This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 18, 2007

Burning Bright

The term “surprising” has been associated with RIT for much of this season. The Tigers, not quite two years removed from Division III and picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Hockey Association’s preseason poll, have been near the top of the standings since Thanksgiving. With a sweep of Sacred Heart last weekend, maybe it’s time to remove the “surprising” tag, and replace it with “just darn good.”

RIT’s 4-0 and 6-3 wins at Sacred Heart, the first time the Pioneers had been swept on home ice since 1999, vaulted the Tigers into first place in the Atlantic Hockey standings. RIT leads Sacred Heart by a point and has two games in hand.

“We had great efforts tonight and last night,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson after Saturday’s game. “Joss (Guimond) was solid in net and I thought we played well in front of him. Too many penalties, and we have to work on that, but overall I was very pleased.”

Guimond stopped 62 of 65 shots in the two wins. He’s currently ninth in the nation in save percentage (.929) and 20th in GAA (2.32), the highest-ranked AHA goaltender in each category.

A balanced offensive attack was led by junior defenseman Brent Patry, who scored three goals last weekend to go with the pair he got against Canisius last Tuesday.

“He’s always been an offensive defenseman, but right now he’s in the zone,” said Wilson. “We don’t have any seniors (on defense) and he’s become a real leader for us.”

On Friday, the Tigers got two goals each from Patry and senior forward Rob Tarantino, and Guimond recorded his first career shutout in a 4-0 win. On Saturday, Sacred Heart came out with much more intensity, making it a physical battle from the drop of the puck. The game was tied 3-3 going into the third period, but RIT wore down the Pioneers and took the game, and first place, 6-3.

“Sacred Heart is a good program and we knew that we would have to weather the storm after beating them (on Friday),” said Wilson. We were able to get an early goal, which was important, and then getting the two goal lead in the third was huge.”

The games were played with a playoff-level intensity. I had asked Wilson early in the season if every game would seem like a playoff game to his team, since RIT is not eligible for the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, leaving the regular-season title as its main goal. At that time Wilson didn’t think so, but when I asked again last Saturday, he had changed his mind.

“That was early in the season and we had a lot of games to go,” he said. “Now that we are in the homestretch, yeah, these games do seem like playoff games. We have the goal of winning the regular-season title. That’s all we can play for.

“It was a great weekend for us. We were very focused. We’ve had a lot of people contributing throughout the lineup.”

RIT hosts Connecticut this weekend with an opportunity to extend its lead.

“They can put us back in our place fast,” said Wilson. “There’s still a long way to go.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for January 15, 2007:
Brent Patry, RIT
— The junior defenseman had a six-point week to help the Tigers go 3-0, including a home win over Canisius and a road sweep of Sacred Heart. Patry scored twice in a 6-3 win against the Griffins on Tuesday and got two more at Sacred Heart on Friday. He capped off the week with another goal in a 6-3 Tiger win on Saturday. Patry now has 23 points on the season.

Goaltender of the Week for January 15, 2007:
Jocelyn Guimond, RIT
— Guimond had a 3-0 week including his first career shutout. He stopped 74 of 80 shots in a win over Canisius and a road sweep of Sacred Heart to vault the Tigers into first place in the standings. The junior from Quebec City, Quebec, is currently ninth in the nation in GAA (.925).

Rookie of the Week for January 15, 2007:
Chris Forsman, Canisius
— Forsman becomes the fifth Canisius player to be named Rookie of the Week this season. Last Friday, he tied a school record by getting four points in a 4-3 overtime win at Connecticut. He had seven points in all in three games last week.

Getting Better All the Time

American International opened the season 0-12, outscored 55-15 over that span. But since December 1, the Yellow Jackets are a respectable 3-5 and have split their last three weekend series. AIC has had the lead at some point in each of its last six games and has scored 20 goals and allowed 20 goals over that span.

Last weekend, the Yellow Jackets scored a season-high six goals on Friday en route to a 6-3 win over Bentley. Jereme Tendler led the way with his first career hat trick. AIC killed all 14 of Bentley’s power plays last weekend.

Coach Gary Wright says that his team is showing signs of life and looks to continue to get better.

“Compared to our start, we’re better,” he said. “It was a difficult situation to start the season. We were a better team than our record indicated, and fortunately our situation got better. We’re more potent offensively, and we’ve cut down the number of shots against.”

A tough schedule and an injury to starting goaltender Tom Fenton put AIC behind the eight-ball early.

“We played 10 of our first 12 games on the road, and played in some tough places,” said Wright. “And Tom is a real leader for us.”

Fenton has all three wins for AIC so far this season, and allowed just one goal on 30 shots last Friday. But it’s an improvement on offense that has been key to AIC’s ability to win some games.

“We’ve been working really hard on the offensive side of things,” said Wright. “We need to manufacture offense. We’re not going to get all high-skill goals. We need more of the other kind of goals, too.”

Tendler leads the team in scoring by a wide margin, with 10 goals and eight assists so far. Junior Bryan Jurynec and senior Jeremy Leroux follow with 10 points each.

“Jurynec is one of our leaders,” said Wright. He’s not a big goal-scorer but he brings the most consistency with respect to coming to play every game and every practice. And Leroux anchors our defense.”

Wright says he expects more improvement down the stretch.

“We’re spending a lot of time in practice on cutting down on (opposing) shots and protecting the puck carrier so we have more puck possession,” he said.

“We’ve got a more balanced schedule remaining and want to finish strong.”

Around the League

Air Force: Eric Ehn continues to roll. The junior from Dexter, Mich., had his 11th multiple-point game of the season on Friday in a 2-2 tie with Holy Cross, and recorded his 100th career point in another 2-2 tie with the Crusaders on Saturday. Ehn has reached the career 100-point plateau in just 92 games.

Army: The Black Knights have 10 wins so far in league play, already matching their season total from a year ago. Army travels for a pair of huge games at Air Force this weekend. For only the second time in the 37-year history of the rivalry (they were both members of the CHA for a single season (1999-2000)), league points are at stake. Saturday’s game will be shown live on CSTV. Air Force leads the all-time series 23-15-2.

Canisius: The Golden Griffins’ 4-3 overtime win at Connecticut last Friday was their first road victory of the season, snapping a 12-game losing streak dating back to last season. Canisius is an impressive 3-1-3 in overtime under coach Dave Smith.

Connecticut: Senior captain Matt Scherer pocketed $25,000 as a recent contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”. Scherer correctly answered the first ten questions before missing a question worth $50,000. He walked away with $25,000. The show was pre-taped four months ago, but just aired last week. Scherer had to keep the results a secret during that time. “I’ve never done anything like this before.” Scherer told the Daily Campus, the University’s newspaper. “These things don’t happen to people in my family. It was just an awesome experience that not a lot of people get. It makes for a great ‘hanging-out’ story or something crazy to tell people.”

Holy Cross: Senior captain James Sixsmith needs just three more points to become the Crusaders’ all-time leading scorer. Sixsmith now has 43 goals and 98 assists for 141 career points, just two behind the record of 143 set by current San Jose Shark Patrick Rissmiller (’02).

And Finally…

Two new national awards were recently announced by the Hockey Commissioners’ Association. A national Rookie of the Year award will be presented for the first time this April. There will be six finalists for the award — the Rookies of the Year from each of the six conferences. Assistant coaches from each of the 59 Division I schools will vote.

And, of special interest to Atlantic Hockey, the Hockey Commissioners’ Association will also be awarding an Unsung Hero award, named in honor of Derek Hines, a former Army player and co-captain who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in September. According to a release from the HCA, “This award recognizes a fearless leader and beloved fan favorite who always places his team first. Displaying exemplary sportsmanship, he’s supremely competitive, intelligent and extraordinarily conditioned with an unmatched work ethic. The contributions of this individual, on and off the ice, cannot be measured by statistics alone.”

The winner will be selected by a panel of the sports information directors of the six D-I conferences along with representatives from Army and from the Hines family.

Great idea.