This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 8, 2007

Not a Cliché

Coaches in Atlantic Hockey constantly talk about the balance in their league — how “on any given night …”. Well, we’re barely into the season, with each team playing anywhere from two to five league games, and everybody already has at least one loss in league play.

“Every team has good goaltending and good goal scorers,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “Night to night, it really depends on who gives the best effort because every team has a goaltender that can shut you down if he’s playing great, and everybody’s got some guys that can put the puck in the net. Going into every game, you never know. You have to be prepared to battle.”

Bentley’s Back

Speaking of Bentley …

After making the league championship game in 2006, The Falcons faltered last season, finishing 12-22-1 and in eighth place. But after a tough start to the season in non-conference play, they are 3-1-1 in league contests, tied for first at this early juncture of the season. Wins over Air Force and Sacred Heart have turned heads.

“We’re playing pretty well right now,” said coach Ryan Soderquist. “Just taking it game by game.”

Bentley’s latest conquest was a 3-1 win over Sacred Heart on Tuesday.

“We didn’t play particularly well in the first period but turned it up in the second and third,” said Soderquist, whose team outshot the Pioneers 40-29. “It was a real goaltender’s duel. (Sacred Heart goaltender) Stefan (Drew) played really well.”

As did Bentley freshman goalie Joe Calvi, who has won the starting job, playing in seven of the Falcons’ nine contests so far, posting a 1.56 GAA and a .946 save percentage.

“He’s stepped in really well and shown he can play at this level right away,” said Soderquist of his rookie, who hails from New Lenox, Ill., and played for the New England Junior Huskies last season.

“I came in not knowing what to expect,” said Calvi. “I didn’t think I’d get to play as much as I have. I figured I would get some starts but not this many right away, so I’ve been glad for the opportunity.”

Calvi was Rookie of the Week this week in the AHA and was Rookie of the Month for the league in October. He’s allowed just six goals in five conference games so far this season.

The freshman netminder said the adjustment from juniors to college has had its challenges and benefits. “The game is faster, but the defense in front of me is better at taking away the pass, which allows me to me more aggressive and take on the shooter,” he said.

Calvi was recruited by several AHA schools but chose Bentley for the reasons one might expect.

“A chance to play right away and the quality of the school,” he said of his choice. “My family supported my decision, which was important. I’m glad to be here.”

And Soderquist is glad to have him. The Falcons are trying to put aside last year’s struggles, and the play of Calvi, Marc Menzione (five goals, four assists) and Dain Prewitt (four goals, two assists) have made that easier.

“There’s a completely different feeling this season,” said Soderquist. “Right from the fall, through practices, through the games so far. We’ve got 26 guys committed to winning. We’re all on the same page.”

Picking Up Where They Left Off

Despite the 3-1 loss to Bentley on Tuesday, Sacred Heart finds itself in a familiar position — at the top of the AHA standings. After the loss of a couple of key players, including all-stars Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Jason Smith, the Pioneers were expected to drop a notch or two, picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll after a second-place finish last season.

“I’ve never felt like this was a ‘rebuilding team,'” said coach Shaun Hannah. “It’s a new team and we’ve got to answer some questions in terms of our strengths and weaknesses. We have completely new line combinations and defensive pairings.”

And a new starter in net. Junior Stefan Drew, who played in 14 games behind Smith in two previous seasons, is the main man so far for the Pioneers, playing in all but one game so far this season, posting a 2.48 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

“Stefan’s our starter,” said Hannah. “(Oliver) St. Onge has played well too.”

The Pioneers’ loss to Bentley and two close games with Canisius didn’t mean that his team didn’t play well, according to Hannah.

“Tuesday was a good battle,” he said. “And Canisius is a good team. It’s the parity we all talked about at the beginning of the season. Each team is going to have to work hard and face adversity as the season goes along. Our goals are game-to-game … We have the ultimate goal of winning the league championship but along the way I’m looking for our freshmen to get more experience and for guys like (David) Grimson and (Nick) Johnson to continue to play well. They’re really playing well right now.”

The Pioneers have the weekend off but face a tough challenge on November 16 and 17 when they travel to Niagara, which is undefeated at home in its last 20 home games (18-0-2).

“It’s a pretty amazing streak,” said Hannah. “We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Great Move, Coach

Prior to Canisius’ game versus RIT on Saturday, sophomore Andrew Lowen was announced as the starter in net for the Golden Griffins — but it was senior Bryce Luker who got the start for the second consecutive night for the Griffs. Luker was exceptional, making 36 saves and leading his team to a 6-2 win, his first victory in a Canisius uniform after going 0-11 last season and 0-2-1 this season.

What made coach Dave Smith change his mind? A hunch? Something he saw in warm-ups?

“Actually, Andrew took a shot off his knee in warm-ups and couldn’t play,” said Smith with a chuckle. “Made me look pretty smart. Genius coaching.”

Canisius wore its third jerseys for the game, the Griffs’ first home game of the season. Instead of each player’s name on the back of the gaudy gold sweaters, the word “Canisius” is there.

“We got the idea from Team Canada, who did it a couple of years ago,” said Smith.

After getting their first win of the season, something tells me we’ll see more of those jerseys.

Weekly Awards

Co-Player of the Week for November 4, 2007:
Marc Menzione, Bentley

The sophomore from Darien, Ill., tallied a hat trick in a 5-1 win over AIC. It was the first time a Falcon has scored three times in a single game since 2005.

Co-Player of the Week for November 4, 2007:
Brodie Sheahan, Holy Cross

Sheahan picked up four points last weekend in a split with Army, including two goals and an assist in Sunday’s 3-1 win in a nationally televised game.

Goaltender of the Week for November 4 2007:
Stefan Drew, Sacred Heart

The junior goaltender made 50 saves, 25 each night, to lead the Pioneers to a 4-2, 5-0 sweep over Connecticut.

Rookie of the Week for October 15, 2007:
Joe Calvi — Bentley

Calvi stopped 66 of 68 shots he faced this weekend as his Falcons took three points from AIC. Calvi ranks second in the AHA in both goals against average and save percentage.

Around the League

Air Force: The Falcons beat Mercyhurst for the first time ever at home as the teams split last weekend’s series. Senior Eric Ehn scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 6-2 win. He has five points through six games.

AIC: AIC didn’t get a league point until its 13th game of the season last year, but the Yellow Jackets picked up their first of the season in a 1-1 tie with Bentley on Friday. Rookie goaltender Dan Ramirez stopped 22 of 23 shots in that game.

Canisius: The Griffs earned a split with RIT with a 6-2 win on Saturday on home ice in front of 1,131 fans, the second largest crowd ever to see Canisius at Buffalo State, where the Griffs play the majority of their home games. Junior Spencer Churchill had three assists on the weekend, giving him six for the season. He had six all last season.

Mercyhurst: The Lakers broke out of their scoring slump with a 5-3 win at Air Force on Friday. Rookie Steve Cameron’s goal in the first period was the first time Mercyhurst had scored in the opening stanza through the first six games of the season.

RIT: The Tigers’ power play was clicking at an amazing 38.1% before going 1-for-9 on Saturday at Canisius. At 30%, it’s still fourth in the nation. On the other side of special teams, RIT has allowed just one goal in its last 25 penalty kills. RIT’s winning goal on Friday in a 4-3 decision over Canisius was scored on a penalty shot by senior Ricky Walton. The Tigers’ 6-2 loss to Canisius on Saturday was their worst losing margin since joining Atlantic Hockey and tied for their worst losing margin since becoming a D-I program. RIT lost by an identical 6-2 score in its first Division I game ever, October 13, 2005, at Quinnipiac.

Sad News

Fans of RIT Hockey will be sad to learn of the sudden passing of Dan Barrows on Thursday. Dan and his wife Laurie followed the team from the 1970s and were the Tigers’ biggest fans, and regular listeners to our broadcasts when RIT was on the road. Dan was also the official historian for the high school leagues in the Rochester area and the statistician for all of high school hockey in New York State.

When he wasn’t at a Tigers’ game, he could often be found in the goal judge’s box at a high school game. He just loved the great game of hockey, and took pride in former Rochester kids who went on to careers in college and the NHL, like Brian Gionta and Billy Sauer. I spent many enjoyable hours talking hockey with Dan, and I and so many others will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with Laurie and the rest of the Barrows family.