Several teams have already returned to action from the holiday break, but in the real world, it’s grades that are on student’s minds this time of year. With that in mind, let’s give out some high and low marks to the 10 Atlantic Hockey teams at the (nearly) midway point of the schedule.
AIC: 2-14 overall; 2-11 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Tom Fenton (So., G) – When Fenton went down with an injury early in the season, the Yellow Jackets struggled, going 0-7 and giving up 31 goals over that stretch. Since coming back, he’s had both of AIC’s wins.
Honor Roll: Jereme Tendler (Jr., F), Mike McMillan (Fr., F), Matt Woodard (So., D)
Looking Back: AIC started the season 0-12 and outscored 56-15. But in their last four games, the Yellow Jackets are 2-2 and have found the back of the net 13 times.
Outlook: It’s going to be tough to get out of the basement in the standings, especially since AIC has finished playing Canisius and Mercyhurst, the teams closest to them in points. A reasonable goal is to carry the momentum of their last four games into the New Year and build towards the playoffs.
Air Force: 9-8-3 overall; 6-3-3 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Eric Ehn (Jr.,F) – Ehn continues to lead the nation in overall points (36) and points per game (1.80).
Honor Roll: Andrew Ramsey (Sr., F), Mike Phillipich (So., F), Brian Gineo (Sr., D)
Looking Back: The Falcons have played well in their league games at home, and have battled some powerhouses (Denver, Notre Dame) to close losses. They are within striking distance of first place, trailing Sacred Heart by seven points with three games in hand.
Outlook: The league’s newcomers are making quite an impression with Air Force and RIT both in the top half of the standings. The challenge for the Falcons will be a schedule that sees them playing 10 games on the road to just six more at home.
Army: 7-7-3 overall; 7-4-3 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Josh Kassel (So., G) – Kassel has been outstanding as of late, recording a 2.57 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Honor Roll: Luke Flicek (Jr., F), Tim Manthey (So., D), Bryce Hollweg (Jr., F)
Looking Back: The Black Knights got off to the best league start in school history at 6-0-1, but cooled off, going 1-4-2 in their last seven conference games.
Outlook: A close, hard-fought split with second-place RIT can be a springboard into the second half of the season. A Jan. 19-20 series against Air Force looms large.
Bentley: 7-9-1 overall; 6-6 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Jeff Gumaer (So., F) – Gumaer’s 10 goals to date lead the team. The sophomore is already in fifth place on Bentley’s all-time goal scoring list with 26.
Honor Roll: Ray Jean (Sr., G), Tom Dickhudt (So., F), Jaye Judd (Jr., D)
Looking Back: Bentley has been a .500 team so far, splitting each of its first four league series before sweeping Canisius and then getting swept by Sacred Heart.
Outlook: The Falcons need to revive an offense that has managed just six goals in its last four games.
Canisius: 4-13-1 overall; 4-8-1 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Josh Heidinger (Fr., F) – The local product has had a stellar rookie campaign to date with eight goals and 15 assists.
Honor Roll: Carl Hudson (Fr., D), Andrew Loewen (Fr., G), Mike Cohen (Sr., F)
Looking Back The Griffs have put two wins together just once this season, and are 1-4-1 in their last five games and 0-8-1 on the road this season.
Outlook: Things won’t get any easier for Canisius, with nine league road games remaining to just six at home. But the talented freshman class will continue to improve with experience.
Connecticut: 6-13 overall; 6-7 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Chris Myhro (So., F) – Myhro leads the team in goals (12) and is tied for the lead in points (19).
Honor Roll: Matt Scherer (Sr., F), Sean Erickson (So., D), Cole Koidahl (Sr., F)
Looking Back: The Huskies got off to a slow start, dropping their first five games, but have rebounded lately, putting in a strong showing in their tournament with a win over Holy Cross and a close loss to Colgate.
Outlook: UConn will be favored in its first three games in January, but then the road gets harder with trips to RIT, Army and Sacred Heart.
Holy Cross: 7-10-2; 6-7-2 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): James Sixsmith (Sr., F) – Sixsmith has 21 assists to date, second-best in Division I. His 28 points are tenth overall.
Honor Roll: Dale Reinhardt (Jr., F), Jon Landry (Sr., D), Ian Dams (Fr., G)
Looking Back: Last season is a tough act to follow, and the Crusaders are currently in the middle of the pack, in the midst of a seven-game winless streak.
Outlook: Holy Cross has a rematch of last season’s AHA championship game this weekend as it travels to Bentley. Holy Cross hasn’t had a home game since November 21, and won’t have another until January 12. The Crusaders’ postseason experience will come in handy down the stretch.
Mercyhurst: 4-12-4 overall; 4-8-2 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Ben Cottreau (Jr., F) – Cottreau leads the team with 11 goals and 12 assists.
Honor Roll: Scott Champagne (Sr., F), Kyle Gourgon (Sr., F), Jordan Wakefield (Sr., G)
Looking Back: This has been a disappointing season so far for the Lakers, who were picked to finish first in the preseason poll but are currently in eighth, 10 points out of first place.
Outlook: The team’s offense has been producing, but defense and goaltending have been suspect. But based on the Lakers’ last three games (1-1 tie against Maine, 3-0 loss to Denver, 3-2 loss to Brown), this looks to be improving as senior goaltender Jordan Wakefield settles in. Still, Mercyhurst is giving up way too many shots and will need to get better in this department if it wants to make a move up the standings in the second half of the season.
RIT: 9-6-2 overall; 9-3-1 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Jocelyn Guimond (Jr., G) – Both of RIT’s goalies have played very well, with the slight nod going to Guimond (2.46 GAA, .929 save %)
Honor Roll: Louis Menard (Fr., G), Simon Lambert (Jr., F), Matt Smith (Jr., F)
Looking Back: As much as Mercyhurst has disappointed, the Tigers have impressed. Picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, RIT sits in second place, three points behind Sacred Heart with twogames in hand. RIT sports the top offense, defense and special teams in the league.
Outlook: A two-game series with Sacred Heart looms, but RIT has a couple of tough games before that: at Quinnipiac, and at home against Niagara and Canisius.
Sacred Heart: 11-4-4 overall, 9-2-4 in AHA
Midseason Valedictorian Player (MVP): Pierre-Luc O’Brien – The senior is a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate with 30 points to date.
Honor Roll: Bear Trapp (So., F), Jason Smith (Sr., G), Alexandre Parent (Jr., F)
Looking Back: The Pioneers have been the class of the league so far, the only team in the league with a .500 record out of conference.
Outlook: Big series with RIT and Holy Cross and Army await, but four of those six big games will be on home ice, where Sacred Heart is undefeated so far. The key to a trip to the NCAAs will be avoiding the late-season disappointment that befell the team last year.
Player of the Week for December 11, 2006:
Brent Patry, RIT – The junior defenseman had five points in a Tiger sweep of Mercyhurst back on December 8/9. Patry recorded two assists in a 5-2 win on Friday and added a goal and two helpers in a 6-4 victory on Saturday.
Goaltender of the Week for December 11, 2006:
Andrew Loewen, Canisius – The rookie from Winnipeg, Manitoba, made 58 saves on 62 shots in a split with AIC.
Rookie of the Week for December 11, 2006:
Jeff Hajner, Air Force – Hajner assisted on the game winning goal in a 4-2 win at Connecticut and goal and an assist in a 7-5 loss the following night.
Player of the Week for January 2, 2007:
Bryce Hollweg, Army – Hollweg had a four point weekend in a split with RIT, including the game-winning goal on Friday. They were his fifth and six multi-point games of season.
Goaltender of the Week for January 2, 2007:
Jason Smith, Sacred Heart – Smith stopped 48 of 50 shots as Sacred Heart swept Bentley on Dec. 21-22. Smith has allowed just one goal in each of his last three starts.
Rookie of the Week for January 2, 2007:
Beau Erickson, Connecticut – The Merril, Iowa native made 28 saves for his first career win in a 2-1 win over Holy Cross in the first round of the Toyota UConn Holiday Classic. He made another 33 stops in a losing effort against Colgate in the championship game.
What Goes Around…
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder’s comments after his team’s 6-2 win over Canisius last Saturday have caused quite a stir in Western New York. In an interview with the Niagara Gazette, Burkholder called for an end to the rivalry between the two Buffalo-area schools.
“I do the scheduling and unfortunately my old boss (former Niagara Athletics Director Mike Hermann) makes me play this game,” Burkholder told the Gazette. “But hopefully I can sit down with my new boss (Ed McLaughlin) and iron this out. Because I don’t want to play this game.”
Burkholder was frustrated by a game that saw things get ugly in the third period (when the Griffins’ Spencer Churchill was assessed a fighting major and game misconduct for going after Niagara’s Sean Bentivoglio) but focused more on Canisius’ poor record than the fact that the Griffs are among the nation’s leaders in penalty minutes.
“It’s the first time where we’ve been in the hunt for an at-large bid, but unfortunately even though we won this game, because of strength of schedule we’re going to go down,” he said. “It’s a big relief to have this whole day over.”
I hate to criticize a fellow RIT alum, so I’m hoping that Burkholder was speaking out of frustration. It would be a shame for this rivalry between the only two Division I programs in the hockey-crazed Buffalo area to end. Saturday’s crowd was 1,541, the largest December crowd ever at Dwyer. And this was with the Sabres in town.
While Niagara is the class of the CHA this season and just entered the USCHO.com/CSTV poll at No. 19, it’s not yet and quite possibly never will be the kind of premier program that can just reload every year. Canisius has a great freshman class and should improve over the next few seasons. Who’s to say that in two or three years it won’t be the Purple Eagles pulling down Canisius’ strength of schedule?
And with the status of the CHA up in the air, Niagara might need all the games it can get in a couple of years. Burkholder shouldn’t burn bridges, especially those so close to home.
Around the League
Air Force: The Falcons’ nine wins before the holiday break tied a school record, shared by squads from 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2004-05. Air Force’s series at Mercyhurst this weekend is the first meeting ever between the two schools.
American International: The Yellow Jackets hope that 2007 starts the way that 2006 did, when AIC opened the calendar year 3-1. AIC has played just four home games to date, but is on home ice for 10 of its final 16 contests.
Bentley: The Falcons’ 5-2 and 7-2 losses at Nebraska-Omaha were the first time they had been swept in a weekend series this season, and were the first-ever games between Bentley and a CCHA school. The second game was a Commissioner’s Cup contest, making the AHA 4-4-1 in Cup games.
Connecticut: The Huskies staged a big comeback in a 7-5 win against Air Force on Dec. 8. The Falcons led 5-2 after two periods, but five unanswered goals in the third period, three on the power play, propelled UConn to the win. … The opening game of the UConn Hockey Classic was doubly important for the Huskies and their opponent, Holy Cross. It also counted as an Atlantic Hockey league contest. UConn won the game and the two league points, 2-1.
Holy Cross: After this weekend’s series at Bentley, the Crusaders will have played nine consecutive games away from home. They’re 0-5-2 so far. Holy Cross returns home on January 12 and 13 against Air Force.
Mercyhurst: The Lakers’ game against RIT back on Dec. 8 marked the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Mercyhurst Campus Ice Center. The opponent in that first game? RIT, when both schools were members of the Division III ECAC West. The Tigers won both times, 5-4 in overtime back in 1991 and 5-2 in the anniversary meeting. … Laker goalie Jordan Wakefield made a school-record 54 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to Brown last weekend in the consolation of the Denver Cup tournament.
Sacred Heart: Senior Pierre-Luc O’Brien picked up his 142nd career point on Dec. 22, tying him for the most in school history. O’Brien needs two assists to break that career record, and three more goals to become the all-time leader in that category.