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It was an awkward but fitting end to the Atlantic Hockey season: commissioner Bob DeGregorio flanked by captains from Air Force and RIT last Saturday night, holding the regular-season trophy. The teams finished with identical 20-6-2 records, so they end the season as co-champions. Air Force gets the top playoff seed on the basis of outscoring RIT 11-10 in their four meetings, which the teams split with two wins each.
It’s the first title for the Falcons in school history. Air Force set a new school record with 23 Division I wins and 20 conference wins this season.
RIT has won regular-season titles twice in the past three seasons and tied a Division I school record with 21 victories.
Both teams can add to those totals.
Winner Take All
The Atlantic Hockey postseason starts this Saturday with two first-round games. AIC will travel to Holy Cross and Connecticut visits Sacred Heart in winner-take all preliminary round games that will whittle the playoff field down to a quarterfinal-friendly eight teams. The top seeded survivor will travel to RIT the following weekend while the other winner will jump on a plane to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force.
The other quarterfinals feature Army at Mercyhurst and Canisius at Bentley. All will be best-of-three series.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For four teams, there’s the matter of winning games this weekend.
Despite a ninth-place finish, Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall can take some solace that his team has performed well at times, registering wins over RIT, Army, Bentley, and a tie with Air Force. UConn has lost just once in its last five games going into Saturday’s showdown with Sacred Heart.
“It’s been a funny year. It’s been very trying at times,” said Marshall. “But we haven’t stopped believing what we have in the (dressing) room. We haven’t changed our attitude or work ethic all season.”
Marshall says he’s been happy with what he’s seen down the stretch.
“We’ve played pretty well the second half of the year,” he said. “I thought we played well at Air Force (3-2, 4-1 losses) and we built on that. But you can’t re-create history. What’s passed has passed, good and bad.”
Last-place AIC has also had a tumultuous season. Losing a significant chunk of point production to graduation, the Yellow Jackets have had trouble scoring goals, averaging just 1.7 per game. AIC went through a 0-17-1 stretch from Dec. 5 through Feb. 20, but has earned three points in its last three games, including a win over Sacred Heart and a tie with Army.
“We’ve shown progress the last few weekends,” said head coach Gary Wright. “But that was then. It obviously means something to finish strong, but we’re looking ahead.”
Senior goalie Tom Fenton has returned to the starting role recently, backstopping the Yellow Jackets to their recent successes. Fenton’s win over Sacred Heart on Feb. 21 was his first win since Feb. 3, 2007. He had been 0-20-3 since.
“Tom is a senior captain, and it’s nice to see him achieve success,” said Wright. “He’s had a lot of bad breaks and it’s good to see him ending on a high note.”
AIC plays at Holy Cross on Saturday, a team it went 1-3 with this season.
“Our win (against Holy Cross) was a back a while ago,” said Wright. “Since then a lot has happened. We’ve had a modest surge lately and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to play them again.
“The playoffs are a fresh start.”
Player of the Week for March 2, 2009
Steve Cameron — Mercyhurst
The sophomore had a hat trick on Friday to pace the Lakers to a 4-1 win. Cameron has 22 goals so far this season and is ranked fifth nationally in points per game (1.28).
Goaltender of the Week for March 2, 2009:
Beau Erickson — Connecticut
Erickson stopped 56 of 59 shots to help the Huskies to a three point weekend against Bentley. He already has made over 2,400 saves in not quite three seasons at UConn.
Rookie of the Week for March 2, 2009:
Luke Miller — Holy Cross
Miller had the best weekend of his young career, scoring two goals in each of a pair of games against Sacred Heart.
Player of the Week for February, 2009
Matt Pierce — Mercyhurst
The senior forward had Pierce had 13 points (eight goals, five assists) to lead the Lakers in scoring during the month of February. Pierce has 39 points so far this season, third in Atlantic Hockey.
Other players nominated: Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force; Dustin Cloutier, Bentley; Jason Weeks, Canisius; Matt Pedemonti, Connecticut; Jordan Cyr, Holy Cross; Brennan Sarazin, RIT.
Goaltender of the Week for February, 2009:
Jay Clark — Army
The sophomore was twice named Goalie of the Week last month. Clark at least 30 saves in each of seven starts, allowing just 12 goals in those games. He currently sports a .920 save percentage
Other goalies nominated: Andrew Volkening, Air Force; Andrew Loewen, Canisius; Ryan Zapolski, Mercyhurst; Louis Menard, RIT
Rookie of the Week for February, 2009:
Phil Ginand — Mercyhurst
Ginand had seven goals and three assist in February He’s making a strong case for AHA Rookie of the Year honors, leading all freshmen in scoring with 29 points in 28 league games.
Other rookies nominated: Tim Kirby, Air Force; Kyle Rank, Bentley; Luke Miller, Holy Cross; Cameron Burt, RIT
Six of the ten AHA teams are off this weekend. I asked the coaches of the top two seeds, Frank Serratore of Air Force and Wayne Wilson of RIT, how they felt about the downtime, especially considering that both teams will be playing quarterfinal series against teams that didn’t have a weekend off.
“I love it,” said Serratore. “Life for a Cadet is very rigorous, and any time to rest a bit is appreciated. Plus it gives Mike Phillipich (who suffered an ankle injury last weekend) a chance to get better.”
“It’s just one game,” said Wilson, referring to the game his team’s opponent (possibly Holy Cross, UConn or Sacred Heart) will play Saturday. “The timing isn’t great for us since this (past) week we had to deal with finals and then play this big series (against Air Force) and next week we’re on break with no games at all. But that’s the way it is and we’ll use the time to work on some things and get prepared.”
Off to D.C.
The rosters for the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge have been announced, and three AHA players have been selected, as well as an additional three picked as alternatives. The competition is for seniors who have finished their NCAA eligibility, and is held after the presentation of the Hobey Baker and Hockey Humanitarian Awards.
Participating for the East team will be Zach McKelvie of Army and Matt Pierce of Mercyhurst. Air Force’s Greg Flynn was named to the West team.
Matt Lundin of Mercyhurst, Jesse Newman of RIT, and Bentley’s Dain Prewitt were selected as alternates. Each stands a decent shot at participating, since players actually playing in the Frozen Four will have to relinquish their spots, and some will have already signed pro contracts. Good luck to all six.