This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 18, 2007

Moral Victories …

… are usually still losses. Or in the case of Canisius’ rally against St. Cloud last Saturday, a tie.

At the beginning of this season, commissioner Bob DeGregorio and several coaches told me that the time for moral victories — coming close against teams from the “Big Four” conferences — was over, and Atlantic Hockey teams needed to win those games. Yes, there has been one or two a season (Sacred Heart’s victory at Cornell and RIT’s win at Quinnipiac last year, for example) but the league needed more.

But the AHA had to settle for a few more moral victories this past weekend as the league kicked off the 2007-2008 college hockey season with a slate of non-conference games that resulted in a combined record of 0-9-1.

The tie was courtesy of Canisius, which after having lost 7-0 at St. Cloud on Friday and finding itself down 3-0 midway through the contest on Saturday, rallied for a 3-3 tie thanks to a 43-save performance from senior goaltender Bryce Luker.

“We did some good things in the first game that set the stage,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “We were disappointed in the score but happy with the improvement that we saw during the game.”

Luker, a transfer from Michigan Tech last season, was 0-11 for the Griffs last year. He had played well against St. Cloud in his freshman year at Michigan Tech, making 47 saves in, coincidentally, another 3-3 tie. But Smith said that wasn’t the reason Luker got the start on Saturday.

“It was predetermined,” said Smith. “We knew there was a history but what we really wanted was to give Bryce a chance early in the season and he really played well. Andrew Loewen is still our number-one guy, but we have a lot of confidence in Luker and games like this give him confidence as well. Confidence makes them better and they’ll be pushing each other to have an opportunity to play.”

While the large crop of Canisius underclassmen has drawn most of the attention recently, Smith said his upperclassmen showed the way as the Griffins fought back to earn the tie on Saturday in front of a stunned crowd of over 6,000. The Griffins were missing some key players (Jason Weeks, Brandon Cummings and Cory Conacher) so the seniors needed to take charge, and they did.

“(Kyle) Bushee was a stud all weekend,” said Smith. “Dave Kasch played great up front. Greg Brown doesn’t always have numbers in the box score, but he makes big contributions. It’s the older, experienced guys that understood what was needed and went out and led and got it done.”

Smith says his team gained valuable experience playing in the hostile confines of the National Hockey Center.

“It was a tremendous environment,” he said. “It was so loud, you couldn’t hear anything after they dropped the puck because of the crowd.”

And even though the Golden Griffins didn’t win a game, coming from three goals down on Saturday to tie a nationally-ranked team felt like a win to Smith’s team.

“It felt great,” he said. “It felt outstanding. We worked our tails off for it.”

Canisius travels this weekend to Omaha for the Maverick Stampede tournament where the Griffins will play Alabama-Huntsville in the first round and then either Manitoba or host UNO on Saturday.

“These games this past weekend and coming up are important games not just because of who we play but how we play in them,” said Smith. “They set the stage for the rest of the season.”

Close, But …

Some AHA teams came close to wins last weekend. Army lost a one-goal game at Bemidji State (and 3-0 with two empty-net goals), and RIT dropped a 6-5 decision at Colgate. The Tigers fell behind 3-0 early, but stormed back and led 5-4 in the third period before Colgate came back for the win.

And in the Lefty McFadden Invitational in Dayton, Mercyhurst led Ohio State 1-0 after two periods before allowing two power-play goals in the third and losing 2-1. Not only did the Lakers lose the game, they lost highly-touted transfer goaltender Matt Lundin to a shoulder injury that will keep him out of the lineup for an extended period.

“They say six to 12 weeks,” said coach Rick Gotkin. “We’re hoping it’s closer to six. The good news is that he doesn’t need surgery.”

Lundin stayed in the game despite the injury, finishing with 46 saves.

“He played great. He was a warrior,” said Gotkin.

Freshman Ryan Zapolski started the next night, surrendering four goals on 37 shots in a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame.

Gotkin was looking for the bright side.

“This speeds up the development of Ryan Zapolski,” said Gotkin. “He wasn’t going to play more than six or seven games this season, but now we’ll need him immediately. What a situation he was put in, making his first start against Notre Dame. But he played pretty well.”

Asked about his league’s struggles, Gotkin pointed to the disparity in scholarships between the rest of the leagues and Atlantic Hockey. “There’s a big difference between 11 and 18,” he said. “Whether you’re playing Ohio State, with 10 NHL draft picks, or Notre Dame or Niagara or Bemidji.”

Still, Gotkin says his team couldn’t have played much better than they did this past weekend.

“Last year we opened at Ferris State and gave up 12 goals on the weekend,” he said. “This year we played Ohio State and Notre Dame and gave up six goals, four on the power play.

“There were about 40 NHL scouts at the tournament and I can’t tell you how many of them congratulated us on the way we played,” Gotkin added. “We lost, but I like where our team is right now. It feels different than last year.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for October 15, 2007:
Simon Lambert — RIT

The senior from Ste. Therese, Quebec, assisted on three of RIT’s five goals in a 6-5 loss at Colgate. That raises his career totals to 62 assists and 104 points.

Goaltender of the Week for October 15, 2007:
Bryce Luker — Canisius

Luker was 0-11 last season but played magnificently against St. Cloud, stopping 43 of 46 shots as the Griffs earned a 3-3 tie on Saturday. It was Canisius’ first point ever against a ranked opponent.

Rookie of the Week for October 15, 2007:
J.P. Martignei — Holy Cross

Martignei assisted on both Crusader goals in a 6-2 loss to Niagara.

Quote of the Week

This one comes from Air Force coach Frank Serratore on how he thinks the AHA preseason poll was conducted. He told the Boston Globe: “I think all the guys in our league were thinking about last year and saying, ‘OK, who do we dislike the most?’. “First of all, we dislike RIT because they came in from Division III and won the regular season, so we dislike them the most. Secondly, we dislike the team that won the playoffs, which is Air Force. Thirdly, we dislike the team that lost to Air Force because they got to play in the championship game, and that’s Army. Then I think they just filled it in the rest of the way down.”

Around the League

Air Force: The Falcons host Quinnipiac in their first official games of the season this weekend. Serratore’s next win will be his 150th at Air Force. If Air Force sweeps, he’ll also pick up career win number 200, as he also won 49 games behind the bench at Denver.

Army: The Black Knights opened their season with a pair of loses at Bemidji State last weekend. Josh Kassel stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 2-1 loss on Friday, while freshman Jay Clark stopped 25 of 26 on Saturday in a 3-0 loss (the other two Bemidji goals were of the empty-net variety). The series pitted twin brothers against each other as the Black Knights’ Zach McKelvie faced off against sibling Chris, who assisted on the Beavers’ first goal on Saturday. Their older brother Ryan is an assistant at Bemidji.

Mercyhurst: Matt Lundin’s injury is especially frustrating since he was scheduled to play his old team this weekend as the Lakers travel to Maine. Lundin played 23 games for the Black Bears from 2004-2006. “This was going to be a big weekend for me being with my old team,” Lundin told the Erie Times-News. “But this is a non-conference series, and I’d much rather be hurt now, if I had to be, against these teams early in the season than being hurt in the middle or near the end of the season when we’re playing conference games and preparing for the playoffs.”

AHA News: RIT’s University News department has put up a video of the league’s Media Day held in Rochester back on September 26. Speakers include commissioner Bob DeGregorio and coaches Brian Riley, Paul Pearl, Dave Smith and Wayne Wilson. This is not a streaming video, so your best bet is to right-click and download it here.