Active defensemen help Air Force take over Atlantic Hockey’s top spot

For the third week in a row, we have a new leader atop the Atlantic Hockey standings. Thanks to a sweep of Rochester Institute of Technology, Air Force has vaulted into first place.

But don’t be surprised to see someone different on the summit next week. Five teams are within a weekend sweep of catching the Falcons, and nine teams are still in the running for a first-round bye with six games to play.

“We’re not going to watch the standings until after the last game [of the regular season],” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Right now we’ve got to put this [loss to Air Force] in the past and focus on Canisius on Thursday.”

Big ‘D’

In Saturday’s 4-2 win over RIT, the first three goals scored by the Falcons were by defensemen. Seniors Scott Mathis and Tim Kirby each scored, along with sophomore Adam McKenzie. These were not typical shot-from-the point goals but came from below the hashmarks.

Coach Frank Serratore likes to involve his defense heavily in the offensive zone.

“We build our team with defenseman that can skate,” he said on Saturday. “That is by design. We would not have had the success that we have had without skill on our blue line. We put the puck on their sticks a lot and tonight they scored three for us.”

Kirby has 22 points so far this season, including 10 goals, while Mathis is right behind with 20 points. The duo are first and third, respectively, in the league in scoring by defensemen.

Players of the Week

From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:

Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Ryan Murphy, Niagara

Murphy racked up three goals and two assists to help the Lakers to a split with Niagara. Murphy doubled his season point production — he has 10 points on the season.

Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Jason Torf, Air Force

The sophomore goaltender from Hermosa Beach, Calif., stopped 57 of 59 shots to help the Falcons to a sweep of RIT. He posted his first shutout of the season on Friday, and had a streak of 156:01 of shutout hockey against the Tigers dating to last year’s AHA title game.

Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Matt Ginn, Holy Cross

Ginn was in net for both games of a Crusaders sweep of American International. He allowed just one goal on 54 shots over the weekend.

Men of the month

Is it February already? Here are the AHA players of the month for January:

Atlantic Hockey player of the month:
Brett Gensler, Bentley

Gensler finished January with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) and now has 30 points on the season, first in the league.

Other players nominated: Cole Schneider, Connecticut; Daniel Bahntge, Mercyhurst; Chris Haltigin, RIT; Cody Crichton, Robert Morris.

Atlantic Hockey goaltender of the month:
Chris Noonan, Niagara

The senior was 6-2 in January, including a six-game winning streak. He had a .959 save percentage and a 1.18 goals-against average for the month. That helped Noonan rise to first in Division I in save percentage (.942) and second in goals-against average (1.69).

Other goalies nominated: Garrett Bartus, Connecticut; Shane Madolora, RIT; Brooks Ostergard, Robert Morris.

Atlantic Hockey rookie of the month:
Alex Grieve, Bentley

The forward from Calgary, Alberta, had 13 points in January (seven goals, six assists) after accumulating just six points through the first half of the season. Grieve is tied for the team lead in goals (10).

Other rookies nominated: Nardo Nagtzaam, Mercyhurst; Chris Lochner, Niagara; Brad McGowan, RIT; Cody Wydo, Robert Morris.

Stealing a point

If Bentley earns a playoff bye by a point, the Falcons can point (no pun intended) to last Saturdays’s game against Sacred Heart at Webster Bank Arena. Down 3-0 after one period, the Falcons chipped away and got an extra-attacker goal from Brett Gensler with just 0.2 seconds to play.

Numbers game

Air Force’s sweep of RIT knocked the Tigers from the PairWise Rankings. RIT had been the only AHA team in the rankings, coming in at No. 31 before last weekend. Now Air Force is knocking at the door, just .0005 out. (Teams must have a Ratings Percentage Index of at least .5000 — the Falcons are at .4995. RIT has an RPI of .4918.)

Why should Atlantic Hockey fans care? Frankly, they shouldn’t since only when a team is near the top 20 or so in the PWR does it have a legitimate chance at an at-large NCAA bid.

But some other teams are playing close attention because an appearance by an AHA team in the PWR makes it a TUC (Team under consideration. Sick of acronyms yet?). How well you do against TUCs is a PairWise criterion. So Air Force becoming a TUC is good news for teams like Denver that beat the Falcons while having an adverse effect on Colorado College, which Air Force defeated. For the same reason, Wisconsin is sorry to see RIT drop out, while it’s good news for Ferris State and Lake Superior State.

In any event, it’s fun to check out where teams stand in relation to the entire college hockey landscape.

Century mark

Robert Morris picked up its 100th win in program history on Friday night in a 6-4 win at Canisius. It was also the 100th victory for Colonials coach Derek Schooley, who has shepherded the program since its inception. Schooley and RMU are in their eighth season and 100-137-34 overall.

Building momentum

Army started the 2012 calendar year 0-7-1 but has turned things around recently. On Jan. 28 the Black Knights defeated Bentley 3-1 and then last Saturday thumped Canadian rivals Royal Military College 9-1. Although an exhibition, the game helped Army carry the momentum into a 4-2 win at Connecticut. The Huskies had defeated Army 5-0 and 2-0 in two previous meetings this season.

Army will look to keep things going with a home series against Holy Cross this weekend.

Tweet of the week

[blackbirdpie url=”!/BDAY023/status/167115422573928449″]

Army senior defenseman Billy Day chiding me for picking against his Black Knights.

Want to be eligible for TOTW? Follow me at @chrislerch.


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