The Purple Eagles have won three straight games, but they have only four more games before the holiday break.
On the season:
Dan: 89-38-12 (.683)
Chris: 89-38-12 (.683)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Jan 3 and Saturday, Jan 4:
Air Force at American International
Dan: AIC lost nine in a row to go into their break, while Air Force hasn’t lost since November 29th. They’re 2-0-3 over their little stretch, and even without Jason Torf or Ben Carey, they should be fine for this weekend. Still, this comes with an uneasy feeling for their future. Air Force sweeps.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets have been idle since Dec. 14 and the Falcons are coming off a championship weekend at Dartmouth, where they defeated two ranked teams to win the Ledyard Bank Classic. Despite the reported loss of goaltender Jason Torf to injury, I’m going with the hot hand. Air Force sweeps.
Mercyhurst at Army
Dan: This is a doppelganger to the Air Force-AIC series. A league titan comes east to play a team struggled with the first half of the season. Army did go 2-2 into the break, including a shutout of Canisius, but Mercyhurst is too strong in comparison to the rest of the league. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: Army is another team that took the Holidays off, while Mercyhurst concluded its non-conference schedule at 2-8-1 after getting swept at Ohio State. But the Lakers still rule the roost the Altlantic Hockey (tied with Bentley but ahead in winning percentage), and I have to go with them here. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Niagara at Bentley
Dan: Bentley is one win away from tying their longest winning streak at five. Brett Gensler is one goal away from tying the Division I goals record after breaking the Division I points record earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Niagara is winless in their last six, allowing over three goals per game. Bentley sweeps.
Chris: If there are any doubters left about Bentley, they’ll have to come around if the Falcons sweep here. Which I think they will. Bentley sweeps.
Canisius at Holy Cross
Dan: Holy Cross had an emotional weekend last weekend but lost both games. Still, they played remarkable hockey against both Boston College and Air Force. Canisius has lost their last three, but two of those were to UMass-Lowell and Vermont, both of whom are ranked. Canisius wins on Friday. Holy Cross wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams were 0-2 last week and looking to rebound. I’m going with the Crusaders, who hung in there with Bentley and Yale. Holy Cross sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Connecticut
Dan: UConn has been wildly inconsistent, getting beat badly by Sacred Heart in the league game first round of their own holiday tournament in Hartford but holding a sweep over Niagara and a consolation game win over UMass-Amherst. RIT, meanwhile, hasn’t lost since November 22nd, and owns the fifth longest unbeaten streak in the nation (tied with Wisconsin). And I’m a big fan that destiny is setting in for an RIT-Bentley collision course next week. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is a big series for both teams, which come in tied for third with identical conference records (5-3-1). RIT is 3-4-1 at UConn since joining the AHA, including splits in their last three visits to the Freitas Ice Forum. Taking into account that the Huskies have been hot and cold in league play so far makes another split the safe pick. UConn wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.
Saturday, Jan. 4 and Sunday, Han. 5
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart
Dan: Robert Morris lost a couple of one-goal games in the Three Rivers Classic, meaning they’ve now lost 10 of their 12 L’s by one or two goals. Sacred Heart beat UConn but lost to Quinnipiac in a game where they were outshot 54-12. SHU didn’t get a shot on goal in the second period and were outshot, 35-3, over the second and third combined en route to a 5-0 loss. They won’t have that this weekend, but I’m still taking the Colonials. Robert Morris sweeps.
Chris:Both goalies (RMU’s Shafer and SHU’s Vazanno) got quite a workout last weekend making 91 and 78 saves respectively in holiday tournament play. Is it too early to say these are must-win games for the Colonials, who have just one win in their last nine games? I’m going with a split here. Sacred Heart wins Saturday; Robert Morris wins Sunday
The Colorado Gazette is reporting that Air Force goaltender Jason Torf and center Ben Carey will not play in this weekend’s series at American International.
“It’s not good,” Serratore told the Gazette concerning Torf’s condition, reported to be a groin injury. “Hopefully it will not be season ending. He’s our best player. He’s our backbone.”
On the season:
Dan: 79-34-12 (.680)
Chris: 79-34-12 (.680)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Dec. 20:
Providence at Army
Dan: This is one of those games where PC fans have to worry that their team doesn’t take Army too lightly. That said, I think the Friars will be just fine. Providence wins.
Chris: This the only one out of 14 games to be played over the next 10 days that will be held in an AHA rink. But that alone won’t be enough for the Black Knights to knock off the No. 5 Friars. Providence wins.
Friday, Dec. 27:
Penn State vs.Robert Morris (Three Rivers Classic)
Dan: Penn State won the first meeting of the year, 5-4, in a game featuring 93 shots. That said, they also barely beat Sacred Heart and were swept by Air Force. These two teams seem to produce instant classics, and I’m guessing this is the time for the Colonials to start righting the ship. If RMU loses, I’m vowing to quit my jinx and never pick them again. RMU wins.
Chris: RMU won this tournament last season, but I don’t see that happening this time. I’m picking the Nittany Lions in a close game. Penn State wins.
Robert Morris vs. Bowling Green/Boston College (Three Rivers Classic)
Dan: If RMU wins, then they’ll likely draw Boston College, who is playing BGSU in the “York Bowl” in the first round. If that happens, consider the Penn State game a Pyrrhic victory. Regardless who they play, I’m picking against The Sons of Schooley, but Holy Cross ruined any chance of catching the Eagles napping. Boston College beats RMU or Bowling Green beats RMU
Chris: I’m expecting this to be the consolation game, and I’m expecting the Colonials to play Bowling Green. But you never know. I’m picking Boston College to defeat RMU, or RMU to beat Bowling Green.
Holy Cross vs. Bentley (Frozen Fenway)
Dan: Both teams are planning huge alumni events for the game, and the atmosphere should be great for the first ever AHA game at Frozen Fenway. The Falcons are dressing in the Red Sox locker room; consider Branden Komm the Bentley Big Papi for his flair for dramatic, game-winning, heart-stopping saves this year. Holy Cross, though, hasn’t lost a season series in this rivalry since 2009 and held a 2-1 lead into the third before Bentley won in OT in their first meeting. Bentley wins.
Chris: Outdoor games are more difficult to pick, because weather conditions can dictate a style of play that may favor one team over another. But Bentley’s on such a roll right now that I’d pick them even if the game were played in a parking lot. Bentley wins.
Canisius vs. Massachussetts-Lowell (Catamount Cup)
Dan: On neutral ice, anything can happen. If the Griffs win, it’ll announce loudly that their title defense is just getting warmed up. But UML is 10-2 in their last 12. Mass-Lowell wins.
Chris: An upstart RIT squad beat two ranked teams to win this tournament two years ago, and there’s no reason why Canisius can’t do the same thing. But I think the 10th-ranked River Hawks won’t be taking the Golden Griffins lightly. Mass-Lowell wins.
Saturday, Dec 28 and Sunday, Dec. 29
Mercyhurst at Ohio State
Dan: Despite being in first, the Lakers are 2-6-1 in non-conference play. The Buckeyes are 8-4, including six straight against the league. Ohio State sweeps.
Chris: Ohio State has been good at home this season (7-3) and is 6-0 against AHA competition so far, but think the Lakers get a split here. Ohio State wins Saturday; Mercyhurst wins Sunday.
Sunday, Dec. 29
Sacred Heart at Connecticut (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I’m going to miss when UConn hosts a holiday tournament and an eastern pod teams plays a league game in the first round. UConn wins.
Chris:This tournament game, played at The XL Center in Hartford, counts as a league matchup. I’m going with the Huskies to win despite them giving up the home ice advantage. UConn will have to get used to playing in Hartford, where the Huskies will play all of their home Hockey East games next season. UConn wins.
Holy Cross at Yale
Dan: It’s a bummer that Holy Cross will have a physical, emotional game in the league on Saturday and the defending national champions on Sunday. Yale struggled into break, losing to Dartmouth and tying Harvard. But this will be a good progression back to play for the Elis after playing the Russian Red Stars on Friday. Yale wins.
Chris: The Crusaders have a quick turnaround, going from Fenway Park to the Whale at Yale the following day. I’m going with the No. 11 Bulldogs on home ice. Yale wins.
Air Force vs. Northeastern (Ledyard Bank Classic)
Dan: Stop Kevin Roy, and the rest becomes infinitely easier. Northeastern still has a 3.32 GAA. Air Force wins.
Chris: Another ranked foe stands in the way of an AHA team (The Huskies are No. 16 in the USCHO.com poll). But I’m sticking with the Falcons in this neutral-ice contest. Air Force wins.
Canisius at Vermont (Catamount Cup)
Dan: Vermont was on a roll until their last game, sweeping UMass and Maine before losing to NU. Mario Puskarich is turning into the freshman find of the year, especially since their other highly-coveted freshman, Brady Shaw, is in a funk. Vermont wins.
Chris: This “tournament” features a pre-determined lineup, so the Golden Griffins will play the host Catamounts no matter how they fare against Lowell the day before. I’m going with the home team. Vermont wins.
Monday, Dec. 30
Sacred Heart vs. UMass/Quinnipiac (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I don’t think it will matter, but I think Sacred Heart is better suited for a matchup with UMass. Quinnipiac’s system is designed to kill opposing offenses. UMass or Quinnipiac win.
Chris: I think Quinnipiac will defeat UMass in the first round, so the Pioneers will most likely face the Minutemen in the consolation game In either case, I think SHU finishes fourth. UMass or Quinnipiac wins.
UMass/Quinnipiac at Connecticut (UConn Holiday Classic)
Dan: I really hope this is UMass-UConn because that’s one of those great “other sports” rivalries that would translate great into hockey. The basketball rivalry is getting a shot in the arm thanks to the surge of the Minutemen. Why can’t hockey do the same? UMass wins. If it’s Quinnipiac, well then that’s just lame. Quinnipiac wins.
Chris: Sticking with my predictions, this would mean a Quinnipiac-UConn championship, and I’m going with the No. 8 Bobcats. Quinnipiac wins. If it’s a UMass-UConn matchup, UConn wins.
Air Force vs. Providence/Dartmouth (Ledyard Bank Classic)
Dan: There is no reason why Providence should lose to a Dartmouth team that apparently forgot how to play hockey this year and is 2-10 after going 15-12-5 last year. For Air Force’s sake, I don’t know what to hope for. Providence wins if they play the Friars. Air Force wins against the Big Green.
Chris: If my prediction holds up, the Falcons will play the Friars in the title game. I think Providence wins that matchup. In the event the Falcons are paired with the host Big Green, I like Air Force to win.
Three things (okay, four) from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
Oh the weather outside is frightful.
People in Rochester, New York went to a snowstorm at a baseball field and watched a hockey game break out. With about a foot and a half of snow falling in the upstate area, the RIT Tigers and Niagara Purple Eagles battled through a slopfest outside. The snow was so thick during the women’s game earlier that timeouts caused delays as players and work crews shoveled the ice off. The men’s game had more of the same, and pregame ceremonies were shortened to avoid the ice becoming too snow covered.
So snow covered was the game that skaters left wakes of snow piles as they skated through the rink. Skating with the puck wasn’t an option, and players were forced to lift the puck to make passes. Predictably, the game ended in a 2-2 tie, even after the teams adjusted to the conditions.
“We just wanted to get the puck in, the way it was snowing out there,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson after the game. “We wanted to get the puck deep and shoot anything at the net.”
Somewhere in Rochester this morning, children among the 5,000 fans in attendance at Frontier Field are shoveling off a frozen lake to play some shinny. While the game play was sloppy and tough to deal with, they’ll be happy to try and recreate the 16-degree frigid winter wonderland they saw last night. “I was worried about rain, sun, and warm temperatures, and we got January,” joked Wilson after the game. But he put it into perspective saying, “It was a great event for our players, our school, and the Rochester community. The weather definitely made for some tough play, but both teams adjusted well.”
The “Snow Game” will resonate in the standings.
The fact that the game ended in a tie is something that can’t be lost on the AHA faithful. Because of the conditions, goals and shots were at a premium; both teams had nine shots in the second period but scored three goals (two by RIT). But had this game been played inside, an RIT team that’s been undefeated in their previous five games might’ve had a different result against a Niagara team swept last weekend by UConn. Instead, the tie resulted in RIT getting one point instead of two. That cost them a chance to move into third place and a one-point lead over Connecticut and Air Force. With just one point, the Tigers are now tied with the two schools, two points back of Bentley for second and four back of Mercyhurst for first.
I’m not going to say that better weather or playing the game indoors would’ve resulted in a different final score, but if RIT or Niagara misses out on a first round bye or first round home series by one point, this game will be the one I point to and say, “That had the biggest impact later down the road.”
How the Falcons Stole BU Christmas
After a dizzying week of varying opinions about Bentley’s chances at Boston University on Saturday, the result finally boiled down to where it matters – on the ice. In that regard, the Falcons dominated; deemed an upset by most, they shocked the college hockey and sports world but didn’t shock themselves. They controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, had BU scouted perfectly, and forced the Terriers into their game style. For the better part of about 53 minutes, the Terriers looked predictable, slow, and, at times, disheartened or frustrated to the point where head coach David Quinn promised changes upcoming in his postgame press conference.
BU turned the light on for the last seven minutes of the third period in a last ditch comeback attempt, but at that point, they were already down 3-0. After scoring a goal to make it 3-1, BU pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. Danny O’Regan had a wide open look on the stick side that Bentley netminder Branden Komm stopped. It was a dastardly form of robbery, the back-breaking save that slammed whatever crack was open in the door. Bentley added an empty net strike, and Komm became the all-time winningest goalie in program history with victory #36.
Bentley was outshot, 43-37, but their defense stood strong in front of Komm. They went into the dirty areas, fought for pucks, and gave up their bodies. Senior Zach Marginsky took a Brendan Collier slapshot right off the leg, went down the tunnel to his locker room, and returned less than four minutes later to deliver two quality shifts down the stretch late in the third. And they found unsung heroes in players like Mike Berry and Kyle O’Brien, both of whom turned in solid efforts from the blue line.
Bentley is now 6-0-1 in their last seven, 7-1-1 in their last nine. In the eight games in which they haven’t lost, their GAA is 1.71. They’re over .500 for the first time since they were 11-10-1 last year. They haven’t been multiple games over .500 since they were 9-7-3 on January 8, 2010. As they’ve proven they can rise to the occasion as the stakes get higher, they’ll have another chance with even higher stakes. Their next game is December 28th when they “host” Holy Cross at Fenway Park.
The 12 Pains of Christmas
AIC traveled to Orono, Maine this weekend for a weekend set with Hockey East’s surprise squad of the year, the Maine Black Bears. And for two nights, the Yellow Jackets again served as a tune-up for a more powerful team, getting outscored 12-2 over the weekend and receiving losses 11 and 12 on the year. It was a painful reminder of the long haul of a season after they stole the hearts and minds of the media and fans with their 3-0 start to conference play.
In our AIC season preview capsule, I prognosticated that AIC would tumble back to the bottom of the standings if they couldn’t replace what was arguably the program’s best senior class. The freshmen coming in would experience growing pains, ultimately leading to a season with more losses. And much of it hinged on the defense, which lost some of the league’s most underrated players in Chris Markiewicz and Jeff Ceccacci. There was also the task of replacing Ben Meisner, the all-everything AHA goalie capable of winning a game all on his own.
Opponents are putting the puck on the AIC net to the tune of 41.3 shots per game. In 15 games, all three goalies faced a combined total of 620 shots. Combining that fact with the transition to a new goaltending regime, the Yellow Jackets are giving up over five goals per game, dead last in the NCAA. Since beating Holy Cross, 1-0, back on November 15th, they’re 0-9. Across those nine losses, they’ve given up less than four goals only once.
Despite this, some positives. AIC is 3-0 when leading after two periods, and they’re 2-3 in one-goal games (2-2 in the AHA). They’re also 2-3 when scoring first. It proves that, when they can protect the goalie and/or get a game-changing performance in back, they’re capable of stealing wins. When the offense is clicking, they’re capable of winning. But it won’t get any easier after their break for the holidays. They’ll return to action on January 3rd and 4th when they play Air Force.
On the season:
Dan: 76-34-10 (.675)
Chris: 77-33-10 (.683)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Dec. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 14 :
American International at Maine
Dan: AIC is in a bad spot, and they desperately need the holidays. Alfond is a bad place to play, and Maine is overachieving big this year. Maine sweeps.
Chris: The Yellow Jackets are in a tailspin right now that I don’t think Alfond Arena is going to be the place they pull out of it. Maine sweeps.
Saturday, Dec. 14:
Niagara vs. Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: Outdoor game. Rabid fan base. Streaking hot RIT. Niagara coming off a sweep loss by UConn, which means they’ll be super hungry. This has the trappings to be an instant classic. RIT wins.
Chris: The Tigers have only beaten the Purple Eagles once since moving to Division I (1-10-6), but that was in a big game – the 2012 AHA semifinals. This is another big game, being played outdoors in a AAA baseball stadium as part of Rochester’s week long Frozen Frontier. RIT wins.
Robert Morris at Mercyhurst
Dan: I keep picking RMU, and they’ve lost so many one-goal and two-goal games that eventually I’m starting to feel like a jinx. I love the program, I like Derek Schooley, and I think there’s a heckuva lot more to them than meets the eye with their record. Too bad they draw Mercyhurst this week. All roads are leading to Erie right now. Mercyhurst wins.
Chris: This is a huge game for the Colonials, who slipped into the AHA basement last weekend. But the Lakers are really rolling right now. Mercyhurst wins.
Bentley at Boston University
Dan: The Falcons are the hottest team in the AHA right now. BU has nine NHL draft picks, but they’ve struggled in David Quinn’s new system. People on Comm Ave. haven’t turned on him yet, but I feel there’s an underlying worry among some of the fan base heading into this game. Branden Komm’s next win makes him the all-time program leader, and Alex Grieve and Brett Gensler are clicking and clicking hard. Looking at the factors, I’m calling myself crazy and going for it. Bentley wins.
Chris: I really, really want to pick Bentley in this game, and the Falcons may be the better team right now, but my gut says the Terriers win this one on home ice. Boston University wins.
Three (OK, four, but they’re short) Things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
On Friday, Canisius led host Army 3-2 after two periods before blowing the game open with five goals in the third to win, 8-2. The Griffs chased Black Knight goaltender Rob Tadazak with their sixth goal, the first career tally for rookie Shane Conacher (yes, relation).
It’s always interesting to see how a team responds to a blowout loss. Would Army coach Brian Riley make wholesale changes? How would the Black Knights react, especially if they fell behind early?
Riley elected to go back to Tadazak, and he and sophomore Shane Hearn led the Black Knights to a rebound 2-0 win on Saturday.
Hearn got Army a lead it wouldn’t surrender midway through the second period, and added an insurance goal with 58 seconds left to seal the deal. Tadazak stopped all 15 shots he faced for the shutout. Those 15 shots were a season low for the Golden Griffins. Army surrendered 35 to Canisius the night before.
“I am sure there are some people that would not come back to Tadazak tonight,” Riley said after the game. “But he is a competitor, and he gave us a chance to win tonight and I was happy to see him bounce back the way he did.”
Usually it’s near the end of a season that you see players achieve career records or milestones, but a pair of achievements happened this past weekend:
- Canisius senior Kyle Gibbons scored his 49th and 50th career goals on Saturday, becoming the third player in program history to get to the half-century mark. He’s now tied with Jason Weeks (50 goals from 2006 to 2010) and trails only Cory Conacher (62 goals from 2007 to 2011).
- Bentley’s Brett Gensler moved into the top position for career points in Bentley’s Division I era with three assists in Friday’s 4-1 win over Robert Morris, moving past Dain Prewitt (’09). Gensler added a goal in Saturday’s 7-2 win and now is at 129 points and counting. The all-time record for career points at Bentley is still held by coach Ryan Soderquist, who recorded 173 back in the Falcons’ Division II days.
A heap of helpers
Bentley defenseman Steve Weinstein, who set the school career mark for points by a defenseman on Nov. 30, added to his total with a goal and four assists last weekend. The junior already has 19 assists this season. He’s tied for second nationally, trailing only St. Lawrence’s Greg Carey (23 assists).
Weinstein has had at least one assist in his last eight contests, averaging two a game over that span. His goal on Saturday was his first of the season.
As we approach Holiday break, who’s the hottest team in Atlantic Hockey?
Canisius was riding a four-game winning streak before being shut out at Army on Saturday. Rochester Institute of Technology has won five in a row, the Tigers’ longest in two years. Mercyhurst has won six of its last seven contests, scoring 34 goals over that stretch.
But I’m going with Bentley. The Falcons are undefeated in their last six contests and have played arguably a tougher schedule over that stretch.
Bentley faces a tough challenge on Saturday, traveling to Boston University for its final game before Christmas.
On the season:
Dan: 69-31-8 (.676)
Chris: 70-30-8 (.685)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday, Dec. 7:
Canisius at Army
Dan: Army’s defense really struggled through the last month or so. In going 2-8 in November, they gave up 47 goals. The two wins they picked up were against Sacred Heart and AIC. While both of those teams are improved, there’s still a Grand Canyon-like chasm between the top and the bottom. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: These are my favorite kinds of weekends in Atlantic Hockey, with all 12 teams squaring off in six two-game series. First up is Army, one of those teams that will beat you unless you come to play. The odds are you’re not going to outwork the Black Knights, but if you can come close, teams with depth like Canisius can prevail. Canisius sweeps.
Robert Morris at Bentley
Dan:No AHA team is hotter right now than the Bentley Falcons. They’re starting to pick up steam, and with several players chasing down program history, there’s a lot at stake. They’re also 4-4-2 lifetime against the former CHA squad. But RMU needs wins badly or risk having to make up some serious ground against their western foes later in the year. I’m calling it a split. Bentley wins on Friday. RMU wins on Saturday.
Chris: Dan knows more about Bentley than I do, but I think he’s hedging his bets here. I’m going all-in. Bentley sweeps.
Air Force at Holy Cross
Dan: My hockey expert future wife said it best when she said, “Holy Cross beat BC? Nobody will take them lightly ever again.” Cue up Air Force, stinging from their first conference weekend loss. And really, how can we not take Air Force at least on Pearl Harbor Day? Air Force sweeps.
Chris: As Air Force coach Frank Serratore says, it usually comes down to goaltending and special teams. Both teams have experienced guys in the pipes that can win a game on their own. But I’m going with Torf over Ginn this weekend. Air Force sweeps.
Sacred Heart at Mercyhurst
Dan: I hope Rick Gotkin plays Bachman-Turner Overdrive the entire way to Connecticut because this weekend has to be about “Takin’ Care of Business” for the Lakers. But I say that with a caveat – would anyone be shocked if Sacred Heart took a point? Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: I usually pick before Dan, so this is fun to follow him this week. The Lakers have won four in a row against the Pioneers and I think it’s going to be the” Same Old Song” and Four Tops, errr, four points for the Lakers. Mercyhrust sweeps.
American International at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: AIC is positively reeling. They’ve lost five in a row, including a game against Army and Tuesday night’s 6-1 beating by UMass-Lowell. In addition, bad defense is rearing its ugly head. The losing streak in shots allowed – outshot 38-18 (UConn); outshot 40-24 (Army); outshot 50-29 (Mercyhurst); outshot 53-26 (Mercyhurst); outshot 44-21 (UML). RIT sweeps.
Chris: Right now you have two teams moving in the opposite direction, with the Tigers on a three-game winning streak and the Yellow Jackets coming in in a downward spiral. But they’ve beaten Holy Cross and Bentley this year, and if one of their goalies find his groove, fortunes can reverse quickly. Still, I think the Tigers have something to prove at home, where they are 0-1 in league play this season. RIT sweeps.
Niagara at Connecticut
Dan: Besides the RMU-Bentley series, this presents the juiciest opportunity for a split. Connecticut is 1-3-1 since November 12th, but they’ve lost to a white-hot Bentley team, a Boston University team getting back their mojo, and Canisius. I think they can take a win in this series, at home, against a Niagara team ranked 53rd nationally in goals allowed. UConn wins on Friday. Niagara on Saturday.
Chris: I think both teams are better than their record indicates. This one’s a tossup for me, but I’m going with the Purple Eagles to pick up their first road wins of the season in a pair of close games. Niagara sweeps.
Three things from a wild and ever-changing big story weekend for the Atlantic Hockey Association.
In its 10-plus season existence, no AHA program had ever beaten the Boston College Eagles. Earlier this year, Army went to Conte Forum and allowed 11 goals. But resident giant killer Holy Cross, the team that became the first AHA program to win an NCAA Tournament game back in 2006, jumped out to a 5-1 second period lead over the 7th-ranked Eagles, then held off a furious third period rally to win, 5-4.
It was a seminal breakout moment for the Crusaders, who were outscored, 37-24, by opponents entering Friday night. But they controlled the middle of the ice and scored four of their five goals on a rush. They also received 34 saves from goalie Matt Ginn, who head coach Paul Pearl credited with a great performance after the game. “He was able to square up to the puck and keep composed in those scrambling situations,” said Pearl after the game.
For Atlantic Hockey, this was the biggest, most resounding win since Sacred Heart upended UMass-Lowell to start the year. The league is struggling through one of its worst non-conference showings ever, and wins against quality opponents are few and far between. But they’re 3-10 against Hockey East and 8-43-5 against every other league. Neither number is great. But considering five Hockey East teams occupy spots in the national poll and the AHA has wins against two of them (the 7th and 8th ranked teams in the nation as of press time)? That’s a silver lining if there ever was one.
Battle of Falcons Goes to the East
In a weekend where the western division reminded the east who’s boss, a bright spot came from Bentley, who traveled west to Colorado to take on their Falcon counterparts at Air Force. For the second time in three years, Bentley took three points, having now not lost a game at the academy since November, 2009. In the first game, Bentley rallied from down 1-0 and 2-1 to force two ties and eventually take the lead. Brett Switzer scored the game-tying goal in the second period after Jason Torf saved Brett Gensler’s initial shot, then tacked on the game-winner with about four minutes left in regulation. Justin Breton added an empty net strike to give Bentley the win.
Playing with house money, Bentley rallied again from down a goal in the first period to take a 2-1 lead following goals by Alex Grieve and Gensler. But Frank Serratore made the bold decision to pull his goalie with two minutes left, and Chad Demers scored with just about 30 seconds left to salvage a point.
Bentley is now undefeated in its last four games and has lost only once in its last six – an 8-7 loss to AIC considered by both teams to be a fluke of a game. The Falcons are now tied with Air Force for second in the league, one point back of Mercyhurst. They also now have wins in hand as the east continues to struggle with the western scheduling pod. They’ll entertain Robert Morris at home next weekend.
West Dominates East….Again
As mentioned in my column last week, the western scheduling pod usually dominates the east. And once again, that held true despite Bentley’s weekend against Air Force. The west went otherwise undefeated en route to a 5-1-2 weekend, taking four points with RIT sweeping at Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst sweeping at AIC and taking three points with Canisius’ win and tie over UConn.
Entering the weekend, there was a total logjam thanks to the evenly played intradivisional rivalries. As the teams play out across divisional boundaries, the shift and separation will begin in the standings. After starting out 3-0 in league play, AIC has lost four straight, falling from first to seventh. In contrast, Mercyhurst is now 5-1 and threatening the same type of separation Niagara had a year ago.
The east-west matchups continue next week. Key games will include 11th-place Robert Morris (who split their only series with an eastern school when they hosted Holy Cross) at 2nd-place Bentley (1-3-3 against RMU as AHA members); Air Force (the other team tied for second) at Holy Cross (one of four teams tied for 7th); and Niagara at Connecticut in games between two sixth-place teams.
On the season:
Dan: 64-29-6 (.677)
Chris: 65-28-6 (.687)
This Week’s Picks
Friday, Nov. 29 and Saturday, Nov. 30:
Bentley at Air Force
Dan: There’s one-sided rivalries, and then there’s this. Air Force leads the all-time series 22-7-5, but Bentley took three points two years ago when they last visited. If Bentley wants to make the jump to the top of the league, they’ll have to take at least one game in Colorado. Their compete level has been pretty high against good teams this year. Bentley wins on Friday. Air Force wins on Saturday.
Chris: Ah, the annual battle of the Falcons. Both teams are playing pretty good hockey right now, so the faithful in Colorado Springs should see a pair of great games. Each team took three points in the others’ buildings over the past two seasons, but I like the blue and grey Falcons to sweep over the blue and gold variety. Air Force sweeps.
Mercyhurst at American International
Dan: AIC got massacred by UConn, then struggled with Army. After buying low, it might be time to sell high on Yellow Jacket stock. They’re getting a brutal matchup this week with Mercyhurst, but at least it’s at home. If they steal a point, I wouldn’t write them off quite yet. That said, the Lakers just split with RPI and beat Air Force and Niagara as part of their recent run. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: I hope I wasn’t think kiss of death for the Yellow Jackets. Since my column on AIC, which was written after the ‘Jackets started conference play 3-0 for the first time ever, they’ve lost two in a row. I don’t think it gets any easier against the Lakers. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Sacred Heart
Dan: Sacred Heart showed a lot of guts in their sweep of Army, but Army in last place is very different from RIT in last place. RIT is too good to be in 12th place; they know it, and I have a feeling they’re going to want to prove it. RIT sweeps.
Chris: The Tigers are 5-2-1 in Milford/Bridgeport since joining Atlantic Hockey, including outscoring the Pioneers 13-0 in their last appearances in Southern Connecticut. I think these games will be much closer, but RIT should pull them out. RIT sweeps.
Connecticut at Canisius
Dan: Canisius is just good enough for this to be a series where people can start taking UConn seriously with a quality win. UConn wins on Friday; Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: If I wasn’t going to be covering the RIT/SHU series, these are the games I’d most like to see. I think the teams will split a pair of evenly played games. Canisius wins on Friday; Connecticut wins Saturday.
Friday, Nov. 29:
Holy Cross at Boston College
Dan: BC outscored competition 33-10 in going 7-0-1 between defeats prior to losing to Maine last Saturday. That’s bad news for Holy Cross. Boston College wins.
Chris: The Crusaders are 0-3 against Hockey East competition so far, and are playing a BC team that’s coming off a stinging loss at Maine last Saturday. I think the Eagles will put things back in order with a convincing win. Boston College wins.
Tuesday, Dec. 3
American International at Massachusetts- Lowell
Dan: UMass-Lowell already found out the hard way that championships aren’t won by preseason rankings. AIC draws them at a tough time; maybe if this were a different time of year, AIC would have a good shot at winning. But right now? UMass-Lowell wins.
Chris: The River Hawks have been surprised by an AHA already this season: Sacred Heart took them down in their season opener. But this is a different UML team, coming in on a five-game winning streak including a sweep of Notre Dame last weekend. I don’t see them slipping here. Mass-Lowell wins.
Three things from Atlantic Hockey play in the week at was:
Atlantic Hockey went 3-4-1 in non-conference games this past week, which doesn’t sound all that impressive at first blush. But in light of the league’s 6-47-4 record coming into the week, it’s pretty darn good. Mercyhurst and Rochester Institute of Technology earned splits with Rensselaer and St. Lawrence, respectively, while Air Force went 1-1-1 in games with Colorado College (win) and Denver (tie and loss).
It helped that five of the nine games were played in AHA rinks, a welcome change of pace. Only 12 of the league’s previous 57 OOC games were played on home ice.
Air Force owns three of the league’s non-conference wins, one more than the Falcons had last year. They’ll finish their OOC schedule Dec. 29-30 at Dartmouth in the Ledyard Bank Classic tournament, taking on Northeastern in the first round and either Providence or the host Big Green.
Ups and downs
The roller coaster ride continues for American International. The last unbeaten team in conference play is undefeated no more, falling to Connecticut 8-1 on Saturday.
It was a big win for the Huskies, whom had scored a lone goal in losses to Bentley (3-0) and Boston University (4-1) the weekend before.
Add this one to the wild games AIC has played in already this season, but the Yellow Jackets haven’t cornered the market on entertainment. Sacred Heart erased deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 to defeat Army 6-5 on Friday. Drew George got the game-winner with 2:12 to play.
After the dust settled around the league, we’re left with a seven-way tie for third place, and just six points separating the top and bottom teams in the conference. Other than the Big 10, which hasn’t started conference play yet, every other league has at least an 11-point distribution from first to last. It’s early but expect parity.
It’s certainly not Boston or Minneapolis, but Rochester, N.Y. has produced it fair share of college hockey players. Former Boston College standouts Brian (and Stephen) Gionta and Marty Reasoner hail from Rochester, as do current stars Mark Zengerle (Wisconsin) and Cole Bardeau (Cornell).
Plenty of local talent was on display this past weekend when RIT hosted St. Lawrence. The visiting Saints featured a pair of freshmen from Rha-Cha-Cha: Woody Hudson and Trevor Hills, the son of RIT associate head coach Brian Hills.
Hailing from RochVegas on the RIT side were a trio of players: sophomore Dan Schuler and rookies Garrett McMullen and Mike Rotolo, who both saw their first collegiate action. Rotolo got his first start and earned his first win in net on Saturday.
Where are the turkey tourneys?
It’s been seven years since I moved from national Division III columnist to covering Atlantic Hockey, but at Thanksgiving time I’m stilling thinking about tournaments, a tradition at the small school level. There are no less than seven on tap for the holiday weekend in men’s Division III hockey, and just one, Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament, scheduled for D-I.
You can’t have enough in-season tournaments, in my opinion. There will be eight D-I Tourneys around New Year’s but the more the merrier. Connecticut is the only Atlantic Hockey team that hosts a tournament (the UConn Holiday Classic, also featuring Massachusetts, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart) and that tradition will leave with the Huskies at the end of the season. Here’s hoping another AHA school or two will get into the game.
Correction: Thanks to the many readers for pointing out my omission of the Three Rivers Classic Tournament hosted by Robert Morris at CONSOL Energy Center. Last year’s inaugural tournament was a big success, and this year’s version on Dec. 27 and 28 features the host Colonials along with Penn State, Bowling Green and Boston College.