The goaltender missed more than two months with a lower-body injury but returned to help the Tigers sweep Mercyhurst.
It never ceases to amaze me how a weekend of hockey can provide thrills, spills, and spine-tingling chills – and prove absolutely nothing.
The two best teams in Atlantic Hockey went toe-to-toe this weekend with Robert Morris and Holy Cross facing off at the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. On Friday night, a track meet of a game featuring 64 shots and 11 penalties for 22 minutes produced a 5-4 result in favor of the Colonials.
Tied 3-3 after the second period, Brandon Denham scored to put RMU up 4-3 at the 7:45 mark, his 15th goal of the season. That lasted until Timmy Moore, who had the primary assist on the Denham goal, was called for boarding at 15:16. With three seconds left on the power play, TJ Moore tied the game.
But David Friedmann scored with 39.6 seconds left in the game to lift the Colonials.
That’s a great game. So what did they do for an encore? A 5-2 Holy Cross win featured 77 shots, 15 penalties for 30 minutes, two more power play goals. The Crusaders never trailed, opening up a 2-0 lead in the first period.
But RMU never went away. Holy Cross led 2-0, and Robert Morris made it 2-1. Holy Cross took a 3-1 lead in the second period, and the next goal was on a Colonial stick. Holy Cross finally took a 4-2 lead, and it took an empty net goal to salt the game away with about 1:45 left on the clock.
The top two teams in Atlantic Hockey played each other this weekend. Robert Morris entered the weekend with a two point lead. They exited the weekend with a two point lead. A weekend split solved absolutely nothing. But boy did it entertain.
We entered the weekend with one team (RIT) in third place, three teams (Air Force, Sacred Heart, and Mercyhurst) tied for fourth one point behind them, and two teams (Bentley and Canisius) tied for seventh two points behind that group. We exit the weekend with a little bit of breathing room and a little bit clearer of a picture into next week.
Air Force used a three-point weekend at Army West Point to take sole possession of fourth after Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst split their series. And Canisius moved in front of Bentley by three points after the Golden Griffins edged rival Niagara with a win and tie of their own.
RIT’s sweep of Bentley allowed the Tigers to pull into the rearview mirror of the Crusaders and Colonials by virtue of the split at Holy Cross. Meanwhile, the Falcons fell into eighth place after coming up empty at home.
It never ceases to amaze me in this league how one point on one weekend can and will make a difference down the stretch.
Lost In The Shuffle? I don’t think so.
This weekend was a perfect storm of storylines.
Robert Morris-Holy Cross? Best two teams in the league.
Air Force-Army West Point? The only two games between the only two service academies with Division I hockey.
RIT-Bentley? Teams with a relatively even history, especially of late, creating a nice rivalry. Of course if you read us, it’s also a chance to have Chris Lerch and me go head-to-head.
Niagara-Canisius? Battle of the Bridge.
Sacred Heart-Mercyhurst? Two teams tied for fourth place battling a weekend of great hockey down in Connecticut.
This was the perfect weekend for Atlantic Hockey fans, an enjoyable weekend of hard-fought games. People always want to talk about Atlantic Hockey as a mid-major type of league, but that’s not the case at all. This was an ultra-competitive weekend of games, full of emotion. When it was over, in many ways, we had some answers to questions about what’s next. In many other ways, though, we’re just getting warmed up.
On the season:
Dan: 83-49-11 (.619)
Chris: 92-40-11 (.682)
This Week’s Picks:
Thursday, January 14 and Saturday, January 16
Niagara vs. Canisius
Dan: Few things beat good, clean hate. The Battle of the Bridge takes to the ice this weekend with Canisius hosting on Thursday and Niagara on Saturday. I hope the crowds get as up for this one as I am. Canisius wins at home on Thursday. Niagara on Saturday.
Chris: This is the first of two big rivalry series this weekend. Canisius hosts on Thursday with the second game scheduled for Saturday at Niagara. Both teams are on the verge of breaking out, with Canisius’ power play showing improvement and Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb looking like he’s fully recovered from injury. So I’m calling for a split, with Canisius winning at HarborCenter on Thursday and Niagara coming through on home ice on Saturday.
Friday, January 15 and Saturday, January 16
Air Force at Army West Point
Dan: On Twitter this week, I deemed this America’s Game, which is a moniker used for Army-Navy in football. Because Navy doesn’t sponsor Division 1 hockey, this is one of those series that transcends the actual game being played. Guessing there’s going to be a great crowd on hand, and if you don’t get up for something like this, then you just don’t get it. At the end of the day, though, I’m picking Air Force in two really hard fought games. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: You can throw out the records and yadda yadda yadda. If we could pick ties, I might even predict two, but I’ve got a feeling Air Force is going to cure its road woes and come away with a sweep.
Robert Morris at Holy Cross
Dan: RMU looked like a team getting ready for a historic second half run last weekend, but Holy Cross is the league’s best team at home. I honestly think this series is going for a split, but I just can’t put my finger on where. I also think that little bit of home cooking gives the edge to the Crusaders, who can really put a hold on the league’s top slot with a big weekend. Count me among the believers, even if it means I have to pick against Robert Morris AGAIN. They’re going to split, but since I can’t figure out when, I’m going with the home team the whole way through. Holy Cross sweeps.
Chris: It doesn’t get much better than this: the top two teams in the conference squaring off in their only meeting this season. It’s going to be a classic battle between RMU’s potent offense and special teams, and Holy Cross’ defense, currently second in the conference. But on the flip side, the Crusaders can score goals and the Colonials have excellent goaltending , so it’s truly a clash of titans. Robert Morris looked scary good last weekend against Bentley, and I’m banking on that and more experience in big games to carry the Colonials. Robert Morris sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Bentley
Dan: A huge rivalry weekend in Atlantic Hockey this week. Air Force-Army. Canisius-Niagara. And the top teams in the league play each other. None of that matters, though, when you put RIT and Bentley in the same rink.
But seriously, I think Bentley gets off the schneid playing at home (FINALLY) in freezing temperatures. The ice surface will be a little bit faster and slicker, an edge I give to the Falcons, who absolutely need points to jump back into the driver’s seat for a race to a first round bye and will be playing angry after last weekend’s performance at RMU. I’m coming for you, Chris. Bentley sweeps and wins it for Rubin.
Chris: Can the college hockey universe handle Dan and myself in the same rink? Dan will have the radio call for Bentley and I’ll be doing the same for RIT. With that important note out of the way, which team’s going to come out on top? Bentley has to be motivated after getting shellacked by Robert Morris last weekend, and RIT has struggled with consistency, as well as the recent loss of starting goaltender Mike Rotolo to injury. For those reasons, I’m going with a Bentley sweep on home ice.
Sacred Heart at Mercyhurst
Dan: This is a great test for the Pioneers, a team currently tied for fourth with Mercyhurst. If they want to finish up top and challenge for quarterfinals home ice, they need to take care of business against one of the stalwart teams – on their ice. I don’t know if they can do it for two nights, but they can absolutely do it for one. Sacred Heart wins on Friday. Mercyhurst on Saturday.
Chris: The Lakers found a way to win a pair of games last weekend in which they were outshot handily. Sacred Heart looks to have righted the ship, undefeated in its last four games after an eight-game winless slump. There’s enough here to like about both teams to call for a split, and I’m going with Mercyhurst on Friday and Sacred Heart on Saturday.
A rare set of sweeps
Weekend sweeps have been hard to come by in Atlantic Hockey, as evidenced by the logjam in the standings.
“Sweep and you move up; get swept and you move down,” said Rochester Institute of Technology coach Wayne Wilson. “Split and it’s the status quo.”
This weekend saw three teams manage the feat of taking all four points:
- Robert Morris swept Bentley 5-1 and 5-0 to move back into first place.
- Air Force got all four points from American International to move up from a tie for sixth place to a tie for fourth.
- Mercyhurst also moved from sixth to fourth by virtue of a pair of 3-2 wins over Niagara.
Sacred Heart took three points from Army, leaving just one split: Canisius and RIT each came out of their weekend series with two points, allowing the Tigers to maintain their hold on third place, while the Golden Griffins fell one spot in the standings, from sixth to seventh.
“As long as everybody else is splitting, you’re fine,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith said after the game on Saturday. “We got points every weekend, but we haven’t had a sweep yet. I think that’s why we’re in the middle of the pack with everybody else. I think every team in the middle is looking at that and saying, ‘Hey we can still move up,’ and I know that’s how we feel.”
Outshot but not outgunned
Shots on goal are often a good indicator on how well a team is playing. Generating a lot of offense, and keeping your opponent’s shot total low usually means there’s a good chance to come out on top.
Other than Air Force, which dominated AIC both on the scoreboard and the shot counter, it was hard to predict the winner of games based on the number of shots on goal.
Six of the other eight league contests were won by the team with the lower number of shots. The most glaring disparity was in the Niagara-Mercyhurst series that saw the Purple Eagles handily outshoot Mercyhurst in both contests: 35-18 on Friday and 43-26 on Saturday.
The Lakers took both games, 3-2.
“This loss is a really tough one to handle,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder after Friday’s contest. “We dominated the shot totals and tilted the ice in our favor most of the night. We give up just 18 shots and lose. We hope our guys stay with the process, because that was a pretty good effort.”
Saturday was more of the same.
“We’re not scoring, we’re squeezing the sticks, but we’ve got to keep telling these guys that 88 shot attempts and 43 shots on goal is enough to win a game,” said Burkholder after the game. “That’s a factor, no question.”
Twice as nice
One of the keys to the success of Robert Morris in recent seasons has been the play of goaltending tandem Terry Shafer and Dalton Izyk. For all of last season and most of this one, they have alternated turns in net. Diverging from that plan often hasn’t worked out.
But Shafer played both games against Bentley this past weekend, allowing just one goal on 76 shots. That included Shafer’s seventh career shutout on Saturday, a new school record.
It’s an interesting development as the Colonials head to Holy Cross next weekend for a highly anticipated showdown with the Crusaders.
On the season:
Dan: 77-45-10 (.621)
Chris: 84-38-10 (.674)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, January 9 and Sunday, January 10
American International at Air Force
Dan: Here are the following series Air Force has been swept at home since joining Atlantic Hockey: 2007 vs. Mercyhurst, 2009 vs. Canisius, 2015 vs. Robert Morris. As much as I love AIC, that’s a tall order to go up against. Air Force sweeps.
Chris:Air Force has taken points every weekend in league play, but is still looking for its first sweep. The Yellow Jackets are playing some of their best hockey of the season, going 3-1-1 in their last five. But I think Air Force will win the first game, as they usually have this season, and find a way to take the second game as well. Air Force sweeps.
Niagara vs. Mercyhurst
Dan: I’m with Chris on this weekend. Both teams are better than their records indicate, and I think this will be a good weekend of games to watch. But I think Mercyhurst is a hair ahead of Niagara, which gets them the points. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Both teams got swept last weekend in league play. Niagara is better than its record, and frankly so is Mercyhurst. The Lakers host on Friday, with Saturday’s contest at NU’s Dwyer Arena. I’m predicting a rebound for Mercyhurst and a sweep.
Canisius at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: I’m going to ride my RIT picks until they prove me (well, okay…my wife) wrong. Just for the record she won a March Madness basketball bracket challenge by picking teams from states she had visited or who had “cool mascots.” Maybe we’re doing this all wrong with the whole “analysis” thing. RIT sweeps.
Chris: RIT owned this series, which has seen either 80 or 67 meetings between the schools depending on which school you ask. But then Canisius got rolling and won four straight three years ago. But the Tigers have rebounded and gone 4-0-1 against the Golden Griffins including their last meeting in the 2015 AHC semifinals. This is the first visit to the Polisseni Center for Canisius, which, despite being the closest neighbor to RIT (about 70 miles), is the final AHC team to play there. I think RIT will pick up three points, but since we don’t pick ties I’ll go with a Tigers sweep.
Bentley at Robert Morris
Dan: This is my pick for series of the weekend. Prediction: it’ll be high energy, fast paced, and extremely competitive. I boil this series down to goaltending, which is as dead even as it’s going to get. But in the interest of being a “wicked homah” (and because I’m losing round to Chris), I’m taking the Falcons. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: This is the series of the weekend for sure between teams that are skilled up front and have great goaltending. I’m going with home ice as the difference. RMU sweeps.
Sacred Heart vs. Army West Point
Dan: This is one of those underrated matchups that could steal the show this weekend. Sacred Heart bounced back from their first half with a big sweep of Niagara last weekend, while Army returns to conference play after beating Merrimack and losing to UMass. I’m taking the home team in competitive, physical games. Army wins on Friday; Sacred Heart wins Saturday.
Chris:There have always been some elements of a rivalry between the schools – proximity and their games are often hard-fought affairs, including the first round of the playoffs last season that saw the Pioneers sweep in Milford. That’s the site of Saturday’s game, with the Black Knights hosting on Friday. I’m going with the home team. Black Knights win Friday; Pioneers win Saturday.
Sunday, January 10
Holy Cross at Dartmouth
Dan: It’s not officially recognized by the NCAA, but the six Ivy League schools sponsoring college hockey sill compete for an “Ivy title” within ECAC based on how they finish against one another. If Holy Cross wins on Saturday, they should be in the running for that title. Holy Cross wins.
Chris: This is a big game for the Crusaders, who moved into first place on Tuesday and are 21st in the Pairwise. They’ve beaten some other ECAC teams (Brown and Princeton) and a win would go a long way in keeping them within striking distance of an at-large NCAA bid. I think they’ll get it. Holy Cross wins.
Three things I think I think about this past weekend’s return to action for Atlantic Hockey:
How ’bout them Jackets?
The American International Yellow Jackets opened up the second half of the season in a big way, taking three points from the Canisius Golden Griffins. Dating back to the end of the first half of the year, that means AIC is all of a sudden one of the hottest teams in the league with a four game unbeaten stretch that’s moved them one point behind a three-way log jam for sixth place and two points behind fifth place Sacred Heart.
In their first game last weekend, the Yellow Jackets trailed 1-0 after Canisius got a goal from Ralph Cuddemi less than two minutes into the second period. But they scored two before the end of the frame, including a last-minute strike from Jackson Dudley, to take a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. 33 Alex Murray saves later, AIC had already taken two points from the visitors from Buffalo.
The next night, it was more of the same, with Canisius getting an early first period goal; Jeff Murray scored his second of the year just 40 seconds into the first period. It stayed 1-0 throughout the length of the game from there until the first part of the third period. That’s when Bryant Christian knotted the game at 1-1. Murray registered another 37 saves, giving him 70 for the weekend, and the Yellow Jackets had their second straight weekend victory.
It’s still early, but we’re always looking for that breakout team in the second half of the year. Every year, we have no idea of figuring out who it is until it happens. With a Tuesday tilt against Holy Cross on the horizon, it could be the Yellow Jackets who all of a sudden make everyone start looking at their schedule a little bit differently. Then again, that leads us to those Crusaders who are angling for the role of AHC’s best team.
Holy Cross played exactly one game this past weekend, a non-conference win at home over the ECAC/Ivy League’s Princeton Tigers. The 4-3 victory probably went unnoticed by the majority of college hockey, who had larger series and tournaments from which to choose their viewing pleasure.
But the Crusaders win elevated them to the tops of Atlantic Hockey. Coupled with Robert Morris’ defeat against Dartmouth in the Ledyard Bank Classic, Holy Cross vaulted over the Colonials in the Pairwise Rankings to 23rd overall. Now the highest rated AHC team in the rankings, they’re now on the verge of becoming the standard bearer for the league.
While RMU remains arguably the most powerful and talented team in the league, Holy Cross is tied with them for first with 19 points as the two teams get back into league play this week. But the Crusaders have a game in hand, meaning their .731 win percentage is slightly better than the Colonials’ .679. In terms of overall records, Holy Cross’ 11-6-1 is one game better than RMU’s 11-6-3. Holy Cross finishes their non-conference slate this weekend at Dartmouth — the very same Big Green team that just beat the Colonials.
In no way is that disrespect to RMU, who I believe remains the team to beat in the league and the presumed favorite to win the whole kitten kaboodle. Holy Cross, however, was our preseason pick to finish ninth out of 11 teams. They’re also flying very much under the radar, receiving 27 less votes than RMU in the most recent USCHO poll. Sometimes it’s the quiet types that just seem to get you.
AHC teams scored 53 goals this past weekend, 11 of which came on the power play. The 11 for 81 clip by AHC teams averaged out to a 14 percent success rate — or right in line with what to expect from the first half of the year.
Exiting the weekend, AHC teams continue to score power plays at a 17.2 percent rate, but that’s a number skewed by Robert Morris’ ungodly 32% success rate. Removing the Colonials from the equation drops the league average to 15.6 percent, more in line with how the league performed this past weekend.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that special teams played a factor the other direction, with AHC teams scoring six goals on short-handed opportunities.
On the season:
Dan: 69-41-9 (.618)
Chris: 77-33-9 (.685)
This Week’s Picks:
Saturday, January 2 and Sunday, January 3
Robert Morris at Dartmouth
Robert Morris vs. Union/Merrimack
Dan: This is one of those weekends where RMU can’t necessarily gain space in the Pairwise, but they can definitely lose it if they’re not careful. I think they know what’s at stake, and that means they’re going into this weekend with a ball of fire. I recommend tuning into this weekend of games; I had the privilege of going to the Ledyard Bank Classic last year, and I regretted not bringing skis. It’s a great place to watch a game, as well. RMU beats Dartmouth, then beats either Union or Merrimack.
Chris: On paper, this tournament (Ledyard Bank Classic, hosted by Dartmouth) doesn’t have as strong a field as the Three Rivers Classic, which the Colonials won last weekend, defeating Penn State and Mass-Lowell. But just like last weekend, these are huge conference games for the Colonials, who jumped from 29th in the PairWise Rankings to 19th. I’m going to correct my past mistakes of picking against RMU, and going for a pair of wins, first against Dartmouth and then against either Union or Merrimack.
Bentley at Air Force
Dan: This is Bentley’s first trip to Air Force since November 29th and 30th, 2013. Believe it or not, though, you have to go back even further to find the last time Air Force defeated the Falcons – Pearl Harbor Day back in 2012. And if that doesn’t make your jaw hit the floor, consider this: Air Force hasn’t beaten Bentley at home since November 7, 2009. That’s not to say Air Force hasn’t beaten Bentley (they have, three times, in Watertown), but it creates more drama when you consider the cadets haven’t beaten a conference team at home for 2,247 days. I can’t pick a tie, so I’m going with history here. There’s something in that Colorado Springs water for Bentley, and the eastern Falcons will come home with more points. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: Can either set of Falcons come away with four points? I think Bentley has the best chance of doing so, but I also think Air Force will get a win on home ice. Air Force wins Saturday, Bentley on Sunday.
Canisius at American International
Dan: In my predictions for the second half, I talked about how one team is going to break open the second half of the season and make a hot run into the playoffs. These are two prime candidates. AIC wins on Saturday, Canisius wins on Sunday.
Chris: The Golden Griffins are coming off a nice home win over Robert Morris before Christmas, and the Yellow Jackets did one better, sweeping Army at home in their final games of 2015. I’m going with a a split here. AIC wins Saturday, Canisius on Sunday.
Niagara at Sacred Heart
Dan: For a team with a 3-11-2 record, Niagara has been fairly good at earning points in close hockey games; they’re 3-5 in one or two goal games, and they’re 3-2-1 when they’re leading or tied after two. That’s puts an emphasis on getting a hot start for Sacred Heart, a team that’s -16 in the second and third periods and is 0-5-1 when trailing after two. I think the break will do the Pioneers good, which is why I’m picking them to sweep at home. Pencil this one as your proverbial series of the weekend, though. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris: Niagara showed signs of life before the holiday break, splitting with Bentley and RIT. Sacred Heart is slumping, going 0-7-1 in its last eight games before the Holidays and hasn’t played since Dec. 5. But Niagara is winless on the road so far this season (and beginning a stretch where it will play seven of its next eight away from Dwyer Arena) and I think SHU will come out refocused and get at least three points. I’m going with a Sacred Heart sweep.
Mercyhurst vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Seeing as I had no idea how to pick this series, I wanted to flip a coin. Since I have no change in my house (it must be all on the floor of my car), I went to the next best thing – my wife. She takes RIT this weekend, so all of the Laker fans can direct their anger at her for picking against them. RIT sweeps.
Chris: RIT hosts Saturday afternoon and then the action moves to Erie, Pa. on Sunday. Both teams have been tough to pin down this season, but I have more confidence in the Lakers right now, who lead the Tigers by a single point in the standings (Mercyhurst is tied for third; RIT tied for fifth). I’m going with a Mercyhurst sweep.
Saturday, January 2
Massachusetts at Army West Point
Dan: Absolutely nothing says Happy New Year like a home game on the Hudson River in West Point, New York. UMass hasn’t won since November 7th, and their 4-0-1 and 6-2-1 start seems like a lifetime ago. Their 0-7-3 run since beating Connecticut doesn’t end at Tate Rink. Army West Point wins.
Chris:Like Robert Morris, Army is coming off a win against a ranked team, knocking off No. 20 Merrimack last Tuesday. I’m picking the Black Knights to keep it going on home ice. Army West Point wins.
Princeton at Holy Cross
Dan: I had the chance to see Princeton play earlier this year when they were at Brown; they’re a team that’s incredibly streaky but still better than advertised. That said, when I saw them, they have a tendency defensively to rely solely on Colton Phinney. I think that’s a good challenge for Holy Cross, a team that hasn’t lost since November 13th. In a defensive battle, I like the Crusader team defense more than the Tigers standout goalie. Holy Cross wins.
Chris: Holy Cross has been the surprise of the season so far in the AHC, and the Crusaders have played a tough non-conference schedule so far. The home ice advantage puts them over the top against a struggling Princeton team. Holy Cross wins.
Tuesday, January 5
Holy Cross at American International
Dan: If AIC has a good weekend against Canisius, this game will become a fantastic case study among the eastern teams. Holy Cross wins.
Chris: While an AIC win wouldn’t be shocking, I’m looking for the Crusaders to pick up a pair of road points here. Holy Cross wins.
On the season:
Dan: 68-40-9 (.620)
Chris: 77-31-9 (.697)
This Week’s Picks:
Monday, December 28 and Tuesday, December 29
Robert Morris vs. Penn State
Robert Morris vs. Mass-Lowell or Clarkson
Dan: This is kind of showdown time for the Colonials if they want to get into the national tournament. I don’t think we’re breaking new ground by saying they’re as must-win as humanly possible. For RMU, that road begins with them going straight through Penn State, their regional rival, in a game that’s fast becoming one of the more fun rivalries in college hockey.
I think RMU can beat Penn State, but I don’t think they’re beating UMass-Lowell in that championship game. Either way, if you’re an Atlantic Hockey fan, you should be pulling for this team. Summary: RMU beats Penn State, then loses to Lowell. If they wind up playing Clarkson in any capacity, they win.
Chris:These games, part of the Three Rivers Classic tournament, are huge for RMU if the Colonials, who currently sit in 29th place in the PairWise Rankings, are to have any chance at an at-large NCAA bid down the road. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colonials upset cross-state rival Penn State, but I don’t think it will happen. I’m going with a win over Clarkson on Tuesday, ether in in the title or consolation game, but a loss if RMU matches up with Lowell. So to summarize, loss to Penn State and/or Lowell, win over Clarkson.
On the season:
Dan: 67-40-9 (.616)
Chris: 76-31-9 (.694)
This Week’s Picks:
Saturday December 20
Canisius at Merrimack
Dan: Saturday’s game is the official kickoff to semester break for both institutions, with both schools having their final exam period end on the 18th. Canisius was a feast-or-famine team last weekend, receiving a 6-0 shutout to Robert Morris before turning around and laying some hurt on the Colonials, 6-2, on Sunday. Merrimack, meanwhile, has cooled since an incredibly hot start. After opening the season 6-1-2, the Warriors are 0-3-3. I think the Golden Griffins have a good chance to pick up a win here, which would be huge for the league as a whole. But since the AHC has been extremely poor in winning non-conference games, I just can’t pick anyone winning in good conscious right now. Merrimack wins.
Chris:I hope the Griffs got their Christmas shopping done early because they’re in action at a time most teams are already enjoying a holiday break. This is just one of only seven Division I games scheduled this weekend. Canisius is coming off a nice rebound win against first-place Robert Morris, and will face a ranked team for the third time this season. The teams met earlier this season at HarborCenter in Buffalo with the ten-No. 16 Warriors (they’re ranked 20th now) getting off to a 3-0 start and hanging on for a 3-2 win. I think this game might not play out that way, but will have a similar result. Merrimack wins.
Before I recap this weekend, let’s start with a few statements:
1) It’s always great to get something for nothing.
2) You can never have too much of a good thing.
3) This is the season of giving.
4) This was the last chance we would have to receive something from Atlantic Hockey teams before the Christmas break.
In hockey terms, we all know how great it is to watch a tightly-played and packed game go into overtime. You really can never have enough exciting finishes, and since this is the last time Atlantic Hockey teams had a chance to give us something before the season lets go, they really pulled out all of the stops.
It’s not just that two series went to overtime on both nights; it’s that both treated us to weekends full of discussion points to last us well into the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
We start with Army West Point and American International. The Black Knights and Yellow Jackets traded three goals and two leads over a two minute stretch in the final five minutes of the third period. Trailing 2-1, Army West Point’s Nick DeCenzo scored his fourth of the year at 14:46 to tie things up, and Joe Kozlak scored to a minute later to give the Black Knights a 3-2 lead. But AIC rallied at 16:50 on Jackson Dudley’s fifth goal of the year to send the game into overtime.
With less than a minute left in the extra frame, Austin Orszulak took the only shot on goal in the entire overtime period. It went in, giving the Yellow Jackets a 4-3 victory.
On Saturday, Army jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, only to have the Yellow Jackets tie it up in the second. With under seven minutes left in the third, Clint Carlisle gave the Black Knights a 2-1 lead. That set up an extra attacker goal by Trevor Cope to send the teams, once again, to overtime, where Marc Dubeau scored with under two minutes remaining to give AIC the sweep.
It was AIC’s first weekend sweep since a Halloween visit to Niagara last season, and it was their first four point weekend at the Olympia Ice Center since they defeated Bentley on February 5-6, 2010.*
*The majority of scheduling pod weekends in the years since AHC’s expansion have seen them play home-and-home weekends instead of true home weekends.
“Holy” Moly! What a weekend…
The other series to send both games to overtime involved longtime rivals Holy Cross and Bentley. Playing for the only two times this season, a see-saw weekend produced back-to-back memorable nights.
After Scott Pooley found the back of the net to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead on Friday, Bentley found themselves holding on through the end of the period. With about under five minutes left on the clock, Bentley drew a five minute major on a delayed call against Chris Buchanan. Facing a swirling and swarming Crusader power play, the Falcons held on through the end of the period and through the end of the man down to start the third.
Four minutes later, it was Buchanan who found the back of the net, avenging his penalty by tying the game at 1-1.
On Saturday, it was another instant classic. Bentley outshot Holy Cross 29-17 through the first two periods but didn’t solve goalie Paul Berrafato until 1:45 remained. That’s when Billy Eiserman beat Berrafato to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
Then the Crusaders brought the wood in the third. They outshot the Falcons, 12-3, but it was an innocuous shot from Scott Pooley’s stick somewhere north of the faceoff circles that went by goalie Gabe Antoni to tie the game at 1-1.
In overtime, Holy Cross iced the puck, but the officiating staff chose to wave off the whistle. Bentley returned the favor but drew the call, bringing a faceoff to Antoni’s right. That’s where Mike Barrett scored his 10th goal of the season, giving the Crusaders a 2-1 victory. It was their only shot of the extra frame.
All in all, the teams combined for 64 shots on Friday with another 63 on Saturday, but both goaltenders (Berrafato for Holy Cross, Antoni for Bentley) stood on their heads. There were penalties, but neither team scored a power play goal. It was an emotional, physical, hard-fought weekend where everyone watching walked away wanting more.
Don’t Forget About Us!
Lost in the excitement of watching the eastern teams’ series, RIT and Niagara play a couple of fantastic hockey games in their own right. Scoreless through two periods in Friday’s game in Rochester, Dan Kolenda scored just under five minutes into the third. He added an empty net goal to give the Purple Eagles a 2-0 victory on Friday.
That led to Saturday. With Niagara up 2-1, Todd Skirving scored to tie the game with just under nine minutes remaining. On the play, Sam Rennaker delivered a crushing contact to the head penalty, resulting in a five minute major and his ejection from the game.
With Rennaker in the box, Erik Brown and Myles Powell added goals two minutes apart to put RIT up 4-2 by the end of the period, a score that would carry through to finality.
In total, the teams amassed 19 penalties for 49 minutes on Saturday, yet another emotional night in Atlantic Hockey, and hopefully, along with the rest of the weekend, a preview of coming attractions as the second half appears on the horizon in a couple of weeks.
On the season:
Dan: 63-37-8 (.620)
Chris: 74-26-8 (.722)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, December 11 and Saturday December 12
Army West Point at American International
Dan: When I talked with Brian Riley a couple of weeks ago, I felt the excitement he had for his team, knowing the season was about to turn the corner. It’s turned around in a big way, with Army winning three of their last four games. They head north to take on AIC this weekend, a team that can get hot with strong goaltending (Alex Murray is a dark horse for me to take over the second half of the season). I’m seeing Army hotter right now, so I’m going with a Black Knight sweep.
Chris:Army is riding the second-best unbeaten streak in the league at a modest four games (3-0-1), and I like them to extend it against the Yellow Jackets, who were shutout in their last two contests. I’m thinking one game will be close (the Black Knights have more than their fare share of those so far), and one won’t, but I’m going with an Army sweep.
Holy Cross at Bentley
Dan: If history proves anything, this series is going to be filled with physical play – lots of it. Last season averaged ten penalties per game between the two teams, and these games are always emotional. Bentley doesn’t make a return trip to Worcester this year, but that might not matter. The teams are 2-2-2 in the past three years at the JAR. Bentley wins on Friday. Holy Cross wins on Saturday.
Chris:While I wish the league had more intense rivalries, this one is up there. These games mark the 59th and 60th meeting between the schools. Holy Cross is the best team in the league right now, and Bentley could be if they can play up to their potential and get an injured Jayson Argue back. No word on that, but I think Bentley has enough to earn a split on home ice. I’m going with the Crusaders on Friday and the Falcons on Saturday.
Niagara vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Chris’ outline is a great example of how evenly played this series has been as of late. Since I’m not really sure who could win on what night, I’m going to toss a coin and let that be the deciding factor. Heads it’s RIT and tails it’s Niagara………. RIT sweeps.
Chris:Niagara used to own RIT, before and after they became conference mates. But a couple of down seasons for NU makes this series a tossup. I think RIT is the better team right now, but Niagara is dangerous at Dwyer Arena, where the Purple Eagles have tied Robert Morris and Penn State, took Cornell to overtime and split with Bentley last weekend. Friday’s game in Rochester should go the Tigers’ way, but I think NU reverses things on Saturday. RIT wins Friday; Niagara on Saturday.
Saturday, December 12 and Sunday, December 13
Canisius vs. Robert Morris
Dan: I have a hard time believing either team could go into the semester break with a loss, so I’m going to pick a split here. As Chris notes, the home team is 11-2-1 since the Colonials joined Atlantic Hockey. Robert Morris on Saturday; Canisius wins on Sunday.
Chris:Robert Morris hosts on Saturday before the action shifts to Buffalo’s HarborCenter on Sunday. Both team are coming off road splits last weekend. The home team is 11-2-1 in this series since RMU joined Atlantic Hockey, and I’m going with history. Robert Morris wins Saturday; Canisius on Sunday.