Atlantic Hockey teams have performed well recently in non-conference games, a welcome change for the league. After starting out the season 1-15-1 against teams outside the league, AHA teams are 7-3-1 out of conference in their last 11 games dating to early November.
It doesn’t help that the majority of these games are played away from AHA rinks. This season, only 19 of 74 non-conference games are being hosted by Atlantic Hockey. American International and Bentley play no non-conference games at home this season. Mercyhurst has the most; the Lakers host Western Michigan and Alabama-Huntsville for a pair of games each this season.
Part of the problem is a short non-conference schedule — each team gets a maximum of seven games. But the main issue is facilities and lack of fan support in some arenas. Schools in other conferences, especially those with large rinks and brand names, are happy to host an AHA school but aren’t going to reciprocate.
“It’s a big problem,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore, whose Falcons have hosted both Yale and Colorado College this season. “We’re fortunate that we have a good facility with plenty of fans and a couple of other strong programs [Colorado College and Denver] down the road.”
Serratore thinks the problem is slowly getting better as Atlantic Hockey’s reputation continues to improve, but thinks that the league as a whole should play more hardball to address the scheduling disparity.
“Some are saying we should play less league games [to open up more scheduling flexibility]. I think the answer is not more non-conference games but more non-conference games in Atlantic Hockey buildings. The ECAC is dying for games earlier in the season. We need to say, ‘If you want to play us, you need to come here next year.'”
It’s easier said than done, but the hopes are that the addition of good facilities like those at Niagara and Robert Morris will help. Rochester Institute of Technology, which has announced plans for a new rink, specifically mentioned wanting to attract “name schools” to come to Rochester.
But for the foreseeable future, AHA teams will have to be road warriors to get those non-conference wins.
Game(s) of the week
Canisius (5-5-4) travels to Bentley (4-5-1) for a pair of games this weekend. Both are coming off strong weekends, with Canisius taking three points against Air Force and Robert Morris, and the Falcons beating Connecticut and Holy Cross. Bentley was the only AHA team to pick up four points last weekend.
“We were fortunate to get the four points,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist, who won his 102nd game last weekend, becoming the school’s leader in career victories.
“We didn’t play to the best of our abilities on Friday against a good Connecticut team, but we were able to get the win. Against Holy Cross we came out really hard in the first period and got off to a 3-0 lead.”
Senior Erik Peterson leads the team with 11 points in nine games. He’s finally healthy after being hurt most of last season.
“Last year he had three different injuries,” Soderquist said of Peterson, a former AHA rookie of the year. “He was never really healthy.”
Soderquist has been impressed with his goaltending, and the play of his freshmen.
“We’ve gotten some key contributions from some newcomers, and [senior] Joe Calvi had a nice run and [junior] Kyle Rank came back with a great game on Saturday,” Soderquist said. “Both have save percentages up around 92 percent, and that’s where we need to be to be successful.”
Soderquist thinks his team can improve on the power play, especially when a couple of seniors get into the groove.
“Guys like [Dustin] Cloutier and [Joe] Campanelli haven’t found their scoring touch yet,” he said. “We expected to have more goals from them, and I think once they get going we’ll be even better.”
Canisius comes into Watertown off a rebound weekend that saw it earn a win and tie after going winless since Oct. 29. Canisius and Bentley have met 11 times in just the past two seasons, with Bentley holding an 8-3 edge.
“Canisius and Bentley have always been a battle every year,” Soderquist said. “We’re similar teams in how we play. Canisius has an offense that can strike at any time. As usual, it will come down to special teams and defense.”
Third period haves and have-nots
Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of third-period success are RIT and Robert Morris. Robert Morris has outscored its opposition 18-7 in the final stanza, including 14-3 in the last 10 minutes of regulation. The Colonials have outshot their opponents 142-115 in the third period.
RIT has struggled in the third period so far this season, getting outscored 20-11 through 11 games. The Tigers have taken a lot of penalties in the third, and their penalty kill is ranked 55th out of 58 NCAA Division I teams.
Ironically, RIT defeated Robert Morris in overtime this year. Despite stellar play in the third period, the Colonials have surrendered three goals in overtime and are 0-3-1 in those games.
Thankful for some hockey
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Black Friday with picks for this weekend’s games, which include some turkey tournaments.