Atlantic Hockey scored a pair of impressive wins last week, as the top two teams in the AHA defeated the top two squads in the ECACHL. RIT defeated Quinnipiac 3-2 last Thursday, and Sacred Heart beat Cornell 2-1 on Saturday. Both games were on the road.
The Pioneers’ win at Lynah was the second in school history, the first coming in back in on November 4, 2000. That one marked the first-ever win by a MAAC school over a “Big Four” conference opponent, But this time Cornell was ranked, owning the No. 11 spot in the USCHO.com/CSTV Poll entering the game.
“It was a big win for us,” said Sacred Heart coach and Cornell alum Sean Hannah. “We were tied 1-1 in the all-time series so now we lead them 2-1. I was really happy with the way we played. We worked hard and got rewarded.”
Junior Alexandre Parent scored the eventual game-winner on the power play with 14:29 to play and Jason Smith made it stand up, making 13 saves in the third period and 28 total in the game. The senior goaltender has allowed just one goal in each of his last four starts.
“Smitty’s playing great,” said Hannah. “He’s really stepped it up. He’s our go-to guy. He was a little loose earlier in the season, but he’s really gotten into a groove.”
The Pioneers got an early goal from Kyle Tuttle, and Cornell tied things up when Justin Kreuger scored midway through the second. That set the stage for Parent’s gamer in the third.
“It was a very physical game,” said Hannah. “It was two teams battling, finishing their checks and playing hard. We were able to protect the middle of the ice and push them to the outside, limiting their chances.”
Pierre-Luc O’Brien was held scoreless in the contest, so he had to wait to until Tuesday’s 3-1 win at AIC to continue his assault on the school’s record book. The senior from Nicolet, Quebec, picked up two assists on Tuesday. The first, on the eventual game winner a minute into the third period, gave him 143 career points, breaking the all-time mark of Martin Paquet ’03. O’Brien’s second assist of the game gave him 81 on his career, breaking that record. He needs three more goals to get that record as well.
O’Brien and linemate Bear Trapp were two of five Atlantic Hockey players named on the ballot for the Vote For Hobey campaign. Fans can go to www.hobeybaker.com and vote for their favorite candidate.
“It’s nice to see two guys from our program get the recognition,” said Hannah. “There are a lot of good hockey players out there and to have them in that select group says a lot about them.”
The Pioneers now await a showdown with RIT, which comes into this weekend’s series with Sacred Heart in second place, trailing the first-place Pioneers by three points with two games in hand. RIT has been the surprise of the league so far, going 10-3-1 in league play after winning just four Division I games last season, its first after moving up from Division III.
“They’re for real,” said Hannah. “It’s no secret that they’re a good team. RIT has a great tradition. They skate well, they’re physical. They work hard, and they’ve got great goaltending. I think we’ve got a good game plan. We have to go out and execute.”
Player of the Week for January 8, 2007:
Jeff Gumaer, Bentley – The sophomore forward had a six-point weekend, tallying a goal and two assists each night in a split with Holy Cross.
Goaltender of the Week for January 8, 2007:
Jason Smith, Sacred Heart – Smith shut down Cornell, stopping 28 of 29 shots in the Pioneers’ 2-1 win at Lynah. Smith has allowed just one goal in each of his last four games.
Co-Rookie of the Week for January 8, 2007:
Jason Weeks, Canisius – Weeks recorded his first career hat trick in a 4-3 Griffins’ win over Army. Two of the goals were shorthanded, the first time in the Division I era that a freshman had scored two shorthanded goals in a game. Weeks’ hat trick was the first for Canisius since March 3, 2000.
Co-Rookie of the Week for January 8, 2007:
Michael Coppola, Bentley – Coppola also got his first career hat trick, helping UConn to a 5-4 win over AIC on Saturday. After getting his first of the game midway through the second period, Coppola’s unassisted shorthanded goal early in the third period tied the game, and he put the Huskies ahead for good with another goal two minutes later.
So Far, So Good
Air Force is at the midway point of its inaugural year in Atlantic Hockey, and currently sits in a tie for third place, along with fellow service academy Army. The Falcons have 11 wins so far on the season, equaling their total from all of last season.
So far, so good, for coach Frank Serratore’s squad, which jumped to the AHA this season from College Hockey America.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s kind of fun not playing the same teams over and over. It’s nice to have so many teams and so many league games. At this point last season we only had six league games to go. This year we have 14. We’re only halfway through the league schedule.”
Serratore says it’s been a challenge every weekend for his Falcons.
“There’s good balance,” he said. “Look at the goals for and goals against for the teams in the league. There are a few outliers but most teams are really grouped together, even more so than by wins and losses. All of our games have been competitive. We haven’t been blown out and we haven’t blown anyone out.”
Air Force has just two losses in its last 10 games: a tough 2-1 decision at Denver and a collapse at Connecticut where the Falcons led 5-2 after two periods, but allowed five goals in the third and lost 7-5.
“We’re looking for consistency,” said Serratore. “Our goaltending has been up and down, up and down. It’s what I worry about the most. We need to get the same thing every night.”
That prompted Serratore to give senior Ben Worker his first career start last Saturday at Mercyhurst, and the netminder came through, allowing just one goal on 19 shots in a 3-1 Falcons victory.
“That’s a great story,” he said. “Ben is a walk-on. He got into the academy on his own and we picked him up as a practice goalie.”
Worker, who played high-school hockey in Thief River Falls, Minn., had played just seven minutes in his career prior to Saturday.
“To be honest, the goaltending we got on Friday against Mercyhurst wasn’t our best and we decided to give Ben a shot. He played well and will get another start this weekend.”
Air Force travels to Holy Cross this weekend, before returning home for a showdown with Army on January 19 and 20.
Junior center Eric Ehn continues to lead the nation in points (40) and points per game (1.82) He has 97 career points to date. Linemate Andrew Ramsey has 91 points in three-plus seasons. Serratore is also within striking distance of a career milestone — he has 190 career wins, with 141 of them coming at Air Force.
With 14 games left and at least one postseason game, 200 wins are in view.
“We’re a little beat up,” he said. “We’ve been bitten by the injury bug the past couple of weeks, but I think we’ll be O.K.”
Around the League
Army: Wisconsin transfer Ken Rowe scored his first goal at Army in a 4-3 loss to Canisius on Saturday.
Canisius: The Griffins have split all four home series so far this season, the most recent against Army, where they lost the first game 5-1 and fell behind in Saturday’s contest before scoring the final three goals of the game for a 4-3 win. It marked the first time in 29 contests that Canisius had trailed after two periods and pulled out a win. … Freshman Jason Weeks had a hat trick last Saturday against Army and followed that up with two more goals against RIT on Tuesday.
Connecticut: The Huskies have won three straight league games, their longest streak since December, 2005. Freshman Michael Coppola’s hat trick was the third of the season for UConn, the most by any team in Atlantic Hockey.
Holy Cross: After going 0-5-2 through the first of seven consecutive road games, Holy Cross wrapped up its long stretch of road contests with a split at Bentley. The Crusaders will host Air Force this weekend, and be home for six of their final 10 conference games. Senior captain James Sixsmith had a five-point weekend at Bentley and now has 138 career points, good enough for third all-time at Holy Cross.
Mercyhurst: The Lakers continue their tailspin, now falling to ninth place. After a decent showing in three non-conference road games, the Lakers returned home but were swept by Air Force. Mercyhurst is winless in its last seven games dating back to Dec 2. The Lakers will look to turn the tide this weekend at Army — the Lakers lead the all-time series 14-5. Goalie Jordan Wakefield faced 95 shots last weekend against Air Force, stopping 88 for a .926 save percentage. … Speaking of goalies, sophomore Tyler Small, who lost the starting job to Wakefield, has left the team. Small told the Erie Times, “My heart wasn’t into it as much as it should have been and, if you’re not committed to giving your all at this level, then you’re in it for the wrong reason.”
RIT: The Tigers had a busy week, playing three games in six days. RIT posted a big win at No. 16 Quinnipiac last Thursday, but dropped a 5-3 decision to No. 19 Niagara at home in front of a sellout crowd (2,100) at Ritter Arena. It was RIT’s first sellout of the season. The Tigers are second in the league in attendance, averaging 1,411 per game. Sophomore Steve Pinizzotto registered two assists in RIT’s 5-3 win over Canisius on Tuesday, extending his point streak to 10 games.
Vote for Hobey: Besides Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Bear Trapp of Sacred Heart, three other Atlantic Hockey players are on the ballot for Vote For Hobey. You can also vote for Air Force’s Eric Ehn, Holy Cross’ James Sixsmith and RIT’s Jocelyn Guimond. Go to www.hobeybaker.com.
Gone, but not forgotten: I made the comment in last week’s column that no AHA team had ever won a game at Cornell’s Lynah Rink. While technically true, several readers, including Chuck Bennedum from Sacred Heart, wrote to remind me that the Pioneers defeated the Big Red at Lynah in 2000 when Sacred Heart was a member of the MAAC. Army also defeated Cornell at Lynah in 1987, when the Black Knights were in the ECAC. Of course, Sacred Heart made all this moot by defeating Cornell 2-1 on Saturday.