The Pioneers will have home ice for the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
On the season:
Dan: 92-59-21 (.596)
Chris: 102-49-21 (.648)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 30 and Saturday, January 31
Robert Morris at Air Force
Dan: I’m pumped about this series. These are two teams going pistol hot, which means at some point, someone’s run comes to an end. Even though it’s come at the expense of the lower team,s I’m going with Air Force. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Something’s gotta give here. Air Force has won seven straight against Robert Morris at the Academy, while RMU is 6-1-1 on the road this season. The Falcons are the only team to get the better of the Colonials so far, taking three of four points during a visit to 84 Lumber Arena in November. I’m picking a split, with Air Force winning on Friday and RMU coming back with a victory on Saturday.
Sacred Heart at American International
Dan: Sacred Heart has some major momentum after beating Mercyhurst last week. I’m taking them for a pair. Pioneers sweep.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets have had the momentum in this series recently, but the Pioneers are coming off a good weekend, taking three of four points against Mercyhurst. I like that trend to continue. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Niagara at Holy Cross
Dan: Holy Cross needs these points desperately, which I think paces them against Niagara. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: Purple will be the dominant color this weekend at the Hart Center, and while both teams have struggled recently (Niagara has struggled all season), I think Holy Cross gets back on track here with a sweep.
Bentley at Mercyhurst
Dan: I really think Bentley could’ve had a four point weekend last weekend, but RIT played superb on Saturday. I think Bentley gets back on track with this weekend. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: When these teams met earlier in the season, I predicted a high-scoring series, and it was indeed with Bentley earning three points with a 4-4 tie and a 5-4 overtime win. I have a gut feeling that Bentley will again pull out at least a win and a tie, so I’m going with a Falcons sweep.
Army at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: I believe in Army’s ability to pick up points at some point, even though they haven’t won in their last 13 tries. RIT returns home on the heels of a big split with a chance to get up into the top five. RIT sweeps…but not by much.
Chris: RIT has dominated this series, especially on home ice. The Black Knights haven’t beaten the Tigers in their last 13 meetings and I think that streak will continue. RIT sweeps.
Three (four) observations from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
What a weekend means
Three sweeps, a split, and a win/tie resulted in more separation in what has until recently been a logjammed Atlantic Hockey standings. There are now some teams or groupings separated by four points, i.e. a weekend sweep. Four points means teams are one weekend from moving up:
- First-place Robert Morris, which swept Holy Cross in a pair of close games, has a four point lead on Canisius, which kept pace with a sweep of Niagara.
- Canius now leads third-place Mercyhurst, which managed a single point at Sacred Heart, by four points.
- Behind Mercyhurst are five teams all within four points of each other: Air Force (swept American International), Bentley and Rochester Institute of Technology (which split their series) and Holy Cross.
- The pattern changes a bit with eighth-place Sacred Heart trailing Holy Cross by three points, but we’re back to fours again with Army, which is a quartet of points behind the Pioneers.
- The bottom three teams: Army, American International and Niagara are separated by, you guessed it, four points. Or to put it another way, one weekend.
The usual suspects were all over the scoring sheets this weekend, trying to keep pace with the national goal scoring leader, Union’s Daniel Ciampini. Ciampini had a hat-trick in his only game this weekend, an 8-3 win over Rensselaer, so he leads the chase for the scoring title by three goals over a group that includes RIT’s Matt Garbowsky. Garbowsky scored twice in the Tiger’s 5-2 win at Bentley on Saturday.
Canisius’ Ralph Cuddemi led the way with four goals this weekend, a pair in each game in a sweep of Niagara. Cuddemi is now up to 16 goals this season. tied for fifth nationally.
Adding a trio of goals to his season total over the weekend was Air Force’s Scott Holm in a sweep of AIC. Holm now has 14 goals. Robert Morris senior Cody Wydo had a pair of goals in Friday’s 4-3 win at Holy Cross, bringing his season total to date to 16.
Held off the scoreboard this weekend but still among national leaders are Bentley’s Andrew Gladiuk (15 goals) and Max French (14).
How the west was won
With Connecticut leaving the league, reducing the number of teams to an uneven 11, the AHC threw out the “scheduling pods” this season. But you know you’re still tracking East vs. West, right? Four eastern schools hosted western squads this past weekend, and the results were clearly in favor of the visitors with the west coming out on top 5-2-1.
So far this season, the six teams in the old western pod are 34-17-11 against the five eastern squads. That’s the reason why with five weeks to go in the regular season, western schools hold five of the top six spots in the standings.
More than an exhibition
Army and Canada’s Royal Military Academy met for the 79th time on Saturday, with the Black Knights coming out on top 8-0 to retain possession of the Challenge Cup trophy.
CJ Reuschlein had a pair of goals for Army, while Clint Carlisle led all scorers with a goal and three assists. Cole Bruns made 19 saves for the shutout.
Army is at Princeton on Tuesday to close out its non-conference schedule.
On the season:
Dan: 85-55-21 (.593)
Chris: 95-45-21 (.655)
This Week’s Picks:
Thursday, January 22 and Saturday, January 24
Canisius at Niagara
Dan: Niagara is in a bit of a funk this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t steal some points. Of course, Canisius is on fire the last couple of weeks against quality opponents. I think they continue it this week. Side note – as much as I’ve come around on the unbalanced schedule, there needs to be protected rivalries for four games. This one is a perfect example why. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: These are the only regular season meetings between the Western New York rivals, and Niagara needs to come away with at least a split here if it wants to get its mojo going. I think that will happen because, you know, throw out the records and all that. Niagara wins Thursday, Canisius wins Saturday.
Friday, January 23 and Saturday, January 24
Rochester Institute of technology at Bentley
Dan: Two electric scorers go head-to-head when Matt Garbowsky and Max French step on the same ice. The annual USCHO Atlantic Hockey Bowl for Chris and me. One point differential in the standings. What more could you want? Bentley sweeps.
Chris: If the games were in Rochester, I’d go with a split between these teams, which are separated by a single point in the standings. But I like Bentley to get back on track at the JAR. Bentley sweeps.
Robert Morris at Holy Cross
Dan: My biggest fear about Holy Cross was that their offense would experience a power outage, and this team would only go as far as defense and goaltending would take it. If the offense is starting to plateau, that’s bad news for a defense facing one of the best offenses in the league/country. RMU’s scored more goals than anyone this year (91), and their per-game average is second best behind only Michigan. RMU sweeps.
Chris: A couple of weeks ago, Holy Cross was right on RMU’s heels for first place. But the Crusaders have just one win in their last seven games. It’s a great match-up between Holy Cross’ defense and RMU’s offense, which found its groove again last weekend. I’m picking the offense. RMU sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Sacred Heart
Dan: For the second time in three weeks, these two teams are playing, but the series is shifting out east. Based off what was said after that weekend, the score didn’t indicate how tight SHU played the Lakers. I think the Lakers have to play better in order to ensure four points, which is why I’m picking the always-dangerous split. Sacred Heart wins on Friday. Mercyhurst wins on Saturday.
Chris: Mercyhurst dominated SHU two weeks ago, outscoring the Pioneers 11-4. The venue has changed but I think the results will be the same. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Air Force at American International
Dan: Air Force is picking up steam in the second half of the year once again, winning four straight games. They’ll make it six this weekend, but I’ll throw an asterisk that their second half surge is coming against the bottom of the AHC. Still, this is what they needed for momentum to swing their way. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Both teams have had their ups and downs so far, and I think AIC can certainly take at least two points at home, but I have a hunch that Air Force will come out on top in a pair of close games. Air Force sweeps.
Tuesday, January 27
Army at Princeton
Dan: Princeton is a bad hockey team this year, having not won a regular season game since November 28th. They have to be cautious to not expend too much here since they’re coming up on a four-game road trip with series at Yale/Brown and Colgate/Cornell. Bad timing for this game for them. Army wins.
Chris: Princeton has just two wins so far this season, and I think Army will handle the Tiger’s anemic offense and win a low scoring game, even without leading scorer Tyler Pham, who will be serving a one-game suspension. Army wins.
Three observations from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Shows You What I Know
Let me rewind the weekend back to Friday when I made the following statement:
“I’m going to go out on a limb and will say that Robert Morris will not sweep AIC this weekend…I think they have a great chance to pick up a win. Problem is, I can’t figure out what night that’ll be, so I can’t pick them in my right mind.”
In the week they fell out of the national polls, the Colonials went out and proved any naysayers or doubters wrong. On Friday, they opened up a 4-0 lead in the third period, then staved off a Yellow Jacket rally to pick up a 5-3 win. On Saturday, they led 3-2 after the second period, then scored six in the third to pound AIC, 9-4, before a sellout crowd at the 84 Lumber Arena.
The top line of Scott Jacklin, Zac Lynch, and Cody Wydo combined for 13 points, with Wydo and Jacklin scoring five points apiece. Wydo scored a hat trick and tied up Boston University wunderkind Jack Eichel for the national scoring lead. In the process, he became the all-time scoring leader in the short history of Colonial hockey.
It wasn’t that AIC played poorly; the box score indicates otherwise. Down 4-0 on Friday, the Jackets kept coming and coming until they made the game closer than RMU probably wanted it. On Saturday, despite the six goal third period, they scored two of their own, and sophomore Austin Orszulak is in the lead for the AHC’s version of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for goal scoring (which doesn’t exist, by the way). It’s just that they ran into a speeding bullet train that refused to be denied.
Side note – they also wore some pretty sweet sweaters while doing it:
— Derek Schooley (@derekschooley) January 18, 2015
Series of the Weekend
Seldom does anything in sports actually live up to the hype surrounding it. That said, that’s exactly what Mercyhurst and Holy Cross did this weekend. Meeting for the 15th and 16th times since the 2011-2012 season, the Lakers and Crusaders turned in what might’ve been the series of 2014-2015.
Scoreless through the first on Friday, Kyle Just scored his seventh goal of the season to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead. Five minutes into the second, the Lakers made it 2-0 off the stick of Kyle Cook, who notched his second goal of the year on a power play. But when Alec Shields went to the box for tripping with under four minutes to go in the game, Jake Bolton scored to cut the lead to 2-1. Holy Cross pulled their goalie late to try and tie things up but failed and lost 2-1 in a thriller.
On Saturday, Holy Cross jumped out a two-goal lead with 9:35 left in the first period, but Mercyhurst scored twice – 30 seconds after the second Crusader goal and again with 32 seconds left on the power play in the period – to tie it up into the locker room.
In the second period, Jack Riley took a penalty ten seconds into the frame, and Joe McNamara scored six seconds later to give Holy Cross a power play lead 16 seconds into the period. They scored again on the power play five minutes later to go up 4-2. But Mercyhurst channeled their inner New England Patriots by rallying from a two-score deficit again, tying the game with thanks to Kyle Just’s power play goal and Daniel Bahntge’s score with under a minute to go.
In overtime, Tyler Shiplo gave the Lakers their only lead, ending the game with a 5-4 result 3:09 into free hockey. It was the only shot on goal in the period.
While Spencer Bacon played on Friday and started on Saturday, Brandon Wildung came off the bench to pick up the win in relief on the second night. Starting both nights in place of the injured Matt Ginn (who was hurt last week against Canisius), Paul Berrafato played very well but remains in search of his first career win.
Still Not Quite Over The Hump
One of the running storylines over the years has been the perceived success of the western AHC teams over the east. During division-based scheduling, the west would dominate, resulting in multiple teams receiving byes with the one eastern team breaking away from their brethren.
During the three years of the standard 12-team playoff, that’s what happened. In 2012, all four bye teams came from the west, followed by the fifth and sixth seed coming from the east. All four western bye teams advanced to the semifinals. In ’13, Holy Cross and Connecticut received first round byes, but the other four eastern-based teams all went on the road in the first round after finishing 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. Last year, two eastern teams received byes (Bentley and UConn), with the remaining eastern teams finishing 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th.
Canisius, Robert Morris, and Mercyhurst all started breaking away with huge weekends against eastern teams, allowing them to give the west the inside track to those coveted byes. With eight wins already, the Lakers have six games left over the next three weekends against the east. Conversely, RMU (seven wins vs. east) only has a two game series at Holy Cross remaining this week, although they have a commanding lead already in the standings for first place. Canisius (six wins vs. east) has arguably the toughest road to sealing up the bye with only two games left against the east and games left against the Colonials and Lakers.
Further back is where things will get really interesting, thanks in part to the unbalanced schedule. Bentley (5-3-2 against the west) has seven games left against the east; Holy Cross (4-4-2 vs. western teams) has five. That said, three of those are against each other. Further beyond that, they both still have to play Sacred Heart; the Pioneers are 1-2-1 against them this year and have picked up late season points against either or both programs every year since 2003-2004.
Air Force has 18 points, one back of both Bentley and Holy Cross for the last bye slot. Four of their remaining games are against AIC, currently 2-6-4 against the west. RIT (4-2-2 vs. east) is tied with the Falcons for sixth place, but their four games left against eastern teams are against Bentley and Holy Cross (combined 9-7-2 against the west). Sacred Heart (3-7-2 vs. west) is in the last home ice spot but has four games left against the west. Their run to the end goes through both Bentley and Holy Cross – two of the top five teams but teams they’ve sustained success against.
While the games are becoming more competitive and playoff seedings were irrelevant to who actually won Atlantic Hockey, coaches still want their teams to have the best possible finish in the season. In order to get to that point, we have A LOT of hockey left, and things are going to get A LOT more insane.
On the season:
Dan: 77-52-20 (.584)
Chris: 86-43-20 (.644)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 16 and Saturday, January 17
Army at Air Force
Dan: Army hasn’t had a win over Air Force in a really long time, but the gap is starting to close. That said, it’s not quite there yet. This is going to be an exciting weekend, the one time of year when America’s finest boys go head-to-head on an ice rink. Divided in hockey, united in defense of our country. If you get the chance to get out and watch a game, I absolutely recommend it. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: This built-in rivalry usually lives up to its billing. The Falcons swept the Black Knights at Army last year, so Brian Riley’s team is looking for revenge. But I expect Air Force to find ways to win at home, as they so often do. Air Force sweeps.
Bentley at Canisius
Dan: Bentley is one of those teams that just doesn’t go away, and they’re developing a reputation as one of those teams that plays hard every night. Canisius is on a roll. They’ve met each of the last two postseasons, with Canisius winning each. Bentley will be up; get ready for a great weekend of hockey. Canisius wins on Friday; Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris: Canisius is playing some of its best hockey of the season, and a sweep of Holy Cross last weekend and a win at Mercyhurst on Tuesday has vaulted the Golden Griffins into second place. Fourth-place Bentley has split its regular season series with Canisius each of the past five seasons, but it was Canisius that ended Bentley’s run last year in an epic quarterfinal playoff series. I think this will be another split, with Canisius winning on Friday and Bentley on Saturday.
Holy Cross at Mercyhurst
Dan: This won’t be the last time these teams play each other. I’m really high on Mercyhurst, especially if you read my weekly piece this week. I’m also high on Holy Cross. Coin flip comes up………Mercyhurst. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Despite the distance between the two schools, this has turned into something of a rivalry, with the Lakers ending the Crusader’s season in each of the past three postseasons. It’s a match-up of Mercyhurst’s offense, currently second in the league, with the Crusaders top-ranked defense. I like the Lakers to win a pair of close games. Mercyhurst sweeps.
American International at Robert Morris
Dan: You know what? I’m going out on a limb and will say that Robert Morris will not sweep AIC this weekend. The Yellow Jackets will pick up at least a point. I think they have a great chance to pick up a win. Problem is, I can’t figure out what night that’ll be, so I can’t pick them in my right mind. I’m telling you I’m wrong on one of these nights, and I’m completely devaluing my picks along the way. RMU sweeps.
Chris: AIC has taken points each weekend but one so far in conference play, albeit it often a single point, as it did in a loss and tie against the Colonials earlier in the season. I can’t pick ties, so I’m going with an RMU sweep.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Sacred Heart
Dan: This is going to be a huge series for the playoff race since RIT and Sacred Heart have a good chance to land right at the 8-9 swap for home ice in the first round. The winner or loser could face a long bus trip. If this were in Rochester, I’d take the Tigers, but it’s not. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris: The Tigers have traditionally played well against Sacred Heart, especially at the Milford Ice Pavilion. The teams split in Rochester in late November, and I think that will be the case again this weekend. RIT wins on Friday; Sacred Heart on Saturday.
Niagara at North Dakota
Dan: All year I’ve said I thought Niagara is better than some of the stats and records indicate. That said, I don’t think they’ve ever really found a rhythm this year, and that’s not good since North Dakota can score at an alarming rate and is playing at a very high level of hockey. North Dakota sweeps.
Chris: On paper this isn’t much of a match-up between No. 3 North Dakota and Niagara, which is 59th and last in the Pairwise Rankings. But it is for that reason that North Dakota can’t afford to falter, as a loss against a team low in the PWR will do damage to North Dakota’s Pairwise. I think that will keep ND focused. North Dakota sweeps.
Three things from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey (stepping up to the plate):
Four points on a weekend is often a difficult task to accomplish in Atlantic Hockey, but this past weekend saw three of five series decided entirely in favor of the host school.
Not that things weren’t close in two of the three series. At Air Force, the Falcons led Niagara for only a total of three minutes and forty seconds in the two games, but engineered two 4-3 come-from behind victories, including an overtime thriller on Saturday.
Air Force’s win on Saturday was the 300th career victory at the school for Falcons coach Frank Serratore. He has 349 career wins including a stint at Denver, but it’s been 17 seasons at Air Force where he’s truly made his mark.
“I didn’t even realize this was my 300th win,” Serratore said after Saturday’s victory. “Thanks to the Academy for allowing me to be here long enough to win that many games. You don’t win without great players and great assistant coaches and I have been very fortunate.”
Men in scoring position
Yeah, it’s a stretch but I’m keeping with the baseball motif (opening day is only 83 days away!). In this case, I’m talking about big time goal scorers, and the league has several players at or near the top of D-I.
American International’s Austin Orszulak scored the tying goal with 6.8 seconds left at Rochester Institute of Technology to help the Yellow Jackets to earn a point against the Tigers on Friday. He scored another in a 3-2 loss to RIT on Saturday. Those were Orszulak’s 14th and 15th goals of the season, tied with Union’s Daniel Ciampini for the national lead.
Right behind with 14 are Bentley’s Andrew Gladiuk and Max French, who’s most recent tally was the lone goal and game-winner for the Falcons in a 1-0 win at Robert Morris on Saturday to earn a weekend split with the first-place Colonials.
Also at 14 is RIT’s Matt Garbowsky, who didn’t light the lamp against AIC, but contributed three assists on the weekend.
So the countdown continues with just seven weekends left in the regular season. And only 37 days until pitchers and catchers report.
On the season:
Dan: 69-49-19 (.573)
Chris: 79-39-19 (.646)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 9 and Saturday, January 10
Niagara at Air Force
Dan: Expect a lot of goal scoring. Both teams are working through issues in goal, which normally wins out over the lack of offense they’ve produced over the last month. Add in the desperation for some wins, and you’re looking at an exciting weekend of hockey. Edge to Air Force playing at home. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: Typically, this would be a battle between top four teams. But Air Force is in ninth place and Niagara dead last. They are a combined 0-9-3 in their last 12 games. I’m going with the home team to bounce back. Air Force sweeps.
Holy Cross at Canisius
Dan: 11 AM on a Friday is barely time to have a cup of coffee before stepping on the ice. That said, you could wake up the Holy Cross team at 4 AM on a Wednesday, and they’d either post a shutout or allow one goal. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: This series features a bizarre Friday start time of 11:00 am. I like the Holy Cross defense to be the difference here. I’d go with a Crusaders win and a tie, but since we don’t pick ties I’m picking a Holy Cross sweep.
Sacred Heart at Mercyhurst
Dan: Get ready for a lot of offense. Edge to Mercyhurst, who rallied from a 6-3 loss last week to push a tie with Ohio State. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Both these teams can score goals and that could make for some entertaining hockey. I think Mercyhurst will find a way to pick up four points. Lakers sweep.
American International at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: RIT is 24-3-2 all-time against AIC, including a 21-3-2 mark since reclassifying to Division I. They were 15-1-1 all-time at Ritter Arena, and they enter this weekend with a 10-game winning streak against the Yellow Jackets. Across that 10-game streak, the Tigers outscored AIC, 39-12. Since joining D1, RIT is +67 against AIC. Even though AIC could always steal a game from anyone, they’re up against it this weekend. RIT sweeps.
Chris:RIT needs these games against an opponent it has handled pretty well at home. These are must points if the Tigers want to make a run in the second half of the season. That said, AIC has proved it can knock off anyone, anywhere. But I like the Tigers to come out with a sweep.
Bentley at Robert Morris
Dan: This is going to be an exciting weekend with two high-powered offenses taking on better-than-average goalies. We know what Dalton Izyk and Terry Shafer are capable of, but I’m excited to see what happens when Jayson Argue gets his first taste of the defending league champions. In five games, the freshman has a 1.97 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Robert Morris wins on Friday. Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris:This is the premier series of the weekend, a battle between first and third place. A split wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ve got a gut feeling RMU will prevail. Robert Morris sweeps.
Friday, January 9
Connecticut at Army
Dan: One of the more evenly-played rivalries through the years, UConn holds a 29-28-8 record with West Point dating back to the mid-20th century. The Huskies have struggled in non-conference play, going 2-6-3, and I think Army could steal one here. That said, I’m still thinking the Huskies are a hair ahead of them right now. UConn wins.
Chris: Army is tough at home and UConn is 0-1 against its former league so far (2-0 loss to Sacred Heart). But I think the Huskies even that up with a UConn win.
Tuesday January 13
Canisius at Mercyhurst
Dan: The good news is that the bus scheduled to carry Canisius to Mercyhurst should finally be shoveled out from the snowfall that forced this game’s postponement. I’m calling this one for the Lakers. Mercyhurst wins.
Chris:This is a makeup of a game canceled back in November due to the snowpocalypse that buried Western New York. The teams tied in Buffalo in the first half of what should have been a home and home weekend, but I think the Lakers win on home ice. Mercyhurst wins.
Before I jump into observations (for the record, there’s four) from this past weekend, allow me to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year in 2015. I know I speak for Chris and all of our USCHO family in my sincerity for wishing you all nothing but the best.
Atlantic Hockey, Party of One
Facing an already uphill battle in order to get back into the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Robert Morris University Colonials traveled west to Ohio to take on Bowling Green with a last ditch chance at cracking into the top 16 of the Pairwise Rankings. While not a given to get into the tournament, wins over the sixth-ranked team in the rankings would’ve done wonders to get an Atlantic Hockey team closer to a locked slot in the national field.
On Saturday, down 2-0 going into the third period in an outdoor game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Greg Gibson and Brady Ferguson scored to tie the game at 2-2. They had the only two shots on goal in the extra overtime but couldn’t crack undefeated, 5-0 goalie Chris Neil. It was still good enough to score a tie and ruin Neil’s previously unblemished record.
On Sunday, Scott Jacklin scored just about 90 ticks into the game to stake RMU to a 1-0 lead. Even though Kevin Dufour scored to even the battle at 1-1 after the first 20 minutes, the Colonials entered the second with a solid chance at taking a win and pushing themselves up from 25th in the Pairwise Rankings.
But Bowling Green scored three unanswered goals, including two in the third period, and Robert Morris lost, 4-1. At 12-4-4, RMU still has one of the ten best winning percentages (even better than teams like Boston University and Yale), but unless all hell breaks loose in college hockey, only one team will get into the national tournament – the conference champion.
Series of the Year?
American International and Army turned in what might have been the best weekend of hockey played to date. Playing a home-and-home, the Yellow Jackets won on the road at West Point in overtime on Friday in a game featuring 76 shots. Down 2-1 after two periods, Johno May scored his third goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2. That’s where AIC struck again, feeding Austin Orszulak for a game winning goal just 18 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory.
The next night, we got more thrills from the two clubs. Army ripped off 15 shots in the first period, scoring four goals. Tyler Pham, Zak Zaremba, CJ Reuschlin, and Joe Kozlak all scored in the game’s first 14 minutes, staking the Black Knights to a 4-0 lead and chasing goalie Hunter Leisner from net a night after he made 43 saves.
Amazingly, AIC rallied back, scoring once off the stick of May with 15 seconds left in the period. That little bit kept the door open for a Nathan Sliwinski power play goal in the second period and a David Gandara goal in the third. Off the bench, Alex Murray stopped 22 shots.
Best part about this weekend is that it’s not the last we’ll see of these two against each other. AIC and Army duel again on the season’s last games when playoff seeding will undoubtedly come into play.
Up For The Challenge
Two teams in Atlantic Hockey produced big time bounce back performances after first game struggles.
Let’s start with Mercyhurst. Ohio State came into the Erie Insurance Arena and dominated Friday night’s game against the Lakers, outshooting them 43-18. The Buckeyes scored three goals in the first period and a fourth in under three minutes to start the second period en route to a 6-3 victory. On Saturday, though, the Lakers bounced back, taking a 1-0 late in the first period when Jack Riley scored. They turned it into a quick 2-0 lead in the second period’s first 90 seconds. Though Ohio State scored and ended the game with a 2-2 tie, it wasn’t without having to work for the extra decision.
Then there’s RIT. UMass-Lowell crushed the Tigers on Friday afternoon in the first game of the Mariucci Classic out at Minnesota, taking a 4-0 lead and cruising to a 7-3 victory that relegated the loser to the consolation game. As Minnesota took the ice to play Merrimack, prognosticators assumed the Gophers would handle the Warriors and set up the championship game at 7 PM on Saturday against the River Hawks.
Too bad Merrimack didn’t get the memo. The Warriors beat the Gophers, 3-2, meaning RIT’s consolation prize was a game before 10,000 fans in the “State of Hockey.” RIT, though, rose to the challenge, rallying from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 while being outshot 49-21. They took eighth-ranked Minnesota to overtime, where Kyle Rau scored at the 2:34 mark. Mike Rotolo saved 46 shots while absorbing the loss.
The Lakers host Sacred Heart this weekend, while RIT hosts American International.
Purple People Eaters
Believe it or not, Robert Morris is not pulling away with first place in Atlantic Hockey. Holy Cross continues to remain very much in the equation after taking three points from Air Force. On Friday, in a 1-1 tie, the Crusaders held Air Force to just 23 shots. On Saturday, the defense did even more, holding Air Force to just 10 shots through two periods before Matt Ginn did Matt Ginn things by stopping 15 of 16 shots in the third period.
Call this a major contrast of styles. Robert Morris is the fourth best offense in the nation, scoring well over three goals per game. Holy Cross is 13th best in the nation on defense, easily the best in back in Atlantic Hockey.
They meet in three weeks. While Holy Cross still has to go through Canisius and Mercyhurst on the road first, Robert Morris has to get through Bentley and American International at home. Still, the possibility of a potential grudge match weekend between the two is enough to make us start circling our calendars even more than we already were.
On the season:
Dan: 66-42-15 (.598)
Chris: 74-34-15 (.663)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 2 and Saturday, January 3
American International vs. Army
Dan: Army enters this game after really showing some guts against the Russian Red Stars. Down 2-0 after one, Zak Zaremba scored twice to help West Point stake a 3-2 lead. Maksim Nikolaev scored to tie it late, but I think the game will really help Army get back on their legs before the start of the season. AIC is coming off an incredibly long road trip to Clarkson, where they lost the game late, 4-3. This is going to be a fun weekend, and I’m calling for a split with the home team winning each night. Friday’s in West Point, with Saturday in Springfield.Army wins on Friday. AIC wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams are coming off good efforts, and I too am thinking split, in the same order. Army wins on Friday; AIC on Saturday.
Air Force at Holy Cross
Dan: Huge weekend matchup as Air Force attempts to put the bad taste of the first half to bed against the league’s second best team. The Falcons’ high powered offense sputtered against Bentley last month, and they cannot have that happen against a Holy Cross defense that’s downright nasty.Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: Air Force is really struggling and Holy Cross is coming off a penalty-filled loss to Yale. Falcons coach Frank Serratore has told me that the Hart Center is one of the toughest places in the league to play, and I think that will be the case this weekend. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara at Sacred Heart
Dan: I’m very high on the Pioneers, but I also think Niagara is much better than their last place record indicates. This series starts six in a row on the road for a Niagara team that has to go to Connecticut, Colorado, and North Dakota in consecutive weekends. They win this weekend, but that’s a lot of travel to be wary of later this month.Niagara sweeps.
Chris: This is a tough series to pick. It’s cliche’ to say that both teams are better than their records, but I think either is capable of taking four points this weekend. I think it will be a split, with Niagara winning on Friday and SHU coming back on Saturday.
Canisius at Maine
Dan: Maine has been less than expected this year, going 4-13-1 and winning only once since the calendar turned to November. A big part of their problem is goaltending, which isn’t good news since Canisius averaged three goals per game over their last four games before the break. Over that time, the Griffs went 2-1-1. I think they go up to Orono and take this weekend.Canisius sweeps.
Chris: I think these games are more important to Maine, who is struggling and will be under a lot of pressure to win at home before returning to conference play. Maine sweeps.
Ohio State at Mercyhurst
Dan: Mercyhurst went into the break on absolute fire, going 6-2-2 after November 1st. Along the way, they beat Colgate and Robert Morris while tying Bentley and Canisius. But it’s hard to judge how they’ll do against Ohio State, a team hovering around .500 but with a decidedly tougher schedule. Both of these games will be played at the Erie Insurance Arena to benefit The Warming Center for the Mental Health Center of Northwest Pennsylvania. Mercyhurst wins on Friday. Buckeyes win on Saturday.
Chris: Hopefully this series will draw well and games at the downtown rink will become an annual event. I too like a split with Mercyhurst winning on Friday and Ohio State on Saturday.
Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: UMass-Lowell enters the Mariucci Classic up in Minnesota at 12-3-3 overall, fourth in the nation in scoring offense. They were ninth in the nation in the last USCHO.com poll. Even if RIT’s defense can hold the River Hawks at bay, I don’t think their 32nd ranked offense can keep pace. UML wins.
Chris: The Tigers return to the scene of one of their program-defining wins, defeating the Gophers in the first round of this tournament in 2007, just RIT’s third year at the D-I level. I don’t think they will fare as well this time around. Lowell wins.
Saturday, January 3
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Merrimack/Minnesota
Dan: Pick your poison for the Tigers here – either they get the nation’s sixth best offense in Minnesota or they draw the ninth best defense in Merrimack. If it’s Merrimack, look out for the Ruby-Tirronen goalie matchup; it’ll be a great watch. That said, this is a much tougher tournament now than it looked back in September. RIT loses regardless of opponent.
Chris: RIT is the only non-ranked team in the field and I’m going with the odds here. RIT loses to either Minnesota or Merrimack.
Saturday January 3 and Sunday, January 4
Robert Morris vs. Bowling Green
Dan: If you’re not a fan of the outdoor game, look away. I’m pretty excited to see what happens outside in Toledo on Saturday, especially since RMU has an outside chance still at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They absolutely can’t lose another non-conference game, though. I predicted the computers wouldn’t fall in their favor, though, which means a loss here contributes to the debate. Bowling Green wins on Saturday. RMU wins on Sunday.
Chris: Saturday’s game will be outdoors at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo. Sunday the action will shift to RMU’s 84 lumber Arena. I’m going with a split with the home team coming out on top. Bowling Green wins Saturday, Robert Morris on Sunday.
On the season:
Dan: 61-39-15 (.596)
Chris: 67-33-15 (.648)
This Week’s Picks:
Saturday, December 27
Sacred Heart vs. Massachusetts-Lowell
Dan: This will be a game between two very balanced teams. There’s a slight edge here to the River Hawks defensively with a couple of really solid two-way player guys, but if the entire Pioneer unit can rise to the occasion, they’ll pick off a win here. I wouldn’t put a win coming out to the side of red and white, but for now, I’m going to pick UML to win.
Chris:The last times these teams met (Oct. 11, 2013),Lowell was the No. 1 team in the country and SHU was coming off a 2-30-4 season. The Pioneers, of course, won 2-1. Despite Sacred Heart showing steady improvement, I think the River Hawks win this round. Mass-Lowell wins.
Sunday, December 28
Sacred Heart vs. Union/Connecticut
Dan: If it’s Union, I’m taking the Dutchmen, but there’s something about the in-state rivalry that’ll have the Pioneers juiced up. Union/Sacred Heart wins.
Chris:Sacred Heart defeated UConn in this tournament last year, but I think both the Huskies or the Dutchmen will prevail. Union/UConn wins.
Air Force at Vermont
Dan:Air Force entered the break listless, losing three out of four games. After a 22-day layoff, they have to hope their team skates better together in order to compete with a Vermont team that played the best hockey of their season heading into the holidays. The Catamounts haven’t lost since November 21st. Vermont wins.
Chris:Is it time for the Falcons to begin their annual second-half surge? Not yet, I think against the host Catamounts. Vermont wins.
Monday, December 29
Air Force vs. Massachusetts
Dan:I’m with Chris in this one. UMass isn’t a very good hockey team, getting absolutely throttled in their last three games before break. A loss here will ratchet up the heat on head coach John Micheletto’s seat just a little bit. Air Force wins.
Chris:This tournament has a predetermined schedule, which means win or lose Air Force gets the Minutemen in the second game. And I like them to win this one. Air Force wins.
Robert Morris vs. Penn State
Dan:Absolutely nothing beats a game between these two in Pittsburgh. Last year, over 8,500 fans witnessed a third period Penn State comeback for a 3-2 win. The year before, 11,663 watched RMU destroy a team in its first year as a Division I program. Emotions will run high, a rivalry will be renewed, and RMU will win.
Chris:Both teams are ranked and playing very well at the moment. I’m going with the Colonials to pull out a close but high-scoring game. RMU wins.
Tuesday, December 30
American International at Clarkson
Dan:The drive back from Clarkson is so long, AIC might not make it back by 2015 if they hit an infamous WNY snowstorm. The losing streak (currently at 10) will end soon because the Yellow Jackets played well before the break, but it won’t be here. Clarkson wins.
Chris: Potsdam, N.Y. is a long way to go for a single game, and I don’t think it will be worth the trip for the Yellow Jackets. Clarkson wins at home.
Yale at Holy Cross
Dan:This game could boil down to special teams. Yale might be a top-15 penalty killing unit, but it’s because the refs never actually call any penalties on them (least penalized team in the nation at 6.7 minutes per game). Their power play, on the other hand, is under 10%, one of the worst in the nation. Compare that to Holy Cross, a top five team in penalty killing while ranking in the top 20 in power play scoring. Holy Cross wins.
Chris:I’ve seen both these teams this season and they remind me of each other – tough team defense, a good forecheck and great goaltending. But I think Yale is deeper, so I’m going with the Bulldogs to pull this one out on the road. Yale wins.
Robert Morris vs. Western Michigan/Colgate
Dan:This is going to turn into a must-win game for an RMU team currently ranked 21st in the Pairwise Rankings. They need these victories to drive towards an at-large bid. Any out-of-conference loss all but assures the AHA of one team and one team only in the big dance. That’s a situation calling for RMU’s well-documented compete level. RMU wins regardless of opponent.
Chris:I’m going to split on this one. I think RMU will prevail against Western but would fall to Colgate should they meet. So I’m going with RMU to defeat WMU or RMU to lose to the Raiders.