As Far As They Could Go
RIT’s unprecedented mission was accomplished last Friday at Bentley, where the Tigers defeated the Falcons 3-0 to wrap up the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title. It was bittersweet for Wayne Wilson’s team, since RIT, two years removed from Division III, is ineligible for the postseason.
“We knew the deal going in,” said Wilson. “This was our goal from the beginning of the season.”
Goaltender Jocelyn Guimond stopped all 26 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. It was a muted celebration at the buzzer, as the team briefly posed with a banner made by a fan and saluted the contingent of RIT supporters in attendance.
“I asked (Bentley coach) Ryan Soderquist if it was OK to do that, and he said yes,” said Wilson in his postgame interview. “That was gracious of him, since you usually don’t do that in someone else’s building.”
“Both teams got what they wanted this weekend,” said Soderquist, whose team came back to beat the Tigers 7-6 on Saturday. “They won the title and we avoided the play-in game.”
RIT will lose three senior forwards to graduation (Brad Harris, Tristan Fairbarn and Rob Tarantino). All fittingly got on the scoreboard on their last shifts, with Harris picking up a goal, assisted by the other two, with 1:06 to play in the contest.
RIT should return almost intact from last season, including its top nine scorers and all eight defensemen, so its future looks bright.
The Only Game in Town
The ninth- and 10th-place teams square off this weekend in first-round playoff action, as Canisius will host AIC on Saturday to decide which team will travel to Sacred Heart on March 10 to face the Pioneers, who wrapped up the top seed with a split against Army last weekend. Other quarterfinal games on the 10th will feature Bentley at Army, Mercyhurst at Connecticut, and Holy Cross at Air Force.
AIC was swept by Air Force on home ice in its final weekend of the regular season, a disappointment to coach Gary Wright, whose team has been playing well in the 2007 portion of the schedule.
“I thought (Air Force) played very well, and we didn’t,” said Wright. “It was certainly a disappointment after the way we had been playing. I don’t think it will carry over. When you’ve come back from 0-12, you can come back from 0-2.”
AIC will look to junior forward Jereme Tendler to keep producing. Tendler’s 15 goals are almost three times as many by any other Yellow Jacket this season (Mark Pavli and Bryan Jurynec have six each).
“I wish we had more balance, but we’re certainly grateful to have him,” said Wright. “(Tendler’s) a classic skater with a nice shot. He’s highly skilled and a dynamic, productive player. He’s been there for us week in and week out.”
AIC’s defense allowed 11 goals last weekend after holding the opposition to under three in four of its last six league games.
“We need to cut down on the odd-man rushes and play well in our own end,” said Wright. “Our captain (defenseman) Jeremy Leroux will play about a half an hour for us.”
Goaltender Tom Fenton is going to be key as well. The sophomore has been in net for all seven of AIC’s wins this season.
“He’s an integral part of our team,” said Wright. “It’s going to come down to goaltending. As the saying goes, sometime this game should be called ‘goalie’ instead of ‘hockey'”.
Canisius and AIC split their two-game season series, with the Griffs winning 5-2 the first night, and the Yellow Jackets taking the following game 4-1.
“They were pretty even games,” said Wright. “I don’t expect any different on Saturday.”
“I think it will come down to what it usually does in the playoffs,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “Goaltending and special teams.”
While much of the attention has gone to the Canisius freshmen this season, Smith says a pair of go-to guys right now are upperclassmen.
“Two guys that are playing very well are (senior) Dave Kasch up front and (junior) Kyle Bushee in the back,” said Smith. “It’s important for our team to have them continue to play well.
“AIC is a good team, a dangerous team. We’re playing our best hockey of the season right now, so hopefully we’ll be ready.”
We don’t Need No Stinkin’ Downtime
A change in format this season has the play-in game taking place on a Saturday, giving seven teams the weekend off. In the past when a play-in game has been used, it was done on a Tuesday, allowing for quarterfinals the following weekend. But with Air Force in the league this season, there’s no way a mid-week game could have been played had the Falcons been involved.
This can be a momentum-crusher for the teams with downtime, and the coaches don’t like it.
“It’s awful,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “But I can understand why we’re doing it this season. I think it’s a disadvantage to the seven teams involved.”
“We don’t want to be off right now,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall, whose team has lost only once in its last eight games. “We want to keep it going.”
“I’d have liked a weekend off earlier in the season as opposed to now,” said Frank Serratore, head coach at Air Force. “We’ve been going without a weekend off since Christmas and there were plenty of times where we could have used a break. We don’t need one now.”
“I don’t like it,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “You want to be playing this time of year and keep it going. It’s disruptive. You want to keep playing the same schedule you’ve had for the past month.”
That’s the silver lining for being in the play-in game, according to Canisius coach Dave Smith.
“You’d hope that the team that wins (the play-in game) will have an advantage going into next weekend,” he said.
Things will change next season, with ten teams eligible for the playoffs. The league will play five best-of-three quarterfinal series and send the winners to Rochester. The fourth and fifth seeds will play on Friday, with the semifinals on Saturday and the championship on Sunday. That will give the winner a week off between the AHA finals and the NCAA regionals.
Player of the Week for February 26, 2007:
Eric Ehn, Air Force – The junior forward had a five point weekend to lead the Falcons to a sweep over AIC. He assisted on three goals on Friday in a 6-2 win and scored two of his own on Saturday in a 5-1 victory. Ehn now has 45 points in conference play, breaking the AHA single-season record. He leads Division I in scoring with 60 overall points.
Goaltender of the Week for February 26, 2007:
Jocelyn Guimond, RIT – Guimond recorded his second shutout of the season, stopping 26 shots in a 3-0 win at Bentley on Friday. With the win, the Tigers clinched the AHA regular season title. Guimond finishes the season with a 2.48 GAA and .922 save percentage.
Rookie of the Week for February 26, 2007:
Owen Meyer Air Force – The freshman forward had four points last weekend to help the Black Nights to a split with Sacred Heart. He had a goal in Friday’s 5-3 loss and a goal and two assists on Saturday in a 4-2 victory.
Cloudy Crystal Ball
Whoops. Neither I nor the AHA coaches did a spectacular job in our preseason prognostications. While we got a few right (both the coaches and I had four teams in their proper positions), we missed big on Mercyhurst, RIT and Army.
Coaches (actual finish in parentheses):
1. Mercyhurst (7th)
2. Sacred Heart (2nd)
3. Holy Cross (6th)
4. Connecticut (4th)
T5. Bentley (8th)
T5. Air Force (5th)
7. Canisius (9th)
8. RIT (1st)
9. Army (3rd)
10. AIC (10th)
1. Mercyhurst (7th)
2. Sacred Heart (2nd)
3. Holy Cross (6th)
4. Bentley (8th)
5. Air Force (5th)
6. Connecticut (4th)
7. Army (3rd)
8. RIT (1st)
9. Canisius (9th)
10. AIC (10th)
Around the League
Air Force: The Falcons will host a playoff game for the first time in school history on March 10 when they entertain Holy Cross … Senior Billy Devoney has been named a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award. This is the first season that an NCAA hockey player will be selected, as the award was originally developed for NCAA basketball. The criteria for the award are excellence in academics, character and community service, similar to the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Other finalists include: Matt Anderson (Massachusetts), David Brown (Notre Dame), Glenn Fisher (Denver), Curtis Fraser (Alaska-Fairbanks), Jeff Jakaitis (Lake Superior State), Michel Léveillé (Maine), Kirk MacDonald (Rensselaer), Ryan Mahrle (Western Michigan) and Nate Raduns (St. Cloud State). The winner will be announced at the Frozen Four in St. Louis.
Army: The Black Knights’ win on Saturday at Sacred Heart was their first victory in Milford since Jan. 19, 1999. Their 15 conference wins were the most in school history.
Canisius: Carl Hudson got his 20th point last weekend, making him the third freshman this season to get to that plateau (Josh Heidinger has 34 and Jason Weeks has 25). Prior to this season, only five freshmen have hit that mark in the Division I era. Freshman defenseman Chris Forsman has 19 points.
Mercyhurst: The 2-2 tie with Canisius on Saturday was the 10th overtime game this season for the Lakers, a school record. Mercyhurst is 1-3-6 in overtime this season.
RIT: A few reasons for the Tigers’ success: RIT ends its season with the second-best offense in Division I (3.88 goals per game) as well as the top special teams in the nation. The Tigers had the second-rated power play (24.4%) and seventh ranked penalty kill (87.2%) for a combined rating of 59.2.
Skillful: Air Force winger Andrew Ramsey and Sacred Heart goaltender Jason Smith will represent Atlantic Hockey in the second annual Pontiac Frozen Four Skills Challenge.