Rochester Institute of Technology, the preseason favorite in Atlantic Hockey, opened the season 0-2-1, its worst start ever in conference play. The Tigers were also humbled by Union 5-0 on home ice, their worst defeat at Ritter Arena in 17 years.
Through its slump, RIT went over eight periods of play without scoring a goal. But nobody pushed the panic button, according to coach Wayne Wilson, and things have turned around in recent weeks.
“We really haven’t changed anything,” he said. “Maybe getting some guys back in the lineup and getting some puck luck.”
The change of fortune has been dramatic. RIT is 4-0-1 in its last five games, all conference matchups, and has moved into second place in the AHA standings.
“Really it comes down to two games that we could have won, but didn’t,” said Wilson. “We had 50 shots on a good Mercyhurst team but lost. We had a game with Canisius that could have gone either way but in both cases we just couldn’t score.”
The return of goaltender Shane Madolora from a five-game, NCAA-imposed suspension seems to have bolstered the Tigers’ confidence. RIT is 3-0-1 with him in net, including a sweep of Holy Cross last weekend.
“It’s good to have Shane back, but it really wasn’t the goaltending [that contributed to the slump]”, said Wilson. “We didn’t allow more than two goals in those [conference] games [RIT lost without Madolora].”
Wilson may be right about that. Madolora has allowed more than five goals twice this season, and the Tigers have won both games. He also has posted a pair of shutouts.
The Tigers, like many teams so far, have struggled with injuries as well, making it hard to get into a rhythm, according to Wilson.
“Our captains [including defenseman Chris Saracino, who recently returned from an extended absence due to a concussion] are playing well,” he said. “We’ve had other bright spots and people are contributing but it’s been tough with injuries and guys out of the lineup. For a while we were skating 13 forwards because we had only five healthy ‘D’ and that upset our rhythm. Now we’ve had to skate 11 forwards because of guys out and that’s also upset the rhythm. We still need to settle our lines.”
RIT hosts Rensselaer on Friday. The Engineers are just 2-10, and are suffering through the same scoring slump that plagued the Tigers last month.
“They’re a good team that’s played good teams,” said Wilson. “They’re going to come out and try to run over us and we need to be ready for that. They’re hoping for a feel-good game where they get their thing going against a team they thumped last year. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Alex Gerke, Connecticut
The junior defenseman had a five-point night against Sacred Heart last Wednesday with a hat-trick and a pair of assists. All three goals came on the power play.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Max Strang, Mercyhurst
The senior wins the award for the second time this season. Strang posted a 48-save shutout in a scoreless tie with Bentley on Friday and followed that up by stopping 32 of 33 shots in a 2-1 win on Saturday. Strang’s .930 save percentage is 12th in the nation.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Cody Sharib, Connecticut
The Needham, Mass., native posted a goal and two assists to help the Huskies to a 1-1 week.
Make it stop
In my blog this week I talked about the dearth of scoring in the league this season, but let’s give credit where credit is due. The goaltending has been outstanding in recent weeks. Here are some examples:
Rob Tadazak (Army): The rookie made 53 saves in a 1-1 tie with Brown last week. That’s the most saves by an Army goalie in almost three years.
Branden Komm (Bentley): Komm, last week’s AHA goalie of the week, was at it again this week, stopping 63 of 65 shots against Mercyhurst. The sophomore leads the league in save percentage (.936).
Cody Campbell (Niagara): The sophomore made 21 saves on 22 shots in a 1-1 tie against Canisius.
Colby Drost (Niagara): Drost stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 1-0 loss at Cornell on Tuesday.
Madolora (RIT): Madolora set a RIT Division I record by recording his eighth career shutout in Friday’s 2-0 win over Holy Cross, making 23 saves. His career record is 22-5-8.
Tony Capobianco (Canisius): Capobianco made 36 saves in a 2-2 tie with No. 12 Lake Superior on Saturday. He ranks second in the league with a .936 save percentage.
Andrew Loewen (Canisius): Loewen made 18 saves in a 4-2 loss to Lake Superior on Sunday, giving him 2,475 for his career and moving him into second place all-time. He needs 296 more to break the school record, set by Bryan Worosz (2001-05).
Ben Meisner (American International): The junior stopped all 30 shots he faced in a 3-0 shutout of Brown on Tuesday.
Breaking the ice in style
You knew Sacred Heart would eventually get its first win of the season, but few saw it coming against No. 8 Yale. But Tuesday night the Pioneers, who came into the game as the only winless and untied team in Division I, pulled off a wild 7-6 upset of the Bulldogs at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Yale outshot Sacred Heart 53-19 but Steven Legatto made 47 saves and Chad Filteau got the winner with 4:14 to play.
“We played tremendous and I couldn’t be prouder of our bunch of guys in our locker room tonight,” coach C.J. Marottolo said after the game. “We battled. We struggled all year, but tonight we showed great mental toughness, great resiliency against a very good, high-octane Yale team.”
You can watch more of Marottolo’s postgame comments here:
[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZ21SsbgQJ0 width=500]
Doing it himself
Army junior forward Andy Starczewski had a pair of goals last weekend, bringing his season total to six. That’s over half of the Black Knights’ goals this season. The entire team has 11 to date.
Double double goose eggs
We’ve already had two scoreless ties in Atlantic Hockey the season, a record, and it’s only November. RIT and Niagara played to a 0-0 tie on Oct. 8, and Mercyhurst and Bentley played 65 minutes of scoreless hockey on Friday.
Tweet of the week
I have to give it again to RIT’s Madolora, who parodied his return, comparing it to that of Sidney Crosby:
Crosby chant in Pittsburg was very similar to the Madolora chant at the #Ritter a couple of weeks ago… #greatfeelings #Ritterwaslouder
You can follow Madolora at @smadolora.
If you’re a player, coach or pundit who want to be considered for TOTW, follow me at @chrislerch and I’ll follow you back.
I hope that you, like me, have plenty to be thankful for this year. Have a safe and happy holiday.