least the #5 seed (first round bye):
-Win vs. Army West Point
-Bentley win vs. Canisius
-Tie vs. Army West Point and Bentley tie vs. Canisius
-Tie vs. Army West Point and AIC win vs. RIT and Niagara win vs. Mercyhurst
Clinches at least the #4 seed (first round bye, home ice in quarterfinals):
-Win vs. Army West Point and Niagara win vs. Mercyhurst or AIC win vs. RIT
-Win vs. Army West Point and Niagara-Mercyhurst tie and AIC-RIT tie
-Tie vs. Army West Point and Bentley win or tie vs. Canisius and AIC win vs. RIT and Niagara win vs. Mercyhurst
Clinches at least the #6 seed (top first round home series seed):
-Win vs. Holy Cross
-Canisius win vs. Bentley and RMU win vs. Army West Point
-Tie vs. Holy Cross and Bentley-Canisius tie and RMU win vs. Army West Point
-Tie vs. Holy Cross and Bentley-Canisius tie and RMU tie vs. Army West Point and Niagara win vs. Mercyhurst
Clinches at least the #5 seed (first round bye):
-Win vs. Holy Cross and Bentley win vs. Canisius
Clinches at least the #6 seed (top seed in first round home series):
-Win vs. Air Force and Niagara win or tie vs. Mercyhurst or RMU win or tie vs. Army West Point
-Tie vs. Air Force and RMU win vs. Army West Point
-Tie vs. Air Force and RMU-Army West Point tie and Niagara win over Mercyhurst
Clinches at least the #7 seed (first round home series):
-Win or tie vs. AIC
-Canisius win or tie vs. Bentley
-RMU win or tie vs. Army West Point
Clinches at least the #6 seed (top seed in first round home series):
-Win vs. AIC and Canisius win or tie vs. Bentley and RMU win or tie vs. Army
-Tie vs. AIC and Canisius win vs. Bentley and RMU win vs. Army
Clinches at least the #8 seed (first round home series):
-Win vs. Niagara
-Tie vs. Niagara and Canisius win or tie vs. Bentley and RMU win over Army West Point
-Tie vs. Niagara and Canisius win over Bentley and RMU tie vs. Army West Point
Clinches at least the #7 seed (first round home series):
-Win vs. Niagara and Canisius win or tie vs. Bentley or RMU win or tie vs. Army West Point
-No clinching scenarios exist for Canisius based on tonight’s result
Clinches at least the #9 seed (top seed of road teams in first round):
-Win vs. Canisius or Mercyhurst win over Niagara
-Tie vs. Canisius and Mercyhurst tie vs. Niagara
Army West Point:
Clinches at least the #10 seed (middle seed of first round road teams):
-Tie vs. RMU and Mercyhurst win over Niagara or RIT tie vs. AIC
-RIT win over AIC
Clinches at least the #9 seed (top seed of road teams in first round):
-Win vs. RMU
-RIT win over AIC and Mercyhurst win over Niagara
-Tie vs. RMU and RIT tie vs. AIC and Mercyhurst win or tie vs. Niagara
-Tie vs. RMU and RIT win vs. AIC and Mercyhurst tie vs. Niagara
No clinching scenarios currently exist for Sacred Heart, AIC, or Niagara
On the season:
Dan: 100-64-22 (.597)
Chris: 115-49-22 (.677)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 12 and Saturday, February 13
Canisius at Bentley
Dan: Heading into this weekend, one point separates Bentley from seventh-place Canisius. The Falcons need this series in order to shore up some playoff positioning, especially since they don’t have a head-to-head tiebreaker with anyone in front of them. I’m calling for a split, but I’m more anxious about the weather. Wind chill temperatures wil dip as low as -25 (-32 Celsius) on Saturday. At the JAR, a building notorious for absorbing outside conditions, I should be a Dancicle by the third period. Bentley wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Just one point separates the sixth-place Falcons and seventh-place Golden Griffins, and both are well within striking distance of a first-round bye. Canisius returns to the JAR for the first time since their epic 2014 playoff series, won by the Griffs in three games. I don’t think it will go the same way this time. Bentley sweeps.
Air Force at Holy Cross
Dan: Holy Cross is all of a sudden a struggling team, running into an emotional bunch of Army cadets last weekend. Despite running up front all year, a tough showing this weekend could knock them as far back as fifth place – which would take them out of home ice in the quarterfinals. At the same time, they’re drawing an Air Force team that’s playing lights out lately. I think this is a candidate for series of the weekend, but I’m taking the high-flying Falcons. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: This is another series with huge playoff implications. Air Force sits in second place; Holy Cross in fourth just two points behind the Falcons. Holy Cross is winless in its last six games (0-2-4) while Air Force has gone ten games without a loss (7-0-3). Despite the Crusaders’ home ice advantage, I’m going with momentum here and picking Air Force to sweep.
Mercyhurst vs. Niagara
Dan: If Air Force opens the door, Mercyhurst could charge into fourth place. With just two home games left in Erie, I think the Lakers find a way to win on Friday before returning home for a win on Saturday. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: These are big games for the Lakers, who sit in fifth place, just two points out of fourth. Niagara showed signs of life with a sweep of AIC last weekend, but will face more of a challenge here. I think the Lakers find a way to get all four points.
American International at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: AIC hasn’t won since they picked up their third straight victory in a streak back on January 2nd. They’ve been getting closer, but they draw a Tiger team that’s lost only twice since early December. The defending champs are rounding into postseason form. RIT sweeps.
Chris: I expect a couple of streaks to continue here: AIC is winless in its last 12 games and RIT hasn’t lost in its last 14 contests against the Yellow Jackets. So I’m going with an RIT sweep.
Army West Point at Robert Morris
Dan: I’m a sucker for a good story, and I really think something weird happens when emotion focuses a team’s energy. Army West Point took three points from Holy Cross and can really send a statement with points this weekend. I think they pick up a win and start to position themselves for a run at their first home playoff games since 2011. Robert Morris wins on Friday. Army West Point wins on Saturday.
Chris: Army West Point is playing its best hockey of the season, unbeaten in its last five games. But RMU, currently in first place by three points over Air Force, can take some big steps here towards its second consecutive regular season title. So I’m going with a sweep by the Colonials.
Tuesday, February 16
Massachusetts-Lowell at American International
Dan: UMass-Lowell is in for a rude awakening when they depart Tsongas Arena, with its Jumbotron and cushioned seats for the Olympia Ice Center, a rink that might be colder than the JAR on Saturday. It’s a dangerous situation for UML, coming out of what’ll be a physical series with BU, and a loss could knock them to the wrong side of the Pairwise Rankings. That in and of itself should get them the win, but don’t count out AIC to make a couple of waves. UMass-Lowell wins…but it’s closer than you think.
Chris: This game is a great pickup for the Yellow Jackets, hosting the 11th-ranked River Hawks. But Lowell, which plays Boston University twice this weekend, could be firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble by Tuesday, and will be motivated to avoid a misstep. Lowell wins.
The first and last place teams recorded sweeps this past weekend in Atlantic Hockey play. Robert Morris swept Sacred Heart by identical scores of 2-1, while Niagara took all four points from American International, 2-0 and 4-3.
The rest (with the exception of Canisius, which was idle) had to settle for anywhere from one to three points.
As a result, there was not a lot of movement in the standings with just three weekends to go in the regular season.
The Colonials extended their lead from a single point over Rochester Institute of Technology to three points over Air Force, which jumped over the Tigers into second thanks to a three-point weekend against RIT in Colorado Springs.
The only other changes in position were Bentley cruising past Canisius into sole possession of sixth place, Army moving from ninth into a tie for eighth, and Niagara drawing even with AIC for tenth place.
Air Force extended its unbeaten streak to ten games with a win and a tie against RIT.
After deadlocking 2-2 on Friday, the Falcons put on a dominating performance on Saturday, highlighted by freshman goalie Shane Starrett’s third shutout of the season in a 4-0 win.
Now in second place, this very young Falcons team has exceeded expectations after losing a large veteran class and all three goaltenders in the offseason.
Picked to finish seventh in the preseason coach’s poll, Air Force has taken at least three points in its last five weekends of conference play. They’re clearly for real.
“This is the best Saturday night we have had all season,” said Falcons coach Frank Serratore. “Good teams are hard to put away and RIT is a good team and they are a contender. It was not easy. I was pleased with a lot of things tonight.”
The hockey world was saddened on Wednesday to hear of the passing of legendary coach Jack Riley.
Army West Point will wear helmet stickers for the rest of the season to honor the former Army and U.S. Olympic Team coach.
And because you knew they would, the Black Knights played some inspired hockey this past weekend, taking three points from Holy Cross.
Coach Brian Riley’s team settled for a 2-2 tie on Friday but got off to a quick start on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd at Tate rink.
Army West Point’s 3-1 win extended its unbeaten streak to five games, the longest for the Black Knights since 2009.
Next up for Army West Point: a trip to Robert Morris.
On the season:
Dan: 95-60-20 (.600)
Chris: 109-46-20 (.680)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 5 and Saturday, February 6
Rochester Institute of Technology at Air Force
Dan: The immovable object meets the unstoppable force. RIT is undefeated on the road this year in conference play at 9-0-2, but they’re headed to Air Force – where the Falcons are 7-3 this year and riding an eight game unbeaten streak. But history’s shown how RIT struggles to consistently win in Colorado; they’re 4-12-2 at the academy since beginning the reclassification process back in 2005-2006. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: This is a great matchup between teams with the longest unbeaten streaks in the league: eight (6-0-2) for Air Force and seven (5-0-2) for RIT. A pair of ties certainly isn’t out of the question, but I think Air Force will win two low-scoring games. Air Force sweeps.
Niagara at American International
Dan: A good weekend by AIC at home all but seals Niagara into an 11th place finish. But a good weekend by Niagara all but ends AIC’s fading hope for home ice in the first round. It’s never glamorous when 10th and 11th place meet up, but that doesn’t mean these teams won’t be bringing it. AIC wins on Friday. Niagara wins on Saturday.
Chris: And the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the two teams with the longest winless streaks: 11 for Niagara (0-10-1) and nine for AIC (0-7-2). I think both teams will get a win, with AIC getting the victory on Friday, and Niagara rebounding on Saturday.
Holy Cross at Army West Point
Dan: Expect Army West Point to play inspired hockey this weekend, but Holy Cross has too much stake in going for a first place finish. They stand to gain ground regardless what happens between RIT and Air Force. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: Holy Cross has the chance to be in first place by the end of the weekend, and I think the Crusaders will do their part with a sweep.
Bentley at Mercyhurst
Dan: A big weekend by Bentley (who’s had back-to-back three point weekends) would have the Falcons in position to move from eighth place to fifth in three weeks time. But they’re taking on a Laker team that swept them in Watertown to begin the year. A split here would be huge for the Falcons’ rising hopes. Mercyhurst wins on Friday; Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris: These teams are establishing a bit of a rivalry based on last year’s postseason and a hard-fought sweep by the Lakers at the JAR at the beginning of the season. I like the Falcons to reverse the trend with the always difficult road sweep.
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart
Dan: What might’ve been the worst part of last week for RMU was losing ground to both Air Force, RIT, and Holy Cross because they were on the bye. The league’s favorite team is back in action this week, facing a deceptively good Sacred Heart team that should be hungry after last weekend at Bentley. I think the Pioneers could earn at least a point somewhere, but I don’t see the Colonials losing either. Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris: Robert Morris is coming off a bye week, but I don’t anticipate any rust. I think these games will be close, but the Colonials will take all four points.
Tuesday, February 9
American International at Massachusetts
Dan: This is a watershed game for UMass, a program that’s been in deep trouble lately. They’ve won only one game since November 7th, and last Saturday’s loss to Maine was their first one-goal loss since January 5th – a string of six straight. That’s a golden opportunity for AIC to start getting hot down the stretch. I’m taking UMass because the AHC struggles in OOC games, but don’t count out the Jackets for a big victory. UMass wins.
Chris: The crosstown rivals will meet at the Mass Mutual Center in downtown Springfield. The Yellow Jackets and Minutemen are both struggling, with a combined record of 12-36-6. I’m going with UMass in this one.
Two weeks ago, when Bentley struggled through two losses to RIT at home at the John A. Ryan Arena, the Falcons looked like a team trending downwards in the second half of Atlantic Hockey. They had lost four in a row and six out of seven games. They had gone from over .500 in league play, a team tied for third or fourth in the league, down to eighth.
Two weeks later, the Falcons are right back in the thick of it.
After taking three points from American International last week, Bentley earned three points the hard way against a Sacred Heart team that almost always plays tough against them. On Friday, Bentley jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Pioneers never really went away. Each time Bentley rallied for a two goal lead, SHU cut it in half.
Up 2-0, Sacred Heart scored 30 seconds later to make it 2-1. When Bentley led 3-1, the next goal came from the Pioneers. Bentley went up 4-2 early in the third but couldn’t hit an empty net goal late to ice the game. They had to play complete hockey on both ends of the ice to come away with two points.
On Saturday, the Falcons needed a rally after giving up the first two points of the game. Justin Danforth scored 3:52 into the game, and another early second period goal by Erlich Doerksen made it 2-0. Buoyed by goaltender Gabe Antoni, the Falcons fought back with a power play goal from Andrew Gladiuk and an early third period goal from Cody DePourcq. Although they took the lead and lost it in about a minute’s time late, it was another earned point for the Falcons.
For the Falcons, back-to-back three point weekends has them out of eighth place and right back in the fight.
Refuse To Lose
No team is better at staving off potential elimination like the RIT Tigers. The defending league champs sat on the verge of losing both games this weekend against Holy Cross. On Friday, they trailed 1-0 for the bulk of the first two periods before going down 2-0 with just over five minutes to go in the game.
With about 90 seconds left in the game, Wayne Wilson pulled goalie Christian Short for an extra attacker. That’s when Todd Skirving led an absolute charge into the Holy Cross zone. Goalie Paul Berrafato came up with the first save, but Caleb Cameron punched the rebound into the net to make it 2-1.
30 seconds later, still with the net empty, the Norrish brothers tied the game when Chase fed Brady for a one-time howitzer knotted the game at 2-2.
The next night, RIT held a 2-1 lead after one but gave up goals to Castan Sommer and Mike Barrett to fall behind 3-2. About a minute and a half after going down by a goal, Chase Norrish did it again, scoring the game-tying goal to tie the game at 3-3.
It wound up being a virtual weekend split since both teams walked away with two points, but the argument could be made that the Tigers truly went out and won the weekend by not dropping points in a huge matchup between teams standing near the top of the AHC.
Here We Go Again
The season’s last month kicks off this week, and pretty much everything is up for grabs. Robert Morris, who ran away with last year’s regular season championship, sat idle this week, allowing RIT and Holy Cross to make up ground thanks to their weekend “split.” While that was happening, Air Force took three points from Canisius, tying them for third place with the Crusaders.
As it stands right now , the top four teams in the league sit within two points of one another. That’s going to have a huge downstream impact, especially with fifth place Mercyhurst sitting three points back.
But it’s not that easy for the Lakers. They’re only two points up on Canisius for the final bye slot, with Bentley one point behind the Golden Griffins. Sacred Heart’s one point at Bentley keeps them in the fight, one point behind the Falcons in eighth place. Four points separate eighth from fifth, with Army three points behind that in ninth.
Further down, nobody’s been mathematically eliminated from home ice, but Niagara can be the first team locked into a first round road series as early as next week. It can happen to AIC as well since the Yellow Jackets are seven points back of Sacred Heart, but a couple of big weekends could claw them back into things.
Regardless, points are critical for more favorable matchups since everyone is within striking distance of someone else over a single weekend’s time. Best way to move ahead? As the late Al Davis would say, “Just win, baby.”
On the season:
Dan: 91-58-16 (.600)
Chris: 104-45-16 (.679)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 29 and Saturday, January 30
Sacred Heart at Bentley
Dan:This year’s Sacred Heart seniors are 6-5-2 against Bentley overall, but a 5-2 record over the past two seasons highlights the way they’ve always seemed to play well against the Falcons. After scoring an offensive breakout with seven goals against Connecticut on Tuesday, I don’t foresee them losing two games this weekend. That said, though, Bentley’s offense woke up in a big way, scoring 11 goals last weekend against AIC. I’ll take a split.Bentley wins on Friday, Sacred Heart wins on Saturday.
Chris: Most of the the action is out West this weekend, but the lone matchup in New England is a great one. I’m not leaning either way on this one – Sacred Heart struggled at home with RIT last weekend but hung seven goals on UConn on Tuesday. As Dan said, Bentley’s offense woke up in a big way last weekend as well. So I too am going with a split, and using SHU’s record on Fridays (1-7-3) vs. Saturdays (5-5), I’m going with a Bentley win on Friday and an SHU victory on Saturday.
Air Force at Canisius
Dan: Canisius has been excellent at taking points; they haven’t been swept once in conference play over a full weekend at all this year. After splitting with the Falcons out west, I don’t see that changing. But since we can’t pick ties, I’m going with Canisius; Canisius sweeps.
Chris: Both teams are playing well right now, with Canisius unbeaten in its last four games and Air Force unbeaten in its last six. I’m going with another split with Air Force winning on Friday and Canisius on Saturday.
American International at Mercyhurst
Dan:After losing three of four points to Robert Morris last weekend and only splitting with Sacred Heart the weekend before, Mercyhurst finds itself in need of points this weekend. A big weekend could have them back in the race for a first round bye and home ice.Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: It’s an easy choice to pick the Lakers to sweep, but AIC again showed on Tuesday that a hot goalie can be the equalizer as rookie Jacob Caffrey made 45 saves in a 1-0 loss at Princeton. But I think Mercyhurst will find a way to get all four points at home. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Army West Point at Niagara
Dan: I still think Niagara is a better team than their record would indicate, but they’re really fighting it lately. They haven’t won since December 11th at RIT, going 0-8-1 with only their tie against Canisius since then. These next two weekends might be their best opportunities to get some momentum before playing Mercyhurst, RIT, and Air Force. Niagara wins on Friday. Army West Point wins on Saturday.
Chris: I too think Niagara’s going to win one of these games, but I don’t know which. Since the Purple Eagles have yet to win on a Saturday, I’m going with Niagara on Friday and Army West Point on Saturday.
Holy Cross at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan:We’re all of a sudden looking at a logjam towards the top of the standings. With RMU off this week, a big weekend by either team can either tie or pass the Colonials and create a real battle for first place. The edge right now is with the Crusaders, who have a slightly better goals against average, so I’m taking the Crusaders. Don’t be shocked with a split, though. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: The Tigers’ struggles in league play at home (3-5) vs. the road (9-0-1) is somewhat baffling. RIT coach Wayne Wilson has said the opposition gets a jump from the atmosphere at the Polisseni, and that may be the case. Fridays have been especially tough on the Tigers at home, so I’m taking Holy Cross on Friday and RIT on Saturday.
Sweeps for the old guard
When Air Force and Rochester Institute of Technology joined Atlantic Hockey in 2006, they immediately dominated, posting a combined five regular season titles and six tournament championships in six years.
And in this new age of parity where sweeps are rare, it was the old guard that came away with four points this past weekend. Air Force recorded a home sweep of Niagara (3-0 and 3-1), and RIT wrestled four points away from Sacred Heart at the Milford Ice Pavilion (3-1 and 5-3).
The Falcons dominated on Friday, outshooting Niagara 45-14. Saturday was a closer affair, with Niagara out-chancing Air Force 30-26 and holding the Falcons to a 1-1 tie until late in the third period.
Special teams was the difference in the RIT-Sacred Heart series, with the Tigers going three for four on the power play on Friday, and holding Sacred Heart to one for nine with the man advantage on Sunday. A wild second period saw the teams combine for four goals in a 2:43 stretch including one for each side just eight seconds apart.
Road, sweet road
The win by RIT on Sunday extended the Tigers’ unbeaten road conference streak to a school-record 10 games (9-0-1).
But RIT is just 3-5 at home in conference play and faces a tough challenge when it hosts Holy Cross this weekend. The Crusaders, coming off a tie and overtime loss to Canisius, trail RIT by a point for second place. The setback on Saturday was just the second conference home loss of the season for Holy Cross, which is 7-2-1 in league play at the Hart Center.
It won’t affect the standings, but there was a big game played in Kingston, Ontario on Saturday.
Army West point retained the Challenge Cup, defeating their Canadian counterparts, the Royal Military Academy, 4-3. It was 80th meeting between the two schools and the fifth straight win in the series for the Black Knights.
Freshman Ian Mansfield scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the third period.
Because the game was officially an exhibition, neither goal will count in Mansfield’s official statistics. He has yet to record a point in 17 NCAA games, but that doesn’t take away from a big night up north for Mansfield and Army West Point.
The Black Knights return to league play this weekend, visiting Niagara.
On the season:
Dan: 86-54-13 (.605)
Chris: 97-43-13 (.676)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 22 and Saturday, January 23
Niagara at Air Force
Dan: Niagara is a much better team than people give them credit for, but Air Force doesn’t lose at home. That’s kind of a trump card I can play every week. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Niagara’s been outshooting its opponents with not much to show for it, and I expect more of the same in Colorado Springs against a Falcons team that’s been exceeding expectations. Air Force sweeps.
American International vs. Bentley
Dan: Bentley’s lone home win this year in conference came in a 1-0 goalie duel between Alex Murray and Gabe Antoni back in December. In that game, there were zero penalties and 63 shots. Hard to tell if we’ll get more of the same, but expect both teams to go hard this weekend – AIC is 0-3 since taking three points from Canisius and a sweep of Army West Point (ironically coming right after that Bentley game), while Bentley is 3-10-1 since sweeping RIT back in November. I think there’s going to be a palpable tension on both nights for these teams; they both need points. Bentley wins on Friday; AIC wins on Saturday.
Chris: The Falcons host on Friday and the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. I normally pick a split in these home-and-home series, and I think we’ll see desperate hockey between two teams that are struggling. But I like the Falcons to put together a pair of hard-fought wins. Bentley sweeps.
Canisius at Holy Cross
Dan: Canisius is coming a long way from to take on a team that’s firing on all cylinders. Having spoken with David Berard a couple of times this year, I don’t think he lets his team lose sight of what’s in front of them. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: I think if Holy Cross can avoid a letdown after two night of war last weekend against Robert Morris, the Crusaders will come through at home. Holy Cross sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Robert Morris
Dan: This is one of those weekends where I see kinds of signs pointing to an RMU sweep. That’s exactly when something weird happens, especially with a Mercyhurst team I’m still pretty high on. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “it’s a trap!” I’m going to party like it’s 2014 if RMU makes me eat my hat again. Robert Morris wins on Friday; Mercyhurst wins on Saturday.
Chris: I really want to pick Mercyhurst to win one of these games, but RMU is tough to pick against at this point. I think the Colonials will take at least three points, and I’m going with all four. Robert Morris sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Sacred Heart
Dan: I had a chance to really watch RIT last weekend when they came to Bentley. In a game of highs and lows, they do an amazing job of staying cool under pressure. Top to bottom, I’m starting to feel like they may be the most complete team in the league. Despite how much I’ve been heaping love on Sacred Heart this year, RIT sweeps.
Chris: The Tigers have finally got their offense in gear, and historically the Tigers have done well in Milford. I’m going with an RIT sweep.
Tuesday, January 26
American International at Princeton
Dan: The Princeton strategy is usually simple – sit back on defense, let goalie Colton Phinney do his thing, then capitalize when the other team opens the door. I’ve seen them a couple of times, and there’s something about that strategy I don’t feel is going to work against AIC. AIC wins.
Chris: AIC is struggling at the moment, and I don’t see the Yellow Jackets picking up a road win here. Princeton wins.
Sacred Heart at Connecticut
Dan: In-state rivalries are the best, especially when you have a team from Western Connecticut taking on a team most closely associated with Hartford. I really want to take Sacred Heart because I think this is a good matchup for them (and so I can use a Mets-Yankees analogy for Pioneer athletic director Bobby Valentine), but I’m going with the Huskies in this one. UConn wins.
Chris: Sacred Heart has done well lately against its cross-state rival and former league foe, but I think it’s time for the Huskies to come out on top. UConn wins.