The top four seeds in Atlantic Hockey all advanced last Saturday, with Sacred Heart, Army. Connecticut and Air Force moving on to Rochester. Sacred Heart did what is expected in a highest vs. lowest seed scenario, while the other three winners took advantage of their first-ever home AHA playoff games and came away with wins.
With Holy Cross and Mercyhurst bowing out, Atlantic Hockey will have a new representative in the NCAA tournament. UConn has won a league championship before, but that was in the days of the MAAC prior to that conference receiving an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
So while there were no surprises in the quarterfinals, expect that anything can and will happen from here on out. All four of these teams can win this thing.
“We’ve all done well against each other,” said Sacred Heart coach Sean Hannah. “Look at our games. We tied both times with Air Force. We tied and split with Army. And UConn swept us (and split earlier in the season). And the games between those schools have been very close.”
Hannah says his seniors, who have come close in the past, really want that trip to the NCAAs.
“It’s an exciting time for our league, and we’re glad to be a part of that,” he said. “We have an incredibly determined senior class that made it to the championship game as freshmen and stumbled the last two years in the quarterfinals. They know this is their last shot.”
Best of the Best
I’ve been mulling over my picks for all-league teams and the various other awards the league will hand out this weekend, and I want to apologize ahead of time to the players and coaches that I left off. With so many quality players, the decisions for every position were difficult. The official ones from the league will be announced this weekend. These are just one man’s opinion:
F Eric Ehn, Air Force
F Simon Lambert, RIT
F Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart
D Jon Landry, Holy Cross
D Brent Patry, RIT
G Josh Kassel, Army
F Andrew Ramsey, Air Force
F Matt Scherer, UConn
F James Sixsmith, Holy Cross
D Tim Manthey, Army
D Al Mazur, RIT
G Louis Menard, RIT
F Steve Pinizzotto, RIT
F Jereme Tendler, AIC
F Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart
D Brian Gineo, Air Force
D Scott Marchesi, Sacred Heart
G Jocelyn Guimond, RIT
Honorable Mention: Ben Cottreau (Mercyhurst), Luke Flicek (Army), Dave Grimson (Sacred Heart), Jeff Gumaer (Bentley), Chris Myhro (Connecticut), Mike Phillipich (Air Force), Dale Reinhardt (Holy Cross), Jason Smith (Sacred Heart), Matt Smith (RIT), Jordan Wakefield (Mercyhurst)
F Josh Heidinger, Canisius
F Anton Kharin, RIT
F Owen Meyer, Army
D Al Mazur, RIT
D Dan Ringwald, RIT
G Louis Menard, RIT
Honorable Mention: Beau Erickson (Connecticut), Jeff Hajner (Air Force), Carl Hudson (Canisius), Dave Jarman (Sacred Heart), Andrew Loewen (Canisius), Mark Menzione (Bentley), Jason Weeks (Canisius)
Team Sportsmanship Award: Sacred Heart. This week, the Pioneers were scheduled to shave their heads to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancer research. The team held the same event last season and raised $15,000.
Individual Sportsmanship Award: Chris Bolognino and Matt Tourville. These AIC players helped save two families from a burning building in November.
Best Defensive Forward: Brad Harris, RIT
Best Defenseman: Jon Landry, Holy Cross
Rookie of the Year: Louis Menard, RIT
Goaltender of the Year: Josh Kassel, Army
Coach of the Year: Wayne Wilson, RIT
Player of the Year: Eric Ehn, Air Force
Plenty of Seats Available
Expectations are fairly low for attendance this weekend in Rochester for a couple of reasons. RIT is not eligible, and the Tigers average over 1,500 for home games, of which just a fraction will probably attend this season.
Also, the same site is hosting the NCAA East Regional the following weekend, and, while Rochester is a good hockey town, two college hockey events in a row is a bit much. Atlantic Hockey did the right thing in terms of ticket prices — just $25 for the three games (reduced to $15 if you’re a student). The NCAA regionals cost $71 for three games. I’m guessing the number of seats sold will be between 1,000 and 1,500, per game which sounds low … until you consider the CHA. Its championship in Des Moines, Iowa, drew 1,309 people in total for four games. Just 252 were at the championship game.
College Hockey America did get CSTV to cover the championship game, and I hope the AHA can pull off a similar deal at some point. The MAAC final used to be televised on MSG, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented. I hope the games this weekend turn out to be as exciting as the wild ones the CHA had. It’s just a shame more people weren’t there to see them. Atlantic Hockey did the right thing picking a neutral spot close to some of its programs. This year should be the low point for attendance in Rochester.
Player of the Week for March 11, 2007:
B.J. Crum, Connecticut – The senior forward scored two goals to lead the Huskies to a 5-4 win over Mercyhurst. He got the game’s first goal, and the game-winner in the third period.
Goaltender of the Week for March 11, 2007:
Ben Worker, Air Force – Worker got his third shutout of the season, and none has come at a better time — a 3-0 blanking of defending champion Holy Cross in a quarterfinal game. Worker’s GAA dropped to 2.13 as a result.
Rookie of the Week for March 11, 2007:
Nick Johnson, Sacred Hear – The rookie from Windsor, Conn. had the game winner and tacked on an assist to lead the Pioneers to a 4-0 win over AIC. Johnson has 15 points on the season.
Looking Back … Looking Ahead
On the eve of the Atlantic Hockey championships, league commissioner Bob DeGregorio couldn’t be happier.
“It’s been a great year,” he said. “Lots of great games and I think the additions speak for themselves.”
New members RIT and Air Force have made their presence known immediately, with the Tigers winning the regular season title and the Falcons advancing at least as far as the semifinals.
“Air Force is a very good program, an established program, and we are very glad to have them,” said DeGregorio. “And everybody’s question was how long the transition for RIT would take. I guess we know now. I met with (RIT coach) Wayne Wilson before the season many times, and I knew RIT would be competitive. He’s a good recruiter, very well organized, a good tactician. Good defense is good defense in Division III and Division I.
“I was surprised (at RIT finishing first), but only a little.”
Next year the Tigers will be eligible for the NCAA tournament and therefore eligible for the AHA playoffs. This season, one of four teams will try to do what Holy Cross did last season — win an NCAA game.
“That’s what we really need, another Holy Cross-Minnesota upset,” said DeGregorio. “We need to continue to show growth and improvement.”
Another thing that will put the league on the map is a serious Hobey Baker candidate, and Atlantic Hockey has that this season in Eric Ehn.
“He’s an amazing player,” said DeGregorio. “The exposure he has brought has spoken volumes for the league, and for him and the Academy. I hope he continues to get the recognition he deserves.”
Looking ahead, DeGregorio expects more of the kinds of successes he’s seen the past two seasons.
“Four years ago when we started, people had questions about our future,” he said. “But we continue to get better, and continue to grow. This league has a great future.”
This is my final column of the season. I’ve been writing about college hockey for almost 20 years now, but this is the first time since the early ’90s that I have been able to focus exclusively on a single conference. I loved it. I’ve been able to see every team in person save Army (and I’ll get that chance on Friday) and have been amazed and entertained by the many, many very talented players and coaches in this league.
It’s been a privilege to cover them this season. Thanks to the SIDs throughout the league for their help, especially Dave Rourke at the league office. And special thanks to my family for allowing me to chase the puck all over the country again this season. God bless, and we’ll see you in Rochester this weekend (and the next) and in St. Louis.