Back on Dec. 5, Air Force was 11-0 in Atlantic Hockey and 14-1 overall. The Falcons had just defeated RIT 2-0, extending their home unbeaten streak to 14 games dating back to January, 2008.
The Tigers fell to 4-4-1 in the AHA and trailed the Falcons by 13 points in the standings. RIT had won just twice in its past seven games.
But the following evening, the Tigers pulled out a late comeback and defeated Air Force 3-2 in overtime. It turned out to be a reversal of fortune that has not let up.
Since then, RIT is 9-0 and has leaped over Air Force into first place in the standings, making up 15 points in the process. The Falcons are 2-6-1 since Dec. 5, including getting swept on home ice by Canisius (5-4 and 4-2) last weekend. As a result, they fell out of first place for the first time this season, and now trail RIT by two points with two games in hand.
“I predicted we would have a lull in the middle of the season but I didn’t think it would be of biblical proportions,” Serratore said in a press conference on Monday. “Our team’s ranking is falling faster than my 401(k).”
Air Force is ranked 20th in the latest USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll, down from a best-ever ninth back in December. An at-large NCAA bid now looks out of the question, so if Air Force wants to return to the NCAA tournament, it will have to do it the way it has the past two seasons: by winning its way in.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Serratore told the Rocky Mountain News. “But we knew it was going to come. It’s the teams that are the best teams at the end of the season that are the ones that succeed.”
The pressure doesn’t let up this weekend, when the Falcons host Army in what are considered by both teams to be their biggest games of the regular season.
Players of the Week for January 19, 2009
Steve Cameron — Mercyhurst
Cameron scored four goals in a 20-minute span to lead the Lakers to a 7-0 win over Sacred Heart on Saturday. It was the first time in Mercyhurst’s Division I history that a player scored four goals in a single game
Goaltender of the Week for January 19, 2009:
Ryan Zapolski — Mercyhurst
The local product backstopped the Lakers to a home sweep over Sacred Heart, allowing a single goal on 52 shots over the two games (2-1 and 7-0 wins). Zapolski has allowed just five goals in his last four starts.
Rookie of the Week for January 19, 2009:
Kyle Rank — Bentley
Rank made 35 saves, including 16 in the third period, to help the Falcons to a 3-1 win at Maine. It’s the first time Bentley has ever beaten a Hockey East team.
Canisius’ sweep of then-No. 15th Air Force last weekend was the first time the Golden Griffins had ever beaten a ranked team, and the decisions were their fifth and sixth road wins of the season, already more than Canisius racked up in the past two seasons combined. Things are clearly on the upswing in Buffalo.
“It was a team effort. It wasn’t any one player,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “We brought 22 skaters with us and they all played and all contributed.”
On Friday, Air Force led 4-2 with less than three minutes to go before the Griffs rallied for three goals for a 5-4 win. The momentum carried over to Saturday, when Canisius posted a 4-2 win.
“We didn’t give up,” said Smith of the comeback on Friday. “We didn’t panic because we had played a good game. We got one lucky bounce and made the most of it, and got a couple of nice goals.
“I thought (Air Force) played well. They were a couple of terrific college hockey games.”
A pair of rookies played big role on Friday. Freshman Adam Brace scored twice on Friday, including the game-winner with 1:50 left. Fellow frosh Dave Kostuch also tallied two goals on Friday and added an assist on Saturday to maintain his position as the highest-scoring rookie in the nation.
But Smith says that while he’s thrilled with his freshmen, it’s his junior class that leads the way.
“We expect the freshmen to make contributions,” said Smith. “Again this season we have a talented (freshman) class. But our key is our junior class. We have a couple of terrific seniors, John Patera and Spencer Churchill. But it’s the junior class that had led for three years.”
Jason Weeks is tied with Kostuch for the team lead in scoring with 22 points, and classmate Josh Heidinger follows closely with 20. Carl Hudson leads the blueliners with 14 points and Andrew Loewen has played the majority of time in net, posting a .920 save percentage.
Canisius hosts RIT on Thursday and Sunday in the latest chapter of a growing rivalry between the two Western New York schools.
“I don’t want to comment about what is or isn’t a rivalry,” said Smith. “You can look at the scores (over the past few seasons) and draw your own conclusions.”
A Big One
Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist didn’t mince words after his team defeated Maine 3-1 last Friday.
“This is the biggest win in the history of our program,” Soderquist told the Bangor Daily News. “When you come up to this arena with the tradition and the national championship banners [it’s quite an accomplishment].”
Jeff Gumaer scored a pair of goals and freshman Kyle Rank made 36 saves, including 16 in the third period.
The Black Knights like the limelight. Army tied Holy Cross 4-4 on Sunday to remain unbeaten in nationally-televised games over the past two seasons. The Black Knights are 3-0-1 in front of the cameras since 2007.
His … And Hers
RIT extended its winning streak to nine games last weekend with a sweep of AIC. One of the keys to RIT’s success has been its eight shorthanded goals, the most in Division I.
There’s only one other college hockey team at any level that has as many shorthanded goals: the RIT women’s team, which also has eight goals when a man (woman?) down.
Sacred Heart is now 1-8-1 on the road this season after getting swept at Mercyhurst last weekend. The Pioneers have lost 16 of their last 20 games away from Milford, dating back to the middle of last season.
The good news for the Pios is that they host Bentley this weekend. The bad news is that after that, they play seven of their final 10 games on the road.
Bye Bye Barnett
Mercyhurst Athletic Director Craig Barnett resigned suddenly this week, citing personal reasons. Barnett has a long pedigree in college hockey, as an All-American goalie at Plattsburgh and as a head coach at Findlay University and Becker College. Barnett was also an assistant coach at Mercyhurst in the early ’90s.