This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 8, 2009

Catching Up

In the four weeks since my last column, Atlantic Hockey teams have had their share of highs and lows. Let’s see what each team has been up to.

Air Force

After the Falcons’ 3-2 overtime loss to RIT back on December 6, Air Force coach Frank Serratore was asked if he was worried since his team was 1-2 in its last three games. I thought it was a dumb question at the time, since the Falcons had gone 13-0 prior to that.

But with the mini-slump extending now to 2-4-1 since that record-setting start, Air Force is having to battle adversity for the first time this season.

“We are in an ugly cycle right now,” said Serratore. “We are waiting for things to happen instead of making things happen.” He called his team’s performance in the first half of its game against Quinnipiac (a 4-2 loss) “humiliating.”

Still, I don’t think it’s time to push the panic button. Serratore has told me several times this season that he expected to hit a rough patch at some point. The question is how long it will last. The Falcons are idle this weekend and then are home for their next four games, including their only regular-season meeting with Army.

On the positive side, Jacques Lamoureux is heating up again. He had 11 goals in his first eight games this season, but then didn’t find the net for seven games straight. He’s back on track now, getting six goals in his last five games.

AIC

The Yellow Jackets are probably glad to get back into league play. Since my last column, they’ve been winless in four non-conference games, getting outscored 16-3.

All four of AIC’s win have come in conference, and although the Yellow Jackets are in ninth place, just four points separate them from third. Unfortunately, out of AIC’s remaining 16 games (all conference matchups), only five are on home ice.

Army

An ambitious holiday schedule that saw the Black Knights play in two tournaments in a stretch of seven days ended on a high note, with a 3-2 win over (then) second-ranked Miami in the consolation game of the Ohio Hockey Classic. Army also participated in the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth the weekend before, where it finished fourth, losing in overtime to the Big Green in the first round and dropping the consolation game to UMass.

That concluded an 11-game road trip for Army, which has played only three games at home so far this season. I asked coach Brian Riley if he had to do it all over again, would he?

“Absolutely,” he said about playing two tournaments in a row. “Any time you have the opportunity to play that level of competition, you take it. We have a very young team and it was a learning opportunity for them. I’m not sure about the 11 straight road games, but again, it was a lesson in adversity that will make us a better team.”

Sophomore goaltender Jay Clark made 56 saves in the win over Miami, and Riley was quoted as saying it was the most impressive performance in net he had ever seen by a Black Knight goaltender. For someone who’s been around the program for years and has coached the likes of Brad Roberts and Josh Kassel, that’s really saying something.

“He was tremendous,” said Riley. “I thought we played good team defense in that game and didn’t give up a lot of odd-man rushes, but (Miami) had plenty of quality chances and he made the saves when we needed him.”

The Black Knights host Mercyhurst this weekend and will play 12 of their last 16 contests at home. Riley says that doesn’t mean his team is taking anything for granted.

“Sure you’re more comfortable at home and we’ve had some success on home ice the last few years,” he said. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything. We’re going to have to work hard to get these points.”

Bentley

The Falcons played a pair of games at Ohio State — one close (3-2 overtime loss) and one not-so-close (10-1 loss). They returned home to kick off 2009 looking to improve on a 4-1 record at the J.A.R., but were swept by RIT in a pair of close games. Special teams were the difference as Bentley went 0-11 on the power play while giving up four goals while down a man.

Bentley is now on the road for nine of its next 10 games as it looks to break out of the five-team logjam that extends from third to seventh place in the standings. Canisius, Mercyhurst, Sacred Heart, Bentley and Holy Cross are all separated by a single point.

Canisius

The Golden Griffins have played just one game since December 7, a 2-2 tie with Mercyhurst back on December 20. The first game of what was to be a two-game series with the Lakers was snowed out, and a date for the makeup game has not been announced.

Canisius has won seven games so far this season, its most before Christmas since the 2004-2005 season and its best start under coach Dave Smith.

Smith has been busy, putting together the Canisius College Showcase Tournament, which annually brings 16 junior teams to Pepsi Arena in Buffalo. This year’s tourney ran from December 28-30, with a pair of Buffalo teams, the Jr. Sabres and the Regals, taking the championships in their respective divisions.

Canisius will play a pair of games at the Pepsi Center this weekend, when the Griffs host Bentley.

Connecticut

The Huskies have already played four games since Christmas, including hosting their annual tournament. UConn tied Air Force in the first round, which doubled as an AHA conference game. But a shootout was needed to see which team advanced, and Air Force won it, 2-1.

UConn lost the consolation game 5-2 to Merrimack, and then last weekend again took on Air Force. The Falcons got a late goal to win 4-3.

Things didn’t get any better for the Huskies, who dropped a 6-1 decision to Sacred Heart on Tuesday. It was UConn’s fourth game in eight days. There’s no letup for the Huskies as they travel to RIT this weekend. UConn is currently last in Atlantic Hockey, but has games in hand on all but three teams.

Holy Cross

The Crusaders had a good showing in the Denver Cup tournament, tying the host (and fifth-ranked) Pioneers in the first game before falling in the shootout. Holy Cross then went on to defeat Rensselaer in the consolation game, 4-3. It was its third straight win over RPI dating back to 2005.

Everett Sheen had three goals on the weekend and also scored in the shootout. Sheen was named to the all-tournament team. Teammate Jordan Cyr had a bit of revenge against his former team, Rensselaer, by scoring the game-winning goal.

Mercyhurst

The Lakers had won seven in a row before getting swept by RIT on December 12 and 13. A tie with Canisius just before Christmas put Mercyhurst in a tie with the Griffins for third place.

In the middle of their winning streak, senior captain Ryan Toomey bolted the team for a pro contract with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Toomey was a fifth-year player who had been granted a medical redshirt after being injured early last season. Matt Pierce and Kirk Medernach are now wearing the “C.”

Mercyhurst travels to Army this weekend for a pair of games. Saturday’s game will be televised live on the CBS College Sports Network (formally CSTV).

RIT

The Tigers stayed hot over the holiday break, extending their winning streak to five games with a sweep last weekend at Bentley. The streak has allowed RIT to grab a solid lock on second place — the Tigers trail Air Force by six points but lead third-place Canisius and Mercyhurst by seven points.

“We’re starting to have a better understanding of what we need to do to win,” said Wilson, whose team has nine freshmen on the roster. “I think our special teams is what most needed to be fine-tuned and we still have a way to go, but we’re getting better in that area.”

RIT had four power-play goals last weekend and kept Bentley off the board on 11 chances. The Tigers lead the nation in shorthanded goals with seven.

The Tigers host UConn this weekend in what will be just their third and fourth home games since mid-November. RIT is home for seven of its next nine games.

“I don’t want to get lulled into (being at home),” said Wilson. “Our opponents are too strong for that and a lot of teams get excited when they get in our building because of the support we get.

“UConn works from their net on out. We’ve got to be patient and work hard, wait for opportunities and capitalize on them because they don’t give up much.”

Sacred Heart

The Pioneers hit a rough patch in December, going 0-3-1. But it looks like Sacred Heart is back on track after a dominating performance against UConn on Tuesday. The Pios defeated the Huskies 6-1, outshooting them 41-15 over the final two periods.

Sacred Heart has this weekend off, and then plays a strictly AHA schedule the rest of the season, with nine of their final 14 games coming on the road.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for January 5, 2009
Jacques Lamoureux — Air Force

After going through a mini-slump and losing his title of national scoring leader, Lamoureux rebounded last week with five goals and an assist in four games. His biggest was the game winner against UConn last Saturday with 3:03 to play. Lamoureux is second in Division I in goals (17) and third in points (30).

Goaltender of the Week for January 5, 2009:
Jay Clark — Army

The sophomore netminder stopped 56 of 58 shots to lead the Black Knights to a 3-2 win over fifth-ranked Miami. He made a whopping 24 saves in the final period.

Rookie of the Week for January 5, 2009:
Jay Silvia — Holy Cross

Silvia tallied two big assists in the Denver Cup tournament, helping the Crusaders to a win and a tie. He got helpers on the tying goal against Denver and on Holy Cross’ first goal against Rensselaer.

Monthly Awards

Player of the Month for December, 2008
Matt Pierce — Mercyhurst

The senior forward had 11 points in the month of December, including back-to-back hat tricks against AIC. Pierce is tied for seventh in the nation with 11 goals.
Other Players Nominated: Matt Celin, Holy Cross; Andrew Favot, RIT

Goaltender of the Month for December, 2008:
Andrew Loewen — Canisius

Loewen didn’t allow a goal for the first 102 minutes he played in December, and ended the month with a 0.96 GAA and a .970 save percentage. He ranks second in Atlantic Hockey with a GAA of 2.44 and third with a save percentage of .926.
Other Goalies Nominated: Andrew Volkening, Air Force; Ian Dams, Holy Cross; Jared DeMichiel, RIT

Rookie of the Month for December, 2008:
Phil Ginand — Mercyhurst

The rookie from Milford, Mass. has stayed hot, chalking up four goals and an assist in December. He has 14 points this season, including two game-winning goals.
Other Rookies Nominated: Scott Mathis, Air Force; Dave Kostuch, Canisius; Jay Silvia, Holy Cross; Chris Haltigin, RIT

Around the League

• Army will play its first of two nationally-televised games this weekend when it hosts Mercyhurst on CBS College Sports Network. The Black Knights return to the national stage the following Sunday (Jan. 18) when they host Holy Cross in a game to be televised by ESPNU.

• USCHO.com’s Rating Percentage Index is out for the 2008-2009 season. Air Force is ranked 16th; with RIT as the next-closest AHA team at 38th out of 58 squads.

• Rensselaer has had a tough time with AHA teams this season. The Engineers are 0-3, losing to Bentley, Mercyhurst and Holy Cross.

• Four AHA players were among the 20 nominated for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award. The list includes Sean Erickson (Connecticut), Zach McKelvie (Army), Mike Phillipich (Air Force) and Dewey Thomson (Holy Cross)

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