This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 23, 2006

Fact or Fiction?

Frequent readers of this column know that I love playing the game “Fact or Fiction” at least once a year. It’s based on the ESPN segment of the same title that picks various sports topics, makes a statement about them, and then gives in-studio guests a chance to say whether they believe the statement is fact or fiction — with their reasons, of course.

So here, I will do the same thing. I’ll make a few statements about Atlantic Hockey and its members, tell whether or not I believe the statements are true or false, and then give my reasons.

To make this interactive, I invite readers to email me and give me their opinions. Remember, don’t just tell me whether you think a statement is fact or fiction: back it up. I’ll choose a few of these responses (provided I actually get some) and post them in next week’s column.

So here we go:

Fact or Fiction? Holy Cross will win the regular-season title.

That’s a fact. The way that the Crusaders have played down the stretch proves that this is a team that can win championships. A three-point lead with four games to go isn’t insurmountable, but I’d be shocked to see the Crusaders not on top come season’s end. I especially like the fact that head coach Paul Pearl seems to have settled on Tony Quesada as his main man in net. I’m a firm believer that goaltenders, out of all positions, tend to get streaky and right now Quesada is on an extremely hot streak. Now, don’t take any of this as any disrespect to Mercyhurst or Sacred Heart. I just think that the Crusaders have built themselves a large enough lead to come out victorious.

Fact or Fiction? Bentley will finish with home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

That’s fiction, in my book. The Falcons played well last weekend to sweep Canisius on the road, but Army, in my opinion, is the better team. The only way that Bentley remains in fourth place is to sweep Connecticut this weekend, a team that seems to have revitalized itself for a stretch run. That, with a Mercyhurst sweep over Army (something I don’t think comes easily), would lock Bentley in fourth place. Other than that, with Bentley facing Holy Cross and Army pitted against American International in the final week of play, I’d look for Army to leapfrog the Falcons for the final home-ice spot.

Fact or Fiction? The top four seeds will advance in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.

Seems like fiction to me. First off, it’s too early to know which teams will finish in the top four. The fact of the matter, though, is that we’ve seen all year that Atlantic Hockey is completely volatile from top to bottom. In a one-game playoff scenario, I could believe that an eight seed could be the top seed this year. There have been no easy games, home or road, in the league this season, so why would the playoffs be any different?

Fact of Fiction? Atlantic Hockey will produce a Hobey Baker finalist.

This is a fact. There are so many players in Atlantic Hockey posting unbelievable seasons that it is impossible to overlook the league. Mercyhurst boasts two contenders in David Borrelli (42 points in 27 games) and Jamie Hunt (41 points in 28 games as a defenseman); Holy Cross has a pair as well in Tyler McGregor (45 points in 29 games) and goaltender Tony Quesada (second in the nation in winning percentage and fourth in wins, despite splitting time much of the year). Heck, even Sacred Heart goaltender Jason Smith should at least get on the Hobey ballot (ninth in nation in goals against, fourth in save percentage). If all of these players get shut out it will be obvious that the Hobey balloters choose not to pay attention to Atlantic Hockey, which would be a sad statement for the voting process.

Fact or Fiction? Sacred Heart’s Bear Trapp is a lock for Rookie of the Year.

Sacred Heart's Bear Trapp is the choice for AHA rookie of the year, Jim Connelly says.

Sacred Heart’s Bear Trapp is the choice for AHA rookie of the year, Jim Connelly says.

Absolute fact. Though the league has seen some nice performances from its freshman class (Bentley’s Anthony Canzoneri, UConn’s Chris Myrho and Mercyhurst Chris Trafford, for just a few) Trapp is hands down the best rookie talent the league has to offer. He currently is tied for the national lead in game-winning goals, he’s potted 36 points in 29 games (second only to Minnesota phenom Phil Kessel in rookie points per game) and has recorded multi-point games 11 times this season. Add to that the fact that Trapp has one of the best hockey names around, and he gets my vote hands down.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Cole Koidahl, Connecticut: A struggling UConn team seems to be back on track heading towards the finish line, and much of that is due to the play of junior Koidahl. Koidahl has scored 11 points in his last five games, including four last weekend when UConn took three of four points from Army. Koidahl is leading the team in scoring and his 29 points have already surpassed his career high.

Goaltender of the Week

Ray Jean, Bentley: One weekend after Jean was put on the pine against Mercyhurst, the junior transfer bounced back with a two-game sweep of Canisius. He posted his first career shutout with 29 saves in a 1-0 win on Friday night and then followed that up with 30 saves in a 4-3 victory Saturday. The victories vaulted Bentley into fourth place and the final home-ice spot in Atlantic Hockey.

Rookie of the Week

Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart: A four-point weekend for Trapp included the game-winning goal in Friday’s 4-1 victory over AIC. It was Trapp’s sixth game-winner of the year, tying him with Denver’s Ryan Dingle and Colorado College’s Brett Sterling for the national lead.

Random Musings

• If you need any proof of just how close things are in Atlantic Hockey, look no further than last Saturday night. Four games produced three overtime ties and a one-goal victory. The only team to sweep the weekend last week was Bentley, which faced a Canisius squad that was without its top goaltender, Dan Giffin, who is sidelined with a concussion. It was only Bentley’s second sweep of the season.

• Speaking of Giffin, word out of Buffalo is that he might be able to dress for this weekend’s series against AIC. For the sake of the Griffs, let’s hope so. Canisius is 5-8-0 when he’s in net — yet only has a win and a tie from the team’s only other netminder, Max Buetow.

• Atlantic Hockey and its member schools stand to save a lot of money come playoff time should the standings remain status quo. Three of the four current hosts would play one of their closest possible opponents. Right now, Mercyhurst would host Canisius (one-hour bus trip), Holy Cross would host AIC (one-hour bus trip) and Sacred Heart would host Connecticut (one-hour bus trip). The only school that would be forced to do any serious travel would be either Army or Bentley, which seem locked into playing one another; we just don’t know where (maybe they could play halfway between the two schools, at, say, the Hartford Civic Center?).

• A couple of series really stick out this weekend as important. If either AIC or Canisius is going to climb above seventh place, that team will need to sweep this weekend when they meet head-to-head. On top of that, the one way that Holy Cross’ train towards the regular-season title could derail is when it faces a pesky Sacred Heart club for two this week.

• I want to take this chance to thank USCHO executive editor Scott Brown, who patiently filled in for me last week. At the ripe age of 32 years old, I was told by doctors that I needed to have my tonsils out. The surgery took place last Wednesday, the 15th, and I’m still in a bit of shock that more than a week later I’m not back to 100 percent. I had just enough energy to plug out this column, but apologize that my lack of a strong voice kept me off the phones, making quotes absent. By next week I hope to be back to full strength so I can deliver the usual piece-of-crap column readers have become accustomed to. *wink*