Getting Better All the Time
Things are looking up in Springfield. AIC pulled off its first conference sweep in almost two years last weekend, defeating Canisius 3-1 and 4-2.
It took 13 games last season for the Yellow Jackets to get their first point; they already have five this season and are just two points out of fourth place in the bottled-up AHA standings.
AIC got better as last season went along, and the goal for coach Gary Wright’s team was to build on that momentum coming into this year.
“I hope we are,” he said. “Obviously we had a very disappointing start (last season). There were some positive things we wanted to carry into this year. Getting two wins this (past) weekend was very big.”
Canisius had come into the weekend playing well, coming off splits with Holy Cross and RIT.
“Both were tight games,” said Wright. “I thought that both nights there were periods were we played particularly well, and times they did. I think our best period of the weekend was the first on Saturday, and they had a strong third period. Both games were battles”.
The difference may have been freshman goaltender Dan Ramirez, who played both games, allowing three goals on 51 shots. On Saturday, Canisius outshot AIC 28-17.
“Dan had been playing well coming into the weekend,” said Wright. “He definitely deserved to start on Friday. We thought we would evaluate things after that. He played so well, we decided to start him again the next night.”
Ramirez is battling for the top netminding spot with two-year starter Tom Fenton, who is off to a rocky start with a 5.20 GAA.
“He’ll get chances to improve on that, but you know how it is,” said Wright. “It’s hard to get a chance when the other guy is playing well.”
Thanks to Fenton’s play the prior two seasons, and Frank Novello’s before that, goaltending has never been AIC’s problem.
“Scoring goals,” said Wright. “That’s been one of our biggest challenges.”
AIC has leaned on senior Jereme Tendler for points since his freshman year, but this season he’s getting more help. Sophomore Mike McMillan had five goals all last season — he already has four this year.
“Five goals wasn’t bad for a freshman,” said Wright. “He had a big goal for us in the playoff game with Canisius last season. This year we moved him to Tendler’s line and he’s producing even better. (Freshman) Steve McLeod is doing a nice job, too.”
AIC travels to Troy, N.Y., this weekend to participate in the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament. The Yellow Jackets will face the host Engineers in the first round, then either Alabama-Huntsville or Notre Dame on Saturday.
“These games are important in a different way,” said Wright. “Obviously your league games are so important but these games are also highlights in your season, especially if you can do well.
“But it really does come down to conference games. There’s no overlooking how precious points are, especially in this league.”
And AIC took four last weekend for the first time in a long time.
Yeah, it’s a holiday clichÃ©, but let’s look at the 10 teams in Atlantic Hockey and see what each can be thankful for at this juncture of the season:
Air Force — The Falcons are grateful that Frank Serratore is still around after getting his 155th win, which he did on Friday, making him the winningest coach in AFA history. His two predecessors, John Matchefts (1975-1985 and Chuck Delich (1986-1997), both coincidentally stopped at 154. Air Force can also be thankful for the consistent goaltending of Andrew Volkening. The sophomore has a 2.29 GAA and a .911 save percentage after the Falcons struggled with their goaltending for most of last season. And lastly, AFA can be thankful for finishing strong. The Falcons have 12 third-period goals on the season, after scoring a combined total of 13 in the first and second periods so far.
Army — The Black Knights are thankful for an offense to go along with its trademark strong defense. The United States Military Academy leads the league in both categories, averaging 4.29 goals per game in league play and allowing just 2.14, Senior Luke Flicek is fifth in the nation in points with five goals and 10 assists, while sophomore Owen Meyer is tied for seventh in goals with eight.
AIC — The Yellow Jackets are thankful for some early success (see above). AIC has five points as of November 17. Last season it took the Yellow Jackets until January 12 to accomplish that.
Bentley — The Falcons are thankful for their current position at the top of the standings. Picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, Bentley is getting it done by taking points every weekend, plus a single-game win over Sacred Heart. Saturday’s 3-2 win at Army was the first time Bentley had won at West Point in its last nine attempts. Freshman Joe Calvi is sporting a .932 save percentage.
Canisius — The Golden Griffins are thankful for early-season fan support. In their only home game this season, a 6-2 win over RIT, the Griffs drew 1,131 fans, the second-largest crowd ever to see them at Buffalo State. Canisius, which has been on a youth movement for the past two seasons (sophomore Josh Heidinger is riding a six-game goalscoring streak) can also be grateful for the play of its seniors. Forward Dave Kasch, defenseman Kyle Bushee and goaltender Bryce Luker are all off to good starts. The Griffs may also the thankful for a chance to shock the college hockey world. They play a pair at national No. 1 Miami this weekend.
Connecticut — The Huskies are thankful for overtime and sophomore Michael Coppola. He’s had two overtime goals in UConn’s last three games, including last Saturday’s winner at Air Force, the first time the Huskies had ever won there in 10 attempts. UConn can be grateful for its freshman and sophomore classes, which have scored 73 percent of the team’s points to date. They can also be thankful for the best penalty kill in the league: 92%.
Holy Cross — The Crusaders are grateful for having the top power play in Division I. Holy Cross has clicked on 14 of 47 opportunities, or 29.8%. The Crusaders are also thankful for the third period, in which they have scored half of their goals (12 of 24).
Mercyhurst — The Lakers are grateful for the return of goaltender Matt Lundin. The transfer from Maine injured his shoulder in his first game with the Lakers (a 2-1 loss to Ohio State) but still managed to make 46 saves. In his return at RIT he made a total of 90 in two games, including 51 on Saturday, as Mercyhurst split with the Tigers. The Lakers are also happy to be home for nine of the next 10 games after some killer road trips to open the season.
RIT — The Tigers are thankful for their fan support, the best in Atlantic Hockey. RIT is averaging 2,338 per game, 37th in Division I and almost 700 more per game than any other team in the league. Drawing 5,100 against Cornell at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena sure helped, but RIT still managed to attract 1,500 per game last weekend with school on break. The Tigers are also thankful for their special teams, which when combined are tops in the league (second-best power play and third-best penalty kill). And finally, RIT is thankful for snapping a streak of not scoring an overtime goal on home ice since March 7, 1997. Simon Lambert got the game winner in overtime on Saturday in a 3-2 win over Mercyhurst.
Sacred Heart — The Pioneers are thankful for the best winning percentage in the league (3-1-1) and their super sophomore class. Three of their top four scorers (Nick Johnson, Dave Jarman and Erik Boisvert) are second-year players. Sacred Heart is also glad to be finished playing CHA schools for the season. While having had some success against ECAC teams in recent years, the Pioneers are 1-11-4 all-time against CHA schools including a pair of losses at Niagara last weekend.
Player of the Week for November 18, 2007:
Bryce Hollweg — Army
The senior captain recorded his first career hat trick and had five points overall in a weekend split with Bentley. Hollweg was presented with the AHA 2006-2007 Scholar Athlete Award for forwards prior to the game in which he tallied the three goals. This is the second week in a row an Army player has been named POTW. Luke Flicek won last week.
Goaltender of the Week for November 18, 2007:
Dan Ramirez — AIC
The freshman from Rochester, N.Y., stopped 48 of 51 shots last weekend to lead his team to a sweep of Canisius, the first sweep for the Yellow Jackets in almost two years.
Rookie of the Week for November 18, 2007:
Brandon Coccimiglio — Mercyhurst
Coccimiglio had a hat trick in a 6-3 win over RIT on Friday. The freshman had a goal in the first period and two in the third. He’s third on the team in scoring with seven points.
Safe and pleasant travels if you’re on the road or in the air this week. Have a happy holiday, and get to a game if you can.