Play in Atlantic Hockey goes regional beginning with this weekend and stays that way for the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Two games each with teams within your scheduling pod will mean:
• Eastern teams will have an easier schedule down the stretch, playing an average strength of schedule of 33 percent to 38 percent thanks to Sacred Heart, Army and American International currently residing at the bottom of the standings. West teams, which occupy the top five spots in the standings, will play teams with a winning percentage from 64 percent to 68 percent. This could mean some movement up the standings if an East team or two can feast on the lower end of the standings and the Western teams knock each other off.
• Local rivalry series like Canisius-Niagara, Bentley-Holy Cross and Rochester Institute of Technology-Air Force.
Robert Morris plays Niagara this weekend in what could be considered a rivalry series between two former CHA opponents.
“We both came in [to Atlantic Hockey] after being used to playing each other six times a year,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “We have players who have played against each other a boatload of times. From that standpoint you could consider us rivals. We have a geographic rivalry with Mercyhurst.
“But we can’t look at any one game or series being any bigger. They all count the same in the standings and anybody can beat anybody.”
The Colonials are coming off a big sweep at Connecticut last weekend.
“Both teams played very well,” said Schooley. “They were two close, physical, tight-checking games.”
It was a good sign for the Colonials, who had been unbeaten in eight games leading into the holiday break but were 1-3-1 in the five games since then.
“We were playing well going into break and I thought we played well against Ohio State [on Dec. 30],” said Schooley. “But we’ve been up and down and trying to establish some consistency.”
Helping with that have been goaltenders Brooks Ostergard and Eric Levine, who have been splitting time lately. Both picked up wins last weekend.
“We have two very good goalies,” said Schooley. “The difference in the past is that Brooks has had more wins because he’s had more support. But this season Eric has been getting good support. Coming out of break we decided to split them.
“It’s a good problem to have and a bad problem to have. There’s only one net.”
A pair of Codys are helping on the offensive side: senior Cody Crichton leads the team in scoring with 21 points while rookie Cody Wydo has 12 goals, almost twice as much as any other Colonials player.
“We knew [Wydo] was a goal scorer,” said Schooley. “He was the forward of the year in the North American league. Some other schools passed on him but the one thing people told us was, ‘The kid just scores.’
“He came in not in as good shape as some other players and that set him behind everyone, but he caught up quickly. He’s worked a lot on the back side of his game and has already evolved in that area. He’s become very good defensively as well.”
Schooley also points to his 11 seniors as a big asset.
“The seniors have been great accepting their roles,” he said. “Nick Chiavetta, Cody Crichton and Trevor Lewis have helped us replace those guys we lost last season. [Defensemen] Josh Jones and James Lyle have stepped up their game.
“The role guys have continued to do what they do well. The reason our penalty kill has been so good is we have six senior forwards who have been on the kill for three years and it shows.”
With 10 games left, Robert Morris finds itself in third place, just a point behind RIT and two points behind Mercyhurst.
“Everybody knows points are critical now,” said Schooley. “Not that they weren’t important in November, but there’s more emphasis on where you are and playing within your own pod. We’re not looking at the finish line yet, though, just at the next weekend.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey co-players of the week:
Daniel O’Donoghue, Mercyhurst
Cody Crichton, Robert Morris
O’Donoghue had a pair of goals and a pair of assists to help the first-place Lakers take three of four points at Holy Cross. The sophomore has 14 points on the season.
Crichton also had a four-point weekend, with three goals and an assist to lead the Colonials to a sweep at Connecticut. The senior forward has 21 points to lead his team.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Shane Madolora, RIT
The senior from Salinas, Calif., wins the award for the second week in a row and fourth time this season. After posting back-to back shutouts the previous weekend, Madolora stopped 62 of 63 shots to lead the Tigers to a sweep at Bentley. On Saturday, he also assisted on the game-winning goal. Madolora has four shutouts in his last six starts and is third nationally with a .935 save percentage.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Chris Lochner, Niagara
The forward from Alpharetta, Ga. had a hat trick in Saturday’s 6-1 win over American International.
Back in the win column
Air Force goaltender Jason Torf, who has missed most of the season with a groin injury, picked a great time to get his first win of the season.
The sophomore made 16 saves in a 4-2 win at Army to snap the Falcons’ six-game winless streak. It was Air Force’s first win at West Point since 2004.
Mercyhurst senior goalie Max Strang continues to be one of the main reason the Lakers are in first place. Holy Cross outshot Mercyhurst 85-51 last weekend but the Lakers came away with a win and a tie on the road. Strang is 10-3-3 in AHA play this season.
Madolora has six shutouts so far this season, tied for first nationally. His 12 career shutouts are a Division I record at RIT, and tied for the best in the school’s Division I, II and III history. Niagara coach Dave Burkholder also had 12 shutouts for the Tigers between 1980 and 1984.
Sometimes two is too many
Bentley allowed just two goals in each of its games with RIT last weekend, extending its streak of games allowing two goals or less to six. This time, two goals was too many (twice) and the Falcons lost both games. The streak was snapped with a 6-6 tie against Holy Cross on Tuesday.
The 20 candidates for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award were announced last week and three AHA players were on the list. Mike Daly (Holy Cross), Chris Haltigin (RIT) and Paul Weisgarber (Air Force) were among the 20. The list will be whittled down to 10 finalists by the end of the month, with the winner announced at the Frozen Four. Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux won the award last season.
Welcome to the “U”
This week, Mercyhurst announced that it was changing its name from Mercyhurst College to Mercyhurst University. It follows Bentley, which made the same move in 2008.
For those keeping score, that means Atlantic Hockey now has six universities, three colleges, two academies and one institute.
Tweet of the week
Holy Cross’ Zamboni is on Twitter, and speaks for us all.
Want to be eligible for TOTW? Follow me at @chrislerch.