Eight is Enough
Atlantic Hockey moves to the quarterfinal portion of its postseason this weekend, a best-of-three series format. This year just four teams will make it to Rochester, a change from last season’s Final Five.
Holy Cross and Sacred Heart moved on after winning first-round single-elimination games over AIC and Connecticut, respectively. The Crusaders needed an overtime tally from Everett Sheen and a shutout from Ian Dams to advance, while the Pioneers took an early lead and then held back a late rush by UConn to move on.
Here’s a breakdown of the four series:
No. 8 Sacred Heart at No. 1 Air Force
How They Got Here: The Pioneers were picked to finish fourth in the AHA preseason poll, but have struggled to (at this point) their lowest win total in 10 years. An inability to win on the road (2-14-2) has hurt. Air Force, the preseason favorite, started the season with a record-breaking 13-game winning streak, then came back to earth, losing the lead in the standings to RIT before catching the Tigers in the final weekend of the regular season to earn a share of the regular-season title and the top seed in the playoffs.
How Air Force Wins: Continue to play stellar defense and special teams, and build off of recent history — the Falcons destroyed the Pioneers 8-1 and 7-1 in Colorado Springs earlier in the season and are 14-3 at home so far.
How Sacred Heart Wins: Somehow forget these games are on the road — the Pioneers played Air Force much better in 4-1 and 4-3 (overtime) losses in Milford. Sacred Heart did turn in a gem of a roadie at RIT back on Feb. 6, and the Pioneers need two similar efforts if they are to have a chance.
Falcon to Watch: Sophomore transfer Jacques Lamoureux leads the nation in goals per game (0.82). He has 28 goals, including seven game-winners. He’s a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate.
Pioneer to Watch: Senior Bear Trapp has been a point producer all four years with the Pioneers (Trapp was Rookie of the Year in the AHA his freshman season). He has scored less this season (nine goals so far compared to 46 in his three previous seasons) but has gotten hot down the stretch, racking up 12 points in his last six games.
No. 7 Holy Cross at No. 2 RIT
How They Got Here: The Tigers opened the season 5-8-1, but went 15-2-1 after that, finishing in a dead heat with Air Force at the top of the standings. Holy Cross has had an up-and-down season that saw the Crusaders playing well after the holidays but go into a 1-7 slump to end the regular season.
How RIT Wins: Keep history on its side and stay consistent. The Tigers have an amazing streak going against Holy Cross dating back to when both teams were in Division III leagues. The last time the Crusaders beat the Tigers was Nov. 4, 1983. RIT was won 14 straight including the last 10 since joining Atlantic Hockey. RIT has never been swept in a weekend series in its three years in the AHA.
How Holy Cross Wins: Forget the past, especially the recent past (Holy Cross was 0-4 against RIT this season, outscored 19-4). RIT’s combined special teams are tops in the league so the Crusaders need to stay out of the box and protect the puck on the power play. Getting an early lead will help take the rowdy RIT crowd out of the games.
Tiger to Watch: Senior Brennan Sarazin leads the Tigers with 18 goals this season after scoring 20 total his first three years. Sarazin has suited up for every game in his four seasons, a total of 135 to date.
Crusader to Watch: Jordan Cyr is another sophomore transfer who has found success in the AHA. Coming over from Rensselaer, Cyr leads the team in goals (17) and points (28).
No. 6 Army at No. 3 Mercyhurst
How They Got Here: Mercyhurst opened the season with a brutal schedule that saw the Lakers crisscrossing the continent and playing just four home games until mid-January. Since then, Mercyhurst has gone 12-1-1 and is 10-2-2 at home this season. Army, attempting to defend its regular-season title, got off to a slow start but clinched the final playoff bye on the last weekend of the season.
“We worked to try to get a bye and our ‘reward’ is to play Mercyhurst,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “There’s one of the hottest teams in the league, and they haven’t lost too many games at home.”
How Mercyhurst Wins: The Lakers need to keep it rolling against an Army team capable of shutting them down, particularly if Jay Clark is playing well in net. Army doesn’t take too many penalties, so the Lakers will have to win the five-on-five battles. Mercyhurst also need to contain Owen Meyer, the Black Knights’ chief offensive threat.
How Army Wins: Riley thinks his team needs to play a near-perfect hockey to pick up a pair of wins. “I wish the games were at West Point (where the Black Knights swept the Lakers this season) instead of Erie (where Army was swept by Mercyhurst),” said Riley. “But Mercyhurst has played very well and earned the home ice. They have no weaknesses. From great goaltending to defense to a lot of guys that can score.”
Laker to Watch: Senior Matt Pierce leads a talented group of forwards. Pierce has 22 goals and 39 points so far this season, and has twice been named AHA Player of the Month, including February, when he registered 14 points in nine games.
Black Knight to Watch: Junior forward Owen Meyer has been a force for the Black Knights this season, leading the team in goals (18) and points (32).
No. 5 Canisius at No. 4 Bentley
How They Got Here: The Bentley Falcons wrapped up their best regular season in school history and are hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2006. Bentley had only six wins before the holidays but is 11-5-1 since then. Bentley swept all four games against Canisius this season. Canisius had its most successful regular season since 2001, but comes in winless in its last three games. The Griffs have played in a whopping 12 overtime games this season (4-2-6).
How Bentley Wins: Kyle Rank has the hot hand in net right now and needs to stay sharp. Bentley’s power play was an awesome nine for 25 (36.0%) against Canisius this season.
How Canisius Wins: None of the current players on the Canisius roster has ever won a postseason game, so the Griffs will have to get over the misfortunes of the past and focus on this series. Canisius has scored two goals or less in its last nine postseason games, so the Griffs have to get some goals early and break the jinx.
Falcon to Watch: Goaltender Kyle Rank has a .919 save percentage and a 2.47 GAA. The freshman has won eight of his last nine starts.
Golden Griffin to Watch: Freshman Dave Kostuch is a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. He leads the team in goals (18) and is fourth in points (26). Kostuch recently broke out of a minislump, getting a goal in Canisius’ last regular-season game after being held off the scoresheet in his prior five games.
Player of the Week for March 9, 2009
Dave Jarman — Sacred Heart
The junior forward figured in all four goals to lead the Pioneers to a first-round victory over UConn. Jarman had two goals and two assists in the game.
Goaltender of the Week for March 9, 2009:
Ian Dams — Holy Cross
Dams stopped all 30 shots to earn his first career shutout, blanking AIC in overtime last Saturday.