Another opening weekend to the college hockey season, and another opening weekend slate of losses for Atlantic Hockey teams. In all, the league went 1-13 in non-conference games last week.
Non-league games early in the season have traditionally been bad news for AHA teams, especially when almost all of them are on the road and many involve ranked teams.
Last week was no exception. None of those 14 games was played in an AHA rink, and eight were against ranked teams.
As I blogged about on Monday, there were some positives, including some good goaltending and many games going down to the wire. Air Force led both North Dakota and Michigan State, but wound up losing late against the Fighting Sioux and in overtime to the Spartans.
“We put ourselves in position to win both games, but didn’t win either one,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said after the game on Saturday. “We were the perfect tournament opponent. We gave two teams character-building wins. I don’t see much good in this. We had a lead in the third period of both games and didn’t get it done. Not only did we not get it done once, we didn’t get it done twice.”
Splitsville in Omaha
The only Atlantic Hockey team to record a win last week was Robert Morris, which beat conference foe Mercyhurst 2-1 in the consolation game of the Maverick Stampede tournament in Omaha.
“We went a long way to play a team we’re going to see three more times this season,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “Before the tournament Gotski [Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin] said that would have been all right if it was in the finals.”
But instead Robert Morris dropped a 3-1 decision to eventual champion Colgate and Mercyhurst was defeated by host Nebraska-Omaha 5-1.
“For a first weekend we played fine,” said Schooley. “This time of the year the team that minimizes its mistakes the most usually wins. Our goal was to play better as the weekend went on and our best period was the third period on Saturday.”
Despite a combined 62 shots on goal, Rochester Institute of Technology and Niagara skated to a 0-0 tie on Saturday. It was the first scoreless tie in RIT’s 47-year history, and just the second such tie in school history for Niagara. RIT’s Shane Madolora and Niagara’s Cody Campbell were each credited with a shutout.
Although they didn’t post many wins, some other AHA netminders turned in strong performances this week:
• Bentley’s tandem of sophomore Branden Komm and senior Kyle Rank combined to stop 83 shots in a pair of losses at Michigan.
• Connecticut’s Garrett Bartus made 78 saves in a pair of games with Bowling Green, including 41 in a 4-4 tie on Saturday.
• Eric Levine stopped 29 of 30 shots to help Robert Morris to a 2-1 win over Mercyhurst.
Twenty nominees have been announced for the 2012 Lowe’s Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award, which focuses on athletic, academic and community achievement.
Among the nominees were three Atlantic Hockey seniors: Mike Daly (Holy Cross), Chris Haltigin (RIT) and Paul Weisgarber (Air Force).
The field will be narrowed to 10 finalists in January, with the winner announced at the Frozen Four. Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux won the award last season.
Trying again up north
This weekend will mark the third time in four years that the Mercyhurst Lakers have ventured to Alaska for the Gold Rush tournament. As usual, Mercyhurst will play both the Nanooks and the Seawolves.
In four previous games, Mercyhurst is 0-4 and has been outscored 18-8. Maybe the third time will be the charm for the Lakers, who get a well-deserved week off on their return after consecutive weekends in Omaha and Fairbanks. Mercyhurst then hosts RIT for its home opener on Oct. 28.
Last season RIT set a record for attendance at an Atlantic Hockey regular season game by selling out Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena (10,556). As of this writing, only about 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s contest against St. Lawrence at the same venue.
Tickets may be even harder to get in 2012 and 2013 when Penn State and Michigan, respectively, come to Rochester to square off against the Tigers at BCA.
A good problem to have
RIT’s first game of the season was an exhibition against York (Ontario). Coach Wayne Wilson used a different goalie each period, and Madolora, Josh Watson and Jordan Ruby combined for a 32-save shutout. The three goalies shared the No. 1 star of the game (hey, it was an exhibition).
“That’s great,” said a sarcastic Wilson after the game. “The two that I don’t start next week are going to say, ‘How can you sit me? I was the No. 1 star last game!'”
Former RIT player Chris Tanev has opened the season at Vancouver, which was not a big surprise considering he finished last season with the Canucks, including Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Another former AHA star that game very close to making the big club as a free agent was Cory Conacher, who left Canisius last season as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He had great rookie and preseason camps with the big club before being sent to Norfolk in the AHL.
“Tampa was very impressed with Cory,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith. “In the end, they want him to play hockey and get better. He made his mark in camp and now he’ll play every day at Norfolk … and when the time is right, hopefully earn his way to the NHL.”
In defense of the shootout?
Like many old-school hockey fans, I detest the shootout. To have played one after the scoreless tie between Niagara and RIT last Saturday, after 65 minutes of edge-of-your-seat hockey, would have been a travesty.
But it may has its place — deciding things that don’t matter. For example, Bowling Green and Connecticut played to a 4-4 tie on Saturday, and because the game was played in a CCHA building, fans expected a winner. But since it wasn’t a conference game, the contest goes into the books as a tie and the shootout was an “exhibition.” Perfect.
I’m also fine with using the shootout to decide such vitally important things as consolation games of in-season tournaments. After all, that third-place trophy probably cost a couple hundred bucks and somebody’s got to take it home. Besides, we gotta start the championship game on time.
Lampooning “The National”
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), which begins play in 2013, has already taken to calling itself “The National” in some press releases.
Nuh-uh. Not going there, unless every conference is allowed a nickname. For the AHA, I’d recommend “The Atlantic,” but there’s already a magazine with that name. And an ocean. Maybe “A-Ha!”, like an “A-ha!” moment, or that ’80s band with the cool video and the guy who sings really high. The league could adopt “Take On Me” as its official theme song.
Or maybe we’ll can just call each conference by its real name.