This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 15, 2004

Army Sees Good Start, Bright Lights

The second half for Army started out as many expected: well.

A three-point weekend against Bentley wasn’t a surprise to many who have followed the program over the past few years, including head coach Rob Riley.

“We have a tendency of starting slowly,” said Riley, whose club began this season 3-7-2, and 2-6-2 in league play, after gaining three points in a home-and-home series with Bentley one weekend ago. “It seems that we do better in the second half.”

That statement could be considered an understatement. Army, in the past few seasons, has been a no-show in the first half of the year only to rebound late.

Last year, Army accumulated only eight points before the Christmas break, yet finished the season with 26 points in a tie for fifth place. The trend has existed since 2000-01, the first of three seasons in which Army posted a better post-Christmas winning percentage than pre-Christmas.

This season Riley has an explanation.

“It’s hard to be successful on the road. The top teams can do it,” said Riley, whose Black Knights saw only three home games in the first half of the season, but will play 11 of their final 14 at home. “At home, we get great crowds and fan support is good.”

This weekend should be particularly good for fan support as Army plays its ultimate hockey rival, Air Force, in the battle of the Militaries. The game will be televised live nationally on College Sports Television, the first time either club has played on CSTV.

“Air Force is always a big weekend for us in January,” Riley said. “CSTV has been in here all week watching practice and doing things and that’s just exciting for the players.”

Back to the topic at hand: why Army seems to come alive after the break — it’s hard for Riley to pinpoint.

“We’ve had some guys that have played together before who should be and need to be successful for us and they’re starting to do that for us,” said Riley, naming off players like Chris Garceau and Seth Beamer.

The break, according to Riley, seemed to do his club some good. After the rust was kicked off the skate blades and players got back into daily practice mode, the Knights seem poised to respond well.

“I feel we’re a lot better than we were two weeks ago,” said Riley. “When you come back you have to figure out where you are and if you can get better and we seem to be doing that.

“There were concerns after we finished up the first half, wondering when we were going to turn it up a bit.”

Now, though, bringing Air Force to town should more than “turn up” Army’s players. As Riley points out, there are few rivalries in college hockey that match this one.

“I think every year when we go out of league, it’s like these games become bigger than the games in league,” said Riley, who as a player at Boston College was a part of the BC/BU rivalry.

“It’s a little different in some ways,” Riley said of the military rivalry. This one is a little more than the others because of the institutions and what we represent.

“These games are really hard-fought, as all are, but after the game there’s a great sense of respect for the other players and the other team. We’re all Americans and we respect one another. So the Air Force thing is pretty special.

When asked what type of an impact bringing a team like Navy, which has been rumored to be exploring Division I men’s hockey, into the mix, Riley could only gasp.

“The thought of Navy coming in and another weekend like this,” Riley started, then remembered his club also plays an intense exhibition game each year against Canada’s Royal Military College. “Every league weekend is intense and you throw the two of these (Air Force and Navy) on top of it and it’s almost overwhelming.

“When other teams go out of league things are exciting but the intensity and pressure is not what these service academies bring.

“We’d certainly have to spread them out on the schedule.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Seth Beamer, Army (So., F, Merrimack, N.H.)

Beamer had a five-point weekend (one goal, four assists), registering a career-high four points in Army’s 5-2 win over American International Friday at Tate Rink. The second-line center scored a goal and three assists, two coming directly off faceoffs in the second period to lead Army in scoring. Beamer finished off the weekend with an assist in the Black Knights’ 2-2 overtime tie at AIC the next night, giving him five points for the weekend. In addition, Beamer won 15 of 23 draws in Friday’s win and was a +4 for the game. His lone assist Saturday came on the game-tying goal with 5:24 left in the contest.

Goaltender of the Week

Andy Franck, Mercyhurst, (So., G, Lakewood, Ohio)

Franck stopped 67 of 70 Bentley shots (.957) in a two-game weekend sweep, as the Lakers won two straight for the first time since a four-game streak early in the season. He backboned a defense that allowed only three goals and held Bentley scoreless on 14 power plays. Mercyhurst defeated Bentley on Friday, 2-1, and 3-2 on Saturday.

Freshman of the Week

Michael Cohen, Canisius (Fr., F, Williamsville, N.Y.)

Cohen tallied three assists over the weekend as the Griffs swept Quinnipiac by scores of 3-0 and 4-2. Cohen assisted on both of Canisius’ first-period goals in Friday’s shutout win and added his third assist of the weekend on Saturday. Cohen leads the Griffs in scoring with 12 points and is tied for the team lead in goals with six.

Shocker in Buffalo

It wasn’t simply the cold temperatures that shocked many in Buffalo last week. Canisius opened a few eyes by upsetting Quinnipiac, not once, but twice to earn its third and fourth league wins of the year and move into fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh believes the wins were a product of plenty of frustrating losses.

“For us, the first semester we played pretty well in a lot of those games,” said Cavanaugh. “But the key to success and you see this throughout, is that you have to have good goaltending, have good special team, good defense and be opportunistic in your scoring and we had that last weekend.

“Our record at the break was 2-7-5. We looked at the seven losses and the ties and realized there were five games that could’ve been in the win column.”

Cavanaugh also referred to a non-league home series against Lake Superior State. In each game, Canisius held a one-goal lead in the final minute with a defensive-zone faceoff, six-on-five. Both nights the Lakers scored with the goaltender pulled to draw even, coming away with a tie on night one and then scoring in overtime to win on night two.

“Both games against Lake State we have defensive-zone faceoffs against them with their goalie pulled,” said Cavanaugh. “If you win those faceoffs, you score in the empty net and you win the game. But both nights we let them score.

“If you have seniors taking those faceoffs, maybe they win it twice and score in the empty net, and that can be the difference.”

Cavanaugh has a young team, but entering the second half, he recognizes that freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore and thus, expectations could rise.

“It’s been a learning curve and I don’t know if we’re at the top of the curve at this point,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re a team that has proven to be competitive given the right variables and doing the things together as a team that you do.”

Now, Cavanaugh believes, that it will be important, if not critical, to temper his club’s recent success.

“I think that any time you get wins is nice… but we have to be careful not to get too high,” said Cavanaugh. “[Wins] give you a shot of confidence and the guys will be happier at practice and work harder… but we can’t get too high.

“It’s the same as our lows, though. We never got too low, and we can’t get too high on our wins.”

Around the League…

  • First off, some league business: Tickets are currently on sale for the 2004 Atlantic Hockey Championships. They can be purchased by calling the Army ticket office at (877) TIX-ARMY. This year’s tournament will be held from beginning to end at Army’s Tate Rink. The opening weekend of games features the No. 8 vs. No. 9 play-in game on Friday, March 12, followed by quarterfinal action on Saturday, March 13, and the semifinals on Sunday, March 14. The following weekend will be the league title game, with date and time still to be determined. Tickets are $10 for any one session (note: Saturday’s quarterfinals will be divided into a morning and an afternoon session) or $25 for the entire tournament. Student and youth tickets are $5 per session.
  • It seems hard to believe, but Mercyhurst’s sweep of Bentley last weekend was the first time that they Lakers have won back-to-back games since November 7 and 8. Like Army, the Lakers found themselves victims of the road, playing a 10-game road swing between November 29 and January 3. Mercyhurst went 3-6-1 over that span, but posted impressive wins over Western Michigan and Rensselaer.
  • Holy Cross continues to win in league play, making many wonder if the Crusaders can be caught. The Crusaders did drop a game last weekend, falling 5-2 on the road to Northeastern, despite entering the third period tied.
  • If you’re looking for the game of the week, look no further than this Saturday’s matchup between Quinnipiac and Holy Cross, a critical game for the Bobcats. Besides the fact they’re coming off a weekend sweep at Canisius, Quinnipiac has a chance to begin gaining ground on Holy Cross. Sitting a remarkable 15 points behind the Crusaders, Quinnipiac has six games in hand, beginning next weekend when it faces Army twice while Holy Cross is idle.