This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 27, 2005

Fact or Fiction?

I’ve always enjoyed ESPN’s SportsCenter segment, “Fact or Fiction?” And as I was trying to find things to write about, I realized there are a lot of burning questions as we’re heading down the home stretch of the Atlantic Hockey season.

Here, then, is Fact or Fiction, Atlantic Hockey style.

Fact or Fiction? Preseason favorite Mercyhurst will still pull out the regular-season championship.

That is fiction. Nothing against the Lakers, but they have lacked the consistency this season to feel like a favorite heading down the home stretch. There have been highlights, but the fact is they’ve been equaled by a handful of lowlights. And Canisius, most people’s favorite to take the regular-season title, has given Mercyhurst fits this season.

All of that said, don’t be surprised if, coming down he home stretch the Lakers make one impressive run at the title. My feeling is that they’ll likely fall just short. Don’t, though, count the Lakers out when it comes to winning the postseason tournament and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years.

Fact or Fiction? UConn will get home ice in the playoffs.

As much as I’d like to say fact, it’s really fiction. The Huskies are the most underrated team in the conference. What UConn has lacked this season is just the ability to put together a major run. That, though, could and should be coming soon, as the return of goaltender Scott Tomes has seemed to fire up the team.

The reason that this is still fiction, though, is because it’s impossible to figure that any of the current top four teams wouldn’t keep home ice. Mercyhurst sits in fourth, but I’d say a home-ice bid for the Lakers is a lock. The last thing the Lakers want is another long road trip before a playoff game.

Many feel Sacred Heart is a lock for home ice, if not to win the league. (Holy Cross is my pick to win the league at this point.) So that leaves only Canisius. And the seven-point lead the Griffs currently have over Connecticut should be enough to secure the fourth home-ice position.

Fact or Fiction? Atlantic Hockey has the best goaltending, league-wide, of any of the six conferences.

That’s a fact. If Atlantic Hockey indeed has one thing going for it, it’s the fact that top to bottom, the goaltenders in the league are top-notch. There are five or six goaltenders who could be successful at a top-notch Division I program.

There’s some irony that bottom-of-the-barrel American International is paced by the league’s best goaltender Frank Novello. If this kid we’re playing at Holy Cross, he’d probably have a .750 winning percentage for his career. Still, he’ll tell you himself that his decision to go to AIC is one he’d never change.

In addition to Novello, you have Brad Roberts at Army, Jamie Holden at Quinnipiac, Canisius’ Bryan Worosz, Andy Franck and Mike Ella at Mercyhurst, Kevin Lapointe for Sacred Heart, Scott Tomes of Connecticut, Holy Cross’ duo of Tony Quesada and Ben Conway, and Bentley’s Simon St. Pierre. If I’m building a hockey team, I take any one of these guys.

Some may think that within the league, where the talent crop is sub-par offensively compared to other conferences, these goaltenders are able to shine. But this translates outside of the league as well.

Take, for instance, former Army goaltender John Yaros. He was good the one season he played at West Point. When he transferred away after deciding Army life wasn’t for him, Yaros ended up at Massachusetts-Lowell and was thought of by Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald as potentially one of the best goaltenders in Hockey East.

Fact or Fiction: Army and AIC will again rematch in the play-in game.

That, unfortunately for both clubs, is fact. Right now the gap that is developing between the eighth and ninth spots and seventh-place Bentley is simply too much to overcome. If you had to pick one of the two clubs to overtake Bentley, you’d go with AIC. The Yellow Jackets have two games in hand on the rest of the league (they’ve played 11 where most teams have played 13).

Still, an Army-AIC rematch isn’t all bad. You’d be pitting two of the league’s better goaltenders in Roberts and Novello. Plus, Army would be looking for revenge after last year’s playoff loss to AIC on home ice.

Fact or Fiction: Air Force will be the 10th team in the league

Fact. At this point is seems like a foregone conclusion that the Falcons will join the league for 2006-07, along with RIT. They might not seem like much of a geographic fit, but Air Force currently plays more than 70 percent of the league in nonconference action, so the addition just converts these games to contests that count in the standings.

Fact or Fiction: If Air Force comes to Atlantic Hockey that would mean the end for College Hockey America, and thus one of the six automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

This qualifies as both fact and fiction. I believe that if Air Force leaves the CHA, that’s likely the end of the line. There have been rumors that both Wayne State and Alabama-Huntsville are struggling financially and may be faced with the hard decision of whether to continue funding their programs. The CHA is on shaky ground that could crack with Air Force’s departure.

The fiction, though, is that one of the six autobids would disappear. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Atlantic Hockey continue to attempt to grow. From 10 they could easily go to 12, if they pulled in Niagara and Robert Morris, and might even want to try for 14 by adding up-and-coming programs like Rhode Island or St. Anselm.

If Atlantic Hockey reached 14 teams, you might see them split into two conferences and thus qualify for two autobids. This could be a longshot, but don’t think the powers that be aren’t already thinking about it.

Road Trip

The following has nothing to do with hockey, so if you’re not a fan of off-topic contact, please feel free to stop reading.

I’m currently on a little bit of a road trip. I’m in Tunica, Mississippi. For those of you not familiar with Tunica, it’s considered the poker capital of the United States.

The city is located about 50 minutes south of Memphis, Tenn. It possibly the flattest place that I’ve ever been (I grew up and have spent most of my life in Boston). I guess about two decades ago a bunch of developers decided to build a ton of casinos around here.

What is here besides casinos, you ask? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The town makes me feel like I’m in the 1970s (or maybe 1980s).

The problem that this has created for me is a lack of Internet access. Thus, putting together this week’s column has been almost impossible. It’s nothing that I anticipated (particularly in the world of wireless Internet connections — sadly, that just doesn’t exist down here). So to my readers, I apologize and promise that next week’s column will be back to normal.

And if anyone is wondering how I’m doing (including the IRS): I’m up about $100 after one day of play.