Only one will continue on to the NCAA tournament, so the AHC title is doubly important this season.
Here’s a look back at three things from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Approaching the checkered flag
The finish line nears with only one week left in the regular season in Atlantic Hockey, and just three of 11 final positions in the standings has been determined.
Robert Morris wrapped up its first regular season title on Friday, defeating Rochester Institute of Technology 4-3. The Colonials led wire-to-wire. They have clinched a first-round bye and home ice in the quarterfinals. RMU finishes up with a pair of games against Niagara.
Here’s where the other 10 teams stand:
- Canisius: The Golden Griffins swept Mercyhurst to clinch a first-round bye and home ice for the quarterfinals. Canisius can finish anywhere from second to fourth. The Griffs will travel to Air Force to close out their regular season.
- Bentley: The Falcons skated to a pair of ties with Army and those two points were enough to ensure a bye and home ice. They will finish between second and fourth. Bentley finishes with single games at Sacred Heart and home against Holy Cross.
- Mercyhurst: The Lakers got zero points last weekend but can still finish anywhere from second to sixth. Mercyhurst is at RIT this weekend.
- RIT: The Tigers split with Robert Morris to hold onto fifth place. RIT can end up anywhere from third to seventh and host Mercyhurst to end its regular season.
- Air Force: The Falcons salvaged a single point against Niagara, eliminating their chance for home ice in the quarterfinals. They can still get a bye by finishing fifth, but can also end up in sixth or seventh place. The Falcons host Canisius this weekend.
- Holy Cross: The Crusaders split with Sacred Heart and have just a single game left, at Bentley on Saturday. Holy Cross is still in the running for a first-round bye, and will finish between fifth and seventh.
- Sacred Heart: A split with Holy Cross leaves the Pioneers in eighth place and that’s where they will finish the regular season. They have one game left, hosting Bentley on Thursday.
- Army: The Black Knights will finish in ninth place regardless of the outcome of their final two games against American International.
- AIC: The Yellow Jackets will face Army, the team ahead of them in the standings, but they trail the Black Knights by five points with just four points up for grabs. That means AIC will finish either 10th or 11th.
- Niagara: The Purple Eagles won on Friday for the first time since Nov. 22 and have a chance to move out of the basement on the final weekend of the regular season. Niagara will play a pair of games against Robert Morris, and will finish either 10th or 11th.
The most dangerous lead…
It’s a well-worn axiom that a two goal lead is the “most dangerous lead in hockey” because the team ahead may let up due to the extra margin. Personally, I think a one-goal lead is more dangerous because, you know, one is less than two.
But in each game of this past weekend’s highly entertaining series between RIT and Robert Morris, a team blew a two-goal lead and lost.
On Friday, the Tigers were up 3-1 early in the second period, but the Colonials rallied for a dramatic 4-3 win, capped off by a breakaway, game-winning goal by Cody Wydo with 9.6 seconds left in the contest.
The following night the Tigers turned the tables, erasing a 3-1 second-period deficit on three straight goals by senior Brad McGowan to win 4-3..
The largest margin overcome this past weekend was three goals, erased by Niagara in a 4-4 tie with Air Force. The Purple Eagles had won the night before to end an 18-game winless streak.
Three points against the Falcons made for Niagara’s second-best weekend of the season so far and serves notice that there won’t be any easy outs in the playoffs.
Here are the updated scenarios and possible finishing positions for Atlantic Hockey after Friday’s results. Don’t worry, it’s probably as hectic as it looks:
Robert Morris 4, RIT 3
Bentley 1, Army 1
Canisius 4, Mercyhurst 2
Niagara 6, Air Force 1
Holy Cross 1, Sacred Heart 0
AIC – Bye
Updated Standings (by points):
1x) Robert Morris – 40 points
2) Canisius – 32 (wins tiebreaker with Bentley)
3) Bentley – 32
4) Mercyhurst – 31
5) Holy Cross – 27 (wins tiebreaker with RIT)
6) RIT – 27
7) Air Force – 26
8) Sacred Heart – 22
9) Army – 17 points
10) AIC – 13
11) Niagara – 11
1) Robert Morris – Clinched the AHC regular season championship
2) Canisius – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 5th place; can clinch a quarterfinal home series with a win or tie against Mercyhurst OR an RIT loss or tie against RMU
3) Bentley – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 5th place; can clinch a quarterfinal home series with a win or tie against Army OR an RIT loss or tie against RMU
4) Mercyhurst – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 6th place; can clinch first round bye with a tie against Canisius OR an RIT tie against RMU. Clinches quarterfinal home series with a win against Canisius OR a tie against Canisius coupled with an RIT tie OR a loss and an RIT loss to RMU
5) Holy Cross – Can finish anywhere from 5th through 7th; cannot clinch anything with on Saturday because the Crusaders have only one game next week on Saturday.
6) RIT – Can finish anywhere from 2nd through 6th; Cannot clinch anything with a win on Saturday but can be eliminated from contention for quarterfinals home ice with a loss and other scenarios
7) Air Force – Can finish anywhere 4th through 7th; Can clinch at least 7th place with a win or tie against Niagara OR a Sacred Heart loss or tie against Holy Cross. Can also be eliminated from contention from quarterfinals home ice with a loss or tie to Niagara
8) Sacred Heart – Can finish anywhere from 7th through 9th; Can clinch home ice in the first round with a win or tie against Holy Cross OR an Army loss or tie against Bentley. The Pioneers would need to hold conference wins tiebreaker over Army due to head-to-head split earlier in the season but hold head-to-head tiebreaker over Air Force. They can also be eliminated from finishing 7th with a loss or tie to Holy Cross OR an Air Force victory or tie against Niagara
9) Army – Can finish either 8th or 9th; Eliminated from the last home ice slot if Bentley beats Army OR if Sacred Heart beats Holy Cross OR if both Army and Sacred Heart tie. Can clinch the ninth seed if Army beats or ties Bentley
10) AIC – Can finish 10th or 11th; Can be eliminated from the 9th seed if Army beats or ties Bentley but can still finish 10th or 11th
11) Niagara – Can finish 10th or 11th; Nothing clinched or eliminated this weekend.
On the season:
Dan: 112-65-24 (.617)
Chris: 121-56-24 (.662)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 20 and Saturday, February 21
Bentley at Army
Dan: With their win last week over Sacred Heart, Bentley tied its longest win streak ever as a Division I program. They can win their sixth straight on Friday at Tate Rink. In this week’s USCHO poll, they garnered a program-record six votes. They can sew up a quarterfinals home series if they play well enough this weekend. If I were a betting man, I’d be taking a long hard look at the Falcons as a dark horse in the AHC playoffsBentley sweeps.
Chris: I’ll be paying close attention to Bentley, which has a history of downturns at the end of the season and postseason. Army took two points from Canisius last weekend and can certainly do the same at home against Bentley. But I’m picking the Falcons to find a way to take four points and clinch a bye.
Canisius vs. Mercyhurst
Dan: Canisius is allowing a league low 2.17 goals per game in conference play this season. Since the start of 2015, they’ve given up just 17 goals, an average of 1.55 per game. These are the 81st and 82nd meetings in a long-standing rivalry with the Lakers dating back to before either program was Division I. Canisius is 5-1-1 in their last seven. I think Mercyhurst is too strong to be swept, so I’ll take the home team in both games. Mercyhurst wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams are looking to claim a bye this weekend, with Mercyhurst hosting on Friday and Saturday’s contest at Buffalo’s HarborCenter. I’m going with a hunch that the Lakers will come out on top in a pair of close games.
Air Force at Niagara
Dan:Air Force is one point out of the last first round bye, four points back of a second round home series. They’re also one point up on Holy Cross. That razor thin margin will impact Niagara the biggest; if the playoffs started today, the Purple Eagles would go to Colorado. If Air Force passes the Tigers, Niagara instead goes to RIT. An Air Force bye would be a huge win for a program having an uncharacteristically up-and-down season.Air Force sweeps.
Chris:Niagara is going to spoil someone’s party before all is said and done, but I don’t think it happens this weekend. Air Force sweeps.
Robert Morris at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: These are HUGE points for RIT, but Robert Morris is in position to clinch the regular season championship. Derek Schooley isn’t the type of coach to take his foot off the accelerator, so I’m taking the Colonials to win at least one. That said, the Tigers are a team nobody really wants to deal with right now. RMU wins on Friday. RIT wins on Saturday.
Chris: The fifth-place Tigers are faced with the toughest remaining schedule: first-place Robert Morris this weekend and second-place Mercyhurst the next. All four games are at home for the Tigers, but I don’t think that will be enough, especially this weekend against an RMU team that needs two points to lock up its first regular season title. Robert Morris sweeps.
Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: The Crusaders are flailing, going 3-9 in their last 12. They’re running into a Sacred Heart team that’s been on fire lately. Last Friday’s loss to Bentley was the first since January 17, but if you watched that game, you wouldn’t have seen the Pioneers as the worse team at all.Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris:This will be a good series against an SHU offense that can put up points and a stingy Crusaders defense. Holy Cross allowed only three goals last weekend to RIT but had to settle for a split. I’m thinking something similar happens here with the Pioneers hosting on Friday and Saturday’s game at the Hart Center. SHU wins Friday; CHC wins Saturday.
Here’s a look back at three things from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Let’s Cut Right To The Chase (For Playoff Positioning)
With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, let’s take a look what the playoffs would look like if the season ended today:
-Robert Morris, Bentley, Mercyhurst, and Canisius would have a first round bye and home ice in the second round of the playoffs. RIT would receive a bye as the fifth place team and would travel to Canisius for the second round.
-#11 Niagara would travel to #6 Air Force in the first round, with #10 AIC heading to #7 Holy Cross, and #9 Army heading to #8 Sacred Heart.
-AIC and Niagara are assured of a first round road series, while Army’s hopes at home ice can be eliminated with two points by the Pioneers.
-Two points separate fifth place RIT from seventh place Holy Cross with five points between the Tigers and eighth place Sacred Heart. Reshuffle your favorite team and think about what might happen if Holy Cross is able to get a bye and Air Force drops to seventh. That would send Niagara to RIT, AIC to Air Force, and Holy Cross to Canisius if the bottom three don’t shift at all. There’s A LOT of bus mileage at play the next couple of weeks.
-That said, the whole thing can reshuffle if the weekends break the right way. Second place Bentley could still finish as low as seventh in the right scenario.
-Upwards of seven playoff positions could shuffle this weekend.
Tight Games All Around
Of the nine Atlantic Hockey games played this year, six ended with results of a two-goals-or-less differential. None used an empty net goal. Bentley beat Sacred Heart, 3-1; Holy Cross and RIT split 3-1 and 2-0 results with the Tigers winning via shutout; Army beat Canisius in the only one-goal game (2-1), then lost the next night by a 3-1 score. A night after losing 9-3, AIC fought Air Force to a 1-1 tie through two periods before giving up two third-period goals.
The only series that did not feature a two-goals-or-less decision was the one between Mercyhurst and Niagara; the Lakers won a pair of three-goal games.
Coming down the stretch, everyone is playing some great hockey, which is going to make this weekend’s games that much more interesting.
Home, Home On The Range
Home teams held serve in a big way this weekend, going 7-2 in the last batch of “crossover game” between the former scheduling pods. Heading into this weekend, home teams are now 58-51-23 on the year.
Two teams, Niagara and AIC, combined for a 2-13-5 record at home. If we remove them from the equation, home teams went a combined 56-34-18 on the season. Teams leading the way for home ice mastery include first place Robert Morris at 9-2-2, and the two teams tied for second place – Bentley and Mercyhurst. Bentley is 8-4-1 at home, while Mercyhurst is 9-4. Bentley’s only tie at home? A 4-4 decision on November 14th with the Lakers.
Looking at road records, only Robert Morris was able to win consistently on the road, going 8-1-2 to this point. RIT is second with seven wins to this point, but they also lost five and are done with road games for the regular season. With the exception of RIT, teams currently placed second through seventh in the league table all won between four and six road games. Bentley and Canisius have six, Mercyhurst has five, and Air Force and Holy Cross both have four.
Bentley is 3-1-1 against eastern teams with three of their four games left at Army (twice) and at Sacred Heart. Mercyhurst is virtually the same; the Lakers are 3-1-1 against western teams with three of their four games left on the road. They’ll play Canisius at home before turning around for a return match with the Griffs, then finish with two at RIT.
AIC, meanwhile, has only one more chance to win its first home game of the year against Army in a couple of weeks.
Bottom line, the road to home ice is going to be that much more important because of what playing at home meant this season. For some teams, that translates to one mentality: the playoffs are already starting.
On the season:
Dan: 106-62-24 (.615)
Chris: 114-55-24 (.656)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 13
Sacred Heart at Bentley
Dan: When Bentley beat Sacred Heart earlier this year, it was their first win over the Pioneers since October of 2013, a string of five consecutive games. Sacred Heart’s gone 5-2-1 against the Falcons since the start of the ’12-’13 season, but I think Bentley can ride the current wave of momentum over the Pioneers in this one. This game is going to be a great battle. Bentley wins.
Chris: Just a single game as teams try to avoid being idle over the final weekends of the regular season. Game two of this series will be played on Thursday, Feb. 26. The Falcons want to keep the momentum going that has seen them win four in a row to move into sole possession of second place. But watch out for the Pioneers who have put together a six-game unbeaten streak including a sweep of Air Force last weekend. But I think Bentley will keep it going with a win.
Friday, February 13 and Saturday, February 14
American International at Air Force
Dan: AIC is 2-3-1 against Air Force in their last six games. In 2012-2013, the last time the Yellow Jackets played two in a row out in Colorado, they won and tied the Falcons. I find it incredibly hard to beat a team four times in a single season. So I’m going to take AIC to win a game. We always say the Yellow Jackets are going to steal a game, but this time – I’m actually going for it. AIC wins on Friday. Air Force wins on Saturday.
Chris: The flipside of SHU-Bentley are these contests which pit a pair of struggling teams. Air Force has lost four in a row and AIC is winless in its last 11. One of these teams is going to feel better this weekend and I’m picking the home team. Air Force sweeps.
Army at Canisius
Dan: Canisius came up short with just a point against first place Robert Morris last week, but I still think they’re still on the inside track to host a second round series. I think they handle business this weekend against the Black Knights. Army can help Sacred Heart and Air Force clinch home ice in the first round if they get swept, if my math is right. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: The pattern lately with these teams has been a dominant Canisius win on Friday and an Army shutout on Saturday. That’s happened three times in a row, including back in October. Cansisius came up short against Robert Morris last weekend but showed they’re a top four team, and based on that I’m picking against recent history and taking the Golden Griffins to sweep.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Holy Cross
Dan: After sweeping Niagara, Holy Cross failed to keep momentum going with a sweep loss to Bentley. That makes them 2-6 in their last eight games. RIT is very quietly becoming one of the hottest teams in the league with a 6-2-2 record since returning from the Mariucci Classic at Minnesota. At 10-7-5 in league play, the ghosts of the Corner Crew and Tiger domination of years past could finally be back. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal series that went to overtime in Game Three. RIT used to own Holy Cross but lately the Crusaders have had the better of things, including taking three points in Rochester back in November. I like that trend to continue. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara at Mercyhurst
Dan: The injury bug is biting Mercyhurst at the wrong time of the year with senior goalie Jimmy Sarjeant and junior forward Kyle Cook reportedly out for the remainder of the season. That said, they have plenty of firepower to go around and two very capable goalies in Brandon Wildung and Spencer Bacon. Wildung is coming off a performance as goalie of the week in the AHC, and the Lakers should be able to ride him the rest of the way. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: I saw Niagara play last weekend, and there were sparks of life despite what has been a miserable season so far for the Purple Eagles. Niagara came away with a point last weekend against RIT (two if the Tigers hadn’t rallied in the final minute on Saturday), but gave up a total of 11 goals in the two games. That’s why I have to go with a Mercyhurst sweep on home ice.
Three things from this past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
A playoff atmosphere
The Canisius – Robert Morris series this past weekend, a clash between first and second place in Atlantic Hockey as well as the two longest unbeaten streaks in the nation, lived up to its billing.
Both games were low-scoring and went to overtime, with the host Colonials pulling out a 2-1 victory on Friday, and Canisius getting a late goal to force overtime and an eventual 1-1 tie on Saturday.
“It really felt like a playoff game coming into the weekend and I think it played out like a playoff game and the margin of victory was slim,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith after the game on Friday.
If anything, the atmosphere was more intense on Saturday.
“In a playoff atmosphere with high emotions and high intensity, we played hard and stuck to a game plan but just weren’t able to get a winner through despite 45 shots on net,” said Smith. “We learned a lot from this weekend and our freshmen, especially, gained great experience in a wild game.”
“We gave up two goals this weekend and only got three points,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “That tells you how tough this series was.”
The three points enabled Robert Morris to move closer to the regular season title. The Colonials lead (now) second-place Bentley by nine points with three weekends left. RMU is idle next weekend and needs two points in its final four games to clinch first place.
A streak ends; a streak continues
On Friday, Rochester Institute of Technology defeated Niagara 7-3 at Dwyer Arena, putting to an end a winless streak there that extended back to…ever.
The Tigers defeated Mercyhurst in the Division III ECAC West semifinals in 1998 at Dwyer, but lost to the host Purple Eagles in the championship game the next night.
Niagara moved to Division I the next season, and the teams didn’t meet again in Lewiston until 2005 when the Tigers made the move to D-I. Prior to Friday’s game the teams had met a total of 14 times at Dwyer, with the Purps holding a 9-0-5 advantage. That came to an end Friday.
Another streak unfortunately continued for Niagara, which battled back from a 3-1 third-period deficit on Saturday to take a 4-3 lead late in the game at RIT’s Polisseni Center. But the Tigers scored an extra-attacker goal with 30 seconds left to salvage a tie.
That extended NU’s winless streak to 16 games (0-13-3) dating back to Nov. 22.
The Purple Eagles visit Mercyhurst for a pair of games this weekend.
Part-time Joe goes big-time
Joe Vicario has been a student manager for RIT Hockey for five seasons, and has faced way more than his fair share of challenges: 31 surgeries mostly to address complications from a congenital defect called Goldenhar Syndrome, but also including a life-saving procedure to stop the spread of testicular cancer in 2013.
Vicario, known as “Part-time Joe”, a nickname given to him by RIT coach Wayne Wilson because of the unpredictable schedule he keeps, was honored Saturday for his courage and the work he has done as a founder of the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation of Western New York.
The RIT men’s and women’s teams wore and then auctioned off special jerseys and sold T-shirts to raise funds for the foundation.
Saturday’s festivities included a unique ceremonial puck drop that saw Vicario go from referee to player.
Niagara also honored Vicario before the game with Purple Eagle coach Dave Burkholder, a former All-American goaltender for RIT who backstopped the Tigers to the Division II national title in 1983, presented Vicario with a jersey.
Saturday was a reminder that while some things transcend even this sport we cherish, a love of this game brings people together to make good things happen.
On the season:
Dan: 97-62-23 (.596)
Chris: 108-51-23 (.657)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 6 and Saturday, February 7
Mercyhurst at American International
Dan: I don’t think anyone can ever bet against AIC, but that’s also something we say every weekend. Mercyhurst is in desperate need of points, and I think they get back on the horse this weekend by getting four. Just be wary of the Yellow Jackets as usual. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Mercyhurst is looking to stop an 0-3-1 skid that has dropped it into a group of four teams in fourth-through-seventh place that are separated by a single point. I’m guessing a win for and a tie for the Lakers (AIC is good at stealing points each weekend) but will go with a Mercyhurst sweep.
Holy Cross vs. Bentley
Dan: The last time these two teams met, a truck rollover on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving caused the Mass Pike to back up traffic only slightly worse than it’s been this week. The game ended up delayed by roughly 40 minutes, and the bus lag allowed Holy Cross to impose their will. This weekend, things will be different. Juxtapose an image of extreme and bitter cold for Friday night against extreme and bitter rivals in Massachusetts. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: Rivalries are best when there is a lot riding on the games, and that’s the case this weekend with Bentley hosting Friday and Holy Cross on Saturday. The Crusaders snapped a dry spell last weekend and are looking to get back on track against a Bentley team coming off a great road weekend against Mercyhurst. I’m going with the Falcons in a sweep.
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Niagara
Dan: I still thing Niagara is a team nobody will want to face in the playoffs. That said, they’ve done nothing to prove me right, so I have to pick RIT. The Tigers get their first win at Niagara in an eternity, then back up the weekend with two more points in the house Gene Polisseni built. RIT sweeps.
Chris: The Purples Eagles host Friday and the action moved down I-90 to Rochester on Saturday. I guess I have to keep trotting out this factoid: RIT has never ever ever beaten Niagara at Dwyer Arena dating back to when the schools were rivals in the ECAC West in the 1990s. I can’t put my finger on why Niagara has struggled as much as it has this season, especially after getting past their injury-plagued start. But if it’s confidence they lack, history can help with that. I’m going with Niagara on Friday and RIT on Saturday.
Canisius at Robert Morris
Dan: If Robert Morris sweeps, they all but clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs. If Canisius sweeps, they can pull within a weekend of first and essentially eliminate a couple of teams from two of the four home ice slots in the Quarterfinals. I would make this a split, but I think RMU is going to keep winning and make everyone aware that the Pairwise Rankings are an inaccurate judge of who belongs in the tournament. RMU sweeps.
Chris: Two of the hottest teams in the country will go at it in Moon Township this weekend. RMU leads second-place Canisius by 8 points with the Golden Griffins holding two games in hand. The Colonials can essentially clinch the regular season title with a sweep, while Canisius can make it a two-dog race if they can claim four points. As good as the Griffs are playing right now, I have to go with Robert Morris to sweep at home.
Air Force at Sacred Heart
Dan: After riding high on Air Force, the jets were grounded by Robert Morris’ offensive artillery in Colorado (enough military references yet?). Now Air Force comes east still battling an identity crisis of if they’re really good enough to be a top four team. That’ll get positioned nicely against Sacred Heart, a team with more fight than probably anyone else in the league. The Pioneers have done a great job lately of “not losing,” going 1-0-3 in their last four. That signifies a team that will be extremely dangerous down the stretch. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris: Air Force has a commanding lead in the all-time series (21-6-4) but is only 5-4-1 in games played at Sacred Heart. Still, I think the Falcons will rebound after a tough weekend against RMU. Air Force sweeps.
Three observations from this past weekend’s wild slate of Atlantic Hockey Conference action:
The Bentley Falcons traveled west for the third time in four weekends to take on the Mercyhurst Lakers. With a brilliant opportunity to take some huge points, the Falcons opened up a 3-0 lead in the second period on Friday then held on for a 3-2 win when the Lakers came raging back.
On Saturday, Mercyhurst took a commanding three-goal lead in the first period after Chris Bodo scored twice and Matthew Zay scored on a short-handed bid. That chased goalie Jayson Argue from the game in favor of backup Gabe Antoni. The Falcons responded by scoring with less than six seconds left in the frame, cutting the lead to 3-1 in the intermission.
In the second period, Mercyhurst’s Grant Gettinger took an interference penalty in eight seconds before the team took a too many men bench minor 40 seconds later. That gave Bentley an extended 5-on-3 power play, which they capitalized on. With Andrew Gladiuk scoring his second of the game, the Falcons clawed back within one goal in about 90 seconds. They tied the game at the five minute mark when Derek Bacon scored his third of the year.
With the game heading for overtime, Kyle Schmidt decided he wanted to head home sooner, scoring with 16 seconds left. Bentley left Erie, PA with a four point weekend and third place in the standings.
Bentley returns home on Friday to start a home-and-home with Holy Cross. They remain two points back of second place Canisius. Given their earlier loss to the Crusaders before Thanksgiving and knowing the strength and intensity of that rivalry, this weekend’s games will be can’t miss in the east.
Starting To Look Like A Champ
Robert Morris has been riding the high of being a defending champion all season. They haven’t missed a beat, and they’ve been the first place team from the get-go. This weekend, in a huge trip out west to take on Air Force, they had a chance to reassert themselves of that top slot against a team getting on its customary second half run.
Responding with a four point weekend, including an overtime win, the Colonials showed their guts. After opening the year pistol hot, they slid four of seven games in the middle of the year. But they’ve now won six in a row and have an eight point lead over second place Canisius. They’re now within a single game of clinching a first round bye. If they can beat Canisius on Friday, they’ll clinch at least fifth. Sweep or have RIT lose two points at any point, and they’re hosting a second round series.
The only bad news for the Colonials this weekend is that the winter storm bearing down on the east coast forced a cancellation in their flight home, so head coach Derek Schooley and his team were forced to remain in the mountains a little bit longer:
Big win…bad news on cancelled flights. A few more days in Colorado. Be home 11PM on Monday. #Linus
— Derek Schooley (@derekschooley) February 1, 2015
Let’s Get Weird
Five points separate third place from seventh in the standings. Giving you an idea of what’s up for grabs, that’s two second round home series, a first round bye with a road series, and two first round home series. Two points back of that mess is the last home first round slot with Sacred Heart. With RMU all but sealing up a first round bye at this point, one less spot is open for someone.
Next weekend, third place Bentley plays Holy Cross, one of two teams tied for fourth. Mercyhurst, the other fourth place team, plays American International. Air Force, tied with RIT for sixth, plays eighth place Sacred Heart in a big series for them to try and bounce back during. RIT plays Niagara a weekend after losing to Army – the same Army team that is now only four points back of the last home first round series.
Points are at a premium, as every coach has said. Up to nine teams could end this upcoming weekend in a place in the standings different from where they started it. The only things for sure are that nobody can catch Robert Morris, and even with a sweep, Niagara cannot catch AIC, who they sit five points behind.
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.