This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 24, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Air Force had a rollercoaster weekend, earning one of the biggest wins in the history of its program on Friday, and then losing its top player on Saturday.

Let’s talk about the positives first. On Friday, the Falcons ended an 0-19 drought against state rival Denver, defeating the fourth-ranked Pioneers 5-2 in front of 2,657 fans at Cadet Ice Arena. Air Force opened a 4-0 lead and never looked back. Matt Fairchild had a hat trick, including a shorthanded goal and an empty-net tally, and Andrew Volkening made 29 saves for the win.

The victory catapulted Air Force into the Poll, the first time in school history that the Falcons have been ranked. Was it the biggest win in school history?

“I wouldn’t trade (last year’s) NCAA experience for anything, but there are different degrees of good, and this was certainly up there with the best,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.

“I’m proud of what this team has accomplished. Every non-league game we’ve played has been against a ranked team. We had Quinnipiac (twice), Boston College, Minnesota, Denver and CC. And we have a winning record (3-2-1).”

The Falcons lost senior defenseman Matt Charbonneau in the Denver game, and things got worse on Saturday. In a tough 2-1 loss to third-ranked and cross-town rival Colorado College, Air Force lost Josh Print, Josh Frider, and Eric Ehn, the team’s leading scorer. Ehn suffered the most serious injury, breaking his leg and suffering possible ligament damage.

“He was driving to the net and a backchecking forward took him out into the boards,” said Serratore. “It’s a violent sport.”

The injury could put a premature end to Ehn’s college career. The senior was one of the top three finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award last season.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions on it,” said Serratore. “We just don’t know. The surgery went well. The doctors aren’t saying he’s done. Possibly he’ll be back. He could be back as early as our last regular season series. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The insult to injury was the loss to Colorado College in a game Serratore thinks his team could have won.

“CC threw everything they had at us in the first period. We were outshot 16-4. They could have been up three-nothing or four-nothing but Andrew Volkening wouldn’t allow that to happen. We said at the end of the period that they can’t possibly come back with that same energy for the rest of the game, and they didn’t.”

Shots were 22-15 in favor of the Falcons the rest of the way, but they still wound up on the losing end of a 2-1 score.

“We gave up the winning goal on a bad call,” said Serratore. “We were already killing off a penalty when we got a (high sticking) contact to the head call off a faceoff. We looked at the replay after and the only reason (Josh) Schaffer’s stick is in the air is because it got lifted by (Colorado College’s Eric) Walksy. Then we give up the five-on-three goal.”

It turned out to be the game winner for the Pioneers.

The Falcons, who lost their spot atop the Atlantic Hockey standings to RIT, must regroup for a huge series at Army.

“These are the biggest games on our schedule,” said Serratore. “And if Army doesn’t say the same thing, they’re lying.”

Both games will be nationally televised, with Friday’s game on CSTV and Sunday’s 4 p.m. contest on ESPNU.

Serratore says that while his team is shorthanded, they’re not worried.

“I don’t want to compare hockey to the military, but our players have a soldier’s mentality,” he said. “Everybody has to deal and the show must go on.”

Weekly Awards

Co-Player of the Week for January 21, 2008:
Matt Fairchild – Air Force

The sophomore came into last Friday’s game against fourth-ranked Denver with just six career goals, but he notched his first career hat trick to lead the Falcons to a 5-2 upset, their first win over the Pioneers in their last 20 attempts.

Co-Player of the Week for January 21, 2008:
Simon Lambert – RIT

Lambert had four points to help RIT to a sweep of Sacred Heart, vaulting the Tigers into first place. The senior now leads Atlantic Hockey in scoring with 29 points.

Goaltender of the Week for January 21, 2008:
Andrew Loewen – Canisius

The sophomore goalie allowed just two goals as Canisius split with Army. He had a 3-0 shutout on Friday and held Army scoreless for the first 51:28 of the game on Saturday. His school-record scoreless streak finally ended at 201 minutes.

Rookie of the Week for January 21, 2008:
Andrew Favot – RIT

Favot has three goals in his last three games, including one in each of the Tigers’ 4-2 wins over Sacred Heart.

Deja Vu

It was in January last season that RIT made its move up the standings in Atlantic Hockey, with the turning point coming in a two-game series at Sacred Heart. It was there last season that the Tigers came into the weekend three points out of first place, and left alone at the top of the standings, a position they would hold for the remainder of the season.

The rematch came last weekend, this time in Rochester. RIT and Sacred Heart came in to the series tied for second, two points behind Air Force with the Pioneers holding two games in hand. By Saturday night, after a pair of 4-2 wins, the Tigers found themselves alone in first place.

After a slow start that saw the Tigers go 5-7-2, RIT is 7-2 in its last nine games, including a win at Minnesota and victories in five of its last six in conference. The Tigers’ only losses have been to ranked teams: Boston College and Air Force.

“I think it’s taken some time to get our identity back,” said coach Wayne Wilson. “I think we were too comfortable after winning last year and weren’t playing with enough passion We’ve always been a team that’s played to our depth, where anyone can score. That wasn’t happening early in the season. (Al) Mazur had a groin injury that needed the (holiday) break to heal up. He won’t admit that it was bothering him, but look at his numbers since then. Other guys got off to slow starts — (Brennan) Sarazin, (Steven) Matic, (Andrew) Favot. They’ve played well but hadn’t been scoring.”

They’re scoring now. Sarazin had has six points so far this month after getting just three before that. Matic got his first goal of the season last weekend and Favot has three goals in his last three games.

Favot began the season out of the lineup, but worked his way from not dressing to centering the fourth line to centering the first, and onto the first power-play unit.

“He needed to get confidence in himself,” said Wilson of the freshman. “He’s a very respectful kid, almost too respectful. There’s always competition, even within your team fighting for playing time. He’s started to believe in himself, that he can play at this level. He’s not big, but he’s a feisty player and there’s been good chemistry between him and Simon (Lambert) and (Matt) Crowell.”

Lambert leads the league in scoring with 23 points, while Matt Smith has 15 goals so far, tops on the team. Goaltender Louis Menard is second in the league in GAA (2.39) and is 20-4-3 all-time in league play.

A key to the Tigers’ resurgence has been their power play, which went through a 2-for-46 stretch before going 7-for-19 in their last five games.

“It means a goal a game,” said Wilson. “We were missing that.”

Now it’s crunch time as the Tigers, like last year, control their own destiny coming out of January. Wilson said he’s breaking down each of the Tigers’ remaining series and taking them one at a time.

“We’re going to treat each one like playoff and try to get three points,” he said. “And if we beat Niagara, we’ll finish .500 out of conference, so that’s our motivation for that game.

“It’s going to be an exciting finish. We really like the league we’re in. I couldn’t be happier with Air Force beating Denver. No team in this league is afraid to play anybody.”

Around the League

Hockey Humanitarian: Holy Cross senior Cal St. Denis is one of 22 players nationally to be nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian award, given annually to “College Hockey’s Finest Citizen.” He’s the only AHA player to be nominated.

RPI: has begun calculating the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) for Division I and here’s where Atlantic Hockey teams stand:

Air Force: 30th
RIT: 35th
Holy Cross: 46th
Sacred Heart: 49th
Canisius: 50th
Mercyhurst :51st
Army: 53rd
Connecticut: 54th
Bentley: 55th
AIC: 59th

Teams in the top 25 in the RPI become Teams Under Consideration (TUCs) for NCAA selection, meaning their games with other TUCs take on an extra importance. Denver, Minnesota and Cornell are hoping Air Force and RIT won’t hit that number.

Army: Senior Luke Flicek had the winning goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Canisius on Saturday. The goal was his 100th career point as Flicek became the 52nd player in school history to hit the century mark. Also, USA Today reports that coach Brian Riley will be wearing a live mic for CSTV’s televised game vs. Air Force on Friday.

Connecticut: The Huskies took three points in a series for the first time this season last weekend with a win and tie against Mercyhurst. The Lakers outshot UConn 75-38 in the two games, but Beau Erickson came up big for the Huskies. He now has 621 saves on the season, second in the nation to Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg (650).