This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 15, 2007

Winning Ways

This is the time of the year when teams try to peak. A successful season can be derailed with a late swoon, while a slow start can be erased with a strong finish. Two teams that look to be on top of their game right now reside in the Nutmeg State.

The Connecticut Huskies are riding a four game winning streak, their first since 2005. UConn opened the season 0-5 and was just 5-12 at Christmas, languishing in seventh place in Atlantic Hockey. But since the first of the year, Connecticut is 7-3-1 and has jumped into fourth place. Its 13 conference wins is its best victory total ever, and there’s still four games to play. According to coach Bruce Marshall, his team turned up the intensity when it saw time slipping away.

“We realized the hour glass was turning the other way,” said Marshall. “We needed to start getting points every weekend. and stop saying ‘Let’s wait and see what happens’ and start making it happen.

“Our seniors realize that as far as college hockey is concerned, this is it. They’ve been putting a lot of time and energy to make the last bit of hockey meaningful. They’re never going to get this back. One more game, one more series. It’s coming down to that.”

Senior Matt Scherer has been hot, scoring four goals last weekend in a sweep of Bentley. He’s moved into a tie with fellow senior Cole Koidahl for the team lead in scoring with 29 points.

“They’ve been great,” said Marshall. “And Trevor Stewart has been outstanding as well (25 points).”

While the seniors are putting up the points, it’s a freshman that’s been the main difference-maker. It’s no coincidence that Connecticut began to consistently win once rookie Beau Erickson assumed the starter’s role between the pipes.

“We were goalie-by-committee early on,” said Marshall. “But since the break he’s gone in there and given us a chance to win every night by staying within striking distance. We’ve come from behind a lot and he’s hung in there and allowed us to do that.”

The Huskies face AIC this weekend with a chance to clinch home ice for the playoffs, something they haven’t done since 2000 while a member of the MAAC. UConn needs four points in its final four games to lock up a home playoff game.

“The last three seasons, we’ve been nipping at the heels of the teams ahead of us, trying to get home ice,” Marshall said. “I’ll tell you — I’d rather be in the position we’re in now.”

75 miles to the southwest, another Connecticut team is back on track. Sacred Heart had lost five of its last seven games going into last weekend, when the Pioneers had to travel to suddenly-hot Mercyhurst. Shaun Hannah’s team rose to the occasion, sweeping the Lakers to stay in the hunt for the regular season title. The pair of wins clinched a home ice playoff game.

“It was gut-check time,” said Hannah. “Mercyhurst is a good team, a dangerous team. We were able to play solid defense and capitalize on our chances.”

Hannah says the wins were an indication that his team is back on track.

“In the month of January we got away from what we need to do to win,” he said. “We had to get back to playing our game. We were inconsistent. We weren’t capitalizing on our power play, and giving up too many scoring chances.”

Key players have returned to form. Senior Pierre-Luc O’Brien scored his 66th career goal on Saturday, setting the all time school record. He has four points in his last three games after getting just five points in all of January.

“We’re getting production from guys like (freshman Dave) Jarman and (sophomore Eric) Giosa,” Hannah said. “Giosa had a goal and five assists last weekend.”

There’s a theory put forth by coaches, including a couple in the WCHA, that a team needs to pace itself and not expend too much energy to try to capture a regular season title. It’s more important, they say, to conserve and peak during the conference tournament and carry the momentum into the NCAAs. RIT, the team Sacred Heart is chasing, has nothing to play for other than the regular season title while the Pioneers have much more.

“In the scope of the whole season, you have goals,” said Hannah. “You want to win the regular season, then the conference title and make the NCAA tournaments. They’re all important. You do it in steps. You want to finish strong and play great in the playoffs. That’s our goal, and the goal of every team in the league.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for February 12, 2007: Matt Scherer, Connecticut – The senior forward had four goals last weekend to lead the Huskies to a sweep of Bentley. He scored twice each night to raise his season total to 19, tops on the team.

Goaltender of the Week for February 12, 2007: Louis Menard, RIT – The freshman from Chicoutimi, Quebec raised his AHA record to 11-0 with a pair of wins last weekend over Air Force. Last Friday, he entered the game in relief with the Tigers trailing 4-2 and shut down the Falcons for the rest of the game as RIT rallied for a 5-4 victory. On Saturday, Menard stopped 31 of 32 shots for a 2-1 win.

Rookie of the Week for February 12, 2007: David Jarman, Sacred Heart – Jarman wins the award for the second time in three weeks. The rookie from Toronto, Ontario had two goals and two assists to help the Pioneers to a road sweep over Mercyhurst. Jarman leads all Sacred Heart rookies with 17 points on the season.

And Down the Stretch They Come

There’s just two weekends — 19 games — left in the regular season. At this point, tie-breakers become important, so let’s review the ones used by the AHA. Note that according to the league office, tiebreakers are only used for playoff seedings. If two teams finish fifth, for example, they are considered tied in the standings and the tiebreakers are only used to seed them for the playoffs. This is especially relevant for the regular season title. If, for example, RIT and Sacred Heart finish tied at the top of the standings, they will be co-champions even though the Tigers swept the Pioneers this season.

And here are the tiebreakers:
1. Head to head results. Goal differential is not used should the teams still be tied.
2. Conference wins.
3. If the teams played each other four times, then fewest goals allowed in those games.
4. If the teams played each other twice, then total goal differential in all 28 league games.

These are the same ones used by the WCHA, which plays a similarly unbalanced schedule.

Let’s take a look at where each team can wind up based on its final four games:

RIT — The Tigers control their own destiny and need three points for a share of the title; four points to win it outright.
Best Finish: First
Worst Finish: Third
Games Remaining: Mercyhurst (2), Bentley (2)

Sacred Heart — The Pios need six points to assure themselves the top seed in the playoffs. They’re the only team to date to wrap up a home ice playoff game.
Best Finish: First
Worst Finish: Fifth
Games Remaining Holy Cross (2), Army (2)

Army — The Black Knights are the only other team with a shot to win the regular season title. They can tie RIT for first if they win out and RIT loses its last four. Army needs three points to assure itself a home playoff game.
Best Finish: First
Worst Finish: Sixth
Games Remaining: Bentley (2), Sacred Heart (2)

Connecticut — The Huskies need four points to wrap up home ice. It may even be three based on how they do the last weekend against Holy Cross.
Best Finish: Second
Worst Finish: Seventh
Games Remaining: AIC (2), Holy Cross (2)

Air Force — Six points are needed to assure a home playoff game, possibly five based on how tiebreakers sort out over the final two weekends.
Best Finish: Second
Worst Finish: Seventh
Games Remaining: Canisius (2), AIC (2)

Holy Cross — The Crusaders are two points out of a home ice spot.
Best Finish: Third
Worst Finish: Ninth
Games Remaining: Sacred Heart (2), Connecticut (2)

Bentley –The Falcons need a lot of help to avoid traveling for the playoffs.
Best Finish: Fourth
Worst Finish: Tenth
Games Remaining: Army (2), RIT (2)

Mercyhurst — The Lakers are one point out of a play-in game spot.
Best Finish: Fifth
Worst Finish: Tenth
Games Remaining: RIT (2), Canisius

Canisius — The Griffs cannot get home ice for a playoff game … unless it’s the play-in game.
Best Finish: Sixth
Worst Finish: Tenth
Games Remaining Air Force (2), Mercyhurst

AIC — Barring a big turnaround, the Yellow Jackets should plan on playing on March 3.
Best Finish: Seventh
Worst Finish: Tenth
Games Remaining: Connecticut (2), Air Force (2)

Around the League

Air Force: Senior forward Andrew Ramsey had two assists last Friday and now sits at 99 career points (34 this season). AFA needs one more victory to tie the school record for wins in a season (14).

Army: The Black Knights need three points to clinch their first home playoff game since joining Atlantic Hockey. That bodes well for Army based on its 8-1-4 record at Tate Rink this season.

Bentley: Jeff Gumaer broke the Bentley Division I goal-scoring record with his 33rd career tally on Friday night … and he’s only a sophomore. He has 17 this season, just two away from that all-time mark, held by coach Ryan Soderquist.

Canisius: Last Friday, Senior Michael Cohen became the third player in school history to record 100 career point plateau in the Division I era. Freshman Josh Heidinger is one assist away from breaking the school record for a single season. He has 35 helpers so far this season.

Strictly Coincidence: Three of the four games played in Atlantic Hockey last Saturday were 2-1 decisions. The other was double the fun at 4-2.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here