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Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – November 4, 2013

Easing into league play this weekend within the AHA made sure we didn’t go home disappointed.  Here’s three reasons why, with a little help from my favorite Irish rockers, U2:

Mercyhurst: “Even Better Than the Real Thing”

Let’s run down how the Mercyhurst season has gone to date.  First, it started with the Lakers entering the season as the prohibitive league favorite, returning almost all the key ingredients from a squad that baked up a spot in the league title game.  Their reputation took a hit through the most brutal non-conference stretch of games we’d seen in a while that saw them start 1-5-1.  While there was a thought that Mercyhurst would eventually gel, there was this lingering tension that the Lakers weren’t, maybe, who we thought they were.

Then they smoked Air Force.

Leading 3-1 late in the first, Mercyhurst allowed the Falcons to score late, leading by one after twenty minutes. Then they scored five unanswered goals to crush the visiting service academy, 8-2.  It was a loud statement from a team that needed one, highlighted by Matthew Zay’s 1-2-3 night.  Daniel O’Donoghue and Ryan Misiak each scored twice, Kyle Dutra added two assists, and Randy Cure and Nick Jones both finished with an absurd +4 on the defensive end.  And Jack Riley collected his first collegiate point, which drew the following tweet from his dad (and Army head coach) Brian Riley:

Love the hashtag of #Betteragainstthemthanus, making the tongue-in-cheek reference to the conflicted feelings of a proud father against a coach trying to do his job.

Entering the weekend, a lot of around the AHA scene were wondering  what Air Force’s first league trip east would yield. They shut out RIT 2-0 on Friday  then headed down to Erie for the Saturday game.  A four-point weekend would give Air Force the proverbial solid start out of the blocks in the race for the top seed come playoff time (see also: Niagara, 2012-13).  Mercyhurst, in need of a good showing, took the opportunity take the league’s preeminent power and rudely usher them off center stage by announcing their own arrival.  They got better than that – the Lakers produced a large thunderclap that’s put the rest of the league on notice.

Robert Morris-Penn State’s budding rivalry: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss me (?), Kill Me”

When people talk about rivalries in college hockey, it inevitably begins with games between Boston College and Boston University, Harvard and Cornell, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Maine and New Hampshire.  While Robert Morris and Penn State surely cannot counter with that type of history, the Keystone State opponents are quickly becoming heated adversaries.  An annual rite of passage is forming where the team’s alternate who plays at home with a second game as the opener to the Three Rivers Classic that started last year in Pittsburgh.

Last year, Robert Morris swept the Nittany Lions in their first year in Division I college hockey.  The former new kid on the block as the most recent school to elevate before Penn State, the Colonials won 3-2 in Happy (Hockey) Valley last year despite being outshot 40-29.  That game featured 16 penalties for 32 minutes.  When they met in the Three Rivers Classic, RMU pasted Penn State, 6-0, in a game featuring 13 penalties for 37 minutes.  The first game had a couple of penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct with some embellishment and boarding thrown in for good measure.  Playing at the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were a couple of hitting after the whistle penalties and a game misconduct to Penn State’s David Glen for contact to the head.

Fast forward (or rewind) to this weekend.  Penn State picked up its first win over RMU and second win of the year with three second period goals.  Robert Morris, who led 1-0 after one, scored to make it a 3-2 game before the end of the second, then tied the game on a third period penalty shot.  Penn State would pull away, though, with two power play goals.  Ever the competitive squad, the Colonials refused to go quietly into the night, scoring with less than a minute on an extra attacker goal.  Cody Wydo scored all four goals, a silver lining in a loss that featured another 15 penalties for 38 minutes and a cross-checking misconduct.

While it clearly doesn’t have the history, game between Penn State and Robert Morris are fast becoming intense affairs.  And fans can anticipate more of the same when they meet again at the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center after Christmas.

Army: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Army entered the season knowing they’d have some struggles up front on a team featuring only one senior.  The coaching staff made it clear that they had supreme confidence in Rob Tadazak’s ability as a goalie to keep them in games as they began the jelling process with only two games in October.  But even with Tadazak stopping 90% of pucks this year, the Black Knights are 0-4-0 after getting swept by UConn and Bentley this weekend.

But if there’s a positive in a weekend where they were outscored 9-4, it’s that Army was never really truly put away by any of the teams.  UConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Black Knights, but they never pulled away.  Army kept the score closer by cutting leads to 2-1 and 3-2 before giving up a final strike.  And against Bentley, they went down 3-0 but were able to score 30 seconds after Max French put Army at rock bottom.

Say what you want about an 0-4-0 start, but Army is better than the record indicates.  They just haven’t been able to find wins.  They get back at it on Friday when they face a pair of Bay State foes, hosting Holy Cross on Friday and heading to Boston College for a Saturday tilt.

Atlantic Hockey Picks Nov. 1-3

Last Week:
Dan: 6-6-3
Chris: 9-3-3

On the season:
Dan: 27-16-5 (.615)
Chris: 31-12-5 (.698)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2:
Canisius at Miami
Dan: Canisius proved they have the capability to upset a team when they took out Denver last week.  The talent is there, and this is a trap weekend for Miami.  If Miami overlooks Canisius, one of these games is going back to Buffalo.  That would be the gutsy pick, and honestly, I’m not sure I want to take it.  The smart pick is Miami, regardless of how close this will be.  Miami sweeps
Chris: Canisius had a big non-conference last weekend and No. 6 Miami has to be careful not to take the Golden Griffins for granted after two tough weekends with North Dakota and Providence to open the season. In four previous meeting the RedHawks have outscored Canisius 23-3. These games will be closer, but I think Miami comes through. Miami sweeps.

Friday, Nov. 1st and Sunday, Nov. 3:
American International at Michigan State
Dan: AIC got pummeled when they played Providence, but they switched up goalies and picked up a conference win against Sacred Heart.  Even if Ty Reichenbach plays over Ryan Kerpan, I think MSU is looking at this with a sense of urgency to reestablish what they hope they can be.  Michigan State sweeps.
Chris: This series takes a break on Saturday thanks to the Michigan-Michigan State football game. These are must-games for the Spartans, who are 1-3. Their first five games of the season are all against teams from Massachusetts, and  I think they’ll even their record here. Michigan State sweeps.

 

Friday, Nov. 1:
Sacred Heart at Holy Cross
Dan: This is one of those weird games where it’s going to be hard to predict.  Holy Cross hasn’t won a game, but everyone they’ve played is nationally ranked.  Of course Sacred Heart is 2-3, but they a) got beaten handily by RPI and b) just lost to AIC.  I’ll leave it up to my trusty Magic 8 Ball.  Holy Cross wins.
Chris: I wouldn’t have thought that the Pioneers (2-3) would have two more wins than the Crusaders (0-5) at this point. If the Crusaders aren’t motivated for this one, they’ll be in trouble. I like them to get their first victory of the season. Holy Cross wins.

Air Force at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: This is going to be one of my fun highlighted games of the week.  Air Force and RIT is a rivalry that I usually circle on the calendar just because of the history when these two teams both ranked at the top of the league.  RIT will be up for this, but Air Force is clicking early.  Later this year, I’ll have RIT splitting in Colorado, but this is a game Air Force wins.
Chris: These teams always play each other close, and the home team wins the majority of the time, especially the Falcons. That’s the pressure on RIT – the other two meeting between these squads will be in Colorado Springs, where the Tigers have won just once in conference play. But the Falcons are playing great hockey already. I wish I could pick a tie, but I’ll go with the home team. RIT wins.

Bentley at Merrimack
Dan: The Bentley offense had its best showing since the win over UNO when they threw the kitchen sink at Harvard.  The problem?  They ran into a goalie that they just couldn’t beat and got shut out.  The Falcons haven’t started 1-6 since 2001-2002, but with Army on Saturday, this game is in a really tough spot.  It’ll be close because Bentley’s defense is vastly improved, but Merrimack wins.
Chris: Another tough non-conference test for Bentley. Despite being just 30 miles apart, this is the first meeting of the teams in their respective Division I eras. After putting up six goals in their season opening win over Nebraska-Omaha, the Falcons have scored just seven times since over a five game stretch. Merrimack is a good defensive team, and that gives the Warriors the edge. Merrimack wins. 

Army at Connecticut
Dan: Even though Matt Grogan was absolutely fantastic in the comeback tie against Union, my attention is on the UConn offense against Army goalie Rob Tadazak.  He’s very quietly holding his own among some elite company in the AHA.  I think Tadazak has the potential to keep this one very close, so don’t sleep on the Black Knights.  UConn wins, though.
Chris: Army has played just two games so far, and struggled to score goals as expected. Huskies goalie Matt Grogan was sensational last weekend, making 47 saves in a 2-2 tie with Union. I think he’ll shut down the Black Knights. UConn wins. 

Penn State at Robert Morris
Dan: This one will get nasty.  Penn State is quickly gaining a reputation of a team that plays physical-to-the-point-it’s-on-the-edge.  Robert Morris has a compete level that’s always through the roof.  Sparks are gonna fly.  Robert Morris wins.
Chris: This is shaping up to be a nice rivalry between Keystone State programs. Robert Morris is tough at home, but if Penn State can learn to stay out of the box, I think they’ll win this game. So assuming less penalties, Penn State wins. 

 

Saturday, Nov. 2:
Bentley at Army
Dan: Brian Riley and Ryan Soderquist joke every time they play each other that they’re suited for each other’s home rink.  Army’s disciplined, physical style is good for the small Bentley ice, and Bentley’s fast, athletic style is good for the large Tate Rink ice.  This is in Army, so I’m taking Bentley to get off the schneid.  Bentley wins.
Chris: Army is a usually a better team at home, but I like Bentley to get its first league points of the season. Bentley wins.

Air Force at Mercyhurst
Dan: Mercyhurst’s schedule is designed for this game.  They had a rough start with brutal opponents, and they did so with the intent of being battle-hardened for the league slate.  They’re the preseason favorite to unseat Niagara/Air Force at the top.  If they want to head towards that company, they better win this game.  There’s more to prove for them than Air Force.  Mercyhurst wins.
Chris: I think this is the game of the weekend in Atlantic Hockey. Both teams are expected to finish at or near the top of the standings. It’s a bigger game for Mercyhurst for the same reason RIT needs to take points against the Falcons on Friday – the other two games between the Lakers and Falcons are at Air Force. Mercyhurst has Friday off and Air Force does not. That and home ice give the Lakers a slight edge. Mercyhurst wins. 

Sacred Heart at Connecticut
Dan: UConn should start clicking soon, and as they warm up, teams will start catching up to the faster yet weird start to the season.  Things will even out by the time Christmas hits.  I love Sacred Heart, I really do.  But as teams get settled into their seasons, they’re going to find that they’re not quite there.  They’ll beat teams in their division, but that’ll come later in the year.  Right now, though, there’s too much talent in Storrs to keep up.  UConn wins.
Chris: In a battle of Nutmeg State teams, I like a deeper Huskies squad on home ice. UConn wins. 

Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – October 28, 2013

Three (O.K. four) things from Atlantic Hockey action this past weekend:

Canisius delivers a solitary blow

Atlantic Hockey continued to struggle in non-conference games. The league went 1-8-1 out of conference to bring its record to date to a lowly 6-33-4.

The single victory was a dramatic one, however, as Canisius knocked off No. 16 Dever 4-1 at Magness Arena. In the first ever meeting between the schools, the Golden Griffins scored power play, shorthanded and even strength goals to open a 3-0 and never looked back.

“We got great goaltending and had goals from our power-play unit, penalty kill, empty net and 5-on-5,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. We were very hard to play against tonight, which is the recipe for us to win.”

It was the first time in school history that Canisus had defeated a ranked non-conference team.

There were few bright spots elsewhere. Mercyhurst and Rochester Institute of Technology managed comeback ties at Alaska and Penn State, respectively. The night before, Mercyhurst lost a 4-1 lead to the Nanooks and fell 5-4, surrendering the clinching goal with a minute and a half to play.

History repeated itself for Bentley, which fell 3-0 to Harvard. Just like the game played almost a year ago to the day (10/27/12) , the Falcons had a large Bentley fan contingent make the short trip to Bright Hockey Center to see their team shut out. Last year it was a 5-0 loss.

How they stack up

Here’s a summary of non-conference records so far:
Air Force: 2-2, 5 games left
Niagara: 0-3, 4 games left
American International: 0-1, 6 games left
Sacred Heart: 1-2, 4 games left (including a NC game with Connecticut)
Robert Morris 0-4, 3 games left
Army: 0-2, 2 games left
Bentley: 1-5, 1 game left
Canisius: 1-0, 6 games left
Connecticut: 0-2-1, 4 games left (including a NC game with Sacred Heart)
Holy Cross: 0-5, 2 games left
Mercyhurst: 1-5-1, 4 games left
Rochester Institute of Technology: 0-3-2, 2 games left

In case you’re wondering why the number of non-league games played isn’t the same for all teams, games in Alaska and some tournaments, like the Ice Breaker, are exempted from the 34-game limit. Mercyhurst plays in four extra games this season, so the Lakers have 11 non-conference games. The typical number of OOC games for an AHA team is seven since each plays 27 conference games. Army is playing only 31 NCAA games this season.

 

Frontrunners

It’s very early in the season, but Air Force has already set the tone with home victories over defending champion Canisius (3-2) and defending regular-season champs Niagara (7-4) this past weekend.

On Friday against the Golden Griffins, the Falcons erased a two-goal deficit with three tallies of their own in a 2: 28 span midway through the second period.

Sunday was a wild affair that saw Air Force and Niagara combine for six first period goals. The 7-4 final featured power play, shorthanded, extra attacker and empty net goals.

“We have not been a very dominant team at home the last couple years, but this group wants to change that,” said coach Frank Serratore.” We are off to a good start with four straight wins at home.”

The Falcons lost practice time due to the government shutdown and struggled their first weekend, but have won four in a row since. They’ll plow through the rest of their first games with fellow Western Pod schools over the next two weekends, traveling to RIT and Mercyhurst this weekend and hosting Robert Morris on Nov. 16.

 

When is a win not a win?

When it comes in a shootout. RIT and Penn State skated to a 3-3 tie at sold out (6,221) Peluga Arena Friday night, and under Big Ten rules a shootout ensued.

In non-conference games the shootout is for bragging rights only. Points are on the line in Big Ten league contests, but the NCAA doesn’t recognize the shootout as a way to settle things, so games using it are considered ties.

It was the first shootout RIT has been involved in a shootout in the 51 year history of the program.

“It was fun,” said coach Wayne Wilson. “We talked about the possibility and picked some guys that had been doing well in practice.”

Rookie defenseman Alex Perron-Fontaine and senior Mike Colavecchia were successful in RIT’s first two attempts, and goalie Jordan Ruby stopped the first two Penn State shooters, negating the need for a third shootout round.

Atlantic Hockey Picks Oct. 25-27

Last Week:
Dan: 9-4-2
Chris: 8-5-2

On the season:
Dan 21-10-2 (.667)
Chris 22-9-2 (.697)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, October 25th and Saturday October 26th:
Robert Morris vs. Ohio State
Dan: I find it hard to believe that RMU could be winless to this point.  I feel the same way about Ohio State.  Before I ever picked this, I knew Chris and I would say something similar.  Robert Morris on Friday; Ohio State on Saturday
Chris: Both teams are looking for their first win of the season. I think they’ll each get that.   Ohio State wins Friday; Robert Morris Saturday.

Quinnipiac vs. Holy Cross
Dan: Quinnipiac outshot Bentley by a 50-13 margin, but they only won by one.  I hope Rand Pecknold is a fan of The Who, because They Won’t Be Fooled AgainQuinnipiac sweeps
Chris: Holy Cross hasn’t beaten the Bobcats since 2005 and I don’t think it will happen this weekend. Quinnipiac sweeps.

Mercyhurst at Alaska
Dan: This Laker team is too good to be 1-4, but Fairbanks jet lag has to count for at least one loss.  Alaska wins on Friday; Mercyhurst on Saturday
Chris: The road warrior Lakers are at it again. Mercyhurst is 0-5 all-time against the Nanooks, but I’m picking them to win the second game. Alaska wins Friday; Mercyhurst Saturday.

 

Friday, October 25:
Rochester Institute of Technology at Penn State
Dan: Penn State struggled with Air Force last weekend.  This game, with less emotion than the opener against Army, will be similar to that now that RIT can be just another game.  RIT wins.
Chris: Penn State spoiled RIT’s homecoming last season, and they’re a better team this year. RIT may be as well, but not enough to get the victory. Penn State wins.

Canisius at Air Force
Dan: Not only is this a chance for revenge after being swept out of the playoffs last year, but this is also a chance for Air Force to remind Canisius who’s top dog in the AHA.  Air Force wins.
Chris: Canisius usually plays well at the Academy, including a sweep in last year’s quarterfinals. But The Falcons are playing well and I think they get some revenge. Air Force wins.

Niagara at Denver
Dan: I think Denver is a team that will compete for the NCHC’s inaugural title.  The AHA has really struggled stepping out of the league this year, too.  Denver wins.
Chris: The Pioneers are smarting from a pair of tough losses last weekend in Alaska, and I think home cooking carries them this weekend. Denver wins.

Union at Connecticut
Dan: UConn is on the rise, and Union is a little bit down.  Their paths haven’t intersected yet though.  It’ll be close, but I think Union wins.
Chris: Union is another squad coming off a tough weekend, but so are the Huskies. I think UConn takes its home opener. UConn wins.

 

Saturday, October 26th:
Sacred Heart at American International
Dan: This is going to boil down to goaltending.  Granted there’s only one game on AIC’s docket and it was against a team expected to contend in Hockey East, but SHU is vastly improved in the back.  Sacred Heart wins.
Chris: The Pioneers are an improved team and AIC gave up ten goals in a loss to Providence last Saturday, but I think the Yellow Jackets will rebound. AIC wins.

Canisius at Denver
Dan: See also: Niagara at Denver.  Denver wins.
Chris: I’m predicting more of the same for Denver in a home sweep of AHA teams. Denver wins.

Bentley at Harvard
Dan: After pasting the Falcons to open their season last year, Harvard fell off badly.  They graduated three of their top five scorers, and their defense has questions.  Bentley is dealing with injuries, but despite bad shot discrepancies, they haven’t been blown out.  They’re screaming for a break through.  Bentley wins.
Chris: Bentley had hundreds of fans at last year’s meeting at Bright Center, but went home disappointed as Harvard rolled, 5-0. But I I think Bentley breaks through this time. Bentley wins.

Army at Merrimack
Dan: Merrimack is sorely underrated with a packed top tier of Hockey East.  This game is almost completely sold out, too, save for about 50 standing room tickets as of press time.  Merrimack wins.
Chris: Army has an unusual early schedule, playing its first game on 10/11 at Penn State, and then off for over two weeks. Merrimack has four games under its belt including a split last with Mercyhurst last weekend. Merrimack wins.

 

Sunday, October 27:
Niagara at Air Force
Dan: The AHA has a funny way of correcting itself so nobody ever really pulls too far away.  Adrian Ignani will continue to assert himself among the league’s elite.  Niagara wins.
Chris: This should be an entertaining matchup, as Niagara looks to erase the memory of a pair of lopsided losses in the last weekend of 2012-13  regular season. But I think the Falcons are poised for a four-point weekend. Air Force wins.

 

Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – October 21, 2013

A look back at the lessons learned in the world of Atlantic Hockey this past weekend.

Non-conference struggles continue.

Last week, the only wins for the AHA in non-conference play came in a big way, as Sacred Heart defeated #1-ranked UMass-Lowell and Bentley defeated Nebraska-Omaha.  Despite those highs, the league went 2-14.  A week later, the struggles continued as Sacred Heart was blown out by RPI for the second time in two weeks, 7-1.  Despite taking a 1-0 lead and tying Providence College 1-1 through the first period (and despite trailing by only one over halfway through the second period), AIC gave up five third period goals and lost, 10-4.  UConn absorbed two losses to Minnesota State in Mankato, and Holy Cross took two losses in a home-and-home with Northeastern.  The only bright spots were a 0-1-1 weekend by RIT, a split by Mercyhurst at Merrimack, and a sweep in Colorado by Air Force of Penn State.  Earlier in the week, Mercyhurst lost at home against Ferris State, leaving the league with a 4-25-1 record in non-conference play.

It won’t get any easier this week, either, with Bentley taking on Quinnipiac and Harvard; Holy Cross will also Quinnipiac; Niagara plays Denver before continuing conference play with Air Force; Robert Morris has a home-and-home with Ohio State; Mercyhurst heads to Fairbanks to play Alaska; RIT plays Penn State; and Connecticut hosts Union.  There’s going to be substantial work left to do if the AHA wants to come close to its 25 non-conference wins from a year ago.

Bentley turns back the clock, for better and for worse.

Bentley gave Red Gendron and his Maine Black Bears all they could handle in their first home game of the season, losing 2-1 and displaying flashes of a stingy and physical defense that became the team’s hallmark over the past five years.  But while the defense has started to bear down by displaying a new attitude after last year’s horrible finish, the team’s highly-touted offense has struggled, especially on the power play which was only 11% two years ago before last year’s breakout.  Bentley failed on multiple 5-on-3 opportunities in the second period and on two power plays in the last five minutes of the third (including one with under two minutes to play), dropping to 3-for-21 along the way.  Part of the team’s problem is that its top returning scorer, Brett Gensler, has just one assist with no goals and is -2 since registering two goals and a +1 against Nebraska-Omaha on the season’s opening night.

“We’re right there,” said Ryan Soderquist following the loss on Saturday in Orono, “but we always seem to be missing that one thing that can tie it all together.  That starts at the top with our power play and our top line.   Instead of standing and looking for a pass, we need to be able to move without the puck and get into position for that pass and that good look on net.  There’s been too much standing around (over the first four games).  Once we get that figured out, we’ll be an exciting team that can compete at a high level.”

CHA Rivalry Renewed in Big Way

Game of the week honors have to be considered for the conference game turned in by Niagara and Robert Morris in Pittsburgh on Saturday.  The teams combined for 77 shots (39 for Niagara, 38 for RMU) and traded the lead by scoring one goal apiece in each period.  The Purple Eagles struck first at the 5:35 mark of the first period, but Robert Morris responded less than three minutes later.  The Colonials then took the lead on the power play to start the second period, striking at 10:10 off the stick of Ben Robillard, but Niagara tied the game with a man-up strike of their own from Tyler Akeson with less than a minute to go in the second frame.  Robert Morris took the lead back when David Friedmann scored at 6:49 on the power play, but Niagara tied it when Mike Conderman found Isaac Kohls with 9:15 to go.  Adrian Ignani and Terry Shafer were tremendous in net for both teams, with Ignani saving 35 shots for Niagara and RMU’s Shafer stopping 36.

This marked another weekend of solid conference play for Niagara, once again illustrating the parity and competitiveness within the league ranks seen throughout the past week.  Robert Morris will see Niagara next on Valentine’s Day weekend in February.

Atlantic Hockey Picks Oct. 18-22

Last Week:
Dan: 11-5
Chris: 12-4

On the season:
Dan 12-7 (.632)
Chris 14-5 (.737)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, October 18th and Saturday October 19th:
Penn State at Air Force
Dan: Air Force needs this game more than Penn State does, especially after last week.  Frank Serratore will have his team ready, otherwise we’re getting a special treat for a press conference. Air Force sweeps
Chris: Air Force needs at least one win on home ice to help put last weekend’s oh-for-Alaska trip in the rear view mirror. The teams split last season and I think they’ll do the same this time. Air Force wins Friday; Penn State on Saturday.

Rochester Institute of Technology at Clarkson
Dan: Clarkson took out Niagara and Mercyhurst, two teams predicted to be better than RIT.  Clarkson sweeps
Chris: The Tigers managed a 3-3 tie against the Golden Knights at Ritter Arena last season despite giving up a pair of shorthanded goals. Clarkson is off to its best start in six years (3-1),  feasting on AHA teams so far, knocking off Niagara twice as well as Mercyhurst. RIT hasn’t won at Clarkson since 1985, back in the old Walker Arena.  Clarkson sweeps.

Mercyhurst at Merrimack
Dan: For what it’s worth, this is the “easy trip” for the Lakers, and they’re desperate for a win at this point.  If they want to remind everyone why they’re selected as the top team in the AHA, they’ll need to grab one in a tough rink for visitors.  Mercyhurst wins Friday; Merrimack Saturday
Chris: The Lakers continue a killer non-conference schedule but I think they punch through with a win this weekend. Merrimack wins Friday; Mercyhurst Saturday. 

Connecticut at Minnesota State
Dan: I love UConn this year, and Coach Cavanaugh really won me over about this team’s potential.  They’ll take one.  Minnesota State wins Friday; UConn on Saturday
Chris: The Huskies open their last season in Atlantic Hockey at Mankato, which was outclassed by Providence last week. I’m picking a split. Minnesota State wins Friday; UConn on Saturday. 

Northeastern vs. Holy Cross
Dan: Northeastern pummeled Alabama-Huntsville last week, which is an unfair assessment.  I still think they have major questions about their post-Rawlings goaltender situation, and I still think that the fans’ unrest is still simmering after last year.  Meanwhile, Holy Cross lost by one to a well-conditioned BU team that should contend for a top Hockey East slot.  Holy Cross sweeps
Chris: The Crusaders almost upset Boston University last weekend and will have two shots at another Hockey East opponent. Friday’s game will be a the Hart Center and the action  shifts to Matthews Arena on Saturday. I like the home team in each game. Holy Cross wins Friday; Northeastern Saturday. 

 

Saturday, October 19th:
Niagara at Robert Morris
Dan: This is going to be a fantastic game.  Niagara’s got the advantage in the tools department, but I know RMU is going to come in with a compete level through the roof.  Very tepidly and with zero confidence, I’m taking Niagara. Niagara wins
Chris: These games between old CHA foes are usually highly competitive and I don’t think this will be an exception. Niagara showed a lot of determination last weekend and I think they’ll keep it going on the road. Niagara wins.

Bentley at Maine
Dan: Maine resembles a slightly better version of the Northeastern team that Bentley beat last year.  Plus the Falcons are steaming mad after losing to Sacred Heart and won’t be fazed by Alfond Arena’s atmosphere.  But I’m still taking the Black Bears for Red Gendron’s first win.  Don’t be shocked if Bentley wins this, though.  Maine wins.
Chris: Bentley will be fired up coming off an upset loss to Sacred Heart.  Maine is hoping a shift to friendlier confines will erase a disappointing weekend at St. Lawrence. Maine wins. 

American International at Providence 
Dan: PC could be a sleeper team for the Frozen Four.  Even as a team that could come together fast, there’s still a rebuilding period for AIC with all the changes and graduations.  This game will help support the preaching for early-season patience in Springfield.  Providence wins.
Chris: The Friars looked sharp last weekend and AIC will have several new faces in key roles and may take some time to jell. Providence wins. 

Sacred Heart at Rensselaer
Dan: I’m starting to get sold on Sacred Heart and Alex Vazzano after their first three games’ results, but RPI won’t be fooled.  RPI wins.
Chris: This is a rematch of last Saturday’s 6-0 thumping by the Engineers. It will be closer, but not close enough. RPI wins. 

 

 

Tuesday, October 22th:
Bentley at Quinnipiac:
Dan: Quinnipiac is on the downswing after last year’s national championship appearance, and I think Bentley has the tools to beat them this year.  I’m taking the upset. Bentley wins
Chris: I really want to pick an upset here, especially if Bentley is coming off a good performance in Maine. But I’m going with the home team. Quinnipiac wins. 

Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – Monday, October 14

Three (O.K., four) things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:

A tale of two days

Atlantic Hockey opened play seeking to improve on last year’s 25-48-12 non-conference record, best in the league’s ten-year history.

Friday night the AHA was on par, going 2-4, with wins coming from Bentley (6-4 at Nebraska-Omaha) and Sacred Heart (2-1 at Massachusetts-Lowell).

On Saturday, Atlantic Hockey teams had plenty of chances to notch a victory, but went 0-7.  Leads were blown, and dramatic comebacks attempted. All but one of those contests were close enough for the AHA squad to pull its goalie in the final minute looking for an equalizer, but in each case to no avail.

That leaves Atlantic Hockey just 2-14 in inter-league play so far.

 

An unprecedented positive for the Pioneers

Sacred Heart’s  victory over No. 1 ranked Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday was arguably the biggest in program history.  It was the first time SHU had ever beaten a top-ranked team, and was all the more important to coach C.J. Marottolo’s program coming off a 2012-13 season that saw his team go 2-30-4.

Drew George scored both goals for Sacred Heart, including the game-winner about a minute after the River Hawks had tied the game at 1-1 early in the third period.

“I thought we played a pretty structured, disciplined game,” Marottolo said. “I liked our energy level throughout the whole game. The turning point in the game was our guys’ response to the Lowell score. You could feel the energy level in the building rise, and we responded with a quick goal.”

 

Big buildings, big games

On Friday, Army helped Penn State open its $88 million new home, Pegula Arena. In front of a sellout crowd of 6.370, the Black Knights fell to the Nittany Lions 4-1. It was not the result Brian Riley’s team wanted, but coming off a week of uncertainty due to the Government Shutdown, it was a positive just to be able to play.

“This was an unbelievable experience for our team,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “Give all the credit in the world to Penn State for putting on this first-class night. We’re very appreciative of the patience and understanding they showed all week as well.”

At Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena,  a sellout crowd of 10,556 were on hand to see Michigan defeat host Rochester Institute of Technology 7-4 in a wild contest that saw the Tigers erase a 4-0 deficit to the No. 11 Wolverines, but run out of gas in the third period.

Like Riley at Army, RIT coach Wayne Wilson wasn’t happy about the score, but had praise for the atmosphere.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with what this game has taken on,” Wilson said. “We’ve got Boston College (coming in) next year.”

Battle of the Bridge, part one

You couldn’t have asked for a better game to kick off the AHA conference schedule than defending conference champ Canisius making the 30 minute trip to arch-rival Niagara, facing off against the defending regular season champion Purple Eagles. Games in all sports in this  rivalry, which goes back for more than a century, are referred to as the “Battle of the Bridge”.

In this first hockey version of the battle, Niagara persevered in a wild 6-4 win that saw the Purple Eagles come back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to score the final five goals of the contest.

“The Canisius-Niagara rivalry is the best kept secret in Western New York,” coach Dave Burkholder said after the game.  ”There can’t be anyone leaving this building that doesn’t want to come back and see both teams.  It was a great college game—hard fought, hard hitting and some pretty good goals on both sides.”

It’s perhaps no so much of a kept secret anymore, with both teams advancing to the NCAA tournament last season. There was a sellout crowd for this one at Dwyer Arena.

The teams meet again on Feb. 7-8, and, if fans are lucky, again in the postseason.

 

Atlantic Hockey Picks Oct. 11-17

Last Week:
Dan: 1-2
Chris: 2-1

On the season:
Dan 1-2 (.333)
Chris 2-1 (.667)

This Week’s Picks

Friday, October 11th:
Army at Penn State
Dan:For all the confusion this week as to if Army would even get to play in this game, Penn State’s been marching to this day for three years.  Penn State 3, Army 1.
Chris: There would have a been a lot of hype leading up to the opening on Penn State’s $80 million Pegula Arena anyway, but the Government Shutdown kept Army’s participation up in the air until just a few days ago. I think Penn State comes out flying. Penn State 4, Army 1.

Air Force vs. Alaska
Dan:Air Force tied the Nanooks last year after not playing Jason Torf for the first period.  Had Torf played the whole game, I’m pretty sure the Falcons would’ve won.  Alaska returns enough to compete, but I’m going Air Force.  Air Force 2, Alaska 1.
Chris: The Falcons have been dealing with the same uncertainty as Army, so I think they’ll be happy to just play. I like the Nonooks in a close one.  Alaska 2, Air Force 1.

Sacred Heart at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dan: Massachusetts-Lowell is a preseason favorite to win the national championship.  Sacred Heart, while starting to improve, is not.  Lowell 6, Sacred Heart 0.
Chris: The Pioneers are thrown into the fire right away, opening against the No. 1 team in the nation. I doubt they’ll win, but a good showing will set the tone for a better season. Lowell 5, Sacred Heart 1.

Mercyhurst at Minnesota
Dan: If Mercyhurst wants to be a championship contender, it starts with a win opening the Big Ten era for the Gophers.  But I just think Minnesota is too big, too strong, and too talented.  Minnesota 4, Mercyhurst 1.
Chris: The numbers are not on Mercyhurst’s side. The Lakers are winless in 14 previous season openers as a Division I program. Their last and only meeting against Minnesota was in the 2003 NCAA tournament, a 9-2 Gopher win. Laker coach Rick Gotkin has often joked that his team was so mismatched, he asked for his time out in warmups. I think this one will be closer, but not close enough.Minnesota 4, Mercyhrust 2.

 

Saturday, October 12th:
Canisius at Niagara
Dan: The storylines running through this game are thick and bold.  Niagara’s the resident big dog, knocked off by the team that would eventually win the league title.  Canisius wants us to believe they are a big dog in their own right.  Goaltending wins it.  Canisius 3, Niagara 2.
Chris: The first AHA conference game of the season is a blockbuster. These rivals pick up where they left off, with Canisius upsetting the top-seeded Purple Eagles in the playoff semifinals last season. I think Canisius wins the rematch. Canisius 4, Niagara 3.

Holy Cross at Boston University
Dan: Holy Cross sells everyone on not rebuilding so much as reloading.  But this David Quinn’s first game, and I’ve seen first hand how hungry the Terriers are becoming.  BU 3, Holy Cross 1.
Chris: I think this will be a down year for the Crusaders compared to their last two seasons, but a strong showing here could prove me wrong. BU 3, Holy Cross 1.

Michigan at Rochester Institute of  Technology
Dan: RIT beat Michigan last year, and Michigan hosts Boston College on Thursday.  That adds up to an 0-1 Michigan team coming in steaming mad and hungry for a win.  Michigan 4, RIT 1.
Chris: The Tigers sold out their homecoming game (10,466) for the fourth consecutive year, but so far they’re 1-1-1 in those contests, and haven’t faced an opponent this strong. Michigan 5, RIT 1.

Rensselaer at Sacred Heart
Dan: RPI is the preseason favorite to win ECAC, a league that sent two teams to the national title game last year.  That’s enough for me. RPI 4, Sacred Heart 1.
Chris: This one’s at Bridgeport, which should help RPI. The Milford Ice Pavillion’s a tougher place to play for visiting teams, especially if they haven’t been there before. RPI 5, Sacred Heart 1.

Air Force at Alaska-Anchorage
Dan: UAA is going to surprise a few people this year in the new WCHA.  I’m not sure if this is an upset or not, but I’m taking the Seawolves  UAA 3, Air Force 2.
Chris: I think Air Force is the better team, and can overcome the home-ice advantage by the Seawolves. Air Force 3, UAA 2.

Clarkson/New Hampshire vs. Mercyhurst
Dan: Mercyhurst’s first win is going to ride on who they’re playing.  I don’t think they can beat UNH, but if it’s Clarkson?  The Lakers can’t lose if they want to supplant Niagara atop the league.  UNH 3, Mercyhurst 1; Mercyhurst 3, Clarkson 1.
Chris: I was going to take Mercyurst if it plays Clarkson, but that was before the Golden Knights swept Niagara last weekend. I’m picking either UNH or CU to win this one. UNH 4, Mercyhurst 2 or Clarkson 3, Mercyhurst 1.

 

Friday, October 11th and Saturday October 12th:
Bentley at Nebraska-Omaha
Dan: Bentley always puts a scare into teams when they go on the road; they led Michigan two years ago and did it again last year.  But UNO will come back and take both games.  UNO 4, Bentley 1; UNO 4, Bentley 2.
Chris: UNO and Bentley are both picked to finish around the same place in their respective league standings, but the new NCHC is obviously stronger top to bottom. UNO 3, Bentley 1; UNO 4, Bentley 2.

Robert Morris at Lake Superior
Dan:Lake Superior comes across like a sneaky good team in the WCHA.  Robert Morris is a sneaky good team in the AHA.  It’ll come down to goaltending, where LSSU returns a two-player tandem, but I still think Robert Morris steals one.  LSSU 3, RMU 1; RMU 2, LSSU 1.
Chris: Robert Morris was an excellent 5-1-1 in non-conference games last season, and I think should earn a split here despite breaking in some new goaltending. LSSU 3, RMU2; RMU 3, LSSU 2.

 

Tuesday, October 15th:
Ferris State at Mercyhurst:
Dan: I feel like Mercyhurst is getting a raw deal on an aggressive out-of-conference schedule.  I keep picking against them, but I know they’re a good team.  Ferris State 4, Mercyhurst 2.
Chris: The Lakers don’t play many non-conference games at home, so that will be a plus. But Mercyhurst has never been especially strong at home, and Ferris looks to be very tough this season. FSU 3, Mercyhurst 2.

 

Wednesday, October 16th:
Bentley at Sacred Heart
Dan: This is the first true test for Bentley after a disastrous end to last year.  Bentley 4, Sacred Heart 1.
Chris: Bentley needs to get off on the right foot in league play, and Sacred Heart needs this even more. I think this will be closer than expected. Bentley 2, Sacred Heart 1.

Atlantic Hockey Picks Oct. 5-10

And we’re underway with the first picks of the season!

This year Chris Lerch has joined up with Dan Rubin to provide USCHO’s Atlantic Hockey coverage. They’ll both be picking games each week.

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

On the season:
Dan 0-0
Chris 0-0

This week’s picks:
Saturday, October 5th and Sunday, October 6th
Clarkson at Niagara
Dan: Last year, this would’ve been a case for good team meets bad team.  If we’re looking at preseason prognostications, there shouldn’t be much difference.  With respect to Aerosmith, I can’t see a reason why the Niagara train can’t keep a-rollin’ all weekend long up in Potsdam.  Niagara 3, Clarkson 1; Niagara 3, Clarkson 2
Chris: Niagara took three of four points against Clarkson last season, but things could be different this time around as the Purple Eagles will be breaking in a pair of rookie goaltenders. I’m thinking split. Niagara 3, Clarkson 2; Clarkson 4, Niagara 2.

Thursday, October 10
Colgate at RIT
Dan: I legitimately had no idea how I was going to pick this game, so I boiled it down to the fact that I think Colgate’s defense is better than RIT’s offense to start the year.  The Tigers really struggled with non-conference games last year.  Colgate 5, RIT 3
Chris: Colgate as gotten the better of the Tigers in eight of nine meetings between the two schools including a 6-3 victory last season. I don’t think that changes despite this being the first time the Raiders have played at Frank Ritter Arena. Colgate 3, RIT 1.

Thoughts on Rhode Island and St. Anselm as possible AHA members

We reported yesterday that Atlantic Hockey had interest from two schools to replace Connecticut as a 12th member after the Huskies depart for Hockey East at the end of next season. The league would not go on the record on the identity of the schools because neither had formally applied yet.

But the cat’s out of the bag, so I am O.K. confirming  that they are indeed Rhode Island and St. Anselm. The league had asked me to wait until the schools had applied, but the Boston Herald posted the story today.

Thoughts:

  • URI is more well known and would be a natural fit for Hockey East someday to align with the rest of the New England state schools (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and soon Connecticut). That means this could be a stepping stone move for the Rams. Of course, there’s no room in Hockey East, but, as we’ve seen recently, things can change quickly in terms of conference realignment.
  • St. Anselm has a nice facility and is 10 miles from the AHA offices. This would open the door to the school taking its women’s team to College Hockey America, which could lead to Holy Cross and Sacred Heart joining. Both have not despite the natural CHA-AHA alignment because of travel expenses – most of the  of CHA is in NY and PA. It’s not clear if URI would field a varsity women’s program, but that could work as well interms of Sacred Heart and Holy Cross being enticed to upgrade their women’s programs.
  • It’s sad to not see Navy in the mix. The Midshipmen have been mentioned as one of four possible candidates and it would be exciting to expand on the Army-Air Force rivalry. The school has expressed interest in the past and was a co-host of the 2009 Frozen Four. But its athletic department is reportedly distracted right now with moving football to the ever-changing Big East (Edit: Now called the American Athletic Conference since the Big East name is staying with the “Catholic Seven”).

Stay tuned as this story continues to develop.