One of the most highly visible series of the season took place in Colorado Springs last weekend. Army and Air Force squared off for the 41st and 42nd times, with each team coming away with two points. The Falcons won on Friday, 4-1, while the Black Knights triumphed 2-0 on Saturday despite being outshot 36-10.
Army coach Brian Riley was happy with his team’s effort.
“Air Force is a very good team,” he said. “You’re not going to outwork them, and they have a lot of skill. It’s a tough place to play and I’m proud of my guys for battling back and getting two points. The successful teams in this league find ways to get points every weekend.”
Josh Kassel continued his strong play with 60 saves on the weekend, including a career-high 36 in the 2-0 shutout on Saturday. The Black Knights scored two goals on just 10 shots, but Riley said that figure was misleading.
“If you look at the stats, the game looks one-sided,” he said. “But if you were there, you’d know that it was a pretty evenly played game. We spent a lot of time in their end.
“Shots are goal are important, but getting the goals is what matters. The key on Saturday is that Josh made some big saves for us early, and that gave us confidence.”
Riley echoed comments made prior to the game by Air Force coach Frank Serratore, who said that having points on the line would give the games a different feel, perhaps not as intense.
“It was different,” said Riley. “With points on the line, there was more line matching and sparring, with neither team wanting to make a mistake. When it was a non-league game, you’d just go out there and let it fly.”
Saturday’s win was Army’s 11th conference win of the season, already surpassing its win total from last season. The Black Knights opened the season 6-0-1 in league play, and have stayed near the top of the standings despite a five-game winless streak in November and December. Even during that stretch, Army only went one weekend without taking any points.
“I think the key to our success this season has been our consistency,’ said Riley. “We’ve been able to come out of most weekends with something. Also, playing well on the road has been critical I think two years ago we won one road game. Getting points on the road is very important in this league, and that’s what the successful teams do.”
The Black Knights find themselves in second place with eight games left to play. Since first-place RIT isn’t eligible for the post season, Army is currently holding down the top seed — a surprise to many who thought the departure of Brad Roberts would mean a down year for the Black Knights.
“Experience goes a long way,” said Riley. “We have a lot of experienced players, but everyone looked at the goaltending situation and said, ‘Roberts is gone, so they’re going to be in trouble.’ But Josh has been outstanding and the experience that we have is paying off.”
Player of the Week for January 22, 2007:
Ben Cottreau, Mercyhurst – Cottreau returned in style after missing seven games due to a concussion. He tallied two goals and four assists last weekend, helping the Lakers to a 7-4, 5-2 sweep of Bentley, the first sweep of the season for Mercyhurst.
Goaltender of the Week for January 22, 2007:
Josh Kassel, Army – Kassel made 60 saves on 64 shots last weekend as his Black Knights split with Air Force. He matched his career high with 36 saves in a 2-0 shutout of the Falcons on Saturday. Air Force outshot Army 36-10 in that game.
Rookie of the Week for January 22, 2007:
Jason Weeks, Canisius – Weeks is one of the hottest rookies in the nation, recording another three goals last week to bring his total for the month of January to eight, tying a school record.
Hurry Up and Wait
Mercyhurst is off this weekend, a rarity with just five weeks left in the regular season. It’s a mixed blessing for coach Rick Gotkin, who probably could have used the break a little sooner, while star forwards Ben Cottreau and Scott Champagne were out with injuries. Both returned to the lineup last weekend, and the Lakers, who were winless in their previous nine games, rebounded with a 7-4, 5-2 sweep of Bentley.
Cottreau was out for seven games and Champagne missed five before returning last weekend. Cottreau celebrated with two goals and four assists, while Champagne chipped in four helpers.
“It’s been a tough year, and injuries are part of the game,” said Gotkin. “But it’s good to have them back. They’re dynamic players.
“Let’s put it this way,” he added. “Ben was our leading scorer when he went out (with a concussion) and he was still our leading scorer when he got back.”
One player who won’t be back is goaltender Tyler Small, who left the team two weeks ago. Small was 3-8-3 this season after a freshman campaign that saw him go 14-6-1.
“He just didn’t feel he could continue to make the commitment,” said Gotkin. “There were signs of it last year. He almost left last Christmas, but came back and played well. But if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. There were no hard feelings.”
Gotkin already has two goalies committed for next season, as his remaining two netminders, Jordan Wakefield and Mike Ella, are seniors. One of the goalies slated to play for Mercyhurst next season is Matt Lundin, who appeared in 23 games for Maine over two seasons before returning to junior hockey.
“We like our goaltending next season and we like our goaltending now,” said Gotkin. “Wakefield has played very well for us and Mike Ella won us an Atlantic Hockey championship two years ago.”
Gotkin says while the return of Cottreau and Champagne certainly bolstered his team, the difference was in the results and not the effort, which has been there all season.
“We played about the same as we have all year,” he said. “But we were better at finishing — we had more presence around the net. We were seven for 12 on the power play after going one for 30 leading up to last weekend.”
It’s unfortunate for Mercyhurst that the Lakers, finally healthy and coming off their first sweep of the season, have to take a weekend off. But, as usual, Gotkin looked at the bright side.
“We were supposed to be playing Holy Cross this weekend,” he said. “But they had the opportunity to open Quinnipiac’s new building (the Crusaders play at Quinnipiac’s new rink on Sunday), so we moved the games to Thanksgiving. It worked out for us. We took three points. Had we lost I guess I would be complaining now, but I like having those three points that I would have had to play for this weekend.”
Mercyhurst returns to action on February 2 at Air Force. “We have a mathematical shot to finish in the top four,” said Gotkin. “It used to be bigger to win the regular season title, since you got to host. And last year everybody knew we were going to Holy Cross. But this year, with the neutral ice, it’s anybody’s title to take. Any one of these teams can put together three good games and win this thing and then play for the national championship.”
Around the League
AIC: The Yellow Jackets have snapped a couple of losing streaks lately. Last Friday, AIC defeated Holy Cross for the first time in 17 tries dating back over four years. Back on December 1, the Yellow Jackets beat Mercyhurst for the first time in 20 games.
Connecticut: The Huskies came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat RIT last Friday. Chris Myhro scored twice and Matt Scherer got the game winner 39 seconds into the extra period. It was the first time UConn had ever defeated RIT in Rochester. The Huskies were 0-4 all time at Ritter Arena dating back over 20 years. RIT has not won in overtime on home ice since 1997.
Holy Cross: Senior James Sixsmith picked up three more points last weekend and now has 144 on his career, putting him at the top of the Holy Cross all-time Division I career points list. He passed current San Jose Shark Patrick Rissmiller (’02). Sixsmith has 100 assists, making him the fifth Crusader in history to hit the century mark in that category.
Attendance Update: Air Force drew a total of 4,745 for its series with Air Force, while RIT brought in 4,071 fans for a pair with Connecticut. In all, 12,401 fans attended Atlantic Hockey league action last weekend. Also, Canisius and Sacred Heart both played at Dartmouth, drawing 3,383 and 3,420 fans, respectively. A total of 87,494 fans have attended games at AHA rinks so far this season.
Commissioners’ Cup — On the basis of Dartmouth’s 4-0 win over Holy Cross on January 16, the ECACHL won the Commissioners’ Cup for the 2006-07 season, its third straight title. Unfortunately, the AHA finished last in the standings, but only four points out of first. Each league participated in 11 Commissioners’ Cup games, with the AHA finishing 4-6-1. The ECACHL was 5-3-3 in its games. Full standings can be found at www.ahcahockey.com.