The Pioneers play at Canisius to open the postseason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the season:
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.
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.
- 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.
Last Week: 1-2
On the Season: 143-83-29 (.610)
This Week’s Picks:
NCAA East Regional
No. 4 Canisius vs. No. 1 Quinnipiac
A Canisius upset is a trendy pick. The Golden Griffins have been the hottest team in Division I over the last four weeks, while the Bobcats lost in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament but managed a victory the consolation (yeah, it was consoling) game.
I have picked against Canisius in its last eight games and the Griffs have proved me wrong each time. Why mess with that? Quinnipiac wins.
NCAA West Regional
No. 3 Niagara vs. No. 2 North Dakota
While Canisius may be a semi-popular choice to advance, almost no one thinks the Purple Eagles have a shot. Any team with a Hobey Baker finalist in net has a chance, provided Carsen Chubak shakes off his last game and his team plays better in front of him. I just think the North Dakotans (well, what else can I call them?) have more weapons and will win a war of attrition. North Dakota wins.
USCHO will have a live chat for each game this weekend, plus stories, features and video.
Three things from the championship weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
And then there were two
In an historical Atlantic Hockey championship weekend, Canisius captured its first ever conference championship, defeating top-seeded Niagara 5-3 in the semifinals and dominating Mercyhurst 7-2 in the title game.
The Golden Griffins will play their first ever NCAA tournament game on Saturday in Providence, R.I., where they’ll take on the overall No. 1 Quinnipiac.
Niagara is seeded 10th overall and will take on North Dakota in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Friday.
You can see the entire bracket here.
I’ve been following college hockey for over 30 years, and I can attest that the addition of programs and formations of new conferences has continued to level the playing field.
Sure, you still have your blue chip programs, where not making the national tournament or even not winning it is considered a down year. But when you see teams like Quinnipiac, Union and Merrimack become national contenders in recent years, and low seeds like Brown make it to the league championships, you know that the difference between the traditional powerhouses and most Division I teams is narrowing.
This was the case this season in Atlantic Hockey. Coaches in the conference have long been preaching “on any given night”, but when the dust settled, it was Air Force representing the league in the NCAA tournament five of the last six seasons.
That changed this season with Canisius and Mercyhurst squaring off for the Atlantic Hockey title, teams that finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in the final standings.
Parity also was evident in Niagara gaining an at-large NCAA berth, the first ever in the AHA’s ten-year history. It also showed in Robert Morris’ near miss – the Colonials finished two slots away from making the tournament.
Niagara’s NCAA bid was partially made possible because the rest of the league won almost 40% of its non-conference games, the best percentage ever. Beating teams with better records moves you up in the selection process. For example, Robert Morris’ seven non-conference wins, including victories over Quinnipiac and Miami, helped the entire league.
Expect that trend to continue, and for “any given night” to be rule and not the exception.
As optimistic as things look in terms of on-ice success, fan support around the league remains poor. The bottom nine teams in average attendance in Division I this season were from Atlantic Hockey.
The lack of fans at this year’s championships at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester made it painfully obvious that a playoff game at BCA without Rochester Institute of Technology is not going to be a success in terms of ticket sales. The league has been fortunate that the Tigers had made it to the semifinals five straight seasons, but that’s not something that you can bank on, literally.
This past weekend, you had the next-best case scenario with Niagara, Canisius and Mercyhurst, the three teams closest to Rochester besides RIT, in the semifinals.
Attendance was officially listed as 1,095 on Friday and 887 on Saturday. That was tickets sold and not people in the arena, which topped out for the first semifinal between Niagara and Canisius at about 700.
The rink seats 10,313.
I think the two main factors for the low turnout is an under appreciation for the teams involved, as well as very little interest from the Rochester community.
The Buffalo News‘ Bucky Gleason had a piece this week about the lack of support Niagara and Canisius get in Western New York, a supposed hockey hotbed. It’s a real pity that this level of hockey is mostly ignored.
But even if each team brought a 1,000 people with them instead of the 100 or so they did, it still would only be half of what a playoff game involving RIT has drawn. That’s on the Rochester community, which missed some pretty good hockey. Where were the youth teams and hard-core hockey fans? Yes, they sell out the building for RIT once a year, but those ticket prices are $6-$10 while seats for Saturday’s championship were $18. Would lower prices make for more people? It’s a slippery slope because $18 is still a deal compared to what the other leagues are changing.
Would moving the tournament help? Not likely based on the attendance figures for the league in general. That’s something for each team to work on. Just like winning non-conference games, a rising tide will lift everyone’s boat.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Canisius’ 7-2 win over Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey championship:
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A number of firsts happened at the Atlantic Hockey semifinals today. A few:
• The game between Mercyhurst and Connecticut marked, surprisingly, the first use of video replay in Atlantic Hockey history. Trevor Gerling’s wrist shot in the first period trickled through goalie Jordan Tibbett’s legs and across the goal line before getting scooped out by a Laker defenseman. Referee Shayne Ferrier awarded the goal after review.
• It’s the first time that the sixth and seventh seeds will compete in the Atlantic Hockey championship.
• All three Atlantic Hockey championship games will be broadcast on cable for the first time.
• Atlantic Hockey has a chance to have two teams in the NCAAs for the first time, pending the results on Saturday and Sunday.
• It’s the first opportunity for Canisius to play for an automatic bid.
• For the first time since Air Force and Rochester Institute of Technology joined Atlantic Hockey and for the first time the tournament was moved to Rochester, N.Y., both teams were absent from the semifinals.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Mercyhurst’s 4-1 win over Connecticut in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals:
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Canisius’ 5-3 victory over Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals: