It’s quarterfinal time, as eight teams look to move on to Rochester with a quartet of best-of-three series this weekend. Without further ado, here are the match-ups:
No. 9 Connecticut at No. 1 RIT
How they got here: RIT won its third regular season title in four seasons to go with a second-place finish in 2008. Its 22-5-1 mark was the best in league history. The Tigers have done it this season with a diverse offense and stellar defense and goaltending. Connecticut has only seven wins this season, but has won two in a row and three of its last five. RIT won the season series 3-1, outscoring the Huskies 18-4.
How Connecticut wins: RIT lit up freshman goaltender Jeff Larson for 13 goals early in the season, but he’s since left school and UConn coach Bruce Marshall brought in another rookie, Garrett Bartus, who allowed just five goals in two games with RIT in their next meeting in January. Bartus has to be sharp, and UConn can’t rely on him to steal just a game — it needs to win twice.
“I like the way we’re playing now,” Marshall said. “If we had started the season this way, who knows? We might have had more wins.”
Marshall gives credit to his team for not giving up after several rough patches and to Bartus for settling in quickly.
“He got thrown right into the fire on Dec. 28,” said Marshall. “Freshman usually get more time to acclimate by getting here in August. But he adapted quickly.”
How RIT wins: The Tigers need to prevent the Huskies from sticking around and establish an early lead in front of a partisan crowd. RIT has the top offense in the league (3.89 goals a game) and the Huskies have the worst (1.71 goals a game). UConn has allowed 43 percent of its goals in the third period, so the Tigers need to keep the pressure on.
Huskies player to watch: Rookie goaltender Garrett Bartus (3.02 goals-against average; .903 save percentage).
Tigers player to watch: Sophomore Cameron Burt (34 points) is a dynamic playmaker who can score big goals in big games.
No. 7 Holy Cross at No. 2 Sacred Heart
How they got here: Sacred Heart won just three of its first 14 games, but then went through a stretch of just one loss in 18 contests, vaulting the Pioneers from last to second place. Coach C.J. Marottolo’s squad finally hit a bump in the road in the final weekend of the regular season, dropping a pair of games at Air Force, getting outscored 14-4. Sacred Heart was locked into second place heading into the series, so it was only the Pioneers’ pride that got damaged.
“You never expect or accept what happened [at Air Force],” said Marottolo. “But human nature can creep in no matter how much you guard against it. We’ve put it behind us to get ready for a tough series with Holy Cross.”
The Crusaders defeated American International last Friday to move on to the quarterfinals. Despite its 10-13-5 conference record, Holy Cross managed to take at least a point from every team except Mercyhurst.
How Holy Cross wins: Holy Cross was 1-3 against Sacred Heart this season, but every game was decided by two goals or less. The Crusaders go into the series knowing they can skate with the Pioneers.
“Every game with them could have gone either way,” said Marottolo. “They’re a well coached team with good speed and play good defense.
How Sacred Heart wins: The Pioneers need to forget about their trip to Air Force and get back to the formula that worked for them the second half of the season: get good leadership and points from a talented senior class.
Crusaders player to watch: Goaltender Thomas Tysowski is fourth in the conference in GAA (2.44) and fifth in save percentage (.909)
Pioneers player to watch: Senior Nick Johnson has had a monster year, scoring 25 goals to date. He leads a talented offense that includes classmate Dave Jarman (45 points). “No doubt these guys could play on any team [in college hockey],” said Marottolo, who was an assist at Yale for 13 years prior to this season. “The league’s got a number of players on each team that could play and do well on an ECAC team, or a CCHA or WCHA team.”
No. 6 Army at No. 3 Air Force
How they got here: The Falcons had been winless in six straight before sweeping Sacred Heart to close out the season. During its slump, Air Force scored just seven goals in six games before scoring 14 against the Pioneers.
“I have no idea what changed for us,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “Pucks that weren’t going in started to go in.”
Army has struggled as of late (1-3-2 in its last six games), but took three of four points from the Falcons this season.
“These are always terrific games,” said Serratore. “They always fill our building, and we fill theirs. There are some great rivalries in college hockey, but this is the most special. Nowhere else can you see two teams play their hearts out, and then when its over come to center ice and shake hands, then stand at attention for each others’ Alma mater. Other rivalries, they hate each other before, during and after the game. That’s why this one is special; we leave the ice as one team.”
How Army wins: The Black Knights have to back the trend and find success in Colorado Springs, as each team has won the majority of games against the other on it home ice.
“We’re two pretty evenly matched teams, and home ice has been the difference,” said Serratore.
How Air Force wins: The Falcons are 11-2-4 when they score first. They need to take early control as they did against Sacred Heart two weeks ago.
Black Knights player to watch: Senior Owen Meyer hasn’t scored as much as he has the past two seasons, but he has the skills to take over a game.
Falcons player to watch: Jacques Lamoureux and Andrew Volkening may get more attention, but senior Matt Fairchild may be the most exciting player in the league. He logs a ton of ice time and scores big goals.
No. 5 Canisius at No. 4 Mercyhurst
How they got here: Both the Lakers and the Griffs suffered setbacks the last weekend of the regular season. Canisius had a chance at home ice in this series, but was swept at RIT. Mercyhurst lost a late lead at Connecticut and dropped its final game in overtime, falling from third to fourth place.
“Credit UConn,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “We were disappointed not to finish third, because that was as high as we could finish [going into the final weekend], and you always strive for that. We went into the [final] weekend able to finish anywhere from third to fifth. The main goal of any team in this league is to finish in the top four and we were able to do that.”
How Canisius wins: Canisius needs to win the war of special teams. The Griffs are the most penalized team in the league (18.6 minutes a game) but have the best power play (24.0 percent). They’ll do well if they take less penalties than the Lakers.
How Mercyhurst wins: Mercyhurst needs to shut down Canisius’ top scorers to win against the Griffs on home ice, something they were not able to do during the regular season. Canisius was 3-1 against Mercyhurst, including a sweep in Erie.
“This is a great rivalry,” said Gotkin. “Our two teams have played each other more than in other team in both of our histories.”
Griffins player to watch: Junior forward Cory Conacher has 49 points this season, including 44 in league play, the second-best season ever by an AHA player.
Lakers player to watch: Goaltender Ryan Zapolski has quietly put up impressive numbers: a 2.32 GAA (third in the league) and a .930 save percentage (second).
Co-Players of the Week for March 8:
Justin Hernandez — Connecticut
Hernandez had the game-winner and assisted on the Huskies’ first goal to help UConn to a 2-1 playoff upset win over Bentley.
Jordan Cyr — Holy Cross
The junior forward had a goal and an assist to help the Crusaders to a 4-2 playoff win over AIC. Cyr leads the team with 28 points.
Goalie/Rookie of the Week for March 8:
Garrett Bartus — Connecticut
Bartus stopped 27 of 28 to earn a playoff win over Bentley.
Three AHA players have been chosen to participate in the fifth annual Frozen Four Skills Challenge, which will be held April 9 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Army’s Owen Meyer, RIT’s Jared DeMichiel and Air Force’s Andrew Volkening have been selected to participate. Matt Fairchild of Air Force was named an alternate.
Here’s the full list of participants:
Men’s East: Sean Backman, Yale; Bobby Butler, New Hampshire; Owen Meyer, Army; Neil Musselwhite, Oswego State; Ben Smith, Boston College; and Brandon Wong, Quinnipiac. The goalies are: Jared DeMichiel, RIT; and Ben Scrivens, Cornell.
Women’s East: Melissa Anderson, Boston University; Anna McDonald, Harvard; Sarah Parsons, Dartmouth; Kelly Paton, New Hampshire; Britni Smith, St. Lawrence; and Allie Thunstrom, Boston College. The goalies are Brittony Chartier, St. Lawrence; and Melissa Haber, Boston University.
Men’s West: Cody Chupp, Ferris State; Zach Harrison, Minnesota State; Steven Kampfer, Michigan; Kyle Lawson, Notre Dame; Tony Lucia, Minnesota; and Chris McKelvie, Bemidji State. The goalies are: Brian Stewart, Northern Michigan; and Andrew Volkening, Air Force.
Women’s West: Kelli Blankenship, Minnesota; Rachel Davis, Ohio State; Caitlin Hogan, St. Cloud State; Kyla Sanders, Wisconsin; Chelsea Walkland, Robert Morris; and Ashley Young, Minnesota State. The goalies are: Lauren Bradel, St. Thomas; and Lindsey Park, Wayne State.