Teams at the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings struggled over the holiday break (see below), but the news wasn’t all bad. The brightest spot for the league was at the Toyota UConn Classic, where Bentley defeated the host Huskies and then No. 15 Massachusetts to take the title.
It doesn’t get much better than taking two points in AHA play (the game against UConn counts in the standings) and then beating a ranked team for a tournament title.
“I thought we came out and executed our plan,” coach Ryan Soderquist said after the victory over the Minutemen. “We allowed them to have a little space outside the dots and let them cycle the puck. They had a lot of shots on net, but they weren’t a lot of Grade ‘A’ chances.”
Sophomore goaltender Kyle Rank was outstanding, allowing only two goals in the tournament while turning away 65 shots, including 42 in the championship game.
“This meant a lot to us,” Rank said. “We earned a lot of respect this weekend with winning this tournament. I think it’s the first tournament we’ve won since becoming Division I. Getting the two points from UConn was huge and beating UMass was just a bonus. We’re going to use this momentum going forward to hopefully get a home playoff spot, which is our goal.”
Forward Marc Menzione (goal, two assists) and defenseman Bobby Preece (goal, assist) were named to the all-tournament team.
Player of the Week for Jan. 4, 2010:
Dave Jarman — Sacred Heart
The senior had four points (two goals and two assists) to help the Pioneers to their first-ever sweep of Air Force. Jarman is fifth in the conference with 21 points.
Goalie of the Week for Jan. 4, 2010:
Kyle Rank — Bentley
Rank was MVP of the Toyota UConn Classic, making 65 saves, including 42 in the championship game, a 4-1 win over No. 15 UMass.
Rookie of the Week for Jan. 4, 2010:
Steven Legatto — Sacred Heart
The freshman goaltender stopped 63 of 65 shots to lead the Pioneers to a home sweep over Air Force.
Player of the Month for December 2009:
Jacques Lamoureux — Air Force
The senior had eight points in four games in December, including four in a 5-3 win over AIC on Dec. 4.
Other players nominated: Carl Hudson, Canisius
Goalie of the Month for December 2009:
Ryan Zapolski — Mercyhurst
Zapolski stopped 135 of 140 shots in December, posting a 3-0-1 record. He recorded back-to-back shutouts, the first Lakers goalie to accomplish that feat.
Other goalies nominated: Jay Clark, Army; Kyle Rank, Bentley
Rookie of the Month for December 2009:
Thomas Tysowsky — Holy Cross
The Amherst, N.Y., native had a 1.55 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in December. On the season, Tysowsky is tops in the AHA in GAA (2.24) and third in save percentage (.914)
Other rookies nominated: Preston Shupe, Canisius.
Tough at the Top
At the holiday break, three AHA teams began to distance themselves from the pack: Air Force, Mercyhurst and RIT. But all three started the New Year winless, each getting swept in convincing fashion.
Mercyhurst dropped both its games at the Catamount Cup at Vermont, getting outscored 10-1 in the process. RIT was swept at Minnesota State, outscored 9-1 by the Mavericks. A 6-1 loss last Friday was the second-worst for the Tigers since moving to Division I, and the shutout on Saturday was the first time RIT had been blanked in 42 games.
But the hardest hit was Air Force, since those losses count in the standings. The Falcons were swept at Sacred Heart 4-1 and 5-1, and while they remain tied for first in Atlantic Hockey, eight other teams in the conference have at least two games in hand, including RIT, which trails Air Force by a point but has played four fewer league games.
“We have about two months to right the ship before the playoffs,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said after Saturday’s game. “We’ll find out where we are come playoff time. We have to fight and scrap and do our best to get enough points to have home ice the in playoffs. We aren’t a great team right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a good team at playoff time. We have to check our egos at the door and find 18 guys that will leave their blood and sweat on the ice every night.”
For the Pioneers, the weekend was an indication that they’ve turned a corner. Sacred Heart was just 2-6-1 in league play before sweeping Air Force, the first time ever the Pioneers had taken four points from the Falcons.
“We took advantage of our chances,” coach C.J. Marottolo said. “Our goaltender played very well. He made key saves in key moments.”
Freshman netminder Steven Legatto stopped 63 of 65 shots on the weekend, and senior forward Dave Jarman had a pair of goals and a pair of assists.
Sacred Heart had gone into the winter break on a winning note, defeating Dartmouth 4-1. The Pioneers had been winless in their previous eight games.
“At the time, I wish we didn’t have the break,” Marottolo said. “I was wondering how we were going to respond. We had started to play really well. We were at Army the weekend before and on that Friday night (2-1 loss) I thought we played some of our best hockey of the season. But on Saturday, we lost and I think that was a turning point for us. We talked as a team about the lessons learned and how we could apply them.”
The Pioneers are two games into an eight-game homestand, hoping to gain more points and move to the middle of the standings.
“I wish we had more of these games when the [students] are here, but we’ll make the best of it,” said Marottolo, who is in his first year as a head coach after a 13-year stint as an assistant at Yale.
“I’ve loved every minute [of being a head coach],” he said. “Every facet: the guys on the team, the school. It’s everything I’d envisioned it would be.”
Nate Owen contributed to this week’s column.