Despite a poor start to the season, the Black Knights have tied RIT and Robert Morris this month.
A look back at the weekend that was as the road to Rochester reaches its end:
Sports Giveth, Sports Taketh Away
We start with the most obvious talking point – the wild three game series between Bentley and Mercyhurst and its unpredictable ending.
After a scoreless regulation in Game One, and after being outshot 40-28, the Lakers scored in the first five minutes of overtime to win on Friday, 1-0. On Saturday, the Falcons potted four goals in the first five minutes of the second period en route to a 5-3 victory, again outshooting the Lakers, 37-29. On Sunday, in the only Game Three for Atlantic Hockey’s quarterfinals round, Bentley dominated time of possession through the zones and led, 2-0, 13 minutes into the third period.
That’s when the Laker offense woke up – in 14 seconds. Matthew Zay and Chris Bodo scored to tie up the game and send it into the later stages with an eye for overtime. But with 10 seconds left, Mercyhurst had one last rush. Zac Frischmon went up the left wing, zipped a pass across the circles for Nardo Nagtzaam, and watched as the senior turned the red light on and sent his bench into a frenzy with 5.5 seconds left.
Mercyhurst 3. Bentley 2.
“I (was) absolutely stunned,” said Laker head coach Rick Gotkin after the victory. “I thought Bentley played great this weekend, and I really don’t know what to say. We know that goals are all about momentum, and we got one, then we got the second there. We were just thinking about ‘Okay let’s get to overtime’ and then all of a sudden we score with 5.5 seconds left, and I really don’t know what to say. Hockey’s a game about bounces, and we got the bounces, and we’ll take those bounces. We’ll take this win, and we’re happy to advance. But we know we played and excellent, excellent team in Bentley.”
In going down to the absolute final wire, the two teams put on a display of hockey that gave the paying customers exactly what they could’ve hoped for. There were 31 shots, 19 of which came from the Lakers, with just one penalty called – a stark contrast from a disjointed first two periods where the men wearing stripes threatened to take over the game (and at times did just that). The first two frames featured 15 penalties, including nine in the first period, before the refs put their noisemakers away and let the two teams skate it out. Once that happened, the skill took over and the teams opened up a display commensurate with the drama of a deciding playoff game.
The final goal by Nagtzaam was an illustration in perhaps the best part about sports – the contrasting emotions of elation for one team against the bitterness of defeat of the other. “I didn’t see it because I had my eyes closed, and that’s the truth,” said Gotkin. “I was thinking about getting to overtime to take our swings because it had been a tough night for us to see what happens. Five seconds left – the puck goes in, but I never saw it. But I was high fiving with everyone else.”
In a year in which the two teams played seven games, all but the second game of the series were decided by one goal or less. Sure enough, the two games Mercyhurst won in the playoffs were one goal games. Sometimes sports don’t add up, sometimes they do, but one thing’s for sure – it was one heckuva ride.
The Road To Rochester Reaches Its Final Stop
With their win, the Lakers qualified for the AHC semifinals for the 13th time since joining the old MAAC in 1999-2000. They round out a star-studded, wide-open field featuring the top three seeds, a hometown favorite, two past champions, and the preseason #1.
Robert Morris – defending AHC champs and first place finishers tape-to-tape the whole season as a nationally-ranked power – will play Mercyhurst – the preseason #1 team – in the first semifinal on Friday at 5 PM. Following the conclusion, second-seeded Canisius – the 2013 champion and last year’s league finalist – will attempt to make a third straight championship game against a whole lotta orange. They take on RIT, the hometown favorite who call Blue Cross Arena their second home.
It’s a series that’ll crown one champion with one berth to the NCAA Tournament.
In their previous three meetings, the RIT Tigers didn’t so much as score a single goal against the Air Force Falcons. All of that changed at the Polisseni Center this weekend when RIT won a hard-fought 2-1 decision on Friday before hitting the throttle button on Saturday. They scored seven goals against Air Force while outshooting the Falcons 43-27.
Up 2-1 after two, the third period might’ve been the most satisfying period of hockey in years for RIT fans. They scored 17 seconds in to go up 3-1, then added a fourth goal eight minutes later. With six minutes to go and down by a pair, Air Force pulled their goalie, allowing the Tigers to pot an empty net goal. Air Force did score one more, but another empty net goal put RIT up 6-2. For good measure, they added another one on the power play inside of two minutes. Though Air Force scored one late, the 7-3 victory was an offensive display that has the Tigers possibly hitting their stride at the right time.
It’s a scary thought when the road to Rochester leads….well…right through Rochester. It also means home ice advantage before thousands of orange-clad rabid fans and a return to the semifinal round for the Corner Crew. So hats off to them for exorcising some ghosts left over from the old Ritter Arena.
On the season:
Dan: 126-76-27 (.609)
Chris: 130-71-27 (.629)
This Week’s Picks
Atlantic Hockey Playoffs – Quarterfinals
Best of Three Series
Friday, March 13 – Sunday, March 15
No. 11 Niagara at No. 1 Robert Morris
Dan: Niagara might be the most dangerous seed to the Colonials’ run. The coaches know each other like a book, and it just feels like one of those series where the higher seed should be on upset alert. I think Niagara’s going to be incredibly tough to play against, especially if Jackson Teichroeb does what he did last weekend. Like I said during last week’s picks, if he heats up, watch out. But I really think RMU is coming in well aware of the thought that anyone can beat anyone, and they’ll be ready for it. RMU sweeps.
Chris:The Niagara team we thought we’d see all season waited until the middle of February to show up. Before that it was injuries, a lack of confidence, and more injuries. The “clean slate, second season” mentality is clearly there, demonstrated by the Purple Eagles not packing it in after losing that marathon game at Holy Cross last Saturday. That said, RMU is best team in the league and I think they will get things into gear after coasting a little the past couple of weekends. Even if these seedings were No. 1 vs. No. 2 instead of No. 1 vs. No. 11, I still would bank on the Colonials. Robert Morris sweeps.
No. 8 Sacred Heart at No. 2 Canisius
Dan: Canisius was elite in the second half of the year, finishing the year on a 10-3-2 clip. They have good goal scoring and a solid defense. They’re deep. But Sacred Heart is playing with house money, and they are starting to play a style resembling the way Canisius played in the last two postseasons. I’m known for making some bold statements, so hear me out on this one – I’ve seen SHU a couple of times, and I’m a believer. By the time this weekend is over, you’ll believe too. Sacred Heart in three.
Chris: The teams have had similar offensive success (both around 2.6 goals scored per game), but Canisius has the top defense in the conference, better by more than a half a goal a game compared to SHU. Sacred Heart’s more open offensive style will have to find a way to generate chances against the Golden Griffs, who like to trap. The trap (pun intended) that Canisius will need to avoid is the comfort of playing at home. The last two quarterfinal series wins for the Griffs came on the road, at Air Force in 2013 and at Bentley last season. Can they find that magic in the new HarborCenter? I think they can. Canisius sweeps.
No. 7 Air Force at No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: RIT’s top line might be the best in the league, but is it enough to a) score the Tigers’ first playoff goal against Air Force before it b) leads the team back to the promised land? This is an interesting series because of what both teams mean to the playoffs, but I’ll throw this out there – Air Force went 4-11-3 on the season away from Cadet Ice Arena. RIT in three.
Chris:Despite RIT coach Wayne Wilson continuing to remind me that past results don’t matter in predicting the future, I’m a believer in history. The Tigers have never beaten Air Force in the postseason. The Tigers have never scored a goal against Air Force in the postseason. RIT is 0-3 against the Falcons in their most important meetings: 5-0 loss in the 2008 semis and 1-0 and 4-0 losses in the 2011 and 2012 championship games, respectively. Only the seniors on each squad were a part of that 2012 contest, which is also the last time either team won a quarterfinal series. This is a time to either exorcise the past or add another brick to the wall. I’m going with the latter. Air Force in three.
No. 5 Mercyhurst at No. 4 Bentley
Dan: I had this series as a semifinal single game series; that it happens here is going to be interesting. Bentley went undefeated during the regular season, but every game was tight. Mercyhurst received a bye for extra rest, but they’re traveling. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Bentley is likely to get some healthy bodies back after the week off. Underlying storyline – the series is during Bentley’s spring break, meaning the attendance could be a little weird for the first couple of games. Since this series is a total toss up, I’ll say this – Mercyhurst was my pick to win the league before the year, and I said they’d beat Bentley in the playoffs to do it. I can’t really back out, no matter what my heart wants to pick. Mercyhurst in three.
Chris: Neither team was playing very well over the final two weekends of the regular season, so this will come down to which one made the best use of the bye week to get back on track. Mercyhurst has made it through to Rochester each of the past three seasons, while the Falcons have come up short. As I said, I’m a believer in history, so I’m picking Mercyhurst in three, with at least two going to overtime (that’s for you, Dan).
SPECIAL BONUS PICK!!!!
Saturday, March 14, 2015:
NCAA Women’s First Round
No. 8 RIT at No. 1 Minnesota
Dan: Ali Binnington spearheaded a goaltending trio for RIT that allowed just about two goals per game. The top-ranked Gophers outscored opponents 171-44 on the season. But the win by Bemidji proved someone could beat this team. So I’ll throw down on this one – if RIT beats Minnesota, I will don Tiger colors and post a short video doing some Corner Crew chants on Twitter. But since RIT is in position to pull off the first ever “double” between the CHA and AHC (win both the men’s and women’s title), I’ll do the same if the men win a league championship. Sorry, guys, but this is strictly business. Minnesota wins.
Chris: It’s hard to pick against a team that is absolute money in the postseason (the RIT seniors are 15-1 in the playoffs including 10-1 at the D-I level). But it is Minnesota after all. That said, all the ladies have to do is look at the trophy case in the Polisseni Center lobby to see the Frozen Four trophy the men took home after knocking out two highly ranked teams in Albany in 2010. It can happen. I’m not sure what I will do if the Tigers win this one other than buy a t-shirt, but why the heck not? RIT shocks the women’s college hockey world. And no, this pick doesn’t count against our overall record, where my 10 game lead has been whittled down to 4.5 games.
Three things from the first postseason weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
And then there were eight
Only one first round series went the distance, and that also featured the only upset this past weekend. Niagara opened at Holy Cross with a classic road playoff 2-1 win, and then rebounded from a three-overtime loss in Game Two to take the deciding Game Three, 5-3.
Air Force and Sacred Heart swept their first round series to advance, so we have the following quarterfinal matchups in store, all best-of-three series:
No. 11 Niagara at No. 1 Robert Morris
No. 8 Sacred Heart at No. 2 Canisius
No. 7 Air Force at No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology
No. 5 Mercyhurst at No. 4 Bentley
It takes time
There was a lot of bonus college hockey played this weekend, including the marathon on Saturday between Niagara and Holy Cross, which went to three overtimes before the Crusaders’ T.J. Moore’s game winner in the 111th minute of play. The game went into the record books as the longest in Atlantic Hockey history and the eighth longest in Division I history.
Pick your poison
So which of the quarterfinal hosts has the easiest route to Rochester? I don’t think there is an easy out in this round when you consider:
- Air Force thumped American International 6-1 and 10-3 in the first round. Yes, the Falcons have struggled on the road (4-11-3) vs. home (12-6-1) this season but 16 goals is a scary number. Senior Cole Gunner had a six-point weekend, including four goals on Saturday. The Falcons travel to Rochester to try to win the right to return the following weekend.
- Sacred Heart was on a bit of a roll coming into the playoffs and didn’t let up, sweeping Army. The Pioneers have only two losses in their last 11 games. They travel to Buffalo to face a Canisius squad that SHU took three of four points from in the regular season.
- Niagara endured an 18-game winless stretch, but is 4-2-1 in its last seven games and rebounded from that triple-overtime defeat on Saturday to win a tough road series at Holy Cross. Goalie Jackson Teichroeb made 136 saves in the series, including 47 in the deciding game. The Purple Eagles will take on Robert Morris, whom they saw two weeks ago, splitting a series with the Colonials.
- Mercyhurst ended the season on a downturn but the Lakers are still the Lakers, the preseason No. 1 and boasting the third best offense in the conference. They are certainly capable of turning things around in a hurry. Bentley awaits – Mercyhurst was 0-3-1 against the Falcons this season, but every game was decided by a goal or less.
It’s not going out on a limb to predict at least one upset next weekend. Fasten your seatbelts.
On the season:
Dan: 121-73-27 (.609)
Chris: 125-69-27 (.627)
This Week’s Picks
Atlantic Hockey Playoffs – First Round
Best of Three Series
Friday, March 6 – Sunday, March 8
No. 11 Niagara at No. 6 Holy Cross
Dan: Niagara is picking up steam at exactly the right time to be that #11 seed you simply don’t want to play. 2-1-1 in their last four games, this series will rest on if Jackson Teichroeb can match Matt Ginn. Can he? Maybe. But I can’t pick the with confidence having to come east. Holy Cross in two.
Chris: Despite having the widest gap in terms of seedings, and despite Holy Cross winning all four meetings between the schools so far this season, I think this will be the most closely contested of the three series this weekend. But I expect the Crusaders to prevail in a trio of low scoring games. Holy Cross in Three.
No. 10 American International at No. 7 Air Force
Dan: AIC has never advanced out of a three-game series and boast only three playoff round victories – a divisional playoff win over Army in 2011 and two play-in game wins (2004 over Army and 2007 over Canisius). I have high hopes for the Yellow Jackets, but being saddled with a trip west to Colorado doesn’t help the situation. I’m taking Air Force in two.
Chris: At 14-19-4, Air Force is under .500 for the first time since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2006. But the Falcons are still tough on home ice (10-6-1) and I think will take care of business. Air Force in two.
No. 9 Army at No. 8 Sacred Heart
Dan: Sacred Heart is the team getting hot at the right time of the year, finishing the season on a 5-2-3 clip. They played their way into home ice, and they’re starting to resemble the style of hockey team that’s going to ruin the hopes of dreams of someone along the way. Army, meanwhile, played pretty much .500 hockey since their exhibition against the Canadian RMC. They’re 3-4-2 since playing the Paladins. Call this one the series of the weekend, which is fitting since this is the 8/9 matchup. Sacred Heart in three.
Chris: Army held its own down the stretch against some tough opponents, splitting series with three of the top four teams in the league. But Sacred Heart is also playing its best hockey of the season, defeating Bentley and Holy Cross buy a combined score of 9-1 in its last two regular season games. I’m going with the Pioneers to sweep.
Oh, what a weekend it was.
It all began where it ends
Rochester, N.Y., will become the center of the Atlantic Hockey universe in less than three weeks’ time when four teams converge for the conference championship weekend. So it’s fitting that we really start the “Road To Rochester” in … Rochester.
Playing at the glittery new Polisseni Center on the campus of RIT, the host Tigers and visiting Mercyhurst Lakers took part in what amounted to a soft opening for the playoffs. Tied in the standings, two points back of third place, both of these teams knew they would have a bye. The only remaining question was which team would be able to play the quarterfinals at home and which would play on the road.
Todd Skirving lit the lamp in the first period for RIT on Saturday to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead, but Jonathan Charbonneau drew Mercyhurst even at 1-1 early in the second period. The game remained that way through the rest of the second and through the third, sending it to overtime.
That’s where Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin made a playoff decision. Realizing his team needed a win in order to end up at home next weekend, he pulled his goalie in favor of an empty net in the extra frame. With less than a minute remaining, Myles Powell scored for the Tigers, sending them into the third seed for the playoffs and putting Mercyhurst on the road.
The win propelled RIT to 5-2-1 in February and 10-4-2 over its last 16 games. A team once destined for a road series in the first round now will host a quarterfinal matchup, meaning the wolf is back in the hen house. The Tigers have never lost a home series in the playoffs, although those series were in the house of horrors at Ritter Arena. The league’s championship weekend is also in their backyard, which is bad news for everyone else should they make it that far.
The other shoe dropped
Roughly 400 miles away from the RIT-Mercyhurst game, Bentley and Holy Cross exchanged blows in what might’ve been one of the hardest-fought hockey games all season. The Crusaders needed a win over their longtime rivals to ensure themselves of the sixth seed, while Bentley needed at least a tie to clinch the third seed in the tournament.
Scoring 4:10 into the third period to break a 1-1 tie, the Crusaders took a 2-1 victory in a game best described as an exhibition of solid goaltending. Holy Cross clinched the sixth seed.
By virtue of the loss, however, Bentley ended up in a tie with RIT. Based on tiebreaker scenarios, the Falcons fell to the fourth seed while the Tigers finished third. That means the Falcons will host fifth-seeded Mercyhurst while RIT takes on the highest remaining seed from the first round of the playoffs.
Is that a good thing for parties involved? Had Bentley won, Mercyhurst would’ve gone back to RIT, a 160-mile ride through Buffalo. It would’ve set up a potential quarterfinals series between the Falcons and Holy Cross (40 miles away) since the Crusaders finished sixth. Instead, a Holy Cross win sent the Crusaders to RIT, a reverse of a rematch from last year’s first-round series where the Tigers lost in overtime in controversial fashion.
Bentley, meanwhile, hosts the Lakers in the second round. Instead of a 160-mile ride, Mercyhurst has a 10-hour, 530-plus mile trek across New York and Massachusetts. Last year, these teams finished first and second in the league’s regular season.
The difference between decisions with Bentley-Holy Cross and RIT-Mercyhurst was roughly 18 minutes. Playoffs.
And then there are those pesky loose ends to tie up …
Air Force played Canisius at 5 p.m. Mountain time in order to have all of Saturday’s games start at the same time. The Golden Griffins, with the second seed already sealed up, gave up three first-period goals and attempted just nine shots on goal — in the entire game. The Falcons won 4-1 but because Holy Cross also won, they finished as the seventh-seeded team.
Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored in the third period on the power play to win 2-1 over Niagara. That made the 5-1 loss by American International to Army a moot point, slotting the Yellow Jackets 10th and the Purple Eagles 11th.
That means AIC is grand prize winner of a trip to Colorado to take on Air Force. In a year where they’ve traveled more than they ever have, perhaps it’s fitting for the road warriors from Springfield, Mass., to have to go to the furthest west trip. In unrelated news, they’ve actually never met in the playoffs.
Niagara, meanwhile, finished 11th and will head east to play Holy Cross. That series is shaping to have a whole lotta purple.
Your final playoff lineup
The demolition derby known as the Atlantic Hockey playoffs start on Friday with the following lineup.
First Round (Best of Three):
#11 Niagara at #6 Holy Cross
#10 American Int’l at #7 Air Force
#9 Army at #8 Sacred Heart
Quarterfinals (Best of Three):
Lowest Remaining Seed at #1 Robert Morris
Middle Remaining Seed at #2 Canisius
Highest Remaining Seed at #3 RIT
#5 Mercyhurst at #4 Bentley
More spots clinched, more spots up for grabs. Let’s take a look at what was clinched last night and what could happen tonight:
What Was Clinched Last Night:
-Canisius clinched the #2 seed by beating Air Force, 4-1. They now have a three point lead over third-place Bentley, who lost to Sacred Heart on Thursday.
-RIT defeated Mercyhurst to tie those two teams up with 31 points for the final second round home series slot. RIT’s win, coupled with Air Force’s loss, clinched a first round bye for both of those teams.
-AIC’s win over Army did not clinch them the #10 seed because Niagara went out and beat first place Robert Morris, 2-1. Welcome to the Atlantic Hockey stretch run.
Updated Standings (by points)
1-x) Robert Morris – 40 points
2-x) Canisius – 36
3) Bentley – 33
T-4) RIT – 31 (currently wins head-to-head tiebreaker)
T-4) Mercyhurst – 31
5) RIT or Mercyhurst
T-6) Air Force – 27
T-6) Holy Cross – 27
8-x) Sacred Heart – 26
9-x) Army – 18
10) AIC – 15
11) Niagara – 14
The Race for 3rd-5th (Bentley, Mercyhurst, RIT):
If Bentley wins or ties (at home vs. Holy Cross) and RIT wins – the Falcons are the #3 seed, and the Lakers play at the Tigers in the quarterfinals round of the playoffs.
If Bentley wins or ties and Mercyhurst wins – Bentley is still the #3 seed, but RIT goes to Mercyhurst because of the second level tie breaker (head-to-head conference wins). Mercyhurst enters tonight with 14 conference wins compared to 13 for RIT. If the Lakers win, they’re at home in two weeks.
If Bentley loses and RIT wins – RIT is the #3 seed. The Tigers and Falcons split and would both finish with 14 conference wins. The third level tiebreaker is goal differential in head-to-head contests, which the Tigers win by losing 2-1 and winning 5-2 (-1 + 3 = +2 in favor of RIT). Mercyhurst goes to Bentley in two weeks.
If Bentley loses and RIT/Mercyhurst tie – Bentley remains the #3 seed and Mercyhurst goes to RIT next week by losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If Bentley loses and Mercyhurst wins – Bentley finishes as the #3 seed by virtue of their 3-0-1 finish against the Lakers this season. RIT goes to Mercyhurst in two weeks.
The Race for 6th (Air Force, Holy Cross):
Since this is only a two-horse race, the head-to-head comparison is pretty easy. They’re both tied for sixth in the standings. If Air Force wins or ties and Holy Cross loses, the Falcons finish sixth. If the Crusaders win or tie and Air Force loses to Canisius, Holy Cross finishes sixth.
If they tie in the standings, however, Holy Cross wins the tiebreaker. Back at the beginning of January, the Crusaders tied the Falcons, 1-1, before defeating them, 3-1.
This will have a huge impact on the race for 10th place because one team is going to Holy Cross and one team is going to Air Force.
The Race of 10th (AIC, Niagara):
AIC has a one point lead over Niagara for the race for 10th. If AIC gets a single point in their game at Army, they clinch 10th position. If they tie and Niagara beats Robert Morris, the teams would tie, but AIC holds the tiebreaker scenario by virtue of their two game sweep (4-1, 4-2) back in October.
The only way Niagara can pass AIC is with a win over Robert Morris AND an AIC loss to Army.
The Playoff Matchups (as of Saturday)
#1 Robert Morris vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
#2 Canisius vs. 2nd Lowest Remaining Seed
#3 Bentley vs. Best Remaining First Round Winner
#4 RIT vs. #5 Mercyhurst
#11 Niagara at #6 Air Force/Holy Cross winner
#10 AIC at #7 Air Force/Holy Cross loser
#9 Army #8 Sacred Heart
On the season:
Dan: 116-68-27 (.614)
Chris: 122-62-27 (.642)
This Week’s Picks:
Thursday, February 26
Bentley at Sacred Heart
Dan: When these teams met a couple of weeks ago, we were treated to one of the games of the year, a low-scoring goaltender’s duel at Bentley that was tied through two periods. I think we’ll have more of the same in this one. The Pioneers ALWAYS play Bentley hard, but I think the Falcons are just hitting their stride a little bit too hard these days. Bentley wins.
Chris: Bentley has slightly more to play for than Sacred Heart. The Pioneers know they will end the regular season in eighth place and host Army in a fist-round playoff series. The Falcons have clinched a bye and a quarterfinal playoff series, but can finish between second and fourth. I’m going with the Falcons to win.
Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28
Canisius at Air Force
Dan: Chris dropped a stat this week that Air Force is 9-5-1 at home this season but just 4-13-3. Whether it’s travel, the altitude, or both, that’s enough to sway me for at least one game. Air Force wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Air Force is close to playing itself out of a first-round bye, while Canisius has one sewn up. The Griffs have had some success in Colorado Springs including a stunning upset in the 2013 quarterfinals. Like Dan, I like them to win at least one of these games. Air Force wins on Friday, Canisius on Saturday.
Army vs. American International
Dan: This is a weekend with a deceptive amount riding on it – the Yellow Jackets need to assure themselves still of finishing 10th, and then hope the right chips fall in the right place to end up with a road trip to Holy Cross instead of Air Force. I think they control their own destiny and get it done. AIC wins on Friday. Army wins on Saturday.
Chris:Army has been a .500 team for the past month while AIC hasn’t won since Jan. 2 (against, coincidentally, the Black Knights). Despite being locked into ninth place regardless of outcome, I like Army to sweep.
Robert Morris vs. Niagara
Dan: With the first seed clinched, do the Colonials rest some of their players? More importantly – would it matter? This is more about RMU being good than it is about Niagara being currently in 11th. That RMU isn’t in the running for an at-large bid to the tournament is a crime. RMU sweeps.
Chris: Robert Morris had a nine-game unbeaten streak snapped last Saturday and is looking to go into the postseason with some momentum. So despite Niagara’s recent improvements, I’m picking Robert Morris to sweep.
Mercyhurst at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: This is a HUGE MONSTER of a weekend between the Lakers and Tigers from the Gene (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but that’s what I’m going with). The fourth and fifth seeds hang in the balance, as does the sixth potentially. Let the playoffs begin in Rochester, which coincidentally is where they’ll end in a few weeks. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is the most critical series of the weekend in terms of what’s up for grabs. Both teams are battling for the final two first-round byes. The Tigers need three points to leap over the Lakers into fourth place, while Mercyhurst can still finish as high as second or as low as sixth. Mercyhust is a better team than what it showed last weekend, and I think it gains at least a split with the homestanding Tigers. Mercyhurst wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.
Saturday, February 28
Holy Cross at Bentley
Dan: Ahhh nothing like a good old fashioned rivalry game to finish the season. A couple of years ago, the season ended with these guys facing each other, and there were 32 penalty minutes in one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen in person. I’m picking the Falcons again here. Bentley wins.
Chris: If RIT loses on Friday, Holy Cross will still be in the running for a first-round bye with a win. But I think Bentley is rolling right now and will win what should be a highly entertaining game.
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.