This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 1, 2007

Big Orange

There were a lot of unknowns coming into last Saturday’s game between RIT and Cornell at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. The Tigers were 0-2, coming of a disappointing home opener and facing a ranked opponent. Cornell was playing its first official game of the season.

And for the Tigers, playing in that building for the first time since 1986, there was a fear that the crowd would be small (last year’s AHA playoffs drew a maximum of 731 fans and even last year’s NCAA Regional attendance was only 3,887) or even pro-Cornell, since its fans typically travel well.

When asked what he was concerned about heading into the contest, RIT coach Wayne Wilson joked, “That there’ll be nobody there and that we’ll lose.”

No worries. The Tigers scored two first-period power-play goals en route to a 4-1 win over the Big Red in front of 5,142 fans, a record for both RIT and Atlantic Hockey for a regular-season home game.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Wilson of the crowd, the great majority of which was rooting for the home team. “There was so much orange. The fans really got into the game.”

Matt Smith opened the scoring near the end of the first period with a power-play roofer that beat Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens. Freshman Sean Murphy added another power-play goal two minutes later, weaving though the Big Red defense and beating Scrivens stick-side.

“Murphy’s goal was a great goal, a highlight-reel goal,” said Wilson.

After a scoreless second period, Cornell cut the lead in half midway through the third when Joe Devlin banked in a shot off of Tiger goaltender Louis Menard’s skates. But according to Wilson, there was no panic on the Tigers’ bench.

“Even though they scored and had a territorial advantage (in the third period), there was a sense of confidence on the bench,” he said.

The backbreaker came with under four minutes to play when senior captain Simon Lambert broke down the left wing and went hard to the net, stuffing the puck past Scrivens. Tyler Mazzei finished the scoring with an empty-net goal.

“(Lambert’s goal) was a great effort,” said Wilson. “He outraced everyone to a loose puck and took it to the net through traffic.”

It was a big win in more ways than one for the Tigers, who had lost at Colgate and at home to Bowling Green this season.

“We had some tough breaks in those games,” said Wilson. “We also had some lapses, especially the first 10 minutes against Colgate. (Against Cornell) we had solid goaltending and no weak links on defense. We had a good power play and our penalty killing was excellent. It’s the game we had to play to win against a team like Cornell.”

While it was the first time the Tigers had played in Rochester’s pro arena in over 20 years, RIT hopes to do so again in March in the AHA playoffs, and to hold more regular-season games there in the future.

Considering that RIT sold out its first home game of the season the week before, turning away over 300 people before the puck was dropped at Ritter Arena (capacity 2,100), the need for a larger venue is clear.

“It was a good starting point,” said Wilson. “Hopefully word spreads. Winning certainly helps. (The staff at Blue Cross Arena) said they would welcome us back.”

RIT opens league play this weekend with a home-and-home series with Thruway rival Canisius.

“We need another good effort,” said Wilson. “It’s not the coaches who set the bar, it’s the players themselves. Against Cornell they set the bar at a higher level, and now they have to keep it there. Now that becomes the only acceptable level of play. You have to play up to your potential every game if you want to achieve your goals.”

Crusaders Cruising

The Holy Cross Crusaders had a rough season in 2006-2007, winning just 10 games after a 27-victory campaign in 2005-2006. But coach Paul Pearl says things weren’t as grim as they seemed.

“I actually thought we were pretty good last season,” he said. “We had some tough breaks and struggled at one position.”

One of the bad breaks, literally, was to the leg of all-league defenseman John Landry, putting a premature end to his senior season. And a trio of goaltenders had big shoes to fill for the departed Tony Quesada, raising the team’s goals against average from 2.38 to 3.34. The Crusaders lost nine one-goal games last year and tied five times, so that extra goal a game was costly. Holy Cross won just three games after Thanksgiving.

This season, Holy Cross has already won twice and tied in four games, including a 6-4 win at Providence, the first time Holy Cross had ever beaten the Friars.

“We were young in net last year and have a lot of new faces as well this year,” said Pearl. “The first game (a 6-2 loss to Niagara) was close until the end. We were tied after two periods before we let it get away from us.”

Holy Cross’ last three games were on the road, including the win at Providence and a three-point series against an improved Mercyhurst squad.

“Last year we really struggled on the road,” said Pearl. “For Providence, we had a game under our belts and played much better. The same goes for Mercyhurst. They’re a very good team with good goaltending that’s going to get even better when Lundin comes back. We played well to take three points there.

“This season we expect the young players to improve every game and our veterans to step into new roles and improve on last season.”

Goaltender Ian Dams had a save percentage of .888 last season, but is at .921 through two games this year, while rookie Adam Roy has also played well with a .917 percentage.

“I’m really happy with the goaltending and the way we’re playing in general right now,” said Pearl. “But it’s early. (Mercyhurst coach) Rick Gotkin says that you shouldn’t even look at the standings until February.”

But if you do look at them now, Holy Cross is only of only two AHA teams with an overall winning record The Crusaders host Army this Saturday and Sunday in a pair of afternoon games, with Sunday’s contest televised on ESPNU.

“That’s exciting for our fans,” said Pearl. “And I’ve been really pleased with the response to the B2 broadcasts, too. The quality is good and it gives our fans a chance to see every game.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for October 29, 2007:
Dain Prewitt — Bentley

The junior forward had two goals and an assist to lead his Falcons to a 4-0 win over the visiting Falcons from Air Force.

Goaltender of the Week for October 29, 2007:
Louis Menard — RIT

Menard stopped 22 of 23 shots against No. 18 Cornell in front of a record home crowd to help the Tigers to a 4-1 win.

Rookie of the Week for October 29, 2007:
Adam Roy — Holy Cross

Roy made 44 saves, including 35 over the final two periods, to lead the Crusaders to a 4-1 win at Mercyhurst.

Around the League

Air Force: The Falcons’ 3-1 start equals their best in 11 seasons under Frank Serratore. Serratore picked up his 150th win at Air Force two weeks ago and as well as his 200th overall. He’s close to another milestone — three more wins and he’ll break the all-time record at Air Force, currently held by both Chuck Delich (1986-97) and John Matchefts (1975-85).

Canisius: Their season is only five games old, but the Golden Griffins have already played in three overtime contests. Canisius tied St. Cloud 3-3, lost to Sacred Heart 5-4 in overtime, and tied the Pioneers the next night. That’s not counting the Griffs’ 4-3 loss to Alabama-Huntsville in which the deciding goal was scored with just 3.5 seconds to play.

Mercyhurst: Last year defense and goaltending were the Lakers’ main concerns, but this year Mercyhurst has had the opposite problem, scoring only seven goals in six games to date. Things don’t get any easier as Mercyhurst plays its next six games on the road at Air Force, Michigan State and RIT.

Sacred Heart: The Pioneers staged two third-period comebacks last weekend against Canisius. SHU won 5-4 on Friday and tied 2-2 on Saturday. That makes three straight overtime games for the Pioneers, who have a home-and-home with Connecticut this weekend.

AHA: The league has started handing out Players of the Month awards as well as Players of the Week. POTMs for October are Simon Lambert (RIT), Andrew Volkening (Air Force) and Joe Calvi (Bentley).