Three Things: February 2, 2014

Three things (and more) from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:

“An awesome thing”

Mercyhurst goaltender Jordan Tibbett has had an up-but-mostly-down season so far for the Lakers. Coming off the 2012-13 season where he played in 18 games and registered a .925 save percentage, Tibbett lost the job to Jimmy Sargeant, who is second in the league in both GAA (2.33) and save percentage (.932).

But when Sargeant went down with an injury on Jan. 25 in a game against Canisius, Tibbett made his first appearance in a month and looked rusty,  allowed five goals on 17 shots.

But this past weekend in a showdown for first place with Bentley, Tibbett regained his form, holding the high-powered Falcons offense to just three goals on 69 shots. Mercyhurst took three points from Bentley, extending its lead to four points over the Falcons. It was Tibbett’s first win in net since the Atlantic Hockey semifinals last season.

“I’m really happy for our hockey team, and especially (for) Jordan Tibbett,” Lakers coach Gotkin told the Erie Times-News. “It hasn’t been an easy couple months for Tibbs. When we needed him most, he was at his best. I think that’s an awesome thing.”

Quite a draw

On Saturday, the Lakers set a home attendance record, cramming 1,817 into the Mercyhurst Ice Center, which has a listed capacity of 1,300. The draw? Besides the clash of first and second place teams, the Stanley Cup was in the house thanks to Lakers’ trainer Mike Folga, who was on the New York Rangers’ staff when the Blueshirts won it all in 1994. It was long delayed, but Folga finally got his day with the Cup.

Let’s see that one again

There was a bit of controversy in Friday’s 2-2 tie between Bentley and Mercyhurst. A possible goal by Bentley’s Brett Gensler may have been missed. Mercyhurst does not yet employ video replay, which will be mandatory in Atlantic Hockey beginning next season. Currently, only Air Force, Army, Bentley and Rochester Institute of Technology have video replay capability.

Winning the battle but not the war

There’s an adage in hockey that the squad that wins the special teams battle will prevail. RIT dominated Holy Cross in special teams last weekend, but it was the Crusaders that came away with three points, tying the Tigers 3-3 on Friday and defeating them 4-2 on Saturday.

RIT was a combined four for seven on the power play, and held Holy Cross to just one power play goal in eight attempts. But the Crusaders only allowed one even strength goal all weekend.

Every second counts

Sacred Heart scored a rare buzzer-beater goal on Friday in a 4-3 win against Niagara. Freshman Mitch Nylen scored off a faceoff with just 0.9 seconds left. Here’s the video. Enjoy.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Jan. 31-Feb. 1

Last Week:
Dan: 4-4-0
Chris: 4-4-0

On the season:
Dan: 114-53-17 (.666)
Chris: 113-54-17 (.660)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb 1:
Connecticut at Air Force
Dan: I think the RMU series might have exposed some of the issues with Air Force down the stretch.  They were down 3-0 until the final five seconds of Friday, and they gave up three second period goals in Saturday’s loss.  On the flip side, I think UConn has a good chance to catch the top two, especially with next against Bentley looming.  UConn sweeps.
Chris: UConn has had success against the Western Pod this season (5-2-3) but I like the Falcons, still smarting froma  sweep at the hands of Robert Morris last weekend, to come out hard at home. Air Force is 16-2-1 against UConn at the Cadet Ice Arena, and I think it will put another pair of wins in the book. Air Force sweeps. 

Canisius at  American International
Dan: Canisius is starting to load up to get hot, and they shouldn’t have much trouble with AIC.  Canisius sweeps.
Chris: Canisius is coming off a nice win at first-place Mercyhurst and is 12-0-2 against AIC in their last fourteen meetings. I’m picking the Golden Griffins to extend that streak. Canisius sweeps.  

Holy Cross at Rochester Institute of Technology
I think Holy Cross has the horses to go into RIT and take a game, and I think RIT’s goaltending is in box of chocolates mode – you never know what you’re gonna get.  That said, RIT usually beats Holy Cross at home and the Tigers have had success against the east.  Don’t be shocked if Holy Cross takes a game.  RIT sweeps.
Chris: Holy Cross is a better team than than its record indicates, and despite the Tigers’ dominance over the Crusaders at Ritter Arena (12-1) over the years, I’m picking Holy Cross to continue RIT’s woes. Holy Cross sweeps. 

Niagara at Sacred Heart
Dan: Niagara is starting to pick up steam, and I think this trip east is going to set them up for a decent run through the west that’ll see them finish higher than a bubble first round home series.  Niagara sweeps.
Chris: Niagara found its groove last weekend, and I like the Purple Eagles to build off some new-found confidence. Niagara sweeps. 

Army at Robert Morris
Dan: Army has really struggled in league play this year, having not won since Pearl Harbor Day back in December.  I don’t see a reason that changes this weekend when they play a Robert Morris team that could conceivably finish in the top four and be in a second round home series at this rate.  Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris: The Colonials are playing their best hockey of the season, and while Army will be bolstered by a nice come-from-behind win over rival Royal Military College of Canada last weekend, I think RMU gets a pair of wins at home. Robert Morris sweeps.

Bentley at Mercyhurst
Dan: This is going to be a titan matchup.  Both teams have solid offenses, stout defenses, and strong goaltending.  I give an edge to Mercyhurst because I think their offense is a little bit better than Bentley’s, but I think this is a litmus test for both teams that provide them both with a win.  Mercyhurst wins on Friday.  Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris: I saved the best for last. This is the final weekend of interpod play, and  we’ll go out with a bang as the first and second-place teams square off. They split last year in Watertown, and I think they will again in Erie.  Mercyhurst wins Friday; Bentley wins Saturday.


Three Things: January 26, 2014

The weekend in Atlantic Hockey was remarkably tame compared to what happened in ECAC. Two points for you to contrast:

  • There were three 5-on-3 advantages granted the whole weekend in AHA play.  There were three 5-on-3 advantages granted to Yale in the first 15 minutes of their game against Brown, including, at one point, a 41-4 penalty minute difference between the Bears and Bulldogs, respectively, with two ejections.
  • ECAC officials assessed 125 minutes worth of penalties to Union and RPI as a result of the fracas at the end of the game.  There will no doubt be exchanges of phone calls between the league and those two institutions this week with further discipline on the way.  For the AHA’s entire weekend, there 190 penalty minutes across nine games, excluding the exhibition between Army and the Royal Military College of Canada.

That’s not included in my three things, but I just wanted to point those two out.  Whenever something like those extremities happen, there is almost assuredly some type of review from the league office.  I’m not saying the teams, the leagues, or the style of play are better in the AHA.  I’m just saying that this week is one where I’m sure league officials are sitting back and quietly breathing easy that they don’t have to sort through the mess that happened elsewhere.

Let’s jump into the three (okay, I lied… four… actually, let’s make it five. This was a phenomenal weekend.) things coming out of the AHA weekend that was:

Collision Course Set For Erie

First place Mercyhurst and second place Bentley will meet next weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. They will enter the weekend separated by just two points thanks to Canisius’ rally on Saturday (more on that in a couple paragraphs). It is arguably the biggest weekend of games in the league to this point in the season.

The Falcons got to this point by dispatch archnemesis Holy Cross for the third time this year. Once again, it was a back-and-forth game where the ‘Saders never really went away. Even after Bentley took a 4-2 lead late, Holy Cross kept hanging around, cutting the lead to 4-3 before the road team tacked on an empty net strike. It sealed the first season sweep for Bentley of Holy Cross since 2009, coincidentally the last time they won a season series with their rival and the last time they went to the conference final four. They also broke more records in the process (again, more on that later).

Mercyhurst rallied to win on Thursday in their rivalry weekend game with Canisius, but the Golden Griffins scored five unanswered to pummel the Lakers on Saturday. It was a shocking display against a normally fundamentally sound Laker team, and it exposed a flaw in their game. Coach Rick Gotkin’s team has very quietly been running through the league all season, but in the last two weeks, they’re now 1-1-2 with some alarming collapses. They led 3-2 in the third period against UConn in both games last week and tied both (they also led the second game, 3-0, in the second period). They led Canisius 3-1 before losing 7-4. And their win came as a result of a mad dash comeback down 1-0 late with three goals in the final three minutes.

Record Setting Season Continues for Bentley

The Bentley Falcons broke more records this weekend with their 5-3 win over Holy Cross. Andrew Gladiuk scored his 11th and 12th power play goals on the year. That breaks the record of 11 at the Division I level and ties the all-time program record. And Steve Weinstein got his 29th and 30th assists, breaking the Division I record held by his coach, Ryan Soderquist, and coming within striking distance of the all-time record of 31. He is the first D1 Bentley player with 30 assists in a single season, and he did it in 24 games.

They become the fourth and fifth program records to fall for Bentley this season after Brett Gensler broke the Division I scoring and Division I goals records and Branden Komm broke the all-time program wins record by a goalie while becoming just the second goalie to appear in 100 career games. The power play for Bentley is ranked second in the nation at 28.1%. Mercyhurst has been the tape-to-tape leader in the league to this point, but the argument is that Bentley has the potential to be the most dominant. They’re also on pace to shatter the team’s record for regular season wins (17 in 2008-2009).

What’s all of this mean? It means that Bentley is finally becoming the team we all thought they were last season. They’re borderline a complete team, and this weekend, they’ll have the chance to prove that the stats aren’t just stats and that they are backing it up when they take on one of the league’s best. They’ll get to go from a good team with a limitless ceiling to a league powerhouse. So far, Bentley’s beaten pretty much everyone; they’ll have their hands full when they head west for a titan battle with the league’s preseason favorite.

Hottest Team in the League

I love it when a team proves me right. This week, I talked to Derek Schooley about his streaky hot Robert Morris Colonial team. One of the things he talked about was his team’s need to compartmentalize and have short memories about a slow start in 2013. They needed to go shift-by-shift and play game-by-game against tough opponents to try and make some noise within the second half of the season. He didn’t write off his teams chances but acknowledged they’d have a tougher time than others at making up ground.

Facing their biggest test of the second half of the season, RMU hosted Air Force and punched the Falcons right in the mouth. Outshooting the academy on Friday by a 41-24 margin, the Colonials essentially won a 3-0 game, giving up a goal with less than 10 seconds left after they already scored the obligatory empty-netter. On Saturday, they struck three times in the second period alone, putting an end to Air Force’s chances and sending the cadets back west with zero points.

All of a sudden, Robert Morris is in fifth place, two points out of fourth. They’re the hottest team in the west. They’re playing complete hockey and getting hot. And all of a sudden, nobody should want to play them. Before the year, I said I thought RMU was going to be a force this year. After failing the first part of the season, they’re going to be a factor as the playoffs draw closer.

RMU hosts Army this weekend.

Fast Times in the AHA

Updating the playoff race for you, Bentley and Mercyhurst both have a chance to clinch home ice for at least the first round this weekend with more than two points. Likewise, Army is on the verge of being eliminated from first round bye consideration if they don’t come away with two points against Robert Morris.

We’re starting to see some separation; Bentley and Mercyhurst are forming a breakaway at the top with UConn successfully fighting to keep pace. Air Force and RMU could catch UConn, but they’re forming a third pack with Canisius in the fight for the final first round bye. Niagara and RIT are jostling for the same positioning RIT and Canisius fought for last year (with some work ahead of them to get into the race for a bye), while Holy Cross is in position to get home ice once we get into the bulk of the conference schedule due to weaker remaining opponents. AIC and Sacred Heart are factors but need a team to really falter in order to get first round home ice, and Army is increasingly appearing as the 12th seeded team.

But this is Atlantic Hockey. Next week? Something different.

A Final Word

One of my all-time favorite things took place this week when Army played the Royal Military College of Canada. The RMC Paladins is located in Kingston, Ontario, and the two teams played at the Rogers K-Rock Centre. Army won, 5-2, to win the Challenge Cup in its first visit to Canada since 2006, while wearing their black jerseys with “DM” stickers on the backs of their helmets in memory of Major Danny MacLeod. Maj. MacLeod was a former RMC head coach who helped maintain this rivalry over several decades.

Regardless of politics, the game serves as a reminder that these hockey players are united in their goals to protect and serve the great nations they represent Despite a normally intense hockey game, there’s little after-the-whistle funny business. With this being the final game of a three-year deal, I can only hope that it continues a great tradition into the future.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Jan. 23-25

Last Week:
Dan: 8-0-4
Chris: 7-1-4

On the season:
Dan: 110-49-17 (.673)
Chris: 109-50-17 (.668)

This Week’s Picks

Thursday, Jan. 23 and Saturday, Jan. 25:
Mercyhurst vs. Canisius

Dan: This is one of those series where you throw records out the window. Mercyhurst is 11-1-3 in league play but is coming off two ties against Connecticut. Canisius lost and tied Bentley in games where they had leads they couldn’t hold. Both have very high ceilings – Canisius beat Mercyhurst last year to advance to the NCAA Tournament. But I can’t help but think Mercyhurst is going to bounce back this weekend and be all kinds of geared up for Canisius. I think they take three points, but since I can’t pick ties, I’ll go with a Laker sweep.
Chris: The teams meet for the 76th and 77th time in this rivalry that dates back to 1987. Canisius won the biggest game in the series history: 7-2 in the AHA title game last season. The Golden Griffins are also the only team that has beaten the Lakers in league play this season. Still, I’m going with the Lakers to sweep.

Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25
Connecticut vs American International
Dan: As I mentioned in this week’s column, I have no idea what to make of AIC anymore. They’re averaging 40 shots allowed per game, yet they’re in a very good position as they get set for a stretch run against eastern teams. I’ve never felt good about picking against them, but the stats against them are way too glaring at times. UConn sweeps
Chris: AIC has showed it’s capable of knocking off anyone in the conference, but I think the Huskies are playing the kind of hockey right now that avoids upsets. UConn sweeps. 

Rochester Institute of Technology vs. Niagara
Contrary to past years when RIT had one stalwart goalie they could rely on, they’re running into a case of riding the hot hand in net this year. Jordan Ruby is heating up, so I think they can ride him clear to their first victory ever at Niagara. They return home on Saturday, where they won’t leave until the playoffs are in the process of being decided. RIT sweeps.
Chris: Past performance isn’t an indicator of future results and all that. Except when it is. It stops being a coincidence when eight of the last 11 games between these two teams has gone to overtime. RIT has only been on the winning end of one of those contests, and has never won against Niagara at Dwyer Arena, which is where Friday’s nationally televised game on CBS Sports Network, will take place. Saturday the action shifts to Ritter Arena, where RIT will play its next seven games. Since I can’t pick ties, I’m going with the home team in each game. Niagara wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday. 

Air Force at Robert Morris
Dan: Air Force hasn’t lost since their third period/overtime collapse against AIC. But then again, their five games were their return match with AIC, two against Army, and two against Sacred Heart and goalie Chris Truehl hasn’t been fully tested by a top-to-bottom offense. RMU is also pistol hot, but with the exception of their UConn split, it’s come at the expense of AIC and Sacred Heart as well. Translation: this can go either way. Air Force wins on Friday; Robert Morris on Saturday
Chris: Both teams come into this series playing well: Air Force has won five in a row, and RMU is 4-1-1 in its last six. In November, the Falcons built a 4-1 lead and then held on for a 4-3 win on home ice. This time the home advantage is with the Colonials, but I think Air Force wins a pair of close games. Air Force sweeps.

Saturday, Jan. 25
Bentley at Holy Cross
Dan: Bentley clinched its first series win since 2009 when they beat Holy Cross at Fenway Park. In the dog days of the season, the Falcons are finding ways to not lose points, while Holy Cross cured its major offensive issues with a sweep of Niagara last week. In both games this year, Bentley came from behind to beat the ‘Saders. Make no mistake – this is a rivalry. Bentley wins a close, tough, emotional game.
Chris: This was supposed to be a home-and-home weekend series, but Friday’s game was moved up for Frozen Fenway and played on Dec. 28.  This is the final regular season meeting between the schools with the Falcons winning the two previous games by identical 3-2 scores. I like Bentley to stay hot and win another close game. Bentley wins.

Three Things: January 19, 2014

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.

Pairwise problems

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.

Atlantic Hockey Picks, Jan. 17-19

Last Week:
Dan: 7-6
Chris: 8-5

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 FridayUConn 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
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.


Three Things: January 12, 2014

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.

Role Reversal

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.


Atlantic Hockey Picks, Jan. 9-14

Last Week:
Dan: 6-5-1
Chris: 5-6-1

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
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: Atlantic Hockey – January 5, 2014

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.”


Fantastic Finish

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.

Atlantic Hockey Picks Jan. 3-5

Last Week:
Dan: 10-4
Chris: 10-4

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
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

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