Top-seed Mercyhurst was the only home team to advance in last week’s quarterfinal round.
A weekend’s worth of observations set us up for a great final weekend stretch run with all kinds of playoff implications in Atlantic Hockey:
Bentley entered this weekend needing just four points to seal up a first-round bye and continue pace with first-place Mercyhurst. The Falcons also stood as one of three AHA teams yet to be swept in a conference slate of league games (the others being Canisius and Connecticut). Sacred Heart, meanwhile, was vastly improved off last year’s 0-26-2 start and 2-28-4 regular season but still an 11th-place team entering the weekend. The easy money stood on a Bentley sweep, especially after the Pioneers defeated the Falcons 3-1 earlier this year.
That’s why they play the games.
Sacred Heart used two goals in the final 2:18 of the third period to upend Bentley 5-4 on Friday, then used a 3-0 lead to pace a 5-2 victory in Watertown, Mass., on Saturday. Sacred Heart picked up its first full, three-game season sweep of an eastern pod opponent since 2009-10. It was the Pioneers’ second weekend, two-game sweep this year, the first since taking two from Army in the first half. By picking up four points, they have 20 points, three behind Holy Cross and keeping the Crusaders from outright clinching the league’s last home playoff slot. It also sets up some drama as the Pioneers get set to host Connecticut for two games next week while Holy Cross plays a home-and-home with Army. While the Crusaders need just a tie to secure the slot (they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their two wins over the Pioneers), it keeps the discussion open while Holy Cross fights for a shot to finish as high as sixth.
Head coach CJ Marottolo largely credited his team’s leadership. “This is such a fun team to coach,” he said after the weekend. “We’re going to have a great series [with UConn next weekend]. We all have great respect for that team, and we all have great respect for Coach Cavanaugh and what he’s accomplished. We know we’re going to have our hands full, but we have to just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is play our game and take it one shift at a time.”
Started from the bottom, now they’re here
Besides Sacred Heart, the bottom half of Atlantic Hockey put together one of its finest showings of the year. Teams placed seventh through 12th went 5-3-1 in games played against teams entering the weekend first through sixth. The lower half of the league ended up going 7-5-1 on the weekend when factoring in that Holy Cross played American International. Upsets included big wins by Rochester Institute of Technology over Air Force and Canisius over Robert Morris. Army finally got its breakthrough by spoiling Connecticut’s last Atlantic Hockey senior day, and Niagara drew a tie with Mercyhurst on Friday.
It won’t be enough to close the gaps between the three tiers of teams fighting for playoff positioning in the last week of the season. But it will be enough to show that the AHA playoffs could be just as crazy this year as it was last year. Anyone on any given day can win.
While he won’t be around long enough to play with his school in Hockey East, Brant Harris set a new standard of excellence this weekend when he broke UConn’s Division I scoring record (1998-present). Harris scored two assists to bring his career total to 109 points in 137 career games. Right behind him is Jordan Sims, who has 101 points in 142 career games. While it’s likely Harris will finish with the record, we can still keep an eye on how Sims finishes to see if the duo will battle for the right to hold that record upon graduation.
For Bentley’s season, which has broken nearly every offensive record possible, Brett Gensler likely will get most of the season-end accolades by virtue of setting his school’s Division I scoring record (157 points and counting), but Andrew Gladiuk should almost assuredly win some hardware somewhere. The reigning AHA rookie of the year scored two more power-play goals on the season. He’s shattered the school’s single-season record by having 16 (and counting), and his 20 career goals is closing in on the all-time record … as a sophomore. Gladiuk has 22 goals on the season, one short of Gensler’s Division I record set in 2011-12. Alex Grieve is right behind him with 20.
One last thing: Playoff update
We’ll talk more and more about this as the week progresses, but here’s a brief summary. Mercyhurst clinched the AHA regular season title this week very quietly with a win and tie over Niagara. That leaves Bentley, Air Force, UConn and Robert Morris to battle it out for the remaining three bye slots. The odd team out will finish fifth.
Niagara, Canisius and Holy Cross are fighting for the sixth through eighth spots, with only Sacred Heart having a mathematical chance to catch the Crusaders for the final home slot. Holy Cross needs one point to end that race.
By virtue of RIT’s win and AIC’s loss-via-sweep, those two teams sit one point back of SHU for the ninth slot. While the Yellow Jackets were denied the right to play at home in the playoffs this year, they can still finish as high as ninth, their finishing spot a year ago. These three teams will battle for the 9-11 spots. Army clinched the 12th spot some time ago.
On the season:
Dan: 134-66-21 (.654)
Chris: 134-66-21 (.654)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22:
Rochester Institute of Technology at Air Force
Dan: The bad karma bus is steamrolling through Rochester these days. They’re hurt, they’re struggling, and they’re getting beat badly by teams. If RIT were at home, maybe I’d take them for a point, but they won’t win going west with Air Force fighting for a bye. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Even in seasons when the Tigers have been near the top of the standings, RIT has struggled at Cadet Ice Arena (2-9-1). With RIT still plagued with injuries and struggling, I’m picking the Falcons to grab four points.
American International vs. Holy Cross
Dan: Both teams can pretty much clinch home ice with a sweep, which is exactly why it won’t happen. AIC is 4-8 at home and 5-5-1 on the road, so I’m picking the Yellow Jackets to win on the road. But Matt Ginn won’t let Holy Cross lose both games this weekend. And I’m keeping up the pressure on AIC to get word out for this team – if you get home ice in the playoffs, do whatever you can to pack the OIC. That said, Saturday’s game is at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, so hopefully there’s a good turnout. AIC wins on Friday. Holy Cross wins on Saturday.
Chris: The teams are tied for the eighth and final home ice position. It will be interesting to see how the Yellow Jackets respond in their final four games as they look to make history and host a playoff series at the Olympia Ice Center. I’m going with the home team in each game, which means a Holy Cross win on Friday and an AIC victory on Saturday.
Connecticut vs. Army
Dan: Despite long odds against them every day in the stat column, I think Army is good enough to win a game and mark it down – they’re winning one of their last four. But I can’t take them logically. So I’ll just wait for them to prove me wrong and then use 20-20 hindsight to say, “Told you so.” UConn sweeps.
Chris: The Black Knights are locked into 12th place and look to play spoiler against the fourth-place Huskies, who would receive a first-round bye if the season ended today. I think that’s sufficient motivation for a UConn sweep.
Bentley vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: Ryan Soderquist told me this week that his Falcons were going to put extra emphasis on blue collar hockey against a Sacred Heart team that beat them 3-1 earlier in the year. Maybe I’m a homer, but I think Bentley gets their four points, seals up a bye, and heads to the playoffs as a potential favorite to win it all. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: Sacred Heart is much improved over last season and has done a good job staying in the mix for home ice – they’re three points out of eighth place with with four games to play. But I like Bentley to keep place in its quest for the regular season title. Bentley sweeps.
Robert Morris vs. Canisius
Dan: Robert Morris finally lost a game when Niagara beat them 5-3 last weekend. That said, they’re still only one point out of that last playoff bye spot, and you probably won’t find a team in the league with the same compete level as the Colonials. I’ve been on the RMU bandwagon since day one, and I’m not jumping off now, even if it means I start kissing them with that jinx again. RMU sweeps.
Chris: Canisius has been the most difficult team for me to pick this season. They’ve been consistently inconsistent. Robert Morris saw its record nine-game unbeaten streak come to an end last weekend, and it will be interesting to see how the Colonials respond. What will happen? When in doubt, I go with the home team. RMU wins Friday; Canisius on Saturday,
Mercyhurst vs. Niagara
Dan: The Lakers rebounded from a bad sweep at Air Force to beat up on RIT last week. The Purple Eagles are hitting their stride, going 5-1-1 in their last seven games and moving closer to sealing up the sixth slot. This is going to be a fun weekend, and I think Niagara might have enough in the tank to take points from the Lakers and catch the first place team napping at home. For that reason, I’m going to make my customary bold move and go with a split. Niagara wins on Friday. Mercyhurst on Saturday
Chris: The Lakers are closing in on their first AHA regular season title, leading Bentley by two points with four games left. Niagara is tough to beat at home and I wouldn’t be surprised with a split, but my gut tells me Mercyhurst is going to come out of this weekend with four points and set the stage for a down-to-the-wire final weekend. Lakers sweep.
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.
On the season:
Dan: 125-63-21 (.648)
Chris: 126-62-21 (.653)
This Week’s Picks
Thursday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 15:
Niagara vs. Robert Morris
Dan: RMU hasn’t lost since January 9th, going 7-0-2 since losing to UConn. Over the second half of the season, the Colonials are 9-1-2. Hard to pick against that. RMU sweeps.
Chris: Robert Morris is the hottest team in the league so it’s tough to pick against the Colonials. RMU is just 3-6-3 against their former CHA rivals since joining Atlantic Hockey, but I think the Colonials will take at least three points this weekend. Since I can’t pick ties, I’m going with an RMU sweep.
Friday, Feb. 14 and Saturday, Feb. 15:
Sacred Heart vs. American International
Dan: AIC hasn’t lost to Sacred Heart since January 27, 2012, and they haven’t lost a season series to the Pioneers since getting swept in 2009-2010. I think this is as hard as ever to pick a sweep, but I pride myself on making bold statements like this. AIC sweeps.
Chris: All of the Eastern Pod teams are playing home and home again this weekend, which increases the probability of some splits. I think that’s what will happen with the Pioneers and Yellow Jackets this weekend. I’m going with the home team each night. AIC wins Friday; Sacred Heart on Saturday.
Bentley vs. Army
Dan: Army hasn’t been swept by Bentley since 2008-2009, a testament to how hard they typically play the Falcons. And there’s something about the JAR’s smaller sheet that’s built for West Point to take a point. Over the span of the 11-game season losing streak they’re currently on, Army has rarely been blown out. Still, Bentley’s two points out of first with the western pod picking up, and now’s not the time for them to take their foot off the accelerator. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: Army is certainly capable of getting a split here, especially at home on Friday, but I think Bentley, just two points out of first place, will be sufficiently motivated not to leave points on the table against the last place Black Knights. Bentley sweeps.
Holy Cross vs. Connecticut
Dan: UConn’s goaltending riches were partially bankrupted last week when Robby Nichols tasted his first bite of struggle. I think he gets a chance to rally back, but I doubt we see him in both games. That said, the Nichols/Grogan platoon is going to head into the playoffs as best in the league. UConn sweeps.
Chris: The Huskies lead the Crusaders by 10 points in the standing but I expect these games to be close. Again, I’d pick a tie on Saturday if I could, but I’m going with a UConn sweep.
Air Force at Canisius
Dan: Since the AHA went to 12 teams, the Falcons are 20-5-4 in February, including last weekend’s sweep of Mercyhurst. Would you bet against that? I wouldn’t either. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: The Falcons are coming off a sweep of first-place Mercyhurst, and I suspect that was the start of the typical Air Force end-of-the-season run. I’m picking the Falcons to sweep.
Mercyhurst at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Mercyhurst got swept by Air Force last week, so let’s take that with a grain of salt since this is really the first taste of adversity they’ve faced all season. On the flip side, RIT was supposed to make a comeback to the top of the standings by heading home. Instead, the roof’s caved in. They can salvage the beginning of the end of Ritter Arena by upsetting the Lakers. I just think the Lakers will send a message this weekend. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: The Lakers are smarting from last weekend, as are the Tigers, who are just 0-3-2 going into the final two games of a seven game home stand. I think Mercyhurst will rebound, so I’m going with a Lakers sweep.
Three things from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Not so fast
The weekend before last, Mercyhurst was able to extend its lead over second-place Bentley by taking three of four points against the Falcons. The Lakers were threatening to run away with the regular season title headed into a pair of games at Air Force, a team they had drubbed 8-2 earlier in the season. Mercyhurst was 7-2-1 all-time at Cadet Ice Arena, one of the few teams in the league that’s had success there.
But after opening a 2-0 lead five minutes into Friday’s game, Mercyhurst was able to muster just a single goal over the next 115, losing 5-3 on Friday and 2-0 on Saturday.
Chris Truehl, who has been filling in for the injured Jason Torf in net for the Falcons for the past 11 games, continued his solid play with 58 saves, including 24 in Saturday’s shutout.
The Falcons top line of Chad Demers, Cole Gunner and Scott Holm were spectacular, combining for six of the seven Air Force goals.
With the sweep, Air Force moved into a tie with Connecticut for third place, three points behind Mercyhurst. As usual, it seems that the Falcons are going to have a say on who ultimately claims the title.
In its ten-year history, Atlantic Hockey has seen one of its players named as a Hobey Baker Finalist seven times:
- 2013 Carsen Chubak (Niagara)
- 2012 Tim Kirby (Air Force)
- 2011 Paul Zanette (Niagara)
- 2009 Jacques Lamoureux (Air Force)
- 2008 Simon Lambert (Rochester Institute of Technology)
- 2007 Eric Ehn (Air Force)
- 2005 Reid Cashman (Quinnipiac)
2013-14 has been shaping up to be the fourth time in league history without a Hobey finalist, but a few AHA players remain dark horses in the race, including Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo. The senior had another excellent weekend, helping the Colonials to take three points at RIT to extend their unbeaten streak to a school-record nine games.
Wydo scored the game-tying goal late in the third period on on Friday, and got the game winner on Saturday. He now has 21 goals on the season, tops in Atlantic Hockey and third nationally.
A couple of more weekends like that will have Wydo in the mix for a Hobey finalist spot.
Three hundred and one
On Friday, American International coach Gary Wright became the 80th coach in men’s NCAA hockey history to record 300 career wins. The Yellow Jackets defeated Army 2-1 for their eighth victory of the season.
What did Wright’s team do for an encore? Play the most exciting game of the weekend, defeating the Black Knights 5-4 in overtime. Each team had two-goal leads during the game, but it came down to a goal by the Yellow Jackets’ ‘s Jon Puskar just 14 seconds into the extra frame. The goal was Puskar’s 88th career point, moving him into fourth place all-time at AIC.
On the season:
Dan: 119-58-19 (.656)
Chris: 119-58-19 (.656)
This Week’s Picks
Thursday, Feb. 6 and Saturday, Feb. 8:
Canisius vs. Niagara
Dan: Niagara is capable of beating anybody on any given day. So’s Canisius. They’re in a dead heat in the standings, and both teams have one major standout success with one major standout drawback. I’m going to give the edge to goaltending in this series, though, and pick the Griffs. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: This one’s a tossup since both teams have been inconsistent all season. One point separates them in the standings and I expect these games to be close as well. They’ve had success in each other’s barns but I’m going with the home team in each game. Niagara wins Thursday; Canisius wins Saturday.
Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8:
Robert Morris at RIT
Dan: Every year, one team towards the top of the standings has an unfortunate hole in its game exploited while another team starts slow and trends up with unabashed fire. This year, these are those two teams. RMU sweeps.
Chris: These are teams moving in opposite directions: RIT has won just twice in its last 11 games, while RMU has only one loss in its last ten contests. I think those trends will continue. RMU sweeps.
Mercyhusrt at Air Force
Dan: Air Force needs these points a lot more than Mercyhurst, and the Lakers are coming off three hard-earned points at home against second place Bentley. I think Air Force takes a game in this one, but there’s no way anyone can take Mercyhurs to be swept. Air Force wins on Friday; Mercyhurst on Saturday.
Chris: The Falcons really need these games if they want to stay in the hunt for a first-round bye. As dominant as Mercyhurst as been this season, I think Air Force earns a split here, especially if Jason Torf returns in net. Mercyhurst wins Friday; Air Force wins Saturday.
Army vs. American International
Dan: AIC is within three points of its first ever first round home series. In front of them are a Holy Cross team that’s good but beatable and an RIT team in free fall mode. I’m going to buy in on the Yellow Jackets now and laugh at everyone later when someone is playing in Springfield in the first round. AIC sweeps.
Chris: The Black Knight have fallen off the pace and are already eliminated from the possibility of a first-round bye. They certainly can defeat the Yellow Jackets, especially at home on Saturday, but AIC is playing well and I think it takes both games. AIC sweeps.
Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: Both teams need a sweep in this series in order to give themselves a good chance at a first round home series, and the question remains as to who wants it more. Last year, when SHU was 0-26-2, they beat and battered Holy Cross to start a 2-1-2 stretch of hockey. I’m going with the Pioneers in this one. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris: Both teams have the capability of finishing in the top eight (Holy Cross is one point out; Sacred Heart is four). A split would hurt both, but that’s what I think will happen. I’m going with the home team in each game. Sacred Heart wins Friday; Holy Cross on Saturday.
Bentley vs. Connecticut
Dan: Bentley and UConn are virtual doppelgangers of each other. Both have solid offenses capable of rolling out multiple lines, both have good defenses anchored by tremendous goaltenders. I have a feeling we’ll one day see Matt Grogan against Branden Komm in an AHL rink sooner rather than later. Nobody will be surprised if UConn wins, but Bentley won’t soon forget last year’s 9-0 shellacking in Storrs late in the year. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: Bentley played well enough last weekend to sweep Mercyhurst but had to settle for a single point. I think the Falcons get all four this weekend against a strong UConn team. These will be great games, but Bentley sweeps.
Tuesday, Feb. 11:
Connecticut at Providence
Dan: Coming off an emotional series with Bentley, I can’t see the Huskies taking out the Friars, no matter how badly PC has played the last month. Expect the Friars to hand the AHA its 65th non-conference loss this year. Providence wins.
Chris: This is the final regular season non-conference game for the league, which has been a less-than-impressive 15-64-5 so far. I think the 8th-ranked Friars end things on a down note for the AHA. Providence wins.
Three things (and more) from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
“An awesome thing”
Mercyhurst goaltender Jordan Tibbett has had an up-but-mostly-down season so far for the Lakers. Coming off the 2012-13 season where he played in 18 games and registered a .925 save percentage, Tibbett lost the job to Jimmy Sargeant, who is second in the league in both GAA (2.33) and save percentage (.932).
But when Sargeant went down with an injury on Jan. 25 in a game against Canisius, Tibbett made his first appearance in a month and looked rusty, allowed five goals on 17 shots.
But this past weekend in a showdown for first place with Bentley, Tibbett regained his form, holding the high-powered Falcons offense to just three goals on 69 shots. Mercyhurst took three points from Bentley, extending its lead to four points over the Falcons. It was Tibbett’s first win in net since the Atlantic Hockey semifinals last season.
“I’m really happy for our hockey team, and especially (for) Jordan Tibbett,” Lakers coach Gotkin told the Erie Times-News. “It hasn’t been an easy couple months for Tibbs. When we needed him most, he was at his best. I think that’s an awesome thing.”
Quite a draw
On Saturday, the Lakers set a home attendance record, cramming 1,817 into the Mercyhurst Ice Center, which has a listed capacity of 1,300. The draw? Besides the clash of first and second place teams, the Stanley Cup was in the house thanks to Lakers’ trainer Mike Folga, who was on the New York Rangers’ staff when the Blueshirts won it all in 1994. It was long delayed, but Folga finally got his day with the Cup.
Let’s see that one again
There was a bit of controversy in Friday’s 2-2 tie between Bentley and Mercyhurst. A possible goal by Bentley’s Brett Gensler may have been missed. Mercyhurst does not yet employ video replay, which will be mandatory in Atlantic Hockey beginning next season. Currently, only Air Force, Army, Bentley and Rochester Institute of Technology have video replay capability.
Winning the battle but not the war
There’s an adage in hockey that the squad that wins the special teams battle will prevail. RIT dominated Holy Cross in special teams last weekend, but it was the Crusaders that came away with three points, tying the Tigers 3-3 on Friday and defeating them 4-2 on Saturday.
RIT was a combined four for seven on the power play, and held Holy Cross to just one power play goal in eight attempts. But the Crusaders only allowed one even strength goal all weekend.
Every second counts
Sacred Heart scored a rare buzzer-beater goal on Friday in a 4-3 win against Niagara. Freshman Mitch Nylen scored off a faceoff with just 0.9 seconds left. Here’s the video. Enjoy.
On the season:
Dan: 114-53-17 (.666)
Chris: 113-54-17 (.660)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb 1:
Connecticut at Air Force
Dan: I think the RMU series might have exposed some of the issues with Air Force down the stretch. They were down 3-0 until the final five seconds of Friday, and they gave up three second period goals in Saturday’s loss. On the flip side, I think UConn has a good chance to catch the top two, especially with next against Bentley looming. UConn sweeps.
Chris: UConn has had success against the Western Pod this season (5-2-3) but I like the Falcons, still smarting froma sweep at the hands of Robert Morris last weekend, to come out hard at home. Air Force is 16-2-1 against UConn at the Cadet Ice Arena, and I think it will put another pair of wins in the book. Air Force sweeps.
Canisius at American International
Dan: Canisius is starting to load up to get hot, and they shouldn’t have much trouble with AIC. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: Canisius is coming off a nice win at first-place Mercyhurst and is 12-0-2 against AIC in their last fourteen meetings. I’m picking the Golden Griffins to extend that streak. Canisius sweeps.
Holy Cross at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: I think Holy Cross has the horses to go into RIT and take a game, and I think RIT’s goaltending is in box of chocolates mode – you never know what you’re gonna get. That said, RIT usually beats Holy Cross at home and the Tigers have had success against the east. Don’t be shocked if Holy Cross takes a game. RIT sweeps.
Chris: Holy Cross is a better team than than its record indicates, and despite the Tigers’ dominance over the Crusaders at Ritter Arena (12-1) over the years, I’m picking Holy Cross to continue RIT’s woes. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara at Sacred Heart
Dan: Niagara is starting to pick up steam, and I think this trip east is going to set them up for a decent run through the west that’ll see them finish higher than a bubble first round home series. Niagara sweeps.
Chris: Niagara found its groove last weekend, and I like the Purple Eagles to build off some new-found confidence. Niagara sweeps.
Army at Robert Morris
Dan: Army has really struggled in league play this year, having not won since Pearl Harbor Day back in December. I don’t see a reason that changes this weekend when they play a Robert Morris team that could conceivably finish in the top four and be in a second round home series at this rate. Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris: The Colonials are playing their best hockey of the season, and while Army will be bolstered by a nice come-from-behind win over rival Royal Military College of Canada last weekend, I think RMU gets a pair of wins at home. Robert Morris sweeps.
Bentley at Mercyhurst
Dan: This is going to be a titan matchup. Both teams have solid offenses, stout defenses, and strong goaltending. I give an edge to Mercyhurst because I think their offense is a little bit better than Bentley’s, but I think this is a litmus test for both teams that provide them both with a win. Mercyhurst wins on Friday. Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris: I saved the best for last. This is the final weekend of interpod play, and we’ll go out with a bang as the first and second-place teams square off. They split last year in Watertown, and I think they will again in Erie. Mercyhurst wins Friday; Bentley wins Saturday.
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.
On the season:
Dan: 110-49-17 (.673)
Chris: 109-50-17 (.668)
This Week’s Picks
Thursday, Jan. 23 and Saturday, Jan. 25:
Mercyhurst vs. Canisius
Dan: This is one of those series where you throw records out the window. Mercyhurst is 11-1-3 in league play but is coming off two ties against Connecticut. Canisius lost and tied Bentley in games where they had leads they couldn’t hold. Both have very high ceilings – Canisius beat Mercyhurst last year to advance to the NCAA Tournament. But I can’t help but think Mercyhurst is going to bounce back this weekend and be all kinds of geared up for Canisius. I think they take three points, but since I can’t pick ties, I’ll go with a Laker sweep.
Chris: The teams meet for the 76th and 77th time in this rivalry that dates back to 1987. Canisius won the biggest game in the series history: 7-2 in the AHA title game last season. The Golden Griffins are also the only team that has beaten the Lakers in league play this season. Still, I’m going with the Lakers to sweep.
Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25
Connecticut vs American International
Dan: As I mentioned in this week’s column, I have no idea what to make of AIC anymore. They’re averaging 40 shots allowed per game, yet they’re in a very good position as they get set for a stretch run against eastern teams. I’ve never felt good about picking against them, but the stats against them are way too glaring at times. UConn sweeps
Chris: AIC has showed it’s capable of knocking off anyone in the conference, but I think the Huskies are playing the kind of hockey right now that avoids upsets. UConn sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Niagara
Dan: Contrary to past years when RIT had one stalwart goalie they could rely on, they’re running into a case of riding the hot hand in net this year. Jordan Ruby is heating up, so I think they can ride him clear to their first victory ever at Niagara. They return home on Saturday, where they won’t leave until the playoffs are in the process of being decided. RIT sweeps.
Chris: Past performance isn’t an indicator of future results and all that. Except when it is. It stops being a coincidence when eight of the last 11 games between these two teams has gone to overtime. RIT has only been on the winning end of one of those contests, and has never won against Niagara at Dwyer Arena, which is where Friday’s nationally televised game on CBS Sports Network, will take place. Saturday the action shifts to Ritter Arena, where RIT will play its next seven games. Since I can’t pick ties, I’m going with the home team in each game. Niagara wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.
Air Force at Robert Morris
Dan: Air Force hasn’t lost since their third period/overtime collapse against AIC. But then again, their five games were their return match with AIC, two against Army, and two against Sacred Heart and goalie Chris Truehl hasn’t been fully tested by a top-to-bottom offense. RMU is also pistol hot, but with the exception of their UConn split, it’s come at the expense of AIC and Sacred Heart as well. Translation: this can go either way. Air Force wins on Friday; Robert Morris on Saturday
Chris: Both teams come into this series playing well: Air Force has won five in a row, and RMU is 4-1-1 in its last six. In November, the Falcons built a 4-1 lead and then held on for a 4-3 win on home ice. This time the home advantage is with the Colonials, but I think Air Force wins a pair of close games. Air Force sweeps.
Saturday, Jan. 25
Bentley at Holy Cross
Dan: Bentley clinched its first series win since 2009 when they beat Holy Cross at Fenway Park. In the dog days of the season, the Falcons are finding ways to not lose points, while Holy Cross cured its major offensive issues with a sweep of Niagara last week. In both games this year, Bentley came from behind to beat the ‘Saders. Make no mistake – this is a rivalry. Bentley wins a close, tough, emotional game.
Chris: This was supposed to be a home-and-home weekend series, but Friday’s game was moved up for Frozen Fenway and played on Dec. 28. This is the final regular season meeting between the schools with the Falcons winning the two previous games by identical 3-2 scores. I like Bentley to stay hot and win another close game. Bentley wins.