Two Weeks to Go
With two weeks left in the regular season, here’s what we know, and here’s what we don’t.
• Army has clinched a home-ice spot, the only AHA team to do so at this point. 30 points is the magic number at the moment. Sacred Heart, RIT, Mercyhurst and Air Force can all wrap up home ice based on how they do this weekend.
• Only Connecticut knows for sure it will be on the road for the playoffs. Canisius, Bentley, Holy Cross and AIC still have a chance at home ice, but are on the outside looking in at the moment.
• How Connecticut is going to get by with the season-ending injuries to goaltenders Beau Erickson and Brad McInnis. Freshman John Glant will start the remaining games, and coach Bruce Marshall has picked up a walk-on netminder to back him up.
“We picked up a kid out of the dorms,” said Marshall. “Kevin Fairwether worked with us at the beginning of the season. We’re battling thought it. We’ve had five ACLs and three separated shoulders and I just heard today that another guy has a cracked sternum.”
UConn is in the midst of a six-game losing streak, the most recent loss coming in overtime against Bentley.
“I give the kids credit,” said Marshall. “They played a spirited game.”
Marshall said he doesn’t expect to get many of his injured players back into action before the end of the season. Plus, since the injuries all occurred later in the season, medical redshirts aren’t available.
“Maybe we’ll get (Brendan) Olinyk back,” he said. “I feel bad for guys like Sean Erickson (who was injured on Dec. 4). He was one and a half games away from getting a fifth year.”
UConn has AIC this weekend, and then finishes up with Holy Cross.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can and see where that takes us,” said Marshall.
We don’t know:
• If Army goaltender Josh Kassel will allow another goal this season. The way he’s playing, it just might happen. Kassel has posted two straight shutouts and blanked teams in four of his last five outings. He’s allowed a single goal in his last 271:03 played, and just five goals in his last nine games. His current scoreless streak stands at 170:02.
• How the Black Knights will fare away from Tate Rink, where they have played nine of their last 10 games and posted a 7-1-1 record in those games. Army finishes up with three of its last four contests on the road. The Black Knights are 10-4-1 at home and 4-8-2 on the road.
• If Canisius can stay hot at home, at least hot enough to move into fifth place. The Griffs are 8-3-1 on home ice and just 2-12-4 away from Buffalo. They play three of their last four games at home, including a pair against Air Force. Based on their road vs. home record this season, getting home ice in the playoffs would seem crucial to Canisius moving on to Rochester.
• How deep into the tiebreakers we’re going to have to go to settle things. The league has changed them from last season, adding goal differential in head-to-head matchups. That should make things easier, and I doubt we’ll have to go beyond conference wins. The tiebreakers for this season are:
1. Points Head-to-head
2. Goal differential head-to-head
3. Conference wins
4. Goal differential
5. Goals allowed
6. Goals scored
Stay tuned for next week’s column, where we’ll break down the playoff possibilities for each team.
Player of the Week for February 18, 2008
Josh Kassel — Army
Kassel is having such a great run, he’s not only Goalie of the Week (see below), he’s Player of the Week as well. How can he not be? Two more shutouts against AIC means just five goals allowed in his last nine games (Army is 8-0-1 in those games, the longest unbeaten streak in AHA history).
Goaltender of the Week for February 18, 2008:
Josh Kassel — Army
For the fourth time in a row. Why? See above.
Rookie of the Week for February 18, 2008:
Joe Calvi — Bentley
Atlantic Hockey is indeed a goaltender’s league. Calvi stopped 56 of 59 shots to lead the Falcons to their first conference sweep in over a year.
In the almost two years I’ve been covering this league, one near-certainty is while Bentley won’t come out of a weekend without any points, the Falcons usually don’t come out with four points, either. Last season they had one sweep, and were swept only once.
That pattern is holding true again this season. Bentley got at least one point every weekend until February 8 and 9, when it was swept by AIC. But, to restore order in the universe, the Falcons took two from UConn last weekend.
“It’s been a little frustrating, because since mid-January, we’ve started to play really well,” said coach Ryan Soderquist. “But all we had to show for it was three ties and a couple of losses. AIC played hard and took it to us. We had four or five starters out of the lineup, and that didn’t help. It was a tough weekend.”
But the Falcons rebounded with a sweep of UConn to keep them in contention for home ice. Bentley is tied for sixth, four points out of a home ice spot with four games to play — four very tough games. Bentley hosts Army this weekend and then finishes off the season with a pair at RIT.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, it matters how we play,” said Soderquist. “We can play with anybody. Kassel’s obviously playing very well. We’re going to have to get traffic in front of him get some screens and get some rebounds.”
Soderquist points to goaltender Joe Calvi and balanced scoring as key to getting the sweep last weekend.
“You’re successful when you can get scoring out of your third and fourth lines,” he said. “Blake Hamilton had three last weekend, including the game winner in overtime (on Saturday).”
With playoffs looming, I asked Soderquist, who was the only coach to vote against the play-in game last season, what he thought of the new format. He’s not a fan of this one, either.
“I don’t like five teams (going to Rochester),” he said. “It really puts the fourth-place team at a disadvantage, and with an unbalanced schedule, a single point could make a difference between third and fourth. I’d rather have the top eight teams make the playoffs and have just semifinals and finals (in Rochester)”
Around the League
Army: The Black Knights’ 8-0-1 run is the longest unbeaten streak in league history. Mercyhurst and Holy Cross have each gone eight games without a loss in the past.
Holy Cross: Saturday’s 3-2 win over Canisius was coach Paul Pearl’s 200th behind the bench at Holy Cross. In 13 years, Pearl has amassed a record of 200-182-43.
Mercyhurst: The Lakers’ win last Friday at Sacred Heart was their first against the Pioneers in nine tries, and the first time Mercyhurst has won at the Milford Ice Pavilion in five years.
RIT: The Tigers finished 2-1-1 against ranked teams this season after a 3-3 tie with Niagara last Saturday. Sophomore defenseman Dan Ringwald had two assists in the game, and now leads the nation in scoring by a defenseman with 29 points.
AHA Accolades: Two Atlantic Hockey players have been named among 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. It’s presented annually to the NCAA’s Division I Student-Athlete of the Year in eight sports. The finalists for hockey include Air Force’s Frank Schiavone and Army’s Bryce Hollweg.