This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 20, 2008

Making Hay

Can it get any better for Air Force? The Falcons are 10-0 for the first time in school history and ranked No. 12 in the latest College Sports poll, the highest ranking ever for an Atlantic Hockey program.

Air Force has the top offense in the nation (4.70 goals per game), two of the top four scorers in the country (Jacques Lamoureux and Brent Olson are tied for second in points with 19 each) and the third-ranked defense (1.30 goals allowed per game).

Looming is a battle for state supremacy when the Falcons host Colorado College on Nov. 28 and travel to Denver on Nov. 22.

But before then, there’s another set of Pioneers that have to be dealt with. Sacred Heart comes into Cadet Ice Arena for a pair this weekend.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore says he’s not worried about his team looking past Sacred Heart.

“It helps to be undefeated,” he said. “We’re 10-0 and we want to be 11-0. National polls are nice, but we realize how important this league is and how important league points are. We want to put as much hay as possible in the barn early.”

When asked to explain his team’s success, Serratore said, “We’re good, and we’re lucky. We won two overtime games on the road. Usually, those games end in ties and on the road you’ll take that. But look at the Holy Cross game. Who would have thought that after 60 minutes of scoreless hockey someone would score in overtime?”

Jeff Hajner got the game winner, and was only on the ice because of a hunch by his coach.

“(Jacques) Lamoureux wasn’t having a good game,” said Serratore. “So in the overtime I put Hajner out there instead with Olson and Frider. After the game, in the radio interview, they asked me about pulling the nation’s leading scorer off the ice in overtime. I told them if I had thought about it that way, I probably wouldn’t have done it (laughs). But that’s the way things go when you’re on a roll like this.”

Serratore doesn’t know how long the roll will last, but he thinks overall it’s not only good for his team, it’s good for Atlantic Hockey.

“It’s good to have a team this high in the polls and getting this kind of attention,” he said. “Not because it’s us. Some other year it could be someone else. We’re not a ‘reload’ league. We’re cyclical where teams will have good years and bad years and maybe some years a team will go on a run like this.”

I had asked AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio about this last season — if the parity we have seen over the last few seasons was better for the league than having a team emerge like Holy Cross did in 2003-2004.

“I think that it would be good to have a team come out and get into the rankings,” DeGregorio said at the time. “I think overall it’s good for the league.”

He’s getting his wish this season, at least for now. Serratore knows this ride might not last forever.

“The worm will turn,” he said. “We’ll have to face adversity and hopefully deal with it well.

“But for now, we’re enjoying the ride.”

Weekly Awards

Players of the Week for November 17, 2008
Josh Heidinger — Canisius

The junior forward had five points to lead the Golden Griffins to a 6-0, 3-2 sweep of Connecticut. Heidinger had a goal and two assists on Friday and two more assists on Saturday. He’s currently ranked seventh in the country in points per game (1.60) and in assists per game (1.10).

Co-Goaltender of the Week for November 17, 2008:
Andrew Volkening – Air Force

Volkening allowed just one goal in 124 minutes in a sweep of Holy Cross. He stopped all 12 shots in a 1-0 overtime win on Friday and made 25 saves on 26 shots in a 5-1 win on Saturday to keep the Falcons perfect on the season. Volkening is ranked fifth in the nation with a 1.29 GAA.

Co-Goaltender of the Week for November 17, 2008:
Dan Morrison

The rookie allowed just two goals in a sweep of Connecticut. He recorded his first collegiate shutout, making 13 saves in a 6-0 win on Saturday, and made 32 saves on 34 shots in a 3-2 victory on Sunday.

Rookie of the Week for November 10, 2008:
Dave Kostuch – Canisius

Kostuch stayed hot, getting a goal and three assists in a 6-0 win over Connecticut on Saturday and then potting the game winner in overtime in a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Kostuch’s 0.7 goals per game is tops among all freshmen in the nation.

Dark Horses

At the beginning of the season, I picked two dark horses in the AHA, two teams that I thought might be better than their rankings in the preseason poll. So far, both are off to good starts.

Canisius and Bentley meet this weekend, and each team comes in playing well. The Golden Griffins have won four of their last five games, including their last four league contests, their longest streak since the 2003-2004 season. Last weekend, Canisius dominated Connecticut 6-0 on Saturday, and then needed a comeback to win a 3-2 overtime game on Sunday.

As a result, the Griffs had a clean sweep of this week’s awards handed out by the league: Player of the week (Josh Heidinger), co-Goalie of the Week (Dan Morrison) and Rookie of the Week (Dave Kostuch).

Canisius is currently alone in second place with a 4-1-1 league record. Last season the Griffs didn’t get their fourth league victory until Jan. 5.

Canisius was picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll. Picked ninth was Bentley, which is coming off a three-point weekend at Mercyhurst and trails Canisius by four points with a game in hand. The Falcons had only won once before in 14 ties at the Mercyhurst Ice Center, that win coming back in 2003.

“We know we’re better than (ninth),” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “But we’re happy to fly under the radar. We’ve got a pretty large senior class, and that’s helped us.”

The Falcons have played a tough schedule to date, with games at Colgate, Rensselaer, Northeastern, and a pair at Air Force, where they were outscored 13-3.

“We didn’t play well out there,” said Soderquist. “But we were able to take some positives away. We’re young on defense. We play three and sometimes four freshmen back there, along with a freshman goalie.”

Coming home and shutting down Connecticut 1-0 after the lost weekend in Colorado Springs was big for Soderquist’s program.

“That game was extremely important,” he said. “It was the first game of the season in our rink and we learned how to tighten things up defensively. Our goaltending has been more focused since then. In the last three league games, we’ve given up three goals total.”

Bentley also came close to an upset at Northeastern, trailing 2-1 with about nine minutes to go before falling 4-1 with the last goal an empty-netter.

Soderquist wishes his team was scoring more goals, but he thinks that will come in time.

“We have a lot of guys up front who have proven they can score goals,” he said. “We’re looking forward to this weekend. Canisius has a solid team and they should be great games. We have to stay focused and play all 60 minutes each night.”

Around the League

Air Force: The school announced Thursday that it has reached an agreement with coach Frank Serratore on a new five-year contract that runs through the 2012-13 season.

Bentley Two Falcons reached milestones last weekend. Senior Jeff Gumaer scored his 50th goal on Friday, becoming the 11th player in school history to reach that number. Fellow senior Dain Prewitt’s goal in the same game was his 87th career point, which ties him for first in the school’s Division I era.

RIT: The Tigers split with Army last weekend, losing 5-3 on Friday before coming back for a 6-3 win on Saturday. RIT is now 6-0 all-time in the AHA after losing the first game of a two-game series. The Tigers scored a shorthanded goal on Saturday, their fourth on the season, which ties for tops in Division I (with Niagara and Northeastern.

Sacred Heart: The Pioneers earned a split with AIC thanks in part to the performance of goaltender Olivier St. Onge, who made 19 saves to record his first collegiate victory and first collegiate shutout.