After losing to and tying Alabama-Huntsville, the Falcons needed to tighten up their defensive-zone coverage. They did that in a successful weekend at Robert Morris.
Three things from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Canisius and Army play a two game series, with the Golden Griffins coming out on top in Game One. In 2012 it was a 5-1 victory over the Black Knights on Friday. In 2013 the score was 8-2. This past Friday it was a 6-3 win with Canisius coming back from a 3-0 first period deficit.
Each time, Saturday was a different story, or the same story depending on how you look at it. Last Saturday at West Point, Army responded with a 3-0 win over the Griffs earning a series split. Last year, it was a 1-0 win for the Black Knights. In 2012 the score was also 1-0.
A Canisius win in the first contest following by an Army shutout in Game Two. Three times in a row.
Army goaltender Parker Gahagen stopped all 28 shots he faced on Saturday.
“It was good to get that first shutout off my shoulders,” he said after the game. “It was a good team win for us.”
“I liked our effort tonight,” said Canisius head coach Dave Smith. “We had really good push by our top players but their goalie played well. We did a lot of things well but the puck just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
Unlike the past two seasons, the teams will play four times this time around. Canisius will host Army at HarborCenter on Feb. 13 and 14.
History doesn’t repeat
Much has been made of the slow start defending champions Robert Morris endured last season before going on an epic run to emerge victorious.
The Colonials are making sure this season gets off to a different start entirely, sweeping Niagara this past weekend to open the season 4-0 for just the second time in school history.
Both nights Robert Morris scored three third period goals to put the game away. RMU has outscored opponents 9-1 in the final period so far this season.
“We’ve had a good start,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “But you’ve got to stay consistently focused every weekend. We’ve had two good weekends and now we’re going to have to put that behind us.”
All’s quiet at the pumpkin convention
Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena was again a sea of orange as Rochester Institute of Technology again sold out the building (10,556) for its annual Brick City homecoming game. But RIT’s opponent, No. 7 Boston College, spoiled the party by opening up a 4-0 lead early in the second period and coasting to a 6-2 win.
It wasn’t until Todd Skirving’s goal at 1:06 of the third that the large crowd had something to cheer about.
“We couldn’t get any offense,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson after the game. “There was no excitement on the bench at all. They didn’t allow us to get our fans into it. Their defense controlled our forwards.”
Four different BC blueliners scored in the game, in three of the cases as the trailer on an odd-man rush. ”They discouraged us,” said Wilson. “They took away scoring chances and then scored goals themselves. They were a double threat.”
The Tigers will go from Eagles to Falcons as they travel to Air Force next weekend.
Dan: 9-7-0 (.563)
Chris: 11-5-0 (.688)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, October 17 and Saturday, October 16
Canisius at Army
Dan: Army proved last week that their defense is capable of earning wins if they get tough. Canisius proved they could hang with the big boys in a split with Western Michigan. I think this is going to be a fun weekend, but the Griffs are slightly better at this stage of the game. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: The past two seasons, Canisius won big against Army the first night of this series and then was shut out by the Black Knights the following day. I don’t think history will repeat. Canisius sweeps.
American International at Holy Cross
Dan: Both teams hung tough with their opponent last weekend. That’s a great sign for AIC, who had a lead over the defending national champions. It also means reports of Holy Cross’ demise are greatly exaggerated, at least early on. I’m calling for a split, but since I try to avoid picking weekends that way, I’m going with an AIC sweep.
Chris: This is an intriguing matchup and I’m tempted to pick the Yellow Jackets to win at least one of these meetings. But I’m going with Holy Cross, which gave Merrimack all it could handle last weekend. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara vs.Robert Morris
Dan: The two storylines coming out of last week? RMU’s looking like a defending champion, and Niagara’s looking like a MASH unit. Colonials sweep.
Chris: Friday’s game is at Robert Morris, with Niagara hosting Saturday. Niagara is already decimated by injuries and the Colonials looked like they haven’t skipped a beat since winning it all in Rochester last March. RMU sweeps.
Bentley vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: Sacred Heart is one of those teams that always gives Bentley fits, and they haven’t lost since the second game of their 2-30-4 season. In fact, SHU went 1-1-1 against the Falcons that year and swept them with three wins last season. I can’t see that happening to start the year. But I also can’t figure out how this would split, and we usually don’t pick weekends that way anyways. Bottom line, I’m going with Bentley to sweep.
Chris: Sacred Heart has played well against Bentley recently and I think are a better team this season than last, while the Falcons may have lost a step. SHU hosts on Friday; Bentley on Saturday. I’m going with the home team in each game. Sacred Heart wins Friday; Bentley wins Saturday.
Friday, October 17
Air Force at Alaska
Dan: I used to work for a guy during my undergrad days who did sports info work for Alaska. He once told me that everyone, once in their lives, needs to live in Fairbanks for at least a full calendar year and experience what it’s like. New to the rankings this week, I’m using zero hockey analysis to pick the Nanooks.
Chris: On consecutive weekends to open the season, Alaska (the school in Fairbanks) and Alaska-Anchorage take turns hosting tournaments. This weekend. Air Force is participating in the Alaska Gold Rush, held in Fairbanks. The schedule is per-determined, with Air Force and Penn State each taking on the Alaska schools. I’m going with the teams from The Last Frontier. Alaska wins.
Saturday, October 18
Boston College at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: I have immense respect and love for both of the programs in this game. I grew up watching games at BC and BU, and I’ve learned to love RIT from my time spent with Chris. One thing I’m really hoping for is a tremendous hockey game in front of some great fans at Blue Cross Arena. But I think the difference is Thatcher Demko in net for BC, a position the Eagles are substantially better at. BC wins a closer one than expected.
Chris: This is RIT’s annual “Brick City” game at downtown Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, which is again a sellout. Despite 10,000 orange clad maniacs cheering them on, the Tigers are heavy underdogs for a reason. Boston College wins.
Air Force vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Dan: I can’t see Air Force going north and not coming away with at least one win. Since I think they’ll lose to Fairbanks, I’m picking them to beat the Seawolves on Saturday. Air Force wins.
Chris: See my pick for Friday. I think the Falcons go 0-2 in the 49th state. Alaska-Anchorage wins.
The first weekend of hockey is in the books, which means it’s time to review the weekend that was. Check back all season long for our observations. Let’s kick it off with three things from the first games of the 2014-2015 season:
The Champ Is Here
Despite being defending Atlantic Hockey champions, there was plenty of unknown in Robert Morris to start the year. There’s always heightened expectations in a team raising a banner, a new ring in their name that separates them from the rest of the pack. It also means they have to be the standard bearer for the league in out-of-conference matchups, at least in the early couple of weeks.
Derek Schooley’s bunch did more than just that this weekend. Hosting Lake Superior State this weekend, the Colonials pounded their opponent, 6-1, over two nights. They never trailed and never faced a tie score, save for 0-0, in a two-night sweep where they amassed 79 shots on goal.
Cody Wydo scored a goal and two assists, while Zac Lynch notched three helpers. Scott Jacklin scored two goals. And Terry Shafer combined with Dalton Izyk to stop 98% of all shots on goal.
It’s a great start for the defending champs, a program known for being ultra competitive no matter the conditions in front of them. It’s also a very good sample to base opinions on as they enter their title defense next weekend against Niagara in a home-and-home.
Young Guns Already Firing Away
A substantial amount of teams in Atlantic Hockey are dealing with the identity of being young and inexperienced as the year commences. So much is unknown that we’re not sure who’s going to raise eyebrows both positively and negatively.
That said, we’re already seeing a couple of new names make waves as the new season gets underway. Bentley sophomore Max French scored twice and assisted on a third as the Falcons nearly defeated Quinnipiac before falling, 5-3. Johnny Hrabovsky and AJ Reid, two sophomores on Air Force’s team, helped the team with five combined assists as the Falcons split with last year’s regular season champion, Mercyhurst. Caleb Cameron scored a couple of goals for RIT. Sophomore Parker Gahagen made 34 saves for Army on Saturday, and fellow sophomore Dalton Izyk registered a shutout for Robert Morris.
For so-called freshmen “diaper dandies,” Johno May scored a goal and an assist for AIC, and Jonathan Charbonneau had the same for Mercyhurst. Tyler Pham scored his first career goal for Army on Sunday afternoon.
I know I missed a bunch of names, and it’s only the first weekend of the year. But if Atlantic Hockey can continue to have its youngsters chip in, the future will always remain bright for its member institutions.
Out Of Their League
The past two seasons have been the tale of two worlds for Atlantic Hockey. After getting an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, the league struggled mightily last season when it went 17-64-5. Prior to Thanksgiving last year, the league was 6-47-4, a nadir considering the success it had in 2012-2013.
So there’s special attention given to the way AHA teams perform when playing teams from other leagues. In the first weekend, Robert Morris picked up a sweep, RIT defeated St. Lawrence, and Canisius split with Western Michigan as the league went 4-8. Low marks came for Holy Cross (swept by Merrimack) and Niagara (defeated by Clarkson before losing 10-2 against St. Lawrence). Both AIC and Bentley hung tough in their games; the Yellow Jackets led 1-0 and 2-1 over the defending national champions before Union ultimately won, 7-3, and the Falcons had a go-ahead goal nullified, then trailed by only one until an empty net goal gave Quinnipiac a 5-3 victory.
Air Force heads to Fairbanks to take on both Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage in the Alaska Goal Rush, and RIT hosts Boston College in its annual game at Blue Cross Arena as the league kicks up the bulk of its league schedule. The majority of teams return to non-conference games on October 24th.
Dan: 155-90-23 (.621)
Chris: 162-83-23 (.647)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11
Mercyhurst at Air Force
Dan: Now THIS is how you start out a season, with two of the strongest teams in the league going head to head over two straight nights. With the limited amount of on-ice practice, I’m siding with the more experienced Lakers for a sweep over the young Air Force roster.
Chris: Is it weird to claim that this series, the first games for both teams, may go a long way in deciding the regular season championship? This is the only meeting between two squads picked to finish at or near the top of the standings. These games are typically close, but I’m giving the edge to the Lakers despite the Falcons’ home ice advantage. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Western Michigan at Canisius
Dan: Canisius could be a capable team of winning a game here, but I’m not sold on them against a good team from the NCHC. That, and the hockey vibes emanating from the First Niagara Center don’t scream the same as TD Garden (just kidding, Sabres fans!) WMU sweeps.
Chris: The Golden Griffins have won their share of non-conference games, especially at home (although this series will be played at First Niagara Center), but I think WMU has the advantage. Western sweeps.
Lake Superior at Robert Morris
Dan: It’ll be a very emotional weekend for the Colonials when they raise their championship banner from last year’s AHA. The tough part will be when they come down off the emotion and have to get back to hockey. The Lakers lost two to Michigan Tech, which makes this a tough draw for both teams. I would love to pick RMU on the second night, but I have the feeling lady momentum is with Lake Superior. Lake Superior sweeps.
Chris: Lake Superior State already has two games in the books but I don’t think the Lakers will spoil RMU’s banner party. Robert Morris sweeps.
Merrimack vs. Holy Cross
Dan: If Holy Cross wants the rebuilding talk under new coach David Berard, at least one win this weekend will help. Last season, the Crusaders beat Boston College, and they joined AIC, Air Force, Bentley, and Sacred Heart as AHA teams beating Hockey East opponents. That said, I don’t think they can pull one out against the Mack to start the year. Merrimack sweeps.
Chris: Holy Cross hosts on Friday, Merrimack on Saturday. I think the Warriors win no matter what the venue. Merrimack sweeps.
Friday, October 10
Clarkson at Niagara
Dan:Niagara regressed last season after earning the AHA’s first ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That said, they could be a sneaky good team when healthy. THAT said, they’re not healthy to start the season. At least Clarkson is trying to piece their team back together after losing some of their team’s best players. I think this is close, but I’m picking Clarkson to win a tight one.
Chris:Niagara used to be invincible at Dwyer Arena, but Clarkson opened last season at Dwyer and promptly swept the Purple Eagles. I think the Golden Knights win there again. Clarkson wins.
St. Lawrence at RIT
Dan: RIT opens their much-heralded new rink in a watershed moment for all of Atlantic Hockey. The emotion of that moment will combine with the fact that SLU lost four of their five best scorers. Greg Carey, who made the Hobey Hat Trick last year, is gone, as is his brother Matt. Matt Weninger, a guy who played a ton in goal? Also gone. The emotion of the night coupled with the youth, inexperience, and lost pieces for the opponent combines for another watershed moment for the league – RIT wins.
Chris:The Tigers always seem to play well against St. Lawrence, and they’ll have the added incentive of their first official game at the Polisseni Center. I think that will be the difference. RIT wins.
AIC at Union
Dan:Last year, one of the worst teams in AHA the previous season went up to #1-ranked UMass-Lowell and beat the big dog in his own yard. If AIC can pull this off, it would come close to pulling off the emotion of that moment. But Union is the defending national champion, and I don’t see them losing this game. Union wins.
Chris: Like Dan, this one reminds me of Sacred Heart vs. Massachussets-Lowell last season, but I think the result will be different here. Union wins.
Saturday, October 11
St. Lawrence at Niagara
Dan: A night after losing to RIT, St. Lawrence has to go to Niagara in an ECAC travel partner swap. Tough draw with the travel against a hostile crowd and a team that’ll be hungry for its first win. Niagara wins.
Chris:I think SLU is going to struggle this season, and the Purple Eagles will get the victory here. Niagara wins.
Bentley at Quinnipiac
Dan:Former MAAC and AHA foes meet up for what seems like an annual meeting. Last year, Quinnipiac outshot Bentley, 50-13, but only won by one goal, 4-3. I think Bentley’s growing pains with a gelling defense and a new goalie will show against a Q’pac offense that scored 141 goals last season.Quinnipiac wins.
Chris: Bentley certainly has the tools to win this game, but the Bobcats have more depth and will get the win on home ice. Quinnipiac wins.
Clarkson at RIT
Dan: Clarkson is substantially better than St. Lawrence, at least on paper. That prevents RIT from opening the new barn with a sweep of the North Country ECAC compatriots.Clarkson wins.
Chris: Clarkson has done well against RIT in the past (5-0-2 since the Tigers moved to Division I) and I think that trend will continue. Clarkson wins.
Friday, October 10 and Sunday, October 12
Sacred Heart at Army
Dan: Both teams should be vastly improved from last season. I’m excited to see Army’s young guys, but I’m excited to see how Sacred Heart can pick up from last year and continue building. Edge to the team with more returning pieces, but I’m calling for Army to claw back and earn a split the old fashioned way.Sacred Heart wins on Saturday, Army on Sunday.
Chris: Despite where these teams are predicted to finish this season, I think this will be a highly entertaining series. They’ve had some wild games in the past and I think both contests will be decided late, with Sacred Heart winning on Friday and Army winning on Sunday.
Three things from Championship weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Friday’s semifinals saw a total of 168 minutes of hockey with both games needing overtime to settle things.
The “early” semifinal between defending champion Canisius and regular season champ Mercyhurst went into double overtime before Golden Griffin defenseman Stephen Farrell’s shot from the point found the back of the net. The game took almost four hours to complete, starting at 4:05 p.m. and ending at 7:54.
The “late” (very late) semifinal between Robert Morris and Niagara didn’t get underway until 8:54 and ended exactly three hours later at 11:54 when Scott Jacklin of Robert Morris found himself alone at the far post with a deflected puck on his stick. He got enough of a shot off to win the game 14:56 into overtime, a few minutes before the stroke of midnight.
You had to wonder if fatigue wasn’t a factor in Saturday’s championship game, with each team allowing an uncharacteristic number of goals in the third period. Canisius scored three times in the third, and Robert Morris tallied a whopping five times in the final frame to come away with 7-4 win.
Canisius had allowed a total of five third-period goals in its previous 12 Atlantic Hockey playoff games dating back to last season.
“Wow, what a game,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “I think you saw from both teams what happens with the excitement of the NCAA tournament and the excitement of being the Atlantic Hockey champion.”
And, I suspect, the effects of playing four hours of hockey the day before.
“Once again, going into the third period we had a 2-1 lead and I wanted to lock it down,” said Robert Morris coach Schooley. “(I guess) that just meant outscore them.”
That third period on Saturday saw a total of eight goals scored including three sets of back-and-fourth goals by each team, scored less than a minute apart:
- Just a 1:16 into the period, Canisius’ Shane Conacher scored his sixth goal of the season to pull even with Robert Morris, 2-2. Fifteen seconds later, RMU regained the lead on a goal from Greg Gibson.
- After Robert Morris’ Matt Cope scored at 7:11 of the period to give the Colonials a 4-2 lead, Canisius forward Mitch McCrank pulled the Golden Griffins to within a goal at 10:27. But 39 seconds later, RMU’s David Friedmann scored to make it 5-3.
- Canisius again pulled to within a goal at 12:35, but again the Colonials answered, this time 29 seconds later when Gibson’s shot glanced off the glove of Canisius goaltender Tony Capiobianco and into the net.
Playoff MVP Cody Wydo would finish the scoring with his third goal of the game at 18:06.
“It was obviously a weird period of hockey,” said Canisius defenseman Chris Rumble. “Every time we got the edge and think we were about to make our comeback, they would turn around and do the exact same thing. Every time we thought we were up, we were right back down.”
Robert Morris’ reward for capturing its first Atlantic Hockey title is a first-round NCAA Tournament meeting with No. 1 seed Minnesota, in St. Paul no less.
Atlantic Hockey teams have won first-round matchups before: Air Force defeated Michigan in 2009, Rochester Institute beat Denver (and the next day New Hampshire) in 2010, and most famously, Holy Cross upset Minnesota in 2006.
Denver and Minnesota were the No. 1 ranked teams in the country (Michigan was ranked fourth), but all three AHA wins came on neutral ice. The Colonials will face the Gophers in their backyard: the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“(Minnesota) has a tremendous storied history,” said Schooley after Saturday’s win. “We’ve never played them. I imagine we’ll be playing against the whole state of Minnesota; the state of hockey.
“But we’re not going to worry about that now. We’re going to worry about celebrating a little bit.”
The other championship
Dan Rubin and I each predicted the results of 268 games involving Atlantic Hockey teams this season, and the title of picks champ went down to the wire, with me edging Dan by a mere seven games. The results:
- Chris: 162-83-23 (.647)
- Dan: 155-90-23 (.621)
Hopefully, we’ll square off again next season.
On the season:
Dan: 154-88-23 (.625)
Chris: 160-82-23 (.647)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, March 21
No. 7 Canisius vs No. 1 Mercyhurst
Dan: Having seen Canisius last week, I can unequivocally state they’re not a team of destiny. The term “team of destiny” implies they’re not good enough to win it. The Griffs are a team built to win games late – hang in enough to stay close, score a couple of goals, then pack it in on defense. It’s the most frustrating game to play against, and it creates boring games reminiscent of when the Devils won the Stanley Cup in the late 90s. But that boring hockey is good enough to win. I’m taking Canisius in an upset.
Chris: This is the 78th meeting between the schools, dating back to their days in the Division III ECAC West. The Griffs have all the necessary ingredients to defend their title, but Mercyhurst has too many weapons including the league’s top goaltender. I like the Lakers to win.
No. 6 Niagara vs. No. 5 Robert Morris
Dan: Nine times this year, I picked Robert Morris to win, and they lost. Five of those times happened before the Three Rivers Classic. So for me to pick them here would be an inevitable kiss of death. That said, Niagara is playing classic Ewing Theory – they get better by subtracting their best players. Expect a lot of offense – both teams struggle with defense and both like to pull the trigger. Niagara wins it.
Chris: The road to the AHA title almost always goes though Air Force, and that’s the route Niagara took to get to Rochester. But Robert Morris reminds me of teams that have won championships in Rochester. Colonials win.
Saturday, March 22
Dan: Calling for Canisius and Niagara in the AHA Championship game irks me for some odd reason, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I want someone different to win the title, or maybe it’s because Niagara isn’t “as good” as their team last year. But that said, I think the Purple Eagles are going to be on a mission, and the lessons learned from last year’s playoff disappointments help them hang a banner in October. Niagara wins.
Chris: In what I project to be the battle of Pennsylvania, My head says Mercyhrust with its top goaltender and offensive prowess. But I’ve leared to expect the unexpected in Rochester, and that means I’m picking Robert Morris to win it all.
And the winner is….
We will have wall-to-wall coverage from Rochester, including a LiveBlog as well as game recaps, features and video.
Three things from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey (with apologies to the band Asia):
Atlantic Hockey received its first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season, but it was clear by December that it wasn’t going to happen this time around. Despite some high-profile upsets, the league’s non-conference record wasn’t strong and no team put together enough wins to merit a spot in the upper echelons of the PairWise.
It means that, as they say, there can be only one team to advance to the NCAA tournament. We’re down to four:
No. 7 seed Canisius vs. No. 1 seed Mercyhurst
No. 6 seed Niagara vs. No. 5 seed Robert Morris
This is the lowest set of seeds to advance to the championship weekend in league history.
Prior to last year’s playoffs, 28 of 29 best-of-three playoff series in league history had been won by the home team. Last season, Canisius and Mercyhurst both advanced by defeating higher seeded teams in the quarterfinals.
This season, an unprecedented three road teams won quarterfinal series.
The semifinal matchups feature a game between two of the original members of Atlantic Hockey/MAAC as well as a contest featuring a pair of teams that moved to the AHA from College Hockey America together.
Heat of the moment
In hockey, things can literally change in a moment – Friday’s quarterfinal games between Holy Cross and Mercyhurst as well as Canisius and Bentley are prime examples. Both games on Friday went to overtime and both ended at literally the same moment – at 9:34 Eastern Time.
In Erie, Pa., Mercyhurst’s Kyle Cook scored the game winner 4:40 into overtime to defeat Holy Cross in Game One of their quarterfinal series.
At almost the same moment 500 miles away in Watertown Mass., Bentley’s Brett Switzer delivered the GWG 40 seconds into overtime in a 4-3 Game One victory over Canisius.
There was another similarity between the two games. Both winning teams scored an extra-attacker goal to tie things up with less than a minute to play in regulation. Bentley drew even on a Brent Gensler goal with 23 seconds left; Mercyhurst’s tying goal came from Daniel O’Donoghue with 27 ticks to go in regulation.
Mercyhurst would go on to sweep Holy Cross, while Bentley, despite leading Canisius 4-1 in the third period of Game Two, would fall to the Griffs 5-4 in another overtime (this time double overtime) on Saturday and 3-2 on Sunday, which surprisingly ended in regulation.
(Over)Time Will Tell
The Bentley-Canisius series was a classic, with those two overtime games as well as the deciding game going down to the wire.
In all, four of the ten quarterfinal games played this past weekend went to overtime, including the third and deciding game between Niagara and Air Force. Eight of those ten contests were one-goal games.
If championship weekend can come close to matching the dramatics of the past two playoff rounds, fans are in for a treat.
Dan: 6-5 (Talk about your late season slides. -Dan)
On the season:
Dan: 150-83-23 (.631)
Chris: 156-77-23 (.654)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, March 14 – Sunday, March 16 (Best of three series):
No. 8 Holy Cross at No. 1 Mercyhurst
Dan: There are three things that are certain in life – death, taxes, and Mercyhurst-Holy Cross with a chance to go to Rochester. Holy Cross has a chance in this series in that Matt Ginn can steal a couple of games, but the Lakers are one of those programs that seem destined for something great. In the end, the one Achilles’ heel facing Mercyhurst – their defense – plays right into the weakness of Holy Cross – their offense. Jimmy Sarjeant can bail out this team with the best of them, and there’s no reason why the Lakers don’t advance. Mercyhurst in a sweep.
Chris: This is the third consecutive season the teams have met in the quarterfinals and the Lakers have advanced both times. I think they make it three in a row. Holy Cross has solid, experienced goaltending and some offensive talent , but the Lakers have so many weapons and the best goalie in the league. The Lakers will lose if they beat themselves, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Mercyhrust in two.
No. 7 Canisius at No. 2 Bentley
Dan: This is an ultra intriguing matchup. Bentley has the chance to exorcise the demons from last year’s collapse when they got swept in the first round in Buffalo. Canisius has a championship pedigree, winning their last 10 AHA playoff games (sweep Bentley, sweep Air Force, beat Niagara, beat Mercyhurst, sweep Sacred Heart). While much of the attention is on Bentley’s high octane offense against Canisius’ lock down defense (which didn’t allow a single goal against Sacred Heart last week), the X factor is Bentley’s defense against Canisius’ offense. This could be Branden Komm’s time to shine. Bentley in three.
Chris: This is going to be a fun series between two teams with experienced goaltenders and guys that can score. The pressure is on Bentley, as it was on Air Force last season when the Griffs (also the seven seed then) shocked them in Colorado Springs. But Bentley is on a mission and after a few missteps down the stretch should be ready to go. Last season, some Canisius players had fun on Twitter pointing out that I picked against them in each of the seven times they won down the stretch to capture the title, so here you go, guys. Bentley in two.
No. 6 Niagara at No. 3 Air Force
Dan: Air Force was uncharacteristic down the stretch, going 3-3. But if you look further, that extrapolates to 6-3 with a sweep over Mercyhurst in there. Niagara is good, but they’re not great. Smart money’s on Air Force not missing Rochester after a one year absence. Air Force in two.
Chris: Niagara isn’t the powerhouse it was last season, but if rookie goaltender Jackson Reichroeb has another great weekend, this will go three. And I think it will, but the Falcons, determined not to lose on home ice in the quarterfinals again, will pull this out. Air Force in three.
No. 5 Robert Morris at No. 4 Connecticut
Dan: Ordinarily, I’d look at this series, pick Robert Morris, and immediately wince if they lost because it’s been my running joke all year. But this pick became more serious when Terry Shafer went down against Army and the Colonials found themselves needing to win a third game. UConn is the league’s best defense, and defenses win championships. I love Coach Schooley, and RMU is probably my favorite team not called Bentley or RIT. But my gut is telling me to go with the Huskies in this one in an AHA farewell to Freitas Forum. UConn in three.
Chris: We don’t know the status of regular RMU goaltender Terry Shafer, who was injured in the Colonials’ first-round series with Army. Coach Derek Schooley has said that it will be a game time decision, which is what a coach would say no matter what in a playoff situation. If he’s healthy I’d be inclined to say this will go three games with a possible RMU upset. But my gut tells me this UConn team, because of its senior class which is leading by example on the stat sheet, will find a way to get back to Rochester. UConn in three.
All home seeds moved on (more on that in a bit), but it wasn’t as easy as just saying it. A look at three things (okay, four) that made this weekend as insane as I’ll try to make it out to be:
Holy Cross Gets Divine Intervention
If I had to guess, some late night Friday (and maybe even early morning Saturday) prayers were answered by a higher power for the Holy Cross Crusaders. How else can you explain some of the whacky weirdness taking place on Saturday and Sunday in Games Two and Three of their series with Rochester Institute of Technology?
Let’s reset the scene. In Game One, the Crusaders battled back from down 1-0 and 2-1 to force overtime behind a third period goal by Shayne Stockton. In OT, though, the RIT Tigers scored at 13:23 off the stick of Brad McGowan. RIT, a team that didn’t win any of their five overtime games during the regular season but also a team that didn’t lose any (with an 0-0-5 record!), seemed to wrestle control of the series after winning their last three games to battle into the ninth seed.
Then came the weirdness. Several members of the RIT squad woke up sick on Saturday, forcing the Tigers to dress essentially four healthy defensemen and use a limited roster. The handicapped Tigers got tattooed, losing 5-1 in a game that was all Holy Cross from start to finish. It also meant RIT would face a decisive third game for the second time in their last three best-of-three series.
On Sunday, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead early in the second before surrendering two mid-period goals in that same frame. Tied at 2-2, the game went to another overtime. After settling into the Holy Cross zone, RIT attempted to work the puck around the backside of the net. Michael Holland dumped it in while getting shoved by Tim Driscoll, and Mike Colavecchia keeps it along the boards. You can clearly see Jake Bolton pin Ben Lynch in Gretzky’s Office, forcing the Tigers to follow it along the wall. That’s when it hits the skate of referee Ryan Sweeney. We know it’s Sweeney because the man in zebra stripes is wearing the orange arm bands, and Mike Taddeo’s nameplate is clearly visible at the start of the exchange.
Instead of hitting Alexander Kuqali, the puck deflects off Sweeney, allowing a breakout for Adam Schmidt up the right side. Kuqali gets semi-turned around, and Schmidt sends it right into the middle for Mike Barrett. Holland is back, gets down to a knee, but Barrett is in a good spot, on the forehand, and beats goalie Mike Rotolo to end the series. There’s great video posted online:
— Ed Trefzger (@EdTrefzgerUSCHO) March 10, 2014
It was unfortunate that a series would be decided off a fluky play involving a ref’s skate. It’s also an unsightly black eye on officiating that had been, at least in my eyes, improving over the course of the year. That RIT would lose the series after dealing with their team getting a plague in Game Two and off a fluky play in Game Three takes away from the potentially great series. But, as the adage goes, there were certainly opportunities for them to win the game before that ever happened, and it’s not about one play but a succession of plays to determine if a team should’ve picked up a win.
Push It To The Limit
Give credit where credit is due. Both Chris and I mentioned Army’s potential to take a game from the Robert Morris Colonials in the first round. But neither Chris nor I decided to pick them to win a game. Shows you what we know.
The Black Knights might have seen their season end on Sunday, but they taught the Colonials a good lesson in courage and blue collar hockey along the way. Despite leading 1-0 after the first period on Friday, the Black Knights fell behind, 8-1, in Game One, the Black Knights before scoring three third period goals to make it an 8-4 final. They built on that momentum to win in Game Two. And in Game Three, they took a 1-0 on a short-handed goal in the second period by Luke Jenkins after playing 0-0 hockey in the first. They did give up two goals over the course of the middle 20 minutes, but they kept the score tight at 2-1 even as RMU outshot them, 19-7, in that second period. But the Colonials shot down any chance of an Army comeback with a goal in the fifth minute of the third period.
Despite all the feel-good vibes being sent Army’s way, the Black Knights didn’t quite fit in Cinderella’s shoe. Every year, a top seed in the first round goes down to a lower seed out of all the conferences. For the West Pointers, it wasn’t meant to be (it ended up being Dartmouth over RPI in the ECAC). But if RMU is able to score a win out at UConn next week in the quarterfinals, they’ll be able to point to some trial-by-fire lessons taught by a hard-nosed, hard-fought series with Army.
How Sweep It Is.
Niagara and Canisius very quietly polished off AIC and Sacred Heart, ending hopes for the eastern schools to grab upset (and proving me wrong in the process). In the process, both teams are establishing solid legacies in the process.
The Golden Griffins are now 6-0 over the last two years in best-of-three series and haven’t lost an AHA playoff game since being swept in Connecticut against the Huskies in 2012. They’re on an eight-game AHA playoff winning streak and advance to the quarterfinals in a near-replica image of last year’s playoff run. After limping into they playoffs, they made quick work of the 10th seed and now face the second seeded team in the process. They also improved to 9-2 in the 12-team AHA era in the playoffs.
Niagara, meanwhile, won their second straight AHA best-of-three playoff. The Purple Eagles, since joining the AHA in 2011, have not lost a best-of-three series. In 2012, they finished second and swept seventh-seeded Robert Morris in a matchup of former CHA rivals. Last year, they swept RIT after finishing first. Ironically, they’ve never won a single game playoff, losing in the divisional first round in 2011 and losing in the AHA Semifinals in both ’12 and ’13.
The team that eliminated them in 2011, the last time they failed to make the quarterfinals? Canisius College.
Niagara advanced to play Air Force, while Canisius advanced to play Bentley.
For the second consecutive year, the first round dust settles with all home teams moving on. That means the top eight teams will play off in the quarterfinal round.
(8) Holy Cross at (1) Mercyhurst
(7) Canisius at (2) Bentley
(6) Niagara at (3) Air Force
(5) Robert Morris at (4) UConn
In the 12-team AHA era, the quarterfinals will see three rematches from last year. UConn swept Robert Morris in the exact same pairing (fifth seed at fourth seed) to advance to Rochester, while Mercyhurst took three games at Holy Cross last year in the sixth-at-third matchup. Canisius swept Bentley in the first round’s 7-vs-10 series. The only teams to not meet last year in some capacity was Niagara and Air Force, who have never played.
Going back further, this is the third consecutive year Mercyhurst plays Holy Cross in the playoffs. Bentley and Canisius previously met in 2009 in the quarterfinals in a best-of-three series. There’s also substantial history between other teams, with UConn-Mercyhurst series and Canisius-Mercyhurst rivalry games galore. But it’s not worth mentioning those unless we actually see them next week.
The next two wins are the hardest for all of these teams involved.
Over the past couple of seasons, Atlantic Hockey’s grown a reputation of having a rough and tumble, unpredictable playoff series where anything is possible. In the true spirit, thereof, two playoff series will go to three games this year in the first round, including the 5-vs-12 matchup reserved for the best team not to get a bye and the so-called worst team in the league. Since playoff matchups reseed for the second round, I figured it might behoove fans of teams to try and measure up who they could be playing by the time they wake up tomorrow. Let’s have a look.
• Everything is contingent on who wins the Robert Morris-Army series. It’s not shocking to some that Army’s gone to a third game with the way they’ve been playing as of late, and tonight they’ll try to become the first last place team to win a playoff game since American International beat the Black Knights in the weird divisional playoff single-game format of 2011. Rochester Institute of Technology and Holy Cross are also in a third game at 5 p.m. today out in Worcester. But we won’t know the matchups until after the RMU-Army game at 7 p.m. down in Pennsylvania.
• Canisius and Niagara advanced with two-game sweeps. One of those two teams is going to Air Force next week.
• If Army wins, the Black Knights automatically lock into going to Mercyhurst next week. That would send the winner of RIT-Holy Cross to Bentley, with Canisius going to Air Force and Niagara going to UConn.
• If Robert Morris wins, everyone slots up one seed in their opponent because the Colonials are locked into a series at fourth-seeded UConn, should they advance. That would mean Niagara is the lucky recipient of a trip to Air Force, with Canisius going to Bentley, and the RIT-Holy Cross winner going to Mercyhurst.