This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 19, 2006

Welcome Back

With the first two weeks of the season in the books, we’ve had just two conference tilts so far, featuring the majority of teams in non-league contests against teams from the “Big Four” conferences. Unfortunately, AHA teams are just 1-15-2 so far in nonconference games.

One of the new kids on the block, RIT, got the league’s first and only point to date against the Big Four this season with a 2-2 tie at Union last Saturday. This was some consolation for the Tigers, who dropped their first two games of the year, 4-3 to St. Lawrence and 4-2 to Clarkson, the last goal an empty-netter with 17 seconds left.

This was same old, same old for RIT, which pulled its goalie in both games after doing it 20 times last season en route to 15 one- or two-goal losses.

“I told the guys that we’ve been knocking on the door for a long time but we need to knock the door in,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We’re got to continue to show progress going forward, and since we played all three of these teams last year, the results are a good indicator of progress.

“I thought we were better than last season. We played much better against St. Lawrence than we did last year. We did win the one game (last season), but they really won that one on the ice. We just won it on the scoreboard.” In that 3-2 win last season, St. Lawrence outshot RIT 68-15 with goaltender Jocelyn Guimond tying an NCAA record for most saves in a regulation win with 66.

“That wasn’t the case this year,” Wilson said. “We had them on their heels at the end and thought we could tie the game up, but we didn’t. It was much closer this year, and frankly I didn’t think we played as well as we could have.”

Wilson said his squad played better the next night against 20th-ranked Clarkson, but it was the same story. “We played very well the second night. They won the first period and we won the second. It was a pretty balanced third period.”

The Tigers played six freshmen their opening weekend, and had five in the lineup last Saturday against Union.

“We didn’t have any exhibition games to tune up this year,” said Wilson. “They were thrown right into the fire. (St. Lawrence and Clarkson) is a tough road trip. It wasn’t the easiest transition to college.”

Also seeing his first action of the season was sophomore Louis Menard, who appeared in just one game last season (a 10-7 loss at RPI) due to injury.

“Louis played great,” said Wilson. “You can’t go by that game last year .It was a crazy game and unfortunately he got hurt right after.”

Guimond was back in net on Saturday against Union, making 47 saves.

“Jocelyn played very well,” said Wilson. “He didn’t give them second chances. He sucked everything right in.”

RIT plays its home opener this weekend, hosting AIC Friday and Saturday. This puts the Tigers in a position they haven’t been in very often lately. AIC is picked to finish below the Tigers in the standings this season by most coaches and writers, meaning that RIT will be favored in these games.

“We’re excited to host our first home conference games,” said Wilson. “But the bottom line is that we have to prove ourselves. We’re an unknown and new to the league. (The coaches) should have put us last as far as I’m concerned. We haven’t proven anything yet.”

Weekly Awards

Week One

Player of the Week

Eric Ehn, Air Force: Ehn had four points in the Falcons’ opening weekend, scoring the only Air Force goal in a 2-1 loss to crosstown rival Colorado College and getting two goals and an assist in a 4-3 win against Alabama-Huntsville.

Goaltender of the Week

Louis Menard, RIT: Menard, making just his second collegiate start, stopped 36 shots in a losing effort to Clarkson. The sophomore allowed three goals in a 4-2 loss.

Rookie of the Week

Carl Hudson, Canisius: Hudson had two goals in his debut, a 4-2 loss to Robert Morris.

Week Two

Player of the Week

Luke Flicek, Army: The junior forward scored both goals in a 2-0 win over AIC last Friday and chipped in an assist in a 2-2 tie with Sacred Heart on Saturday.

Goaltender of the Week

Josh Kassel, Army: Kassel stopped 57 of 59 shots on the weekend, posting a 2-0 win and a 2-2 tie.

Rookie of the Week

Andrew Loewen, Canisius: Making his debut in net for the Griffs, Loewen made a school-record 61 saves in a 3-1 loss at Miami

So Close, and So Far

The first two weekends of the season saw Air Force lose a close game to a longtime local rival, and then travel over 6,600 miles for a pair of games at Alaska (formerly Alaska-Fairbanks).

On October 6, the Falcons came close to ending 20 years of frustration against Colorado College. Air Force had not beaten the Tigers since 1985, and were denied its latest opportunity when the potential tying goal was disallowed due to a high stick with just one second to play.

“It was a good call,” said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore. “It was definitely a high stick.”

Serratore was pleased for the most part with the 2-1 loss, but, like RIT’s Wilson, is frustrated with being close, but not close enough.

“We played well defensively,” he said. “We only allowed them 19 shots. We’re having trouble getting over the hump with scoring goals in those kind of games against upper-echelon teams.”

Air Force drew 2,995 to the game, the third-largest crowd ever to see a game at Cadet Ice Arena. 863 were there two nights later for a 4-3 win over former CHA foe Alabama-Huntsville. Pete Foster was in net both nights for the Falcons, making a total of 32 saves in the two games. He was less effective in Alaska, making 19 stops in a 3-0 loss, and then getting pulled after allowing seven goals on 23 shots in an 8-4 loss the next night, yielding to freshman Andrew Volkening.

“The jury’s out,” said Serratore of his goaltending situation. “Pete played well against CC, and made a couple really good saves, timely saves, against UAH, but he had a couple he’d probably want back.

“It was penalties and goaltending (in Alaska). In essence they go hand in hand. Your goaltender is your best penalty killer.”

Serratore said the trek to Fairbanks wasn’t bad. “We took a military transport,” he said. “It was only a five-hour flight. It’s a good thing we’re the Air Force and not the Bus Force.”

The Falcons host Bentley this weekend in their inaugural Atlantic Hockey season games. “We’re looking forward to it,” said Serratore. “We’re two evenly-matched teams. Every game gives us an opportunity to learn a little more about our team. We’re still early in the journey.”

Around the League

• Atlantic Hockey is 1-1 so far in the Commissioner’s Cup standings. Designated games played so far were Air Force’s 4-3 win over Alabama-Huntsville and Canisius’ 4-2 loss to Robert Morris. Next up in this series is Sacred Heart at Wayne State and Alabama-Huntsville taking on Air Force at the Lightning College Hockey Classic in Florida, both on October 27.

• Holy Cross has spiffed up the Hart Center in the off-season. A new floor, boards and glass have been installed. “It’s taken 20 years off the place,” Pearl told the Boston Herald. “It looks like new.” The Crusaders will play eight of their next 11 games on home ice.

• Ottawa played three exhibitions against AHA opponents the opening weekend of the season, and all of them ended in ties.

• Bentley is in the middle of a five-game road trip to open the season. The Falcons play at the other Falcons (Air Force) this weekend.