Top-seed Mercyhurst was the only home team to advance in last week’s quarterfinal round.
Three things from this past week in Atlantic Hockey:
Clichés and comebacks
It’s one of the worst clichés in sports: “A two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey”.
Call me crazy, but I’ll take a two-goal lead over a one-goal advantage any day. Someone actually went through the trouble of showing how teams are more likely to surrender a one-goal lead then a two-goal margin.
That said, the two goal, or even three-goal lead was not very safe this weekend in Atlantic Hockey play:
- On Friday, American International led Robert Morris 2-0 late in the first period, but had to settle for a 4-4 tie.
- Saturday night at Niagara saw the Purple Eagles lead Holy Cross 2-0 at the end of the first period, but the Crusaders rallied for a 3-2 victory, getting the game-winner with 2:18 to play.
- Also on Saturday, Mercyhurst jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period against Connecticut, but the Huskies scored the game’s final three goals to earn a tie.
- On Saturday, Canisius was up 2-0 on Bentley, but, guess what? Another comeback from a two-goal deficit and another tie, 2-2.
- And in the “almost” department, Army rallied from a 3-0 deficit at Rochester Institute of Technology on Saturday, twice cutting the gap to a single goal, but wound up falling, 4-3.
In case you missed it
Tuesday’s American International at Massachusetts game produced one of the most interesting box scores you’ll see this season. The Yellow Jackets were outshot 59-18, including 27-2 in the second period, but won the game, 3-2.
AIC scored twice in the second period (so yeah, on its only two shots) and held the Minutemen to just one goal over that span.
Hunter Leisner made 57 saves for the win and Alexander MacMillan got the game-winner with 5:20 to play.
That non-conference win by AIC aside, the league isn’t looking good to repeat last season when the AHA sent and unprecedented pair of teams to the NCAA tournament. Niagara was ranked between tenth and twelfth in the PairWise Rankings throughout the second half of last season, and that was good enough for the Purple Eagles to grab an at-large berth. Niagara was bolstered by a great record (23-9-5) and some success by the conference in nonleague games, making for a decent strength of schedule.
This season, with the league struggling to get OOC wins, we’re not not going to see a repeat.
Third-place Air Force, which has the best non-conference record in the league (5-3-1 including wins over Northeastern and Providence) is 28th in the PWR, best in the conference, but a long way from a top-16 spot that would give the Falcons a shot at an at-large bid.
First-place Mercyhurst comes in at 37 with Bentley in a tie for 39th.
So look for the usual postseason scramble where the it’s win-or-go-home for all AHA teams. No second chances.
On the season:
Dan: 102-49-13 (.662)
Chris: 102-49-13 (.662)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Jan 17 and Saturday, Jan 18:
Sacred Heart at Air Force
Dan: Air Force tends to go on runs every year that end the year with them finishing ludicrously strong. Last year they lost only twice after January 5th. The year before, they lost three after the same weekend in the first-weekend-in-January part of the schedule. They’re getting stronger, which means sweepsville in Colorado for them. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: The Pioneers are good for an upset win in Colorado Springs – they’ve done it before. But Air Force is coming off its first sweep of rival Army in 13 years and, pardon the pun, are flying high. Air Force sweeps.
Connecticut at Mercyhurst
Dan: This is going to be a pick ‘em weekend. UConn is capable of beating anybody, and Mercyhurst is on the verge of running away with the league’s top seed already. Slight edge this week to Mercyhurst, but I really think UConn is going to take a game somewhere in here. As much as I hate picking splits, I think this one splits. Mercyhurst on Friday. UConn on Saturday.
Chris: This looks to be a fantastic series between two top teams with high-powered offenses and great goaltending. I think they Lakers have a slight edge between the pipes and that will be the difference. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Holy Cross at Niagara
Dan: Niagara has some major issues in net. Holy Cross has some major issues on offense. The X factor is the fact that Matt Ginn has been a stalwart, even as his Crusaders are 0-6-2 since upsetting Boston College. I’m taking Holy Cross to sweep, but I feel zero confidence in that pick. Think Purple Eagle fans wish Carsen Chubak stayed for his fourth year?
Chris: The Purple Eagles stumbled last weekend with a split against American International, and still need to sort out their goaltending situation. On the other end of the spectrum, Holy Cross netminder Matt Ginn has made 43 consecutive starts and has been solid so far this but he’s not getting a lot of offensive support. I’m thinking split. Holy Cross wins Friday; Niagara on Saturday.
Army at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Despite what the 4-1 score indicated, I thought RIT played Bentley evenly on Saturday last weekend; it was a 2-1 game until a bad penalty and an empty net goal dropped the Tigers to their eventual outcome. The biggest problem facing RIT this weekend is the goalie matchup; Rob Tadazak is better than his stats would indicate, and the last two weekends gave the Tigers fits and questions in net. Maybe home cooking is just what they needed, even though I think Army could win one of these games on the smaller Ritter rink. RIT sweeps.
Chris: Both teams come in on losing streaks: RIT hasn’t won in five games (0-4-1) and the Black Knight have dropped five straight. It’s the first time on home ice in 41 days for the Tigers, who will be home for nine of their next ten contests. There’s no doubt that Army goalie Rob Tadazak can steal a game, but I think the Tigers keep their 13-game unbeaten streak against Army going. RIT sweeps.
American International at Robert Morris
Dan: Robert Morris has won three of their last four; AIC is playing .500 puck over the last month with wins over Air Force, Niagara, and whatever we want to call what happened when they gave up 60 shots and beat UMass. I don’t think anyone wants to play these teams right now since they’re both capable of beating anyone, which of course means they play each other. Slight edge to the Colonials for playing better team defense last week. RMU sweeps.
Chris: This matchup is an example of how unpredictable the AHA is. I can make a case for a convincing sweep for both teams, each of which has looked like a top-tier team one night and a cellar dweller the next. I’m going for another split. AIC wins Friday; RMU on Saturday.
Saturday, Jan. 18 and Sunday, Jan. 19
Bentley at Canisius
Dan: The free-falling Falcons lost in two straight at Canisius last year in the first round of the playoffs and provided the perfect foil to the Griffs, who went onto the NCAA Tournament. this year, Bentley comes in ranked second in the league in offense, second in the league in defense, first in power play efficient, second in penalty killing efficiency, and best in combined special teams and scoring margin. Canisius goalies Keegan Asmundson and Tony Capobianco will provide a good challenge with their strong defensive line, but I still think Bentley sweeps.
Chris: I saw Bentley play last weekend and the Falcons looked like a team who could do some damage in the NCAA tournament, if they can avoid the slump that started around this time last season and put away teams like Canisius, who are typically solid defensively on home ice. A split wouldn’t surprise me but I’m going with a Falcons sweep in a pair of close games.
A look back at the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey after another surprisingly wild weekend of interdivisional play:
All Roads Lead To Erie
For all the talk of undefeated streaks ending last week by Bentley and RIT, the team everyone’s seemingly forgetting about is Mercyhurst. The Lakers swept Holy Cross this weekend, their seventh consecutive league weekend without a loss. They haven’t lost a league game since surrendering a 3-2 lead after the second period against Canisius on November 9th, an eventual 4-3 loss. They’ve seemingly beaten everybody, and their 11-1-1 start has them three points up on second place Bentley, six points ahead of the cut-off for a first round bye. They’ve outscored league opponents, 57-25, and they’ve won every conceivable type of game.
This past weekend, it was more of the same. On Friday, Holy Cross outshot Mercyhurst in the first period by a 23-5 margin despite not a single penalty being called. Despite the Lakers putting up better numbers in the second (outshooting the Crusaders, 14-10), they found themselves on the wrong end of a 18-7 deficit in the third. Final shot totals had Holy Cross outshooting Mercyhurst, 51-26, in a fast-paced game featuring only two penalties for both teams. Yet the Lakers won, 1-0, off a goal by Kyle Cook early in the third. Jimmy Sarjeant picked up his 12th win of the year. The next night, Holy Cross outshot Mercyhurst, 38-27, but Chris Bodo registered a hat trick to lead the Lakers to a 4-2 victory and a four-point weekend.
Coming out of their weekend in Worcester, Mercyhurst now took a lead or was tied into the third period in all but one game. They’re 2-1 in one-goal games, 5-0 in three-plus goal games. They’ve scored first in ten games, winning eight. Even when they don’t score first (all three times it’s happened), they simply don’t lose. We knew they’d be good this year, and they were the prohibitive favorite among both the coaches and the media. But it’s the way they’re doing it, being quietly dominant, that should have everyone taking note that all roads, this year, are leading to the Great Lakes in Pennsylvania.
RIT joined Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-2007 season. On the final weekend of the regular season, the Tigers, ineligible for the postseason tournament, faced the Bentley Falcons in Watertown, MA. The Tigers beat Bentley on Friday of that weekend, 3-0, to clinch the regular season championship in their first season of AHA competition. On Saturday, the Tigers lost, 7-6, in the only decision of the season by goalie Jared DeMichiel (who would backstop the Tigers to the 2010 Frozen Four three years later).
Until Friday, that was the last time Bentley’d beaten RIT at home. Six times the Tigers and Falcons met at the John A. Ryan Arena and six times Bentley failed to pick up a victory. On Friday, though, that whole slate changed as the Falcons laid a whupping on the Tigers, 8-2, behind four second period goals. The next night, Bentley won again, 4-1, giving them their first ever sweep of the Tigers in a sloppy game played in less than ideal conditions after 50-degree weather and humidity made ice conditions extremely poor (though it was still better than the Maine-BU game at Fenway Park)
In years past, with the Falcons and Tigers coming off the wrong end of bad weekends (Bentley scored only one point against Niagara; RIT was swept by UConn), the expectations would be there that the eastern team would lose to their more historically powerful opponent. But Bentley beat RIT handily, holding them below 30 shots on both nights. Brett Gensler finished the weekend with eight points, including four goals and a five-point night on Friday, becoming the all-time Division I goals leader for Bentley in the process. Alex Grieve collected his second hat trick of the season, and defenseman Steve Weinstein continued an assault on the record books with three assists.
On the flip side, it was the fourth consecutive loss for RIT. The Tigers dropped all the way to eighth place, one point ahead of AIC for the final home slot in the playoffs. Goalie Mike Rotolo, statistically the best goalie in the AHA two weeks ago, is all of a sudden vulnerable, yanked from Friday’s matchup and replaced in goal by Jordan Ruby on Saturday. His save percentage dropped to .907 while his goals against average rose to 2.79, and he’s 0-3 over the last two weeks. Entering the UConn weekend with a goal difference of +7 (27-20), RIT is now -7, giving up 40 goals to just 33 scored. They were 6-7-3 overall, nearly .500, 5-3-1 in conference play. They’re now 6-11-3 with a pedestrian 5-7-1 AHA record.
The Falcons are now 5-1-2 against the western division, winning three of their four series with their complementary scheduling pod. Next weekend they head to Canisius, where they were swept in the playoffs’ first round last year, to kick off a six game road trip featuring a trip to Erie to play Mercyhurst. RIT, meanwhile, returns home to the friendly confines of Ritter Arena to host Army.
East-West Record Update
Last year, the west won the divisional matchups with the east by nearly 2:1 margin, going 43-21-8 and winning all but two season series. This year, Bentley alone has won three series against the west, losing only to Niagara. Beyond that, Connecticut’s won two series while gaining a point against Canisius and splitting this past weekend with Robert Morris. As a result, the east is climbing back against the west, though the pod of Air Force, Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT, and Robert Morris is still ahead, 28-15-5.
Mercyhurst is a perfect 8-0 against the east to lead their western pod with 16 points, and Canisius is 5-2-1. For the east, Bentley and UConn have 12 and 11 points against the west, respectively. The east is losing major ground with its other four school who’ve combined for 11 points; AIC is in “third place” among eastern schools against the west with a 2-6 record and four points after dominating Niagara this weekend, 6-2 (though they did lose, 5-0, on Saturday). Army, Holy Cross, and Sacred Heart all have a single victory, with SHU picking up their first on Sunday against Canisius. The majority of the west, meanwhile, is hovering around .500, with Air Force going 3-2-3, Niagara going 4-3-1, and RIT and RMU are both 4-4.
Not surprisingly, the standings reflect these results. Bentley and UConn trail only Mercyhurst in the standings, while the other four schools occupy all the road slots for the first round of the playoffs. Luckily, there are more games left within the divisions; that should leave the east close enough where some home series will shift closer to the Atlantic coast. Key matchups continue this week; UConn (tied for third with Air Force) heads to Mercyhurst just four points out of first, while second place Bentley plays fifth place Canisius. AIC, one point behind RIT for eighth place and two behind Robert Morris for seventh place, heads to Pittsburgh to play the Colonials in another highlighted matchup.
On the season:
Dan: 95-43-13 (.672)
Chris: 94-44-13 (.666)
This Week’s Picks
Thursday, Jan 9 and Friday, Jan 10:
Robert Morris at UConn
Dan: Robert Morris got back on track last week with a pair of wins against Sacred Heart. But that UConn team is firing on all cylinders; they can taste the top two in the league after it looked like Bentley and Mercyhurst were runaways. Even with a Bentley split against RIT, UConn can take second place. That opportunity is going to be huge for a very talented Huskies squad at home. UConn sweeps.
Chris: This is a rematch of a quarterfinal playoff series last season, won by the Huskies. UConn is 4-1-1 against teams from the Western scheduling pod so far, 7-1 at home this season and 5-1 in their last six, overall so I’m going with the homestanding Huskies. UConn sweeps.
Friday, Jan 10 and Saturday, Jan 11:
Air Force at Army
Dan: I love it when the service academies play against one another. I have a feeling Saturday will be closer than Friday’s national television game. I think the goaltending situation for Air Force is still a little hairy without Jason Torf, and I keep waiting for Rob Tadazak to steal a game from someone. I think it happens this weekend; Army played to a 3-3 tie last year after losing big on Friday. And everyone knows I love making a couple of bold picks. Air Force wins on Friday. Army wins on Saturday.
Chris: Expect a pair of intense games. as has been the case in most of the 59 previous meetings between the schools (Air Force has the edge 32-22-5). Friday’s game is going to be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network, and Saturday’s contest is already sold out. A split wouldn’t surprise me, but I’m going with the visiting Falcons to sweep a pair of close games.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Bentley
Dan: This is one of my favorite, more recent rivalries in the AHA (mostly because it’s the USCHO Bowl between Chris and me this year), with the two teams’ having an intense respect and desire to beat one another. This gets goaltender matchup of the week awards with Mike Rotolo against Branden Komm. The difference is Bentley’s offense – RIT only scored 12 goals over their last five games, eight of which came against AIC, while Bentley’s notched 19. Still, there’s no way Wayne Wilson lets his team lose four in a row in league play. Bentley wins on Friday. RIT wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams are looking to rebound after disappointing weekends. Recent meetings have usually resulted in a split, but I like Bentley to sweep if it can win the battle of special teams, which I think the Falcons will do on home ice. Bentley sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Holy Cross
Dan: Mercyhurst might not be able to win non-conference games (going 2-8-1), but they’re 9-1-1 against the AHA. This is a big opportunity to continue separating themselves from the rest of the league. Holy Cross might get a point, but they’re 0-3-2 in their last five league games (0-3 in their last three). Mercyhurst sweeps
Chris: This series is a tossup for me, as both teams have been hot and cold in recent weeks. That means a split. Mercyhurst wins Friday; Holy Cross wins Saturday.
American International at Niagara
Dan: AIC can’t rely on late-game collapses every week, scoring two goals in the last couple of minutes to tie Air Force on Friday, then win in OT. Top to bottom, Niagara isn’t great on an individual level, but they’re big, strong, and when clicking, they’re are a lot better team than their record indicates. Last week’s tie and win at Bentley wasn’t an aberration. Niagara sweeps.
Chris: The Purple Eagles shouldn’t take AIC lightly in their exuberance to play on home ice for the first time since Nov. 16 (they went 1-5-2 since then in eight road contests). I think one game will be close and one won’t, but both to go in Niagara’s favor. Niagara sweeps.
Saturday, Jan. 11 and Sunday, Jan. 12
Sacred Heart at Canisius
Dan: If the Canisius team that pounded Army, 8-2, and swept Holy Cross last week shows up, the Golden Griffins will take an easy four points. But Sacred Heart is sneaky not bad, and Canisius did lose the second game of that Army weekend after their six-goal win. Don’t be shocked if the Pioneers get points out of this. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: Canisius scored a pair of big wins at Holy Cross last weekend to regain the momentum it had in late November and early December. I think the Golden Griffins will keep it going against the Pioneers. Canisius sweeps.
Tuesday, January 14
American International at Massachusetts
Dan: UMass is not a particularly good Hockey East team, and the AHA has had that league’s number at times for whatever reason. Still, it’s in the middle of a brutal stretch for the Yellow Jackets. If nothing else, this is AIC’s shortest road trip, going 23 miles from West Springfield to Amherst in that mythical land of Western Massachusetts, so the lack of bus lag will keep it closer against a Minutemen team coming off games at Cornell and against the US U-18 team. Very reluctantly, UMass wins
Chris: The Minutemen are finishing up a stretch where they’ve played mostly ranked teams, while AIC has just one win in its last 11 games. That’s a recipe for a UMass win.
Three things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
Streaks, good and bad
Several streaks came to an end this weekend:
- Bentley’s nine game unbeaten streak ended on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to Niagara. The teams had tied 2-2 the night before.
- Niagara had not won on the road (0-10-3) so far this season coming into that game on Saturday with Bentley, and was winless in its last seven games overall, so the Purple Eagles were glad to see those steaks broken. Niagara also scored multiple power-play goals for the first time this season.
- Rochester Institute of Technology saw its six game unbeaten streak also fall, as the Tigers were swept at Connecticut 2-1 and 6-2.
- American International had gone nine games without a win (0-8-1) until Friday, when the Yellow Jackets rallied for a 4-3 victory over Air Force.
Another streak that fell this weekend concerned RIT’s power play, which had scored in five consecutive games and came into this past weekend’s series with Connecticut ranked fourth in Division I at 25.7%.
But the Huskies were perfect on the penalty kill, stopping all six attempts en route to a home sweep. UConn has now killed 24 straight man-down situations.
“Special teams win games,” said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh on Friday (Video here). “Games where we’ve won the special teams game, I think we’re undefeated.”
On the flip side, Niagara came into its series at Bentley with the second-worst power play in the nation at 6.8%. But two power play goals by the Purple Eagles were the difference in their win over the Falcons on Saturday.
“Special teams are a big part of college hockey and we were struggling during the first semester,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “Our power play has gotten better on a daily basis during practice and the guys were rewarded tonight. A lot of it was just outworking Bentley’s guys, winning face offs and winning loose pucks. It was things like that which made the difference in the game.”
Add a fantastic finish by American International to its list of wild and wacky games this season. The Yellow Jackets stunned Air Force with a late rally on Friday.
The Falcons led 3-1 with under a minute and a half to play when David Norris made things interesting with a goal at 18:33, bringing AIC to within one.
The Yellow Jackets pulled their goalie with 1:06 left, and Air Force took a penalty with 36 seconds remaining, giving AIC a six-on-four situation. Defenseman Jake Williams then tied the game, converting off a scramble with 15 seconds to play.
Alexander MacMillan completed the comeback, scoring the game-winner 59 seconds into overtime. MacMillen assisted on the other two AIC goals in the rally. The junior leads his team in scoring with 17 points so far.
On the season:
Dan: 89-38-12 (.683)
Chris: 89-38-12 (.683)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Jan 3 and Saturday, Jan 4:
Air Force at American International
Dan: AIC lost nine in a row to go into their break, while Air Force hasn’t lost since November 29th. They’re 2-0-3 over their little stretch, and even without Jason Torf or Ben Carey, they should be fine for this weekend. Still, this comes with an uneasy feeling for their future. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets have been idle since Dec. 14 and the Falcons are coming off a championship weekend at Dartmouth, where they defeated two ranked teams to win the Ledyard Bank Classic. Despite the reported loss of goaltender Jason Torf to injury, I’m going with the hot hand. Air Force sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Army
Dan: This is a doppelganger to the Air Force-AIC series. A league titan comes east to play a team struggled with the first half of the season. Army did go 2-2 into the break, including a shutout of Canisius, but Mercyhurst is too strong in comparison to the rest of the league. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Army is another team that took the Holidays off, while Mercyhurst concluded its non-conference schedule at 2-8-1 after getting swept at Ohio State. But the Lakers still rule the roost the Altlantic Hockey (tied with Bentley but ahead in winning percentage), and I have to go with them here. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Niagara at Bentley
Dan: Bentley is one win away from tying their longest winning streak at five. Brett Gensler is one goal away from tying the Division I goals record after breaking the Division I points record earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Niagara is winless in their last six, allowing over three goals per game. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: If there are any doubters left about Bentley, they’ll have to come around if the Falcons sweep here. Which I think they will. Bentley sweeps.
Canisius at Holy Cross
Dan: Holy Cross had an emotional weekend last weekend but lost both games. Still, they played remarkable hockey against both Boston College and Air Force. Canisius has lost their last three, but two of those were to UMass-Lowell and Vermont, both of whom are ranked. Canisius wins on Friday. Holy Cross wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams were 0-2 last week and looking to rebound. I’m going with the Crusaders, who hung in there with Bentley and Yale. Holy Cross sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Connecticut
Dan: UConn has been wildly inconsistent, getting beat badly by Sacred Heart in the league game first round of their own holiday tournament in Hartford but holding a sweep over Niagara and a consolation game win over UMass-Amherst. RIT, meanwhile, hasn’t lost since November 22nd, and owns the fifth longest unbeaten streak in the nation (tied with Wisconsin). And I’m a big fan that destiny is setting in for an RIT-Bentley collision course next week. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is a big series for both teams, which come in tied for third with identical conference records (5-3-1). RIT is 3-4-1 at UConn since joining the AHA, including splits in their last three visits to the Freitas Ice Forum. Taking into account that the Huskies have been hot and cold in league play so far makes another split the safe pick. UConn wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.
Saturday, Jan. 4 and Sunday, Han. 5
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart
Dan: Robert Morris lost a couple of one-goal games in the Three Rivers Classic, meaning they’ve now lost 10 of their 12 L’s by one or two goals. Sacred Heart beat UConn but lost to Quinnipiac in a game where they were outshot 54-12. SHU didn’t get a shot on goal in the second period and were outshot, 35-3, over the second and third combined en route to a 5-0 loss. They won’t have that this weekend, but I’m still taking the Colonials. Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris:Both goalies (RMU’s Shafer and SHU’s Vazanno) got quite a workout last weekend making 91 and 78 saves respectively in holiday tournament play. Is it too early to say these are must-win games for the Colonials, who have just one win in their last nine games? I’m going with a split here. Sacred Heart wins Saturday; Robert Morris wins Sunday
The Colorado Gazette is reporting that Air Force goaltender Jason Torf and center Ben Carey will not play in this weekend’s series at American International.
“It’s not good,” Serratore told the Gazette concerning Torf’s condition, reported to be a groin injury. “Hopefully it will not be season ending. He’s our best player. He’s our backbone.”
On the season:
Dan: 79-34-12 (.680)
Chris: 79-34-12 (.680)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Dec. 20:
Providence at Army
Dan: This is one of those games where PC fans have to worry that their team doesn’t take Army too lightly. That said, I think the Friars will be just fine. Providence wins.
Chris: This the only one out of 14 games to be played over the next 10 days that will be held in an AHA rink. But that alone won’t be enough for the Black Knights to knock off the No. 5 Friars. Providence wins.
Friday, Dec. 27:
Penn State vs.Robert Morris (Three Rivers Classic)
Dan: Penn State won the first meeting of the year, 5-4, in a game featuring 93 shots. That said, they also barely beat Sacred Heart and were swept by Air Force. These two teams seem to produce instant classics, and I’m guessing this is the time for the Colonials to start righting the ship. If RMU loses, I’m vowing to quit my jinx and never pick them again. RMU wins.
Chris: RMU won this tournament last season, but I don’t see that happening this time. I’m picking the Nittany Lions in a close game. Penn State wins.
Robert Morris vs. Bowling Green/Boston College (Three Rivers Classic)
Dan: If RMU wins, then they’ll likely draw Boston College, who is playing BGSU in the “York Bowl” in the first round. If that happens, consider the Penn State game a Pyrrhic victory. Regardless who they play, I’m picking against The Sons of Schooley, but Holy Cross ruined any chance of catching the Eagles napping. Boston College beats RMU or Bowling Green beats RMU
Chris: I’m expecting this to be the consolation game, and I’m expecting the Colonials to play Bowling Green. But you never know. I’m picking Boston College to defeat RMU, or RMU to beat Bowling Green.
Holy Cross vs. Bentley (Frozen Fenway)
Dan: Both teams are planning huge alumni events for the game, and the atmosphere should be great for the first ever AHA game at Frozen Fenway. The Falcons are dressing in the Red Sox locker room; consider Branden Komm the Bentley Big Papi for his flair for dramatic, game-winning, heart-stopping saves this year. Holy Cross, though, hasn’t lost a season series in this rivalry since 2009 and held a 2-1 lead into the third before Bentley won in OT in their first meeting. Bentley wins.
Chris: Outdoor games are more difficult to pick, because weather conditions can dictate a style of play that may favor one team over another. But Bentley’s on such a roll right now that I’d pick them even if the game were played in a parking lot. Bentley wins.
Canisius vs. Massachussetts-Lowell (Catamount Cup)
Dan: On neutral ice, anything can happen. If the Griffs win, it’ll announce loudly that their title defense is just getting warmed up. But UML is 10-2 in their last 12. Mass-Lowell wins.
Chris: An upstart RIT squad beat two ranked teams to win this tournament two years ago, and there’s no reason why Canisius can’t do the same thing. But I think the 10th-ranked River Hawks won’t be taking the Golden Griffins lightly. Mass-Lowell wins.
Saturday, Dec 28 and Sunday, Dec. 29
Mercyhurst at Ohio State
Dan: Despite being in first, the Lakers are 2-6-1 in non-conference play. The Buckeyes are 8-4, including six straight against the league. Ohio State sweeps.
Chris: Ohio State has been good at home this season (7-3) and is 6-0 against AHA competition so far, but think the Lakers get a split here. Ohio State wins Saturday; Mercyhurst wins Sunday.
Sunday, Dec. 29
Sacred Heart at Connecticut (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I’m going to miss when UConn hosts a holiday tournament and an eastern pod teams plays a league game in the first round. UConn wins.
Chris:This tournament game, played at The XL Center in Hartford, counts as a league matchup. I’m going with the Huskies to win despite them giving up the home ice advantage. UConn will have to get used to playing in Hartford, where the Huskies will play all of their home Hockey East games next season. UConn wins.
Holy Cross at Yale
Dan: It’s a bummer that Holy Cross will have a physical, emotional game in the league on Saturday and the defending national champions on Sunday. Yale struggled into break, losing to Dartmouth and tying Harvard. But this will be a good progression back to play for the Elis after playing the Russian Red Stars on Friday. Yale wins.
Chris: The Crusaders have a quick turnaround, going from Fenway Park to the Whale at Yale the following day. I’m going with the No. 11 Bulldogs on home ice. Yale wins.
Air Force vs. Northeastern (Ledyard Bank Classic)
Dan: Stop Kevin Roy, and the rest becomes infinitely easier. Northeastern still has a 3.32 GAA. Air Force wins.
Chris: Another ranked foe stands in the way of an AHA team (The Huskies are No. 16 in the USCHO.com poll). But I’m sticking with the Falcons in this neutral-ice contest. Air Force wins.
Canisius at Vermont (Catamount Cup)
Dan: Vermont was on a roll until their last game, sweeping UMass and Maine before losing to NU. Mario Puskarich is turning into the freshman find of the year, especially since their other highly-coveted freshman, Brady Shaw, is in a funk. Vermont wins.
Chris: This “tournament” features a pre-determined lineup, so the Golden Griffins will play the host Catamounts no matter how they fare against Lowell the day before. I’m going with the home team. Vermont wins.
Monday, Dec. 30
Sacred Heart vs. UMass/Quinnipiac (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I don’t think it will matter, but I think Sacred Heart is better suited for a matchup with UMass. Quinnipiac’s system is designed to kill opposing offenses. UMass or Quinnipiac win.
Chris: I think Quinnipiac will defeat UMass in the first round, so the Pioneers will most likely face the Minutemen in the consolation game In either case, I think SHU finishes fourth. UMass or Quinnipiac wins.
UMass/Quinnipiac at Connecticut (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I really hope this is UMass-UConn because that’s one of those great “other sports” rivalries that would translate great into hockey. The basketball rivalry is getting a shot in the arm thanks to the surge of the Minutemen. Why can’t hockey do the same? UMass wins. If it’s Quinnipiac, well then that’s just lame. Quinnipiac wins.
Chris: Sticking with my predictions, this would mean a Quinnipiac-UConn championship, and I’m going with the No. 8 Bobcats. Quinnipiac wins. If it’s a UMass-UConn matchup, UConn wins.
Air Force vs. Providence/Dartmouth (Ledyard Bank Classic)
Dan: There is no reason why Providence should lose to a Dartmouth team that apparently forgot how to play hockey this year and is 2-10 after going 15-12-5 last year. For Air Force’s sake, I don’t know what to hope for. Providence wins if they play the Friars. Air Force wins against the Big Green.
Chris: If my prediction holds up, the Falcons will play the Friars in the title game. I think Providence wins that matchup. In the event the Falcons are paired with the host Big Green, I like Air Force to win.
Three things (okay, four) from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
Oh the weather outside is frightful.
People in Rochester, New York went to a snowstorm at a baseball field and watched a hockey game break out. With about a foot and a half of snow falling in the upstate area, the RIT Tigers and Niagara Purple Eagles battled through a slopfest outside. The snow was so thick during the women’s game earlier that timeouts caused delays as players and work crews shoveled the ice off. The men’s game had more of the same, and pregame ceremonies were shortened to avoid the ice becoming too snow covered.
So snow covered was the game that skaters left wakes of snow piles as they skated through the rink. Skating with the puck wasn’t an option, and players were forced to lift the puck to make passes. Predictably, the game ended in a 2-2 tie, even after the teams adjusted to the conditions.
“We just wanted to get the puck in, the way it was snowing out there,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson after the game. “We wanted to get the puck deep and shoot anything at the net.”
Somewhere in Rochester this morning, children among the 5,000 fans in attendance at Frontier Field are shoveling off a frozen lake to play some shinny. While the game play was sloppy and tough to deal with, they’ll be happy to try and recreate the 16-degree frigid winter wonderland they saw last night. “I was worried about rain, sun, and warm temperatures, and we got January,” joked Wilson after the game. But he put it into perspective saying, “It was a great event for our players, our school, and the Rochester community. The weather definitely made for some tough play, but both teams adjusted well.”
The “Snow Game” will resonate in the standings.
The fact that the game ended in a tie is something that can’t be lost on the AHA faithful. Because of the conditions, goals and shots were at a premium; both teams had nine shots in the second period but scored three goals (two by RIT). But had this game been played inside, an RIT team that’s been undefeated in their previous five games might’ve had a different result against a Niagara team swept last weekend by UConn. Instead, the tie resulted in RIT getting one point instead of two. That cost them a chance to move into third place and a one-point lead over Connecticut and Air Force. With just one point, the Tigers are now tied with the two schools, two points back of Bentley for second and four back of Mercyhurst for first.
I’m not going to say that better weather or playing the game indoors would’ve resulted in a different final score, but if RIT or Niagara misses out on a first round bye or first round home series by one point, this game will be the one I point to and say, “That had the biggest impact later down the road.”
How the Falcons Stole BU Christmas
After a dizzying week of varying opinions about Bentley’s chances at Boston University on Saturday, the result finally boiled down to where it matters – on the ice. In that regard, the Falcons dominated; deemed an upset by most, they shocked the college hockey and sports world but didn’t shock themselves. They controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, had BU scouted perfectly, and forced the Terriers into their game style. For the better part of about 53 minutes, the Terriers looked predictable, slow, and, at times, disheartened or frustrated to the point where head coach David Quinn promised changes upcoming in his postgame press conference.
BU turned the light on for the last seven minutes of the third period in a last ditch comeback attempt, but at that point, they were already down 3-0. After scoring a goal to make it 3-1, BU pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. Danny O’Regan had a wide open look on the stick side that Bentley netminder Branden Komm stopped. It was a dastardly form of robbery, the back-breaking save that slammed whatever crack was open in the door. Bentley added an empty net strike, and Komm became the all-time winningest goalie in program history with victory #36.
Bentley was outshot, 43-37, but their defense stood strong in front of Komm. They went into the dirty areas, fought for pucks, and gave up their bodies. Senior Zach Marginsky took a Brendan Collier slapshot right off the leg, went down the tunnel to his locker room, and returned less than four minutes later to deliver two quality shifts down the stretch late in the third. And they found unsung heroes in players like Mike Berry and Kyle O’Brien, both of whom turned in solid efforts from the blue line.
Bentley is now 6-0-1 in their last seven, 7-1-1 in their last nine. In the eight games in which they haven’t lost, their GAA is 1.71. They’re over .500 for the first time since they were 11-10-1 last year. They haven’t been multiple games over .500 since they were 9-7-3 on January 8, 2010. As they’ve proven they can rise to the occasion as the stakes get higher, they’ll have another chance with even higher stakes. Their next game is December 28th when they “host” Holy Cross at Fenway Park.
The 12 Pains of Christmas
AIC traveled to Orono, Maine this weekend for a weekend set with Hockey East’s surprise squad of the year, the Maine Black Bears. And for two nights, the Yellow Jackets again served as a tune-up for a more powerful team, getting outscored 12-2 over the weekend and receiving losses 11 and 12 on the year. It was a painful reminder of the long haul of a season after they stole the hearts and minds of the media and fans with their 3-0 start to conference play.
In our AIC season preview capsule, I prognosticated that AIC would tumble back to the bottom of the standings if they couldn’t replace what was arguably the program’s best senior class. The freshmen coming in would experience growing pains, ultimately leading to a season with more losses. And much of it hinged on the defense, which lost some of the league’s most underrated players in Chris Markiewicz and Jeff Ceccacci. There was also the task of replacing Ben Meisner, the all-everything AHA goalie capable of winning a game all on his own.
Opponents are putting the puck on the AIC net to the tune of 41.3 shots per game. In 15 games, all three goalies faced a combined total of 620 shots. Combining that fact with the transition to a new goaltending regime, the Yellow Jackets are giving up over five goals per game, dead last in the NCAA. Since beating Holy Cross, 1-0, back on November 15th, they’re 0-9. Across those nine losses, they’ve given up less than four goals only once.
Despite this, some positives. AIC is 3-0 when leading after two periods, and they’re 2-3 in one-goal games (2-2 in the AHA). They’re also 2-3 when scoring first. It proves that, when they can protect the goalie and/or get a game-changing performance in back, they’re capable of stealing wins. When the offense is clicking, they’re capable of winning. But it won’t get any easier after their break for the holidays. They’ll return to action on January 3rd and 4th when they play Air Force.
On the season:
Dan: 76-34-10 (.675)
Chris: 77-33-10 (.683)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Dec. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 14 :
American International at Maine
Dan: AIC is in a bad spot, and they desperately need the holidays. Alfond is a bad place to play, and Maine is overachieving big this year. Maine sweeps.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets are in a tailspin right now that I don’t think Alfond Arena is going to be the place they pull out of it. Maine sweeps.
Saturday, Dec. 14:
Niagara vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Outdoor game. Rabid fan base. Streaking hot RIT. Niagara coming off a sweep loss by UConn, which means they’ll be super hungry. This has the trappings to be an instant classic. RIT wins.
Chris: The Tigers have only beaten the Purple Eagles once since moving to Division I (1-10-6), but that was in a big game – the 2012 AHA semifinals. This is another big game, being played outdoors in a AAA baseball stadium as part of Rochester’s week long Frozen Frontier. RIT wins.
Robert Morris at Mercyhurst
Dan: I keep picking RMU, and they’ve lost so many one-goal and two-goal games that eventually I’m starting to feel like a jinx. I love the program, I like Derek Schooley, and I think there’s a heckuva lot more to them than meets the eye with their record. Too bad they draw Mercyhurst this week. All roads are leading to Erie right now. Mercyhurst wins.
Chris: This is a huge game for the Colonials, who slipped into the AHA basement last weekend. But the Lakers are really rolling right now. Mercyhurst wins.
Bentley at Boston University
Dan: The Falcons are the hottest team in the AHA right now. BU has nine NHL draft picks, but they’ve struggled in David Quinn’s new system. People on Comm Ave. haven’t turned on him yet, but I feel there’s an underlying worry among some of the fan base heading into this game. Branden Komm’s next win makes him the all-time program leader, and Alex Grieve and Brett Gensler are clicking and clicking hard. Looking at the factors, I’m calling myself crazy and going for it. Bentley wins.
Chris: I really, really want to pick Bentley in this game, and the Falcons may be the better team right now, but my gut says the Terriers win this one on home ice. Boston University wins.