Only one will continue on to the NCAA tournament, so the AHC title is doubly important this season.
On the season:
Dan: 34-20-3 (.623)
Chris: 38-18-3 (.693)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8
Niagara at Bentley
Dan: This is an intriguing matchup between a Niagara team better than a winless record and a Bentley team that lost its only home game this year. The Falcons have been coming together over the past couple of weeks, which I think propels them this week. I think Niagara gets at least a point, but I can’t pick ties, and I hate picking splits. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: The Purple Eagles are winless so far, and Bentley is home for just the second time this season. The Falcons lost their lone home game at the JAR, but I don’t think that happens this time. Bentley sweeps.
Army at Mercyhurst
Dan: The last time Army won at Mercyhurst, John F. Kennedy was president. I love Army, but I have a hard time picking against the Lakers in their own barn. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: This series has a nice subplot of Laker sophomore Jack Riley going up against his dad, Army coach Brian Riley. Mercyhurst is coming off a huge win at Colgate last weekend and I think will earn a hard-fought sweep.
Holy Cross at RIT
Dan: This is the first of teams probably glad the games aren’t in Ritter Arena; the Tigers went 9-2-4 at the old barn against the Crusaders. A new slate and a new day for Holy Cross, a team slowly winning me over after I predicted them in the bottom two of the league. And yes, I realize I said I hate picking splits. RIT wins on Friday, Holy Cross wins on Saturday
Chris: RIT has dominated this series, but Holy Cross has come on as of late, including a wild win in last year’s best-of-three playoff series. But I think the Tigers are due for a good weekend at home. RIT sweeps.
Canisius at Sacred Heart
Dan: Having seen Sacred Heart in person, I can tell you they’re a team that will make you a believer. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris:This is a tough one to call as both teams have been up-and-down so far. But Canisius is 8-1-1 against SHU in their previous ten meetings, and I’m going with that trend. Canisius sweeps.
Alabama-Huntsville at Air Force
Dan: Alabama-Huntsville will eventually be much better than they are, and they’re a team now fighting for a potential playoff spot in the WCHA with Alaska suspended from postseason play. That said, this is a non-conference game, a very long road trip, and an Air Force team still hungry after narrowly defeated North Dakota last week. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: This is a matchup of former CHA teams, and a homecome of sorts for UAH coach Mike Corbett, who spent ten years as an assistant at Air Force. The Falcons are coming off a tough lost last Saturday at North Dakota, a game they were seconds away from winning. I think they rebound here. Air Force sweeps.
Friday, November 7
American International at Massachusetts
Dan: UMass fans can call this personal for me, but I’m calling it strictly business. AIC rolls into the Mullins Center and gets it done behind strong third period goaltending. I’m on board with the idea of moving this game to Springfield and making it a thing. Perhaps a trophy is in order? AIC wins.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets are coming off a sweep at Niagara, while the Minutemen lost a pair of close games to Maine last weekend. If AIC rookie goaltender Alex Murray can keep things rolling, the Yellow Jackets will prevail. But I have a hunch UMass will find a way to get it done. UMass wins.
Three Things from this past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Live by the comeback….
On October 25, Air Force staged a terrific comeback to earn a home-ice split with Rochester Institute of Technology. The Falcons scored an extra-attacker goal with 1:33 left in regulation to tie and got the game-winner at 3:50 of overtime.
But the roles reversed this past Saturday, with Air Force less than a minute away from upsetting No. 3 North Dakota at Engelstad Arena.
Trailing 2-1 in the closing seconds, North Dakota was able to even things up at 19:31 of the third, and then scored an improbable shorthanded game-winner with 6.4 seconds left in overtime.
Bryn Chyzk got the GWG off a feed from Michael Parks. Here’s the video.
It was a tough loss for Frank Serratore’s team, who was pressing for the win on the power play. The Falcons top unit has four forwards and only one defenseman.
“This one we will take to the grave,” Serratore said after the game. “This was the best effort we have had all season by a country mile. All I can say is, we have no regrets. Our kids gave all they had. We had our best guys out there and UND got it done. We put our best power-play unit out there at the end because we play to win. We could have put another defenseman out there, but we don’t play to tie. The Air Force Academy does not play to tie, we play to win. We put our best foot forward tonight, but this one stings.”
A pair of streaks continued this past weekend, one good and one not so good.
Robert Morris stayed unbeaten (7-0-1) with a home sweep sweep of Rochester Institute of Technology, taking Friday’s game 6-3 and winning 4-2 on Saturday.
In the first game, RMU got goals from freshman (two by Spencer Dorowicz and one from Brady Ferguson) as well as the first career goal from senior David Rigatti, playing in his 86th game.
On Saturday, Ferguson scored again but most of the damage was done by the Colonials top line of Cody Wydo, Zac Lynch and Scott Jacklin.
Saturday’s win was the 150th career victory for RMU coach Derek Schooley, whose team is off this coming weekend.
“I almost want to keep playing and keep this rolling,” said Schooley after the game. “But we can rest some guys and work on some things. There’s always things to work on, even when you’re winning.”
On the other side of the coin, Niagara’s woes continue after being swept at home by American International, 3-1 and 4-2. The Purple Eagles remain winless (0-8).
Niagara Goaltender Jackson Teichroeb was able to make his first two starts after suffering an injury in a pre-season scrimmage, but it wasn’t enough to put his team into the win column. The Purps outshot the Yellow Jackets handily in each game (43-21 on Friday and 42-24 on Saturday) but AIC rookie goaltender Alex Murry stopped all but three shots he faced for the victories.
Mercyhurst split at No. 4 Colgate, defeating the Raiders 2-1 on Saturday after falling 4-0 the previous evening. Saturday’s win featured a 39-save performance from Laker goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant, and was touted by the school as the “Best D-I win in school history.”
I would have gone with the Lakers’ MAAC championship game victory in 2001 or 2003, as well as an Atlantic Hockey title win in 2005. But in terms of defeating a highly-ranked opponent, Saturday’s win gets the nod. Here’s the Mercyhurst video recap.
On the season:
Dan: 28-14-1 (.663)
Chris: 30-12-1 (.709)
This Week’s Picks:
Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31
Bentley at Penn State
Dan: Call me a wikkid homah, but I’m taking the Falcons for at least one this weekend. There’s something about this team on the road that has be feeling like they’re going to be extremely mentally tough. I don’t like picking splits (even though that’s what I did last week), so I’m going with Bentley to win both. Bentley sweeps
Chris: Could this be a repeat of last weekend, when Penn State soundly defeated Holy Cross twice? Or a repeat of last weekend when Bentley went into RPI and took two games in convincing fashion? I’m splitting things down the middle. Bentley wins Thursday; Penn State Friday.
Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1
Sacred Heart at Holy Cross
Dan: Both teams were swept last weekend, but I have a feeling Sacred Heart’s near-upsets of Colgate has them slightly ahead of the Crusaders at this point. Call it this weekend for the Pioneers. Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris: The Crusaders will host on Friday; the Pioneers on Saturday. Both teams were swept last weekend, but SHU put up more of a fight, losing a pair of close games to Colgate. I’ve been burned going with the home teams in these home-and-home series, but I’m a glutton for punishment. Holy Cross wins Friday; Sacred Heart Saturday.
American International at Niagara
Dan: Niagara was swept last weekend, but the losses came at Notre Dame. AIC, meanwhile, lost two to Canisius. I think the Yellow Jackets are going to surprise the Purple Eagles by having more depth, but ultimately I’m picking Niagara’s slightly better goaltending in this one. Don’t count out AIC to steal one on the road, though. Niagara sweeps.
Chris: This is another case of both teams getting swept last weekend. Niagara has historically done well against AIC, but this is not a typical year so far for the Purple Eagles. I think AIC wins at least one. Niagara wins Friday; AIC wins Saturday.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Robert Morris
Dan: Robert Morris is one point out of becoming the first Atlantic Hockey team in the USCHO Top 20 since Niagara two years ago. I’m not picking against them until someone beats them. Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris: I’ll be broadcasting this series and am looking forward to it. RIT has won the last two meetings on the Island, but RMU is looking to stay unbeaten and is tough at home. If it comes down to goaltending, which it might, RMU has a pair of really hot netminders right now. Robert Morris sweeps.
Ohio State at Canisius
Dan: The lights are on in the new building in Buffalo. Despite my hatred of picking sweeps, I find it hard to pick against a B1G team against Atlantic Hockey, even with my allegiances to the eastern league. That said, goaltending can win one, if not both, for the Griffs. Canisius wins Friday; Ohio State on Saturday.
Chris: The Golden Griffins get to open their new home at HarborCenter against an OSU team that has scored three goals in its last three games. Still, I think each team will win a game. Canisius wins Friday; Ohio State on Saturday.
Mercyhurst at Colgate
Dan: Starr Rink served as one of the filming locations for the movie Slap Shot. That has nothing to do with the outcome of this series, but I felt it warranted mentioning. Colgate wraps up four straight against the AHA at home, and although Mercyhurst is one of those battle tested teams, the Raiders have one of those teams built to handle business. Colgate sweeps
Chris: Boy I really want to pick an upset here as the Lakers take on the No. 4 Raiders. But Colgate is deeper and playing at home. Raiders will sweep.
Friday, October 31
Brown at Army
Dan: Brown might have some of the most dynamic players in ECAC in Matt Lorito and Mark Naclerio. They also have one of their best recruiting classes, headlined by Pittsburgh Penguins draft choice Sam Lafferty. I like Army a lot, but I think Brown has too much energy and too much firepower in this one. Brown wins.
Chris: This is Brown’s first official game of the season (the Bears won an exhibition with Dartmouth last Sunday) while Army already has six contests under its belt. I like the Black Knights to play a few tricks on the Bears, and treat themselves to a victory. Army wins.
Saturday, November 1
Air Force at North Dakota
Dan: If you haven’t experienced a game at the Ralph, I suggest you do it; nobody has a home ice advantage quite like North Dakota. This is also a game they have to take care of business in if they expect to be playing in Boston come springtime. North Dakota wins
Chris: Just one game for the Falcons this weekend, but it’s a big one – at No. 3 North Dakota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game. UND leads the all-time series 4-0 and I think that trend will continue. North Dakota wins.
After a couple of weeks lacking in the news department, we weren’t without a lack of storylines. Let’s review the weekend that was:
The wonder ball. Goes round and round.
The Bentley Falcons have had a topsy-turvy couple of weeks. Despite competing hard with nationally-ranked Quinnipiac, they lost on the road. Then they went back to the Nutmeg State and picked up their first win in almost two years over Sacred Heart. Heading into Saturday of last weekend, the Falcons probably stood as the fourth or fifth strongest team in the league.
Then came Saturday. The Falcons came completely unglued in a 6-3 loss to the Pioneers, one that highlighted the question marks and showed that there would be a lot of work on the table if they intended to compete at a level commensurate with their last few seasons. The lowlights included three ejections, including a game disqualification, and 66 penalty minutes, 40-plus of which came in the game’s final two minutes. Anyone who watched the effort on Saturday would’ve immediately put them much, much further down the Atlantic Hockey power rankings.
But everything comes full circle. The Falcons regained their pride this past weekend by demolishing ECAC foe Rensselaer. On Friday, Kyle Schmidt scored his first two career goals, Alex Grieve scored his first of the season, and the Falcons posted four third period strikes en route to a 5-2 win. On Saturday, they only put 16 shots on goal, but four found the back of the net, and they won 4-0.
Bentley’s defense looked solid, and their goaltending stood tall. Gabe Antoni picked up the win on Friday, and senior Blake Dougherty earned his first career shutout on Saturday. The Falcons now head to Penn State next weekend with a chance to really earn some non-conference brownie points for the Pairwise Rankings, and once again, they look like an entirely different team. Identities early in the year are hard to define, but the mental toughness exhibited this weekend will serve this team well when AHA play resumes.
Well, Atlantic Hockey officials, you’ve done it again
I don’t envy referees. When they call a solid game, nobody ever pats them on the back or says, “Hey, good game out there.” When they do something wrong, however, it’s enough to make heads explode. In Atlantic Hockey, the single worst thing a ref can do is cost a team a league game in a huge matchup. Yet that’s exactly what happened in Saturday’s game between the Air Force Falcons and the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers.
Let’s reset the scenario in the third period of Saturday’s game between the academy and RIT. Officials whistled the Tigers for a too many men on the ice penalty 1:50 into the game’s overtime session. As the penalty was getting ready to expire, RIT had the puck in their own end. They cleared the puck down to the other end of the ice, as is customary for a team on the PK.
The puck, however, hit the ref out by the blue line and fell into the stick of an Air Force skater. Air Force dumped it back into the RIT zone, and the Tigers once again iced the puck with about four seconds left on the penalty. The puck went the length of the ice, and the officials blew the whistle for icing. The puck was iced with RIT clearly on the penalty kill, but the player came out of the box with the puck in transit.
The icing call led to a faceoff near goalie Mike Rotolo, and Air Force ultimately scored to win the game, 4-3. There are multiple videos surfacing based on the incident. The first, which is most damning, shows the puck hitting the official and being sent back in. It then shows the Tigers icing the puck with time left on the power play, a clear indication that icing should not have been called. At least that’s what the broadcast shows; I obviously wasn’t there and can’t speak to the time left on the scoreboard clock, but four seconds seems like a lot of time to say, “Well maybe it was close.”
The second video shows the goal. After the goal is scored, my eyes wander immediately to the orange jerseys. RIT players, steaming mad, slam sticks on the ice and voice frustration. The Tigers eventually gained a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after the goal was scored.
Look, I’m not one to try and jump all over the referees, and I feel for them in a sense that making a mistake can cost a team a game. When they do their job right, nobody notices, but when they do their job wrong, there’s a lot to discuss. You just hope this game doesn’t eventually become the difference between an RIT home series or bye anywhere along the way.
How ’bout them Pioneers?
The scores indicate they lost by a combined 7-4 count, but the Sacred Heart Pioneers got their money’s worth against #4-ranked Colgate at home this weekend. On Friday, SHU rebounded from giving up the first goal in both the first and second periods to play level hockey through 40 minutes. On Saturday, they were within two seconds and a power play goal of holding Colgate scoreless in the second period and remaining tied, 1-1, after two periods. While they ended up losing both games, they still played very well and earned the respect of a team expecting to travel to Boston in the spring for the Frozen Four.
The AHA hasn’t been great in non-conference play, still hovering below 10 out-of-conference wins. But looking within the numbers shows some really great hockey games with tough competition. Sacred Heart, an example of that, is playing some solid hockey, and they just went toe-to-toe with some of the country’s best.
On the season:
Dan: 15-11-1 (.574)
Chris: 18-8-1 (.685)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25
Rochester Institute of Technology at Air Force
Dan: Last week’s game against BC proved that RIT is in rebuilding mode. On top of it all, they have to head out west to take on an Air Force team that’s going to be mad as hell after losing games in Alaska. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: The Tigers are 0-9 in the first game (or single game) of this series when held in Colorado Springs, and haven’t fared much better the following evening. The Falcons are coming off a pair of discouraging losses in Alaska and I think they’ll rebound to take care of business at home. Air Force sweeps.
Canisius at American International
Dan: AIC is a team that’s better than advertised, but Canisius is proving they’re not quite experiencing a huge drop off after graduating all of those pieces from their finals runs. I think eventually these teams will trend closer, but not yet. Canisius sweeps.
Chris:The Yellow Jackets have played well enough to pick them to win one of these games, but I have been terrible picking splits (twice I’ve picked a split but with the wining team on the wrong nights). So I’m going with Canisius to put together a pair of wins on the road. Canisius sweeps.
Robert Morris at Army
Dan: Army is another Atlantic Hockey team that’s getting better, and their wins the last couple of weeks have been extremely encouraging. But they’re running into a buzz saw of a team that’s playing out of its mind to open up the season. I think Army can eke out a point or two with the right puck hops, but until RMU proves that they’re cooling off, you can’t pick against them. RMU sweeps.
Chris: It’s always tough to pick against Army at home, but RMU is on a roll to open the season. The Black Knights are young and figure to improve over the course of the season, but the Colonials have been there, done that. RMU sweeps.
Niagara at Notre Dame
Dan: Teams at the top of Atlantic Hockey are typically expected to compete and defeat teams from the middle or lower tiers of Hockey East. Unfortunately, Niagara isn’t the top tier yet, and Notre Dame’s playing at home. Notre Dame sweeps.
Chris: With arguably three of their top five players injured (although reports indicate goaltender Jackson Teichroeb may be able to see action), it’s going to be an uphill battle against the the Irish, who are in the midst of an eight-game home stand to open their season. Saturday’s game will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network. Maybe a big audience will inspire the Purple Eagles, but I’m sticking with the guys in green and gold. Notre Dame sweeps.
Merrimack at Mercyhurst
Dan: Merrimack is undefeated, but to be honest, they haven’t really beaten anyone. Holy Cross isn’t a powerhouse this year, and UConn isn’t exactly Minnesota. Mercyhurst is at home, and like Chris, I’m going all in on Jimmy Sarjeant shutting down the Warrior offense. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: After a split last season at Merrimack, the Warriors return the favor and again I think the Lakers will win at least one of these. They’re just 2-16-1 all-time against teams from Hockey East, but I’m going all in on Mercyhrust goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant to have a big weekend. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Bentley at Rensselaer
Dan: Saturday’s loss to Sacred Heart was like two defeats – the Falcons lost the game, then lost their cool. It overshadowed a solid win on Friday, and the opening night loss where they competed well against Quinnipiac seemed like light years ago. They head to the Capital District to take on a team that’s lost three in a row – to Minnesota and Denver. RPI isn’t as bad as they’re record, but they’re not great. Pair that against Bentley being most dangerous when doubted. RPI wins on Friday. Bentley wins on Saturday.
Chris: This is the matchup I’d most like to see in person. Bentley is coming off a tough loss at in its home opener to Sacred Heart that saw the Falcons finish the game with five players in the penalty box and three more in the dressing room. I think they’ll respond on Friday and give RPI all they can handle, but ultimately will fall in both games. RPI sweeps.
Colgate at Sacred Heart
Dan: Remember last year when ranked-dead-last-in-Division-I Sacred Heart beat #1-ranked UMass-Lowell? Hopefully lightning can strike twice at home, where the Pioneers are running shuttles for students to the games (HINT HINT TO SACRED HEART STUDENTS). I hope the Milford Ice Pavilion is as MIP-y as ever, just so the Raiders can get a great taste of the gritty, municipal rink hockey nature of the AHA. I think there’s too much talent, but SHU’s going to give them a scare, especially early, in the first game. Colgate sweeps.
Chris: This is a nice “get” by Sacred Heart, bringing in the No. 4 team in the nation. SHU can’t be taken lightly, especially at home. Colgate might take some time to adjust to the uniqueness of the Milford Ice Pavilion, but I think the Raiders will find a way to win. Twice. Colgate sweeps.
Friday, October 24 and Sunday, October 26
Holy Cross at Penn State
Dan: I’m sure Chris will make the joke, but the extra day off is because of Penn State-Ohio State football. If the Buckeyes win, they should let David Berard “dot the i” or something. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions defeat ‘Sader Nation this weekend by a field goal. Penn State sweeps.
Chris: The teams play Friday and Sunday, because football. I hear football is kind of a big deal in Happy Valley. I’m hoping at least one of these games ends in a tie so we’ll have a shootout. OK, not really. My sarcasm is getting the better of me. I’m going with the home team in a pair of close games, which hopefully will be decided in regulation. Penn State sweeps.
Three things from the past weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Canisius and Army play a two game series, with the Golden Griffins coming out on top in Game One. In 2012 it was a 5-1 victory over the Black Knights on Friday. In 2013 the score was 8-2. This past Friday it was a 6-3 win with Canisius coming back from a 3-0 first period deficit.
Each time, Saturday was a different story, or the same story depending on how you look at it. Last Saturday at West Point, Army responded with a 3-0 win over the Griffs earning a series split. Last year, it was a 1-0 win for the Black Knights. In 2012 the score was also 1-0.
A Canisius win in the first contest following by an Army shutout in Game Two. Three times in a row.
Army goaltender Parker Gahagen stopped all 28 shots he faced on Saturday.
“It was good to get that first shutout off my shoulders,” he said after the game. “It was a good team win for us.”
“I liked our effort tonight,” said Canisius head coach Dave Smith. “We had really good push by our top players but their goalie played well. We did a lot of things well but the puck just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
Unlike the past two seasons, the teams will play four times this time around. Canisius will host Army at HarborCenter on Feb. 13 and 14.
History doesn’t repeat
Much has been made of the slow start defending champions Robert Morris endured last season before going on an epic run to emerge victorious.
The Colonials are making sure this season gets off to a different start entirely, sweeping Niagara this past weekend to open the season 4-0 for just the second time in school history.
Both nights Robert Morris scored three third period goals to put the game away. RMU has outscored opponents 9-1 in the final period so far this season.
“We’ve had a good start,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “But you’ve got to stay consistently focused every weekend. We’ve had two good weekends and now we’re going to have to put that behind us.”
All’s quiet at the pumpkin convention
Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena was again a sea of orange as Rochester Institute of Technology again sold out the building (10,556) for its annual Brick City homecoming game. But RIT’s opponent, No. 7 Boston College, spoiled the party by opening up a 4-0 lead early in the second period and coasting to a 6-2 win.
It wasn’t until Todd Skirving’s goal at 1:06 of the third that the large crowd had something to cheer about.
“We couldn’t get any offense,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson after the game. “There was no excitement on the bench at all. They didn’t allow us to get our fans into it. Their defense controlled our forwards.”
Four different BC blueliners scored in the game, in three of the cases as the trailer on an odd-man rush. ”They discouraged us,” said Wilson. “They took away scoring chances and then scored goals themselves. They were a double threat.”
The Tigers will go from Eagles to Falcons as they travel to Air Force next weekend.
Dan: 9-7-0 (.563)
Chris: 11-5-0 (.688)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, October 17 and Saturday, October 16
Canisius at Army
Dan: Army proved last week that their defense is capable of earning wins if they get tough. Canisius proved they could hang with the big boys in a split with Western Michigan. I think this is going to be a fun weekend, but the Griffs are slightly better at this stage of the game. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: The past two seasons, Canisius won big against Army the first night of this series and then was shut out by the Black Knights the following day. I don’t think history will repeat. Canisius sweeps.
American International at Holy Cross
Dan: Both teams hung tough with their opponent last weekend. That’s a great sign for AIC, who had a lead over the defending national champions. It also means reports of Holy Cross’ demise are greatly exaggerated, at least early on. I’m calling for a split, but since I try to avoid picking weekends that way, I’m going with an AIC sweep.
Chris: This is an intriguing matchup and I’m tempted to pick the Yellow Jackets to win at least one of these meetings. But I’m going with Holy Cross, which gave Merrimack all it could handle last weekend. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara vs.Robert Morris
Dan: The two storylines coming out of last week? RMU’s looking like a defending champion, and Niagara’s looking like a MASH unit. Colonials sweep.
Chris: Friday’s game is at Robert Morris, with Niagara hosting Saturday. Niagara is already decimated by injuries and the Colonials looked like they haven’t skipped a beat since winning it all in Rochester last March. RMU sweeps.
Bentley vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: Sacred Heart is one of those teams that always gives Bentley fits, and they haven’t lost since the second game of their 2-30-4 season. In fact, SHU went 1-1-1 against the Falcons that year and swept them with three wins last season. I can’t see that happening to start the year. But I also can’t figure out how this would split, and we usually don’t pick weekends that way anyways. Bottom line, I’m going with Bentley to sweep.
Chris: Sacred Heart has played well against Bentley recently and I think are a better team this season than last, while the Falcons may have lost a step. SHU hosts on Friday; Bentley on Saturday. I’m going with the home team in each game. Sacred Heart wins Friday; Bentley wins Saturday.
Friday, October 17
Air Force at Alaska
Dan: I used to work for a guy during my undergrad days who did sports info work for Alaska. He once told me that everyone, once in their lives, needs to live in Fairbanks for at least a full calendar year and experience what it’s like. New to the rankings this week, I’m using zero hockey analysis to pick the Nanooks.
Chris: On consecutive weekends to open the season, Alaska (the school in Fairbanks) and Alaska-Anchorage take turns hosting tournaments. This weekend. Air Force is participating in the Alaska Gold Rush, held in Fairbanks. The schedule is per-determined, with Air Force and Penn State each taking on the Alaska schools. I’m going with the teams from The Last Frontier. Alaska wins.
Saturday, October 18
Boston College at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: I have immense respect and love for both of the programs in this game. I grew up watching games at BC and BU, and I’ve learned to love RIT from my time spent with Chris. One thing I’m really hoping for is a tremendous hockey game in front of some great fans at Blue Cross Arena. But I think the difference is Thatcher Demko in net for BC, a position the Eagles are substantially better at. BC wins a closer one than expected.
Chris: This is RIT’s annual “Brick City” game at downtown Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, which is again a sellout. Despite 10,000 orange clad maniacs cheering them on, the Tigers are heavy underdogs for a reason. Boston College wins.
Air Force vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Dan: I can’t see Air Force going north and not coming away with at least one win. Since I think they’ll lose to Fairbanks, I’m picking them to beat the Seawolves on Saturday. Air Force wins.
Chris: See my pick for Friday. I think the Falcons go 0-2 in the 49th state. Alaska-Anchorage wins.
The first weekend of hockey is in the books, which means it’s time to review the weekend that was. Check back all season long for our observations. Let’s kick it off with three things from the first games of the 2014-2015 season:
The Champ Is Here
Despite being defending Atlantic Hockey champions, there was plenty of unknown in Robert Morris to start the year. There’s always heightened expectations in a team raising a banner, a new ring in their name that separates them from the rest of the pack. It also means they have to be the standard bearer for the league in out-of-conference matchups, at least in the early couple of weeks.
Derek Schooley’s bunch did more than just that this weekend. Hosting Lake Superior State this weekend, the Colonials pounded their opponent, 6-1, over two nights. They never trailed and never faced a tie score, save for 0-0, in a two-night sweep where they amassed 79 shots on goal.
Cody Wydo scored a goal and two assists, while Zac Lynch notched three helpers. Scott Jacklin scored two goals. And Terry Shafer combined with Dalton Izyk to stop 98% of all shots on goal.
It’s a great start for the defending champs, a program known for being ultra competitive no matter the conditions in front of them. It’s also a very good sample to base opinions on as they enter their title defense next weekend against Niagara in a home-and-home.
Young Guns Already Firing Away
A substantial amount of teams in Atlantic Hockey are dealing with the identity of being young and inexperienced as the year commences. So much is unknown that we’re not sure who’s going to raise eyebrows both positively and negatively.
That said, we’re already seeing a couple of new names make waves as the new season gets underway. Bentley sophomore Max French scored twice and assisted on a third as the Falcons nearly defeated Quinnipiac before falling, 5-3. Johnny Hrabovsky and AJ Reid, two sophomores on Air Force’s team, helped the team with five combined assists as the Falcons split with last year’s regular season champion, Mercyhurst. Caleb Cameron scored a couple of goals for RIT. Sophomore Parker Gahagen made 34 saves for Army on Saturday, and fellow sophomore Dalton Izyk registered a shutout for Robert Morris.
For so-called freshmen “diaper dandies,” Johno May scored a goal and an assist for AIC, and Jonathan Charbonneau had the same for Mercyhurst. Tyler Pham scored his first career goal for Army on Sunday afternoon.
I know I missed a bunch of names, and it’s only the first weekend of the year. But if Atlantic Hockey can continue to have its youngsters chip in, the future will always remain bright for its member institutions.
Out Of Their League
The past two seasons have been the tale of two worlds for Atlantic Hockey. After getting an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, the league struggled mightily last season when it went 17-64-5. Prior to Thanksgiving last year, the league was 6-47-4, a nadir considering the success it had in 2012-2013.
So there’s special attention given to the way AHA teams perform when playing teams from other leagues. In the first weekend, Robert Morris picked up a sweep, RIT defeated St. Lawrence, and Canisius split with Western Michigan as the league went 4-8. Low marks came for Holy Cross (swept by Merrimack) and Niagara (defeated by Clarkson before losing 10-2 against St. Lawrence). Both AIC and Bentley hung tough in their games; the Yellow Jackets led 1-0 and 2-1 over the defending national champions before Union ultimately won, 7-3, and the Falcons had a go-ahead goal nullified, then trailed by only one until an empty net goal gave Quinnipiac a 5-3 victory.
Air Force heads to Fairbanks to take on both Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage in the Alaska Goal Rush, and RIT hosts Boston College in its annual game at Blue Cross Arena as the league kicks up the bulk of its league schedule. The majority of teams return to non-conference games on October 24th.
Dan: 155-90-23 (.621)
Chris: 162-83-23 (.647)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11
Mercyhurst at Air Force
Dan: Now THIS is how you start out a season, with two of the strongest teams in the league going head to head over two straight nights. With the limited amount of on-ice practice, I’m siding with the more experienced Lakers for a sweep over the young Air Force roster.
Chris: Is it weird to claim that this series, the first games for both teams, may go a long way in deciding the regular season championship? This is the only meeting between two squads picked to finish at or near the top of the standings. These games are typically close, but I’m giving the edge to the Lakers despite the Falcons’ home ice advantage. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Western Michigan at Canisius
Dan: Canisius could be a capable team of winning a game here, but I’m not sold on them against a good team from the NCHC. That, and the hockey vibes emanating from the First Niagara Center don’t scream the same as TD Garden (just kidding, Sabres fans!) WMU sweeps.
Chris: The Golden Griffins have won their share of non-conference games, especially at home (although this series will be played at First Niagara Center), but I think WMU has the advantage. Western sweeps.
Lake Superior at Robert Morris
Dan: It’ll be a very emotional weekend for the Colonials when they raise their championship banner from last year’s AHA. The tough part will be when they come down off the emotion and have to get back to hockey. The Lakers lost two to Michigan Tech, which makes this a tough draw for both teams. I would love to pick RMU on the second night, but I have the feeling lady momentum is with Lake Superior. Lake Superior sweeps.
Chris: Lake Superior State already has two games in the books but I don’t think the Lakers will spoil RMU’s banner party. Robert Morris sweeps.
Merrimack vs. Holy Cross
Dan: If Holy Cross wants the rebuilding talk under new coach David Berard, at least one win this weekend will help. Last season, the Crusaders beat Boston College, and they joined AIC, Air Force, Bentley, and Sacred Heart as AHA teams beating Hockey East opponents. That said, I don’t think they can pull one out against the Mack to start the year. Merrimack sweeps.
Chris: Holy Cross hosts on Friday, Merrimack on Saturday. I think the Warriors win no matter what the venue. Merrimack sweeps.
Friday, October 10
Clarkson at Niagara
Dan:Niagara regressed last season after earning the AHA’s first ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That said, they could be a sneaky good team when healthy. THAT said, they’re not healthy to start the season. At least Clarkson is trying to piece their team back together after losing some of their team’s best players. I think this is close, but I’m picking Clarkson to win a tight one.
Chris:Niagara used to be invincible at Dwyer Arena, but Clarkson opened last season at Dwyer and promptly swept the Purple Eagles. I think the Golden Knights win there again. Clarkson wins.
St. Lawrence at RIT
Dan: RIT opens their much-heralded new rink in a watershed moment for all of Atlantic Hockey. The emotion of that moment will combine with the fact that SLU lost four of their five best scorers. Greg Carey, who made the Hobey Hat Trick last year, is gone, as is his brother Matt. Matt Weninger, a guy who played a ton in goal? Also gone. The emotion of the night coupled with the youth, inexperience, and lost pieces for the opponent combines for another watershed moment for the league – RIT wins.
Chris:The Tigers always seem to play well against St. Lawrence, and they’ll have the added incentive of their first official game at the Polisseni Center. I think that will be the difference. RIT wins.
AIC at Union
Dan:Last year, one of the worst teams in AHA the previous season went up to #1-ranked UMass-Lowell and beat the big dog in his own yard. If AIC can pull this off, it would come close to pulling off the emotion of that moment. But Union is the defending national champion, and I don’t see them losing this game. Union wins.
Chris: Like Dan, this one reminds me of Sacred Heart vs. Massachussets-Lowell last season, but I think the result will be different here. Union wins.
Saturday, October 11
St. Lawrence at Niagara
Dan: A night after losing to RIT, St. Lawrence has to go to Niagara in an ECAC travel partner swap. Tough draw with the travel against a hostile crowd and a team that’ll be hungry for its first win. Niagara wins.
Chris:I think SLU is going to struggle this season, and the Purple Eagles will get the victory here. Niagara wins.
Bentley at Quinnipiac
Dan:Former MAAC and AHA foes meet up for what seems like an annual meeting. Last year, Quinnipiac outshot Bentley, 50-13, but only won by one goal, 4-3. I think Bentley’s growing pains with a gelling defense and a new goalie will show against a Q’pac offense that scored 141 goals last season.Quinnipiac wins.
Chris: Bentley certainly has the tools to win this game, but the Bobcats have more depth and will get the win on home ice. Quinnipiac wins.
Clarkson at RIT
Dan: Clarkson is substantially better than St. Lawrence, at least on paper. That prevents RIT from opening the new barn with a sweep of the North Country ECAC compatriots.Clarkson wins.
Chris: Clarkson has done well against RIT in the past (5-0-2 since the Tigers moved to Division I) and I think that trend will continue. Clarkson wins.
Friday, October 10 and Sunday, October 12
Sacred Heart at Army
Dan: Both teams should be vastly improved from last season. I’m excited to see Army’s young guys, but I’m excited to see how Sacred Heart can pick up from last year and continue building. Edge to the team with more returning pieces, but I’m calling for Army to claw back and earn a split the old fashioned way.Sacred Heart wins on Saturday, Army on Sunday.
Chris: Despite where these teams are predicted to finish this season, I think this will be a highly entertaining series. They’ve had some wild games in the past and I think both contests will be decided late, with Sacred Heart winning on Friday and Army winning on Sunday.
Three things from Championship weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
Friday’s semifinals saw a total of 168 minutes of hockey with both games needing overtime to settle things.
The “early” semifinal between defending champion Canisius and regular season champ Mercyhurst went into double overtime before Golden Griffin defenseman Stephen Farrell’s shot from the point found the back of the net. The game took almost four hours to complete, starting at 4:05 p.m. and ending at 7:54.
The “late” (very late) semifinal between Robert Morris and Niagara didn’t get underway until 8:54 and ended exactly three hours later at 11:54 when Scott Jacklin of Robert Morris found himself alone at the far post with a deflected puck on his stick. He got enough of a shot off to win the game 14:56 into overtime, a few minutes before the stroke of midnight.
You had to wonder if fatigue wasn’t a factor in Saturday’s championship game, with each team allowing an uncharacteristic number of goals in the third period. Canisius scored three times in the third, and Robert Morris tallied a whopping five times in the final frame to come away with 7-4 win.
Canisius had allowed a total of five third-period goals in its previous 12 Atlantic Hockey playoff games dating back to last season.
“Wow, what a game,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “I think you saw from both teams what happens with the excitement of the NCAA tournament and the excitement of being the Atlantic Hockey champion.”
And, I suspect, the effects of playing four hours of hockey the day before.
“Once again, going into the third period we had a 2-1 lead and I wanted to lock it down,” said Robert Morris coach Schooley. “(I guess) that just meant outscore them.”
That third period on Saturday saw a total of eight goals scored including three sets of back-and-fourth goals by each team, scored less than a minute apart:
- Just a 1:16 into the period, Canisius’ Shane Conacher scored his sixth goal of the season to pull even with Robert Morris, 2-2. Fifteen seconds later, RMU regained the lead on a goal from Greg Gibson.
- After Robert Morris’ Matt Cope scored at 7:11 of the period to give the Colonials a 4-2 lead, Canisius forward Mitch McCrank pulled the Golden Griffins to within a goal at 10:27. But 39 seconds later, RMU’s David Friedmann scored to make it 5-3.
- Canisius again pulled to within a goal at 12:35, but again the Colonials answered, this time 29 seconds later when Gibson’s shot glanced off the glove of Canisius goaltender Tony Capiobianco and into the net.
Playoff MVP Cody Wydo would finish the scoring with his third goal of the game at 18:06.
“It was obviously a weird period of hockey,” said Canisius defenseman Chris Rumble. “Every time we got the edge and think we were about to make our comeback, they would turn around and do the exact same thing. Every time we thought we were up, we were right back down.”
Robert Morris’ reward for capturing its first Atlantic Hockey title is a first-round NCAA Tournament meeting with No. 1 seed Minnesota, in St. Paul no less.
Atlantic Hockey teams have won first-round matchups before: Air Force defeated Michigan in 2009, Rochester Institute beat Denver (and the next day New Hampshire) in 2010, and most famously, Holy Cross upset Minnesota in 2006.
Denver and Minnesota were the No. 1 ranked teams in the country (Michigan was ranked fourth), but all three AHA wins came on neutral ice. The Colonials will face the Gophers in their backyard: the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“(Minnesota) has a tremendous storied history,” said Schooley after Saturday’s win. “We’ve never played them. I imagine we’ll be playing against the whole state of Minnesota; the state of hockey.
“But we’re not going to worry about that now. We’re going to worry about celebrating a little bit.”
The other championship
Dan Rubin and I each predicted the results of 268 games involving Atlantic Hockey teams this season, and the title of picks champ went down to the wire, with me edging Dan by a mere seven games. The results:
- Chris: 162-83-23 (.647)
- Dan: 155-90-23 (.621)
Hopefully, we’ll square off again next season.