The former Army West Point coach, who started a line of family members coaching the Black Knights, led the U.S. to its first Olympic gold medal in 1960.
Three things from the first postseason weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
And then there were eight
Only one first round series went the distance, and that also featured the only upset this past weekend. Niagara opened at Holy Cross with a classic road playoff 2-1 win, and then rebounded from a three-overtime loss in Game Two to take the deciding Game Three, 5-3.
Air Force and Sacred Heart swept their first round series to advance, so we have the following quarterfinal matchups in store, all best-of-three series:
No. 11 Niagara at No. 1 Robert Morris
No. 8 Sacred Heart at No. 2 Canisius
No. 7 Air Force at No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology
No. 5 Mercyhurst at No. 4 Bentley
It takes time
There was a lot of bonus college hockey played this weekend, including the marathon on Saturday between Niagara and Holy Cross, which went to three overtimes before the Crusaders’ T.J. Moore’s game winner in the 111th minute of play. The game went into the record books as the longest in Atlantic Hockey history and the eighth longest in Division I history.
Pick your poison
So which of the quarterfinal hosts has the easiest route to Rochester? I don’t think there is an easy out in this round when you consider:
- Air Force thumped American International 6-1 and 10-3 in the first round. Yes, the Falcons have struggled on the road (4-11-3) vs. home (12-6-1) this season but 16 goals is a scary number. Senior Cole Gunner had a six-point weekend, including four goals on Saturday. The Falcons travel to Rochester to try to win the right to return the following weekend.
- Sacred Heart was on a bit of a roll coming into the playoffs and didn’t let up, sweeping Army. The Pioneers have only two losses in their last 11 games. They travel to Buffalo to face a Canisius squad that SHU took three of four points from in the regular season.
- Niagara endured an 18-game winless stretch, but is 4-2-1 in its last seven games and rebounded from that triple-overtime defeat on Saturday to win a tough road series at Holy Cross. Goalie Jackson Teichroeb made 136 saves in the series, including 47 in the deciding game. The Purple Eagles will take on Robert Morris, whom they saw two weeks ago, splitting a series with the Colonials.
- Mercyhurst ended the season on a downturn but the Lakers are still the Lakers, the preseason No. 1 and boasting the third best offense in the conference. They are certainly capable of turning things around in a hurry. Bentley awaits – Mercyhurst was 0-3-1 against the Falcons this season, but every game was decided by a goal or less.
It’s not going out on a limb to predict at least one upset next weekend. Fasten your seatbelts.
On the season:
Dan: 121-73-27 (.609)
Chris: 125-69-27 (.627)
This Week’s Picks
Atlantic Hockey Playoffs – First Round
Best of Three Series
Friday, March 6 – Sunday, March 8
No. 11 Niagara at No. 6 Holy Cross
Dan: Niagara is picking up steam at exactly the right time to be that #11 seed you simply don’t want to play. 2-1-1 in their last four games, this series will rest on if Jackson Teichroeb can match Matt Ginn. Can he? Maybe. But I can’t pick the with confidence having to come east. Holy Cross in two.
Chris: Despite having the widest gap in terms of seedings, and despite Holy Cross winning all four meetings between the schools so far this season, I think this will be the most closely contested of the three series this weekend. But I expect the Crusaders to prevail in a trio of low scoring games. Holy Cross in Three.
No. 10 American International at No. 7 Air Force
Dan: AIC has never advanced out of a three-game series and boast only three playoff round victories – a divisional playoff win over Army in 2011 and two play-in game wins (2004 over Army and 2007 over Canisius). I have high hopes for the Yellow Jackets, but being saddled with a trip west to Colorado doesn’t help the situation. I’m taking Air Force in two.
Chris: At 14-19-4, Air Force is under .500 for the first time since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2006. But the Falcons are still tough on home ice (10-6-1) and I think will take care of business. Air Force in two.
No. 9 Army at No. 8 Sacred Heart
Dan: Sacred Heart is the team getting hot at the right time of the year, finishing the season on a 5-2-3 clip. They played their way into home ice, and they’re starting to resemble the style of hockey team that’s going to ruin the hopes of dreams of someone along the way. Army, meanwhile, played pretty much .500 hockey since their exhibition against the Canadian RMC. They’re 3-4-2 since playing the Paladins. Call this one the series of the weekend, which is fitting since this is the 8/9 matchup. Sacred Heart in three.
Chris: Army held its own down the stretch against some tough opponents, splitting series with three of the top four teams in the league. But Sacred Heart is also playing its best hockey of the season, defeating Bentley and Holy Cross buy a combined score of 9-1 in its last two regular season games. I’m going with the Pioneers to sweep.
Oh, what a weekend it was.
It all began where it ends
Rochester, N.Y., will become the center of the Atlantic Hockey universe in less than three weeks’ time when four teams converge for the conference championship weekend. So it’s fitting that we really start the “Road To Rochester” in … Rochester.
Playing at the glittery new Polisseni Center on the campus of RIT, the host Tigers and visiting Mercyhurst Lakers took part in what amounted to a soft opening for the playoffs. Tied in the standings, two points back of third place, both of these teams knew they would have a bye. The only remaining question was which team would be able to play the quarterfinals at home and which would play on the road.
Todd Skirving lit the lamp in the first period for RIT on Saturday to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead, but Jonathan Charbonneau drew Mercyhurst even at 1-1 early in the second period. The game remained that way through the rest of the second and through the third, sending it to overtime.
That’s where Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin made a playoff decision. Realizing his team needed a win in order to end up at home next weekend, he pulled his goalie in favor of an empty net in the extra frame. With less than a minute remaining, Myles Powell scored for the Tigers, sending them into the third seed for the playoffs and putting Mercyhurst on the road.
The win propelled RIT to 5-2-1 in February and 10-4-2 over its last 16 games. A team once destined for a road series in the first round now will host a quarterfinal matchup, meaning the wolf is back in the hen house. The Tigers have never lost a home series in the playoffs, although those series were in the house of horrors at Ritter Arena. The league’s championship weekend is also in their backyard, which is bad news for everyone else should they make it that far.
The other shoe dropped
Roughly 400 miles away from the RIT-Mercyhurst game, Bentley and Holy Cross exchanged blows in what might’ve been one of the hardest-fought hockey games all season. The Crusaders needed a win over their longtime rivals to ensure themselves of the sixth seed, while Bentley needed at least a tie to clinch the third seed in the tournament.
Scoring 4:10 into the third period to break a 1-1 tie, the Crusaders took a 2-1 victory in a game best described as an exhibition of solid goaltending. Holy Cross clinched the sixth seed.
By virtue of the loss, however, Bentley ended up in a tie with RIT. Based on tiebreaker scenarios, the Falcons fell to the fourth seed while the Tigers finished third. That means the Falcons will host fifth-seeded Mercyhurst while RIT takes on the highest remaining seed from the first round of the playoffs.
Is that a good thing for parties involved? Had Bentley won, Mercyhurst would’ve gone back to RIT, a 160-mile ride through Buffalo. It would’ve set up a potential quarterfinals series between the Falcons and Holy Cross (40 miles away) since the Crusaders finished sixth. Instead, a Holy Cross win sent the Crusaders to RIT, a reverse of a rematch from last year’s first-round series where the Tigers lost in overtime in controversial fashion.
Bentley, meanwhile, hosts the Lakers in the second round. Instead of a 160-mile ride, Mercyhurst has a 10-hour, 530-plus mile trek across New York and Massachusetts. Last year, these teams finished first and second in the league’s regular season.
The difference between decisions with Bentley-Holy Cross and RIT-Mercyhurst was roughly 18 minutes. Playoffs.
And then there are those pesky loose ends to tie up …
Air Force played Canisius at 5 p.m. Mountain time in order to have all of Saturday’s games start at the same time. The Golden Griffins, with the second seed already sealed up, gave up three first-period goals and attempted just nine shots on goal — in the entire game. The Falcons won 4-1 but because Holy Cross also won, they finished as the seventh-seeded team.
Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored in the third period on the power play to win 2-1 over Niagara. That made the 5-1 loss by American International to Army a moot point, slotting the Yellow Jackets 10th and the Purple Eagles 11th.
That means AIC is grand prize winner of a trip to Colorado to take on Air Force. In a year where they’ve traveled more than they ever have, perhaps it’s fitting for the road warriors from Springfield, Mass., to have to go to the furthest west trip. In unrelated news, they’ve actually never met in the playoffs.
Niagara, meanwhile, finished 11th and will head east to play Holy Cross. That series is shaping to have a whole lotta purple.
Your final playoff lineup
The demolition derby known as the Atlantic Hockey playoffs start on Friday with the following lineup.
First Round (Best of Three):
#11 Niagara at #6 Holy Cross
#10 American Int’l at #7 Air Force
#9 Army at #8 Sacred Heart
Quarterfinals (Best of Three):
Lowest Remaining Seed at #1 Robert Morris
Middle Remaining Seed at #2 Canisius
Highest Remaining Seed at #3 RIT
#5 Mercyhurst at #4 Bentley
More spots clinched, more spots up for grabs. Let’s take a look at what was clinched last night and what could happen tonight:
What Was Clinched Last Night:
-Canisius clinched the #2 seed by beating Air Force, 4-1. They now have a three point lead over third-place Bentley, who lost to Sacred Heart on Thursday.
-RIT defeated Mercyhurst to tie those two teams up with 31 points for the final second round home series slot. RIT’s win, coupled with Air Force’s loss, clinched a first round bye for both of those teams.
-AIC’s win over Army did not clinch them the #10 seed because Niagara went out and beat first place Robert Morris, 2-1. Welcome to the Atlantic Hockey stretch run.
Updated Standings (by points)
1-x) Robert Morris – 40 points
2-x) Canisius – 36
3) Bentley – 33
T-4) RIT – 31 (currently wins head-to-head tiebreaker)
T-4) Mercyhurst – 31
5) RIT or Mercyhurst
T-6) Air Force – 27
T-6) Holy Cross – 27
8-x) Sacred Heart – 26
9-x) Army – 18
10) AIC – 15
11) Niagara – 14
The Race for 3rd-5th (Bentley, Mercyhurst, RIT):
If Bentley wins or ties (at home vs. Holy Cross) and RIT wins – the Falcons are the #3 seed, and the Lakers play at the Tigers in the quarterfinals round of the playoffs.
If Bentley wins or ties and Mercyhurst wins – Bentley is still the #3 seed, but RIT goes to Mercyhurst because of the second level tie breaker (head-to-head conference wins). Mercyhurst enters tonight with 14 conference wins compared to 13 for RIT. If the Lakers win, they’re at home in two weeks.
If Bentley loses and RIT wins – RIT is the #3 seed. The Tigers and Falcons split and would both finish with 14 conference wins. The third level tiebreaker is goal differential in head-to-head contests, which the Tigers win by losing 2-1 and winning 5-2 (-1 + 3 = +2 in favor of RIT). Mercyhurst goes to Bentley in two weeks.
If Bentley loses and RIT/Mercyhurst tie – Bentley remains the #3 seed and Mercyhurst goes to RIT next week by losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If Bentley loses and Mercyhurst wins – Bentley finishes as the #3 seed by virtue of their 3-0-1 finish against the Lakers this season. RIT goes to Mercyhurst in two weeks.
The Race for 6th (Air Force, Holy Cross):
Since this is only a two-horse race, the head-to-head comparison is pretty easy. They’re both tied for sixth in the standings. If Air Force wins or ties and Holy Cross loses, the Falcons finish sixth. If the Crusaders win or tie and Air Force loses to Canisius, Holy Cross finishes sixth.
If they tie in the standings, however, Holy Cross wins the tiebreaker. Back at the beginning of January, the Crusaders tied the Falcons, 1-1, before defeating them, 3-1.
This will have a huge impact on the race for 10th place because one team is going to Holy Cross and one team is going to Air Force.
The Race of 10th (AIC, Niagara):
AIC has a one point lead over Niagara for the race for 10th. If AIC gets a single point in their game at Army, they clinch 10th position. If they tie and Niagara beats Robert Morris, the teams would tie, but AIC holds the tiebreaker scenario by virtue of their two game sweep (4-1, 4-2) back in October.
The only way Niagara can pass AIC is with a win over Robert Morris AND an AIC loss to Army.
The Playoff Matchups (as of Saturday)
#1 Robert Morris vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
#2 Canisius vs. 2nd Lowest Remaining Seed
#3 Bentley vs. Best Remaining First Round Winner
#4 RIT vs. #5 Mercyhurst
#11 Niagara at #6 Air Force/Holy Cross winner
#10 AIC at #7 Air Force/Holy Cross loser
#9 Army #8 Sacred Heart
On the season:
Dan: 116-68-27 (.614)
Chris: 122-62-27 (.642)
This Week’s Picks:
Thursday, February 26
Bentley at Sacred Heart
Dan: When these teams met a couple of weeks ago, we were treated to one of the games of the year, a low-scoring goaltender’s duel at Bentley that was tied through two periods. I think we’ll have more of the same in this one. The Pioneers ALWAYS play Bentley hard, but I think the Falcons are just hitting their stride a little bit too hard these days. Bentley wins.
Chris: Bentley has slightly more to play for than Sacred Heart. The Pioneers know they will end the regular season in eighth place and host Army in a fist-round playoff series. The Falcons have clinched a bye and a quarterfinal playoff series, but can finish between second and fourth. I’m going with the Falcons to win.
Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28
Canisius at Air Force
Dan: Chris dropped a stat this week that Air Force is 9-5-1 at home this season but just 4-13-3. Whether it’s travel, the altitude, or both, that’s enough to sway me for at least one game. Air Force wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Air Force is close to playing itself out of a first-round bye, while Canisius has one sewn up. The Griffs have had some success in Colorado Springs including a stunning upset in the 2013 quarterfinals. Like Dan, I like them to win at least one of these games. Air Force wins on Friday, Canisius on Saturday.
Army vs. American International
Dan: This is a weekend with a deceptive amount riding on it – the Yellow Jackets need to assure themselves still of finishing 10th, and then hope the right chips fall in the right place to end up with a road trip to Holy Cross instead of Air Force. I think they control their own destiny and get it done. AIC wins on Friday. Army wins on Saturday.
Chris:Army has been a .500 team for the past month while AIC hasn’t won since Jan. 2 (against, coincidentally, the Black Knights). Despite being locked into ninth place regardless of outcome, I like Army to sweep.
Robert Morris vs. Niagara
Dan: With the first seed clinched, do the Colonials rest some of their players? More importantly – would it matter? This is more about RMU being good than it is about Niagara being currently in 11th. That RMU isn’t in the running for an at-large bid to the tournament is a crime. RMU sweeps.
Chris: Robert Morris had a nine-game unbeaten streak snapped last Saturday and is looking to go into the postseason with some momentum. So despite Niagara’s recent improvements, I’m picking Robert Morris to sweep.
Mercyhurst at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: This is a HUGE MONSTER of a weekend between the Lakers and Tigers from the Gene (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but that’s what I’m going with). The fourth and fifth seeds hang in the balance, as does the sixth potentially. Let the playoffs begin in Rochester, which coincidentally is where they’ll end in a few weeks. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is the most critical series of the weekend in terms of what’s up for grabs. Both teams are battling for the final two first-round byes. The Tigers need three points to leap over the Lakers into fourth place, while Mercyhurst can still finish as high as second or as low as sixth. Mercyhust is a better team than what it showed last weekend, and I think it gains at least a split with the homestanding Tigers. Mercyhurst wins Friday; RIT wins Saturday.
Saturday, February 28
Holy Cross at Bentley
Dan: Ahhh nothing like a good old fashioned rivalry game to finish the season. A couple of years ago, the season ended with these guys facing each other, and there were 32 penalty minutes in one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen in person. I’m picking the Falcons again here. Bentley wins.
Chris: If RIT loses on Friday, Holy Cross will still be in the running for a first-round bye with a win. But I think Bentley is rolling right now and will win what should be a highly entertaining game.
Here’s a look back at three things from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Approaching the checkered flag
The finish line nears with only one week left in the regular season in Atlantic Hockey, and just three of 11 final positions in the standings has been determined.
Robert Morris wrapped up its first regular season title on Friday, defeating Rochester Institute of Technology 4-3. The Colonials led wire-to-wire. They have clinched a first-round bye and home ice in the quarterfinals. RMU finishes up with a pair of games against Niagara.
Here’s where the other 10 teams stand:
- Canisius: The Golden Griffins swept Mercyhurst to clinch a first-round bye and home ice for the quarterfinals. Canisius can finish anywhere from second to fourth. The Griffs will travel to Air Force to close out their regular season.
- Bentley: The Falcons skated to a pair of ties with Army and those two points were enough to ensure a bye and home ice. They will finish between second and fourth. Bentley finishes with single games at Sacred Heart and home against Holy Cross.
- Mercyhurst: The Lakers got zero points last weekend but can still finish anywhere from second to sixth. Mercyhurst is at RIT this weekend.
- RIT: The Tigers split with Robert Morris to hold onto fifth place. RIT can end up anywhere from third to seventh and host Mercyhurst to end its regular season.
- Air Force: The Falcons salvaged a single point against Niagara, eliminating their chance for home ice in the quarterfinals. They can still get a bye by finishing fifth, but can also end up in sixth or seventh place. The Falcons host Canisius this weekend.
- Holy Cross: The Crusaders split with Sacred Heart and have just a single game left, at Bentley on Saturday. Holy Cross is still in the running for a first-round bye, and will finish between fifth and seventh.
- Sacred Heart: A split with Holy Cross leaves the Pioneers in eighth place and that’s where they will finish the regular season. They have one game left, hosting Bentley on Thursday.
- Army: The Black Knights will finish in ninth place regardless of the outcome of their final two games against American International.
- AIC: The Yellow Jackets will face Army, the team ahead of them in the standings, but they trail the Black Knights by five points with just four points up for grabs. That means AIC will finish either 10th or 11th.
- Niagara: The Purple Eagles won on Friday for the first time since Nov. 22 and have a chance to move out of the basement on the final weekend of the regular season. Niagara will play a pair of games against Robert Morris, and will finish either 10th or 11th.
The most dangerous lead…
It’s a well-worn axiom that a two goal lead is the “most dangerous lead in hockey” because the team ahead may let up due to the extra margin. Personally, I think a one-goal lead is more dangerous because, you know, one is less than two.
But in each game of this past weekend’s highly entertaining series between RIT and Robert Morris, a team blew a two-goal lead and lost.
On Friday, the Tigers were up 3-1 early in the second period, but the Colonials rallied for a dramatic 4-3 win, capped off by a breakaway, game-winning goal by Cody Wydo with 9.6 seconds left in the contest.
The following night the Tigers turned the tables, erasing a 3-1 second-period deficit on three straight goals by senior Brad McGowan to win 4-3..
The largest margin overcome this past weekend was three goals, erased by Niagara in a 4-4 tie with Air Force. The Purple Eagles had won the night before to end an 18-game winless streak.
Three points against the Falcons made for Niagara’s second-best weekend of the season so far and serves notice that there won’t be any easy outs in the playoffs.
Here are the updated scenarios and possible finishing positions for Atlantic Hockey after Friday’s results. Don’t worry, it’s probably as hectic as it looks:
Robert Morris 4, RIT 3
Bentley 1, Army 1
Canisius 4, Mercyhurst 2
Niagara 6, Air Force 1
Holy Cross 1, Sacred Heart 0
AIC – Bye
Updated Standings (by points):
1x) Robert Morris – 40 points
2) Canisius – 32 (wins tiebreaker with Bentley)
3) Bentley – 32
4) Mercyhurst – 31
5) Holy Cross – 27 (wins tiebreaker with RIT)
6) RIT – 27
7) Air Force – 26
8) Sacred Heart – 22
9) Army – 17 points
10) AIC – 13
11) Niagara – 11
1) Robert Morris – Clinched the AHC regular season championship
2) Canisius – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 5th place; can clinch a quarterfinal home series with a win or tie against Mercyhurst OR an RIT loss or tie against RMU
3) Bentley – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 5th place; can clinch a quarterfinal home series with a win or tie against Army OR an RIT loss or tie against RMU
4) Mercyhurst – Can finish anywhere from 2nd place through 6th place; can clinch first round bye with a tie against Canisius OR an RIT tie against RMU. Clinches quarterfinal home series with a win against Canisius OR a tie against Canisius coupled with an RIT tie OR a loss and an RIT loss to RMU
5) Holy Cross – Can finish anywhere from 5th through 7th; cannot clinch anything with on Saturday because the Crusaders have only one game next week on Saturday.
6) RIT – Can finish anywhere from 2nd through 6th; Cannot clinch anything with a win on Saturday but can be eliminated from contention for quarterfinals home ice with a loss and other scenarios
7) Air Force – Can finish anywhere 4th through 7th; Can clinch at least 7th place with a win or tie against Niagara OR a Sacred Heart loss or tie against Holy Cross. Can also be eliminated from contention from quarterfinals home ice with a loss or tie to Niagara
8) Sacred Heart – Can finish anywhere from 7th through 9th; Can clinch home ice in the first round with a win or tie against Holy Cross OR an Army loss or tie against Bentley. The Pioneers would need to hold conference wins tiebreaker over Army due to head-to-head split earlier in the season but hold head-to-head tiebreaker over Air Force. They can also be eliminated from finishing 7th with a loss or tie to Holy Cross OR an Air Force victory or tie against Niagara
9) Army – Can finish either 8th or 9th; Eliminated from the last home ice slot if Bentley beats Army OR if Sacred Heart beats Holy Cross OR if both Army and Sacred Heart tie. Can clinch the ninth seed if Army beats or ties Bentley
10) AIC – Can finish 10th or 11th; Can be eliminated from the 9th seed if Army beats or ties Bentley but can still finish 10th or 11th
11) Niagara – Can finish 10th or 11th; Nothing clinched or eliminated this weekend.
On the season:
Dan: 112-65-24 (.617)
Chris: 121-56-24 (.662)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 20 and Saturday, February 21
Bentley at Army
Dan: With their win last week over Sacred Heart, Bentley tied its longest win streak ever as a Division I program. They can win their sixth straight on Friday at Tate Rink. In this week’s USCHO poll, they garnered a program-record six votes. They can sew up a quarterfinals home series if they play well enough this weekend. If I were a betting man, I’d be taking a long hard look at the Falcons as a dark horse in the AHC playoffsBentley sweeps.
Chris: I’ll be paying close attention to Bentley, which has a history of downturns at the end of the season and postseason. Army took two points from Canisius last weekend and can certainly do the same at home against Bentley. But I’m picking the Falcons to find a way to take four points and clinch a bye.
Canisius vs. Mercyhurst
Dan: Canisius is allowing a league low 2.17 goals per game in conference play this season. Since the start of 2015, they’ve given up just 17 goals, an average of 1.55 per game. These are the 81st and 82nd meetings in a long-standing rivalry with the Lakers dating back to before either program was Division I. Canisius is 5-1-1 in their last seven. I think Mercyhurst is too strong to be swept, so I’ll take the home team in both games. Mercyhurst wins on Friday. Canisius wins on Saturday.
Chris: Both teams are looking to claim a bye this weekend, with Mercyhurst hosting on Friday and Saturday’s contest at Buffalo’s HarborCenter. I’m going with a hunch that the Lakers will come out on top in a pair of close games.
Air Force at Niagara
Dan:Air Force is one point out of the last first round bye, four points back of a second round home series. They’re also one point up on Holy Cross. That razor thin margin will impact Niagara the biggest; if the playoffs started today, the Purple Eagles would go to Colorado. If Air Force passes the Tigers, Niagara instead goes to RIT. An Air Force bye would be a huge win for a program having an uncharacteristically up-and-down season.Air Force sweeps.
Chris:Niagara is going to spoil someone’s party before all is said and done, but I don’t think it happens this weekend. Air Force sweeps.
Robert Morris at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dan: These are HUGE points for RIT, but Robert Morris is in position to clinch the regular season championship. Derek Schooley isn’t the type of coach to take his foot off the accelerator, so I’m taking the Colonials to win at least one. That said, the Tigers are a team nobody really wants to deal with right now. RMU wins on Friday. RIT wins on Saturday.
Chris: The fifth-place Tigers are faced with the toughest remaining schedule: first-place Robert Morris this weekend and second-place Mercyhurst the next. All four games are at home for the Tigers, but I don’t think that will be enough, especially this weekend against an RMU team that needs two points to lock up its first regular season title. Robert Morris sweeps.
Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart
Dan: The Crusaders are flailing, going 3-9 in their last 12. They’re running into a Sacred Heart team that’s been on fire lately. Last Friday’s loss to Bentley was the first since January 17, but if you watched that game, you wouldn’t have seen the Pioneers as the worse team at all.Sacred Heart sweeps.
Chris:This will be a good series against an SHU offense that can put up points and a stingy Crusaders defense. Holy Cross allowed only three goals last weekend to RIT but had to settle for a split. I’m thinking something similar happens here with the Pioneers hosting on Friday and Saturday’s game at the Hart Center. SHU wins Friday; CHC wins Saturday.
Here’s a look back at three things from the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:
Let’s Cut Right To The Chase (For Playoff Positioning)
With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, let’s take a look what the playoffs would look like if the season ended today:
-Robert Morris, Bentley, Mercyhurst, and Canisius would have a first round bye and home ice in the second round of the playoffs. RIT would receive a bye as the fifth place team and would travel to Canisius for the second round.
-#11 Niagara would travel to #6 Air Force in the first round, with #10 AIC heading to #7 Holy Cross, and #9 Army heading to #8 Sacred Heart.
-AIC and Niagara are assured of a first round road series, while Army’s hopes at home ice can be eliminated with two points by the Pioneers.
-Two points separate fifth place RIT from seventh place Holy Cross with five points between the Tigers and eighth place Sacred Heart. Reshuffle your favorite team and think about what might happen if Holy Cross is able to get a bye and Air Force drops to seventh. That would send Niagara to RIT, AIC to Air Force, and Holy Cross to Canisius if the bottom three don’t shift at all. There’s A LOT of bus mileage at play the next couple of weeks.
-That said, the whole thing can reshuffle if the weekends break the right way. Second place Bentley could still finish as low as seventh in the right scenario.
-Upwards of seven playoff positions could shuffle this weekend.
Tight Games All Around
Of the nine Atlantic Hockey games played this year, six ended with results of a two-goals-or-less differential. None used an empty net goal. Bentley beat Sacred Heart, 3-1; Holy Cross and RIT split 3-1 and 2-0 results with the Tigers winning via shutout; Army beat Canisius in the only one-goal game (2-1), then lost the next night by a 3-1 score. A night after losing 9-3, AIC fought Air Force to a 1-1 tie through two periods before giving up two third-period goals.
The only series that did not feature a two-goals-or-less decision was the one between Mercyhurst and Niagara; the Lakers won a pair of three-goal games.
Coming down the stretch, everyone is playing some great hockey, which is going to make this weekend’s games that much more interesting.
Home, Home On The Range
Home teams held serve in a big way this weekend, going 7-2 in the last batch of “crossover game” between the former scheduling pods. Heading into this weekend, home teams are now 58-51-23 on the year.
Two teams, Niagara and AIC, combined for a 2-13-5 record at home. If we remove them from the equation, home teams went a combined 56-34-18 on the season. Teams leading the way for home ice mastery include first place Robert Morris at 9-2-2, and the two teams tied for second place – Bentley and Mercyhurst. Bentley is 8-4-1 at home, while Mercyhurst is 9-4. Bentley’s only tie at home? A 4-4 decision on November 14th with the Lakers.
Looking at road records, only Robert Morris was able to win consistently on the road, going 8-1-2 to this point. RIT is second with seven wins to this point, but they also lost five and are done with road games for the regular season. With the exception of RIT, teams currently placed second through seventh in the league table all won between four and six road games. Bentley and Canisius have six, Mercyhurst has five, and Air Force and Holy Cross both have four.
Bentley is 3-1-1 against eastern teams with three of their four games left at Army (twice) and at Sacred Heart. Mercyhurst is virtually the same; the Lakers are 3-1-1 against western teams with three of their four games left on the road. They’ll play Canisius at home before turning around for a return match with the Griffs, then finish with two at RIT.
AIC, meanwhile, has only one more chance to win its first home game of the year against Army in a couple of weeks.
Bottom line, the road to home ice is going to be that much more important because of what playing at home meant this season. For some teams, that translates to one mentality: the playoffs are already starting.
On the season:
Dan: 106-62-24 (.615)
Chris: 114-55-24 (.656)
This Week’s Picks:
Friday, February 13
Sacred Heart at Bentley
Dan: When Bentley beat Sacred Heart earlier this year, it was their first win over the Pioneers since October of 2013, a string of five consecutive games. Sacred Heart’s gone 5-2-1 against the Falcons since the start of the ’12-’13 season, but I think Bentley can ride the current wave of momentum over the Pioneers in this one. This game is going to be a great battle. Bentley wins.
Chris: Just a single game as teams try to avoid being idle over the final weekends of the regular season. Game two of this series will be played on Thursday, Feb. 26. The Falcons want to keep the momentum going that has seen them win four in a row to move into sole possession of second place. But watch out for the Pioneers who have put together a six-game unbeaten streak including a sweep of Air Force last weekend. But I think Bentley will keep it going with a win.
Friday, February 13 and Saturday, February 14
American International at Air Force
Dan: AIC is 2-3-1 against Air Force in their last six games. In 2012-2013, the last time the Yellow Jackets played two in a row out in Colorado, they won and tied the Falcons. I find it incredibly hard to beat a team four times in a single season. So I’m going to take AIC to win a game. We always say the Yellow Jackets are going to steal a game, but this time – I’m actually going for it. AIC wins on Friday. Air Force wins on Saturday.
Chris: The flipside of SHU-Bentley are these contests which pit a pair of struggling teams. Air Force has lost four in a row and AIC is winless in its last 11. One of these teams is going to feel better this weekend and I’m picking the home team. Air Force sweeps.
Army at Canisius
Dan: Canisius came up short with just a point against first place Robert Morris last week, but I still think they’re still on the inside track to host a second round series. I think they handle business this weekend against the Black Knights. Army can help Sacred Heart and Air Force clinch home ice in the first round if they get swept, if my math is right. Canisius sweeps.
Chris: The pattern lately with these teams has been a dominant Canisius win on Friday and an Army shutout on Saturday. That’s happened three times in a row, including back in October. Cansisius came up short against Robert Morris last weekend but showed they’re a top four team, and based on that I’m picking against recent history and taking the Golden Griffins to sweep.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Holy Cross
Dan: After sweeping Niagara, Holy Cross failed to keep momentum going with a sweep loss to Bentley. That makes them 2-6 in their last eight games. RIT is very quietly becoming one of the hottest teams in the league with a 6-2-2 record since returning from the Mariucci Classic at Minnesota. At 10-7-5 in league play, the ghosts of the Corner Crew and Tiger domination of years past could finally be back. RIT sweeps.
Chris: This is a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal series that went to overtime in Game Three. RIT used to own Holy Cross but lately the Crusaders have had the better of things, including taking three points in Rochester back in November. I like that trend to continue. Holy Cross sweeps.
Niagara at Mercyhurst
Dan: The injury bug is biting Mercyhurst at the wrong time of the year with senior goalie Jimmy Sarjeant and junior forward Kyle Cook reportedly out for the remainder of the season. That said, they have plenty of firepower to go around and two very capable goalies in Brandon Wildung and Spencer Bacon. Wildung is coming off a performance as goalie of the week in the AHC, and the Lakers should be able to ride him the rest of the way. Mercyhurst sweeps.
Chris: I saw Niagara play last weekend, and there were sparks of life despite what has been a miserable season so far for the Purple Eagles. Niagara came away with a point last weekend against RIT (two if the Tigers hadn’t rallied in the final minute on Saturday), but gave up a total of 11 goals in the two games. That’s why I have to go with a Mercyhurst sweep on home ice.