Going the Distance
The top four seeds in Atlantic Hockey advanced to Rochester, but it wasn’t easy. Mercyhurst swept Army in convincing fashion (6-2, 5-0), but the other three series were dogfights that went the distance.
Expect more of the same this weekend. Here are your semifinal matchups:
No. 4 Bentley vs. No. 1 Air Force
How They Got Here: Both sets of Falcons won the first game of their series, but got ambushed on Saturday. Bentley and Air Force rebounded to close out Canisius and Sacred Heart, respectively, on Sunday. Air Force played one of its worst games of the season in a 4-1 loss to the Pioneers on Saturday, but came back with a vengeance in an 8-1 blowout in the third and deciding game.
“This was a game we had to win,” said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore after the game. “Game three in our building against the lower seed, you have to get it done. I couldn’t be more proud of our group. Sacred Heart was a very tough team to play against the first two nights, but we sent a message early in this game.”
How Air Force Wins: The Falcons need to draw on their postseason experience and get good goaltending from Andrew Volkening. Air Force will most likely outshoot its opponent so Volkening, who has had a couple of rough starts in the second half of the season, needs to be there when needed.
“I really believe that in the second half of the year, we became a better team because of the adversity that we had to overcome,” said Serratore. “Because of that, I believe that we are a better team right now than we were early in the season when were 13-0.”
How Bentley Wins: Stay out of the box and be opportunistic. Kyle Rank needs to outplay Volkening in net.
No. 3 Mercyhurst vs. No. 2 RIT
How They Got Here: The Tigers won a wild series with Holy Cross (3-5, 6-4, 9-5). The Lakers had an easier time with Army, outscoring the Black Knights 12-2.
“They kind of dominated us this weekend,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “I really believe that they have all the pieces to win this league. They certainly are one of the top teams and have to be feeling good about themselves.”
Mercyhurst comes into the semifinals on a tear (14-2-1 in its last 17 games) and has scored four or more goals in seven of its last eight contests.
For Wayne Wilson’s RIT Tigers, it was a narrow escape against a Holy Cross team that never quit.
“Whenever we scored, they came back real quick, and that can’t happen (this weekend),” he said. “We’ve got to get the momentum and build on that.
“I told the players in the locker room that these games get tougher and tougher. I thought Army was a tough series, then we come back home against Air Force, and now this series. These might have been the toughest games we played all year in terms of the physicality and hard play. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be as you move through the playoffs.”
How RIT Wins: Both teams can score a lot of goals, but I think it benefits the Tigers to play the kind of games they did against Army and Air Force instead of the ones they played last weekend with Holy Cross (18 goals scored, but 14 goals allowed). You don’t want to get into a shootout with the Lakers.
How Mercyhurst Wins: I would give the Lakers the advantage in net, the Tigers on “D” and call it a draw between the Tigers’ and Lakers’ forwards. I think this game will come down to whether Ryan Zapolski can play like he did last weekend (two goals allowed on 57 shots).
Player of the Week for March 16, 2009
Jeff Gumaer — Bentley
Gumaer recorded his first career hat trick in a 4-2 victory over Canisius in the deciding game of their three-game quarterfinal series. He also had four assists in the series.
Goaltender of the Week for March 16, 2009:
Ryan Zapolski — Mercyhurst
The Erie, Penn., native made 55 saves on 57 shots to lead the Lakers to a quarterfinal sweep of Army.
Rookie of the Week for March 16, 2009:
Tyler Brenner — RIT
Brenner had three goals and two assists to help the Tigers take two of three from Holy Cross. He scored twice in the deciding game on Sunday. Brenner is currently second in the nation in points for rookies (35).
My All-AHA Teams
The league will announce the real All-AHA teams and other award winners at its annual banquet on Thursday, but in the meantime, here’s one writer’s opinion:
F Jacques Lamoureux, So. Air Force
F Owen Meyer, Jr., Army
F Matt Pierce, Sr., Mercyhurst
D Greg Flynn, Sr., Air Force
D Dan Ringwald, Jr., RIT
G Ryan Zapolski, So., Mercyhurst
F Steve Cameron, So., Mercyhurst
F Matt Fairchild, Jr., Air Force
F Brennan Sarazin, Sr., RIT
D Carl Hudson, Jr., Canisius
D Zach McKelvie, Sr., Army
G Andrew Volkening, Jr., Air Force
F Dain Prewitt, Sr., Bentley
F Bear Trapp, Sr., Sacred Heart
F Jason Weeks, Jr., Canisius
D Sean Erickson, Sr., Connecticut
D Al Mazur., Jr., RIT
G Jay Clark, So., Army
Honorable Mention: Dustin Cloutier (Bentley), Jeff Gumaer (Bentley), Matt Crowell (RIT), Chris Ochoa (Connecticut), Scott Pitt (Mercyhurst), Mike Mayra (Air Force), Dave Grimson (Sacred Heart), Bobby Raymond (RIT), Andrew Loewen (Canisius)
F Tyler Brenner, RIT
F Phil Ginand, Mercyhurst
F Dave Kostuch, Canisius
D Marcel Alvarez, Army
D Scott Mathis, Air Force
G Kyle Rank, Bentley
Honorable Mention: Matt Gingera (Sacred Heart), Cameron Burt (RIT), Michael Penny (AIC), Chris Haltigin (RIT), Tim Kirby (Air Force), Marcello Ranallo (Connecticut)
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Rank, Bentley
Player of the Year: Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force
Coach of the Year: Ryan Soderquist, Bentley
Thanks For the Memories
Last week, my son Matthew’s team won the New York State Division I high school hockey championship. It was a great ride for the Greece (N.Y.) Thunder, which capped off an undefeated season with a state title. Matt has one year to go, but for the seniors on that team, their ride is over. I saw the mixture of joy in victory and sadness in knowing that they were taking off the sweater for the last time.
I thought of the players in this league who have and will experience the same thing. There are some remarkable senior classes in Atlantic Hockey:
Air Force — This class started out in the CHA but moved on to greener (and more successful) pastures in Atlantic Hockey. Greg Flynn, Josh Frider, Mike Phillipich, Mike Mayra and Brent Olson have been part of a regular-season title and two league championships, and they’re gunning for a third in a row.
AIC — Tom Fenton leads a group of six seniors that has had its ups and downs. Fenton finished strong, playing well in the Yellow Jackets’ last regular-season series with Army and allowing just one goal in an overtime playoff loss to Holy Cross.
Army — Josh Kassel had a rough season, but can look back on an All-American campaign in 2007-2008. Zach McKelvie leads a group of hard-working seniors, six in all.
Bentley — In 2006, a strong freshman class led the Falcons to within a single game of the NCAA tournament. After a couple of rough years, Dain Prewitt, Jeff Gumaer, Anthony Canzonai and company are two wins away from the Promised Land.
Canisius — The Griffs have just two seniors who only scored three goals between them this season, but provided valuable leadership: Spencer Churchill, a defense-minded forward, and D-man John Patera, who scored his first two career goals this year.
Connecticut — Sean Erickson had an all-star season to lead a group of four seniors.
Holy Cross — As freshmen, Marty Dams and Dewy Thomson won a league title and played in a game that was one of the defining moments for Atlantic Hockey: a 4-3 overtime win over top-seeded Minnesota in the NCAA tournament.
Mercyhurst — The Class of 2009 will certainly be missed — guys like Matt Pierce, Brett Robinson and Kirk Medernach have been go-to players for four years. The Lakers came within a goal of the NCAA tournament last season, and this class would like to go at least one game farther.
RIT — This senior class was the first set of Division I recruits at RIT, and had to forgo the postseason their first two years. They made up for it with regular titles in 2007 and 2009. Brennan Sarazin, Jesse Newman, Robby Raymond, Justin Hofstetter (as well as Louis Menard and Anton Kharin, who are graduating with eligibility left) would like nothing more than to take the next step.
Sacred Heart — Bear Trapp (second all-time in scoring at SHU), Eric Giosa, Dave Grimson, Stefan Drew and the rest of the seven seniors have been a part of 69 wins in four seasons, the most successful stretch in school history.
The Finish Line
This is my last column of the season, and, as usual, thanks are in order. I’m grateful to the league’s coaches and players for taking time out to talk with me this season. Special thanks for Dave Rourke from Atlantic Hockey for his invaluable assistance and insight.
Thanks to Kathleen and kids for again supporting my weekends away and late nights with the laptop.
Until next time…