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Atlantic Hockey Picks, March 7-9 (Playoffs: First Round)

Last Week:
Dan: 5-6-1
Chris: 7-4-1

On the season:
Dan: 144-78-23 (.635)
Chris: 147-75-23 (.647)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, March 7 – Sunday, March 9 (Best of three series):

No. 12 Army at No. 5 Robert Morris
Dan: My problem with this series is that it’s ripe conditions for a trap series for RMU. Army is picking up steam, and Robert Morris is suddenly vulnerable after playing themselves out of a shot at a bye. If this were the regular season, I’d have no problem saying Army wins a game. But it’s the playoffs, and that counts for something. Robert Morris wins in two.
Chris: Army is playing some of its best hockey of the season right now, picking up two of its five wins over the past two weekends. But I think Robert Morris wins this series with the main question being if rookie goaltender Parker Gahagen can steal a game for the Black Knights. I’m leaning towards “no”, so I’m going with Robert Morris in two. 

No. 11 American International at No. 6 Niagara
Dan: In their two prior games this season, AIC creamed Niagara and Niagara creamed AIC. That means both of these games should be relatively close. AIC will be a force to be reckoned with when they have a couple more recruiting classes, but, unfortunately, the Niagara offense will be too much for their young, inexperienced goalie. Niagara in two.
Chris:  Neither team comes into this series on a hot streak – AIC lost four in a row to close out the regular season while the Purple Eagles went 1-3-1 in their last five. The Yellow Jackets have the better special teams but Niagara leads in every other category, so I’m picking the Purps to regain some of the home ice magic they’ve had the past few years. Niagara in two.

No. 10 Sacred Heart at No. 7 Canisius
Dan: The popular pick is going to be Canisius in this series because they’re heading into the playoffs looking much like the team that won it all last year. Here’s my thing – I wasn’t sold on Canisius this year because I felt they just got a run that was epic and unprecedented. It’s virtually impossible to catch lightning in a bottle. And there’s something about Sacred Heart that calls for an upset in this. They can score when it counts, and they can stop teams when it counts. Expect a couple of 5-3 or 5-4 games in this series. Statistics be damned, Sacred Heart with a three-game upset.
Chris: Canisius came from the seven seed last season to win this tournament last season, but the Griffs are limping into the playoffs this year, going just 2-5-1 in the month of February. The Pioneers have shown vast improvement over last season, going from two wins in 2012-13 to 12 this season, including some impressive upsets. This series is going three games, and I’m going with a gut pick for the more experienced Golden Griffins to prevail. Canisius in three. 

No. 9 Rochester Institute of Technology at No. 8 Holy Cross
Dan: This is a stark contrast matchup. RIT is high-risk, high-reward; they can be great on any night or lay a complete stinker. Holy Cross is more of a sure thing; we know what we’re getting night in and night out, even though it might not be spectacular. I think RIT is able to ride a hot hand into the second round on the basis of their special teams. Holy Cross is also 3-8-2 at home. Their three wins? Sacred Heart, Sacred Heart, and AIC. RIT wins in three.
Chris: RIT has obvious upset potential. The Tigers are finally healthy and have won three in a row  coming into this series. But the Crusaders matched RIT, also going 3-1 in their last four. For Holy Cross to win, it needs to avoid a special teams battle with the Tigers, who have a much better power play and penalty kill. The Crusaders have also not been strong at the Hart Center, winning just three times there this season. But I think this series will go the distance, and that the Crusaders will pull it out in a trio of close games. Holy Cross in three.

 

Three Things: March 2, 2014

Three (O.K. four) things from the weekend in Atlantic Hockey

Wrapping up the regular season

For a change, very little came down to the final game of the regular season in Atlantic Hockey. Seeds 1,6,7,8 and 12 were already settled before the puck was dropped on Saturday as well as three of the four teams to earn first-round byes.

The main battle was for that fourth bye, and it came down to Air Force and Robert Morris. The Falcons defeated Niagara 4-1, while Robert Morris fell to Mercyhurst 5-2.

The final seedings are as follows:
1. Mercyhurst
2. Bentley
3. Air Force
4. Connecticut
5. Robert Morris
6. Niagara
7. Canisius
8. Holy Cross
9. Rochester Institute of Technology
10. Sacred Heart
11. American International
12. Army

That sets up the following first round best-of-three series:
No. 12 Army at No. 5 Robert Morris
No. 11 AIC at No. 6 Niagara
No. 10 Sacred Heart at No. 7 Canisius
No. 9 RIT at No. 8 Holy Cross

Kings of the hill

Atlantic Hockey has a new all-time scorer. With a goal and an assist on Friday, Bentley’s Brett Gensler set the all-time AHA career record for points at 159, surpassing Pierre-Luc O’Brien, who amassed 158 for Sacred Heart between 2003-2007.

Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo also had a record-setting weekend, scoring his 22nd and 23rd goal of the season. Wydo surpassed Ryan Cruthers, who tallied 22 goals during his senior campaign (2007-2008) for the Colonials.

RIT-TER

Saturday’s game between Canisius and RIT was the final one in the history of Ritter Arena, home to the Tigers for 46 seasons.

RIT defeated the Golden Griffins 3-1 to mark the end of an era. Canisius was also the opponent for the Tiger’s first Divsion I home game at Ritter back in 2005.

Both teams will have new digs next season. Canisius moves from Buffalo State Ice Arena to Buffalo’s HarborCenter, currently under construction next to the First Niagara Center, home to the Buffalo Sabres. RIT is building the Gene Polisseni Center, which will have twice the capacity of Ritter.

 

Coaches vs. Writers

Now that the 2013-14 regular season is in the books, let’s look back and see how accurate the coach’s preseason poll was vs. USCHO writers Dan Rubin and myself.

Final StandingsCoach’s PollUSCHO
MercyhurstT-2nd1st
Bentley9th5th
Air ForceT-2nd3rd
Connecticut6th7th
Robert Morris7th8th
Niagara1st2nd
Canisius4th4th
Holy Cross8th9th
RIT5th6th
Sacred Heart12th12th
AIC11th10th
Army10th11th

 

It looks like Dan and I were the better prognosticators, off by a total of 24 places vs. 28 for the coaches.

On the final day of the regular season, here’s what we know

On the final day of the Atlantic Hockey regular season, here’s what we know:

1. Mercyhurst, Bentley and Connecticut have sewn up three of the four first-round byes. Mercyhurst will be the top seed. Bentley can finish no lower than third; Connecticut no lower than fourth.

2. Robert Morris and Air Force are competing for the fourth and final bye. They’re tied with 31 points each, but RMU holds the tiebreaker, so Air Force must finish at least one point higher. That means if the Colonials defeat Mercyhurst, they will claim the prize. The loser in this matchup will be home next weekend in the first round against Army.

3. Niagara is locked into sixth place; Canisius will finish seventh. and Holy Cross eighth. All three will host playoff series next weekend.

4. Rochester Institute of Technology, American International and Sacred Heart are jockeying for positions nine through 11. RIT needs a point or a Sacred Heart loss or tie to finish eighth and travel to Holy Cross for the first round. Otherwise the Tigers make the short trip to Canisius. Sacred Heart can finish between ninth and 11th; AIC will end 10th or 11th. Army will be the No. 12 seed.

Check back for official first-round pairings once the dust has settled.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Feb. 28-March 1

Last Week:
Dan: 5-6-1
Chris: 6-5-1

On the season:
Dan: 139-72-22 (.644)
Chris: 140-71-22 (.648)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March. 1:

American International vs. Bentley
Dan: This is going to be a highly emotional series for AIC and Bentley, two Northeast-10 rivals who have an immense and intense respect for one another.  Bentley is in position to wrap up a bye with a win on their senior day, in which they’ll honor the most celebrated class in program history.  This team is hungry, and they’ve answered the bell nearly every time they’ve needed to.  That said, does anyone forget last year’s overtime, short-handed, empty net goal by AIC on the last day to get the ninth seed?  This is going to be fun.   Bentley sweeps.
Chris: AIC played spoiler for Bentley when the two teams closed out last season, knocking the Falcons out of a home ice spot. The Yellow Jackets can again cause problems for the Falcons, who are among four teams vying for three available first round byes. I don’t know what to make of Bentley, who has the tools to win it all this season but was swept last weekend by Sacred Heart. I think this series will go a long way in determining which Bentley team we see in the playoffs. I’m going with a gut pick of a Falcons sweep.

Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Canisius
Dan: There’s going to be a lot more nostalgia on Saturday than on Friday as RIT and Canisius close their respective buildings.  I think Canisius is better suited to win games, but there is absolutely no way RIT ends the Ritter era with a loss.  There’s going to be something magical for the Corner Crew that night.  That said, I can’t wait for them to close the doors on that house of horrors (wink wink).  Canisius wins at home on Friday.  RIT wins on Saturday.
Chris:  The Tigers used to dominate their Thruway rivals but the Golden Griffins have beaten RIT four times in a row . In terms of standings, neither team has much to play for since Canisius knows it is hosting a first round series and the Tigers know they are on the road in the first round. There’s a pretty good chance they may square of against each other in the playoffs the following weekend. But each team is playing its final regular season game ever in its respective buildings – Canisius moves from Buffalo State to nicer digs at the downtown HarborCenter, which is under construction. Also under construction is the Polisseni Center at RIT, which will be the Tigers’ new home next season after 46 years at Ritter Arena. I”m going with a sentimental pick of the home team winning each game. Canisius wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.

Army vs. Holy Cross
Dan: Let’s flash back to last week for a second when I said the following: “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.”"  They wasted no time by winning on Friday, so here you go -  told you so.  I think they can get a point off of Holy Cross on Saturday, but the Crusaders are going for that home series on Friday (all they need is a point).  Since I can’t pick ties, I’m picking Army for an upset after the Crusaders wrap it up.  Holy Cross wins on Friday; ARMY wins on Saturday.
Chris: The Black Knights can also play spoiler. They are locked into last place but Holy Cross needs a single point to wrap up a first round home series. Army got a confidence boost by beating Connecticut last Friday to snap a 13-game winless streak but I think Holy Cross will earn at least a point on Friday at home. If the Crusaders do clinch on Friday, they could be due for a letdown on Saturday but I think I’ll stick with Holy Cross to sweep.

Robert Morris vs. Mercyhurst
Dan: Mercyhurst has nothing left to play for in the regular season, having wrapped up the regular season championship.  Robert Morris needs one point and a one-point slip up from Air Force in order at minimum to take a bye.  There’s no reason for the Lakers to play hard when they can take the extra rest.  That said, two weeks rest could tighten them up, so I think the Lakers play hard on one night and rest up the other.  I’m also calling for the Colonials to get a bye and Air Force to end up hosting Army next week, even though I think RMU ends up hosting the Knights next week.  Mercyhurst wins on Friday.  RMU wins on Saturday.
Chris: The Lakers have the top seed wrapped up and RMU is in a dogfight with Bentley, Air Force and Connecticut for the final three first round byes.   Mercyhurst wants to finish strong going into a bye week and I think it will prevail despite these games being more important to the Colonials. Mercyhurst sweeps.

Air Force at Niagara
Dan: Air Force enters the final weekend potentially not holding any tie break scenarios over anyone.  They can’t win the head-to-head with Bentley or Air Force, and if they tie with Connecticut, there’s a chance they lose the 2nd tie break scenario on league wins.  I also think they have what might be the toughest matchup with a hungry Niagara team fighting for the sixth seed.  If Air Force is the odd team out, Army heads to the academy for a playoff series that will be an instant classic given how they play one another.  With all of that riding against them, that’s exactly when the cadets become toughest to beat.  Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Air Force has more motivation in this series because the Falcons are in the running for a first round bye and can guarantee that with a sweep. Niagara is locked into a sixth-ninth finish. I’m counting on the usual Air Force late season run to carry them to a road sweep.

Connecticut vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: It’s fitting that UConn’s last weekend of AHA regular season games comes in its home state against a Nutmeg State rival.  The X factor to this series is how SHU can play; their attitude is different this year in a sense that if they get a 3-0 lead and start to blow it, they get tough.  Last year, a 3-0 lead would turn into 3-2 leads which in turn would become 6-3 deficits.  Now, 3-0 becomes 3-2 becomes 5-3 wins.  That said, SHU needs a miracle to get the home series in the first round – an Army sweep of Holy Cross plus a sweep for themselves of the Huskies.  I just don’t see that happening with UConn looking for a bye.  UConn sweeps.
Chris: The Pioneers showed last weekend that they can be a dangerous team in the postseason, sweeping Bentley. UConn’s chances to lock up a bye last weekend were derailed by a loss to last-place Army. I think that will serve as a wake-up call to the Huskies, whom I think will get a pair of wins in their final regular season Atlantic Hockey weekend.  UConn sweeps.

Three Things: February 23, 2014

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:

Sacred sweep

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.

Record-setting greatness

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.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Feb. 21-22

Last Week:
Dan: 9-3-0
Chris: 8-4-0

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. 

Three Things: February 16, 2014

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.

 

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Feb. 13-15

Last Week:
Dan: 6-5-2
Chris: 7-4-2

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: February 9, 2014

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.

Hobey Hopeful?

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.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Feb. 6-11

Last Week:
Dan: 5-5-2
Chris: 6-4-2

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. 

 

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