It’s never been this close in Atlantic Hockey. Never even close to this close. With one final weekend, two final games to play for each school, there are still five teams in the running for the regular season title and seven squads in contention for the four first-round byes.
Here’s what we do know:
• Air Force has clinched one of the first-round byes. The Falcons can get swept this weekend and still wind up no lower than the fourth seed.
• Connecticut and Canisius will face off in the first round. Both teams will finish either eighth or ninth so home ice for their first-round series will be decided this weekend. UConn has the edge, leading Canisius by three points.
Here’s a team-by-team breakdown:
Air Force (14-5-6; 34 points)
Final opponent: at Robert Morris
Outlook: The Falcons are the only team to clinch a first-round bye. They’ll need three points this weekend to guarantee the regular season title. Air Force holds tiebreakers against RIT and Niagara.
Rochester Institute of Technology (14-6-5; 33 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Niagara
Outlook: The Tigers need two points to clinch a bye, which could be a tall order against Niagara, a team they have yet to defeat in their Division I era. RIT holds the tiebreaker against Mercyhurst, Bentley and Holy Cross.
Mercyhurst (14-7-4; 32 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Canisius
Outlook: Mercyhurst needs three points to assure itself a bye, but could still take home the regular season title if it gets as many as three points and RIT and Air Force come up empty. The Lakers hold the tiebreaker against Air Force, Holy Cross and Bentley.
Niagara (13-6-6; 32 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with RIT
Outlook: The same story as for Mercyhurst. The Purple Eagles win the tiebreaker against Mercyhurst, Holy Cross and Bentley.
Bentley (13-6-6; 32 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Holy Cross
Outlook: Bentley also can assure itself a bye with three points. The Falcons hold the tiebreaker against Air Force and Robert Morris.
Holy Cross (14-8-3; 31 points)
Final opponent: Bentley
Outlook: A sweep will clinch a bye for the Crusaders, but anything less will most likely see them at home for a first-round series. Holy Cross holds tiebreakers over Air Force and Robert Morris.
Robert Morris (12-8-5; 29 points)
Final opponent: Home against Air Force
Outlook: The Colonials can still finish fourth, but need help to do so. They hold tiebreakers over RIT and Mercyhurst.
Connecticut (11-12-2; 24 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with American International
Outlook: The Huskies can finish no higher than eighth, and need a single point to lock up that position. If they do, they host Canisius in the first round.
Canisius (9-13-3; 21 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Mercyhurst
Outlook: The Golden Griffins are looking at ninth and a road series at Connecticut unless they sweep Mercyhurst and the Huskies get swept by AIC. UConn holds the tiebreaker between the schools.
American International (6-17-2; 14 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Connecticut
Outlook: One win will clinch 10th place for the Yellow Jackets.
Army (3-17-5; 11 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Sacred Heart
Outlook: A point against the Pioneers will assure Army doesn’t finish in the basement.
Sacred Heart (2-20-3; 7 points)
Final opponent: Home-and-home with Army
Outlook: See Army. The Pioneers need to sweep the Black Knights to finish 11th. In that case, they would be tied for 11th but SHU would hold the tiebreaker.
What are those tiebreakers? These will probably be looked at frequently this weekend:
1. Points head-to-head
2. Goal differential head-to-head
3. Conference wins
4. Goal differential in conference games
5. Goals allowed in conference games
6. Goals scored in conference games
Whatever happens, expect the unexpected once the playoffs start. Parity in the regular season should lead to some tight playoff series.
“Quite frankly, whomever wins the league, you got UConn [based on seedings],” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Yikes. You finish second, you got Robert Morris. Yikes. I think the bye is most important thing. Who you play is irrelevant. There is no easy team.
“It’s going to be a great finish. You couldn’t script it any more exciting than it is right now.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Alex Grieve, Bentley
The rookie had a hat trick and an assist in Bentley’s 6-1 win over Connecticut as well as assisting on the overtime winner on Friday. Grieve is second on the team with 27 points.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Branden Komm, Bentley
Komm stopped 54 of 56 shots in a sweep of Connecticut. He’s tied for 12th in the nation in save percentage (.925).
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Matt Ginn, Holy Cross
Ginn won his fifth and sixth games in a row for the Crusaders, allowing just three goals on 39 shots in a sweep of Sacred Heart. The sophomore improved his record to 13-6-1 this season.
The senior class at American International is poised to end its regular season in an unfamiliar place: out of the basement in the AHA standings. Thanks to a sweep of Army last weekend, the Yellow Jackets are comfortably in 10th place and can finish no worse than 11th.
A pair of seniors helped lead the way last weekend, with forwards Neilsson Arcibal and Michael Penny combining for six points in 5-2 and 3-2 wins.
Fans who attended the Robert Morris at RIT series witnessed a pair of ties but some fantastic goaltending. Colonials netminder Brooks Ostergard stopped 84 of 88 shots, while his RIT counterpart Shane Madolora made 58 saves on 62 shots in a pair of 2-2 ties. Ostergard is fourth in Division I in save percentage (.933) while Madolora is fifth (.932).
Air Force coach Frank Serratore won his 250th game behind the Air Force bench and 299th overall in his career on Friday. This is his 15th season at Air Force after spending four years at Denver. Serratore is 250-247-51 at Air Force and 299-339-60 overall.
Several AHA teams are finishing the season the way every team wants to: on a hot streak. Holy Cross has won six in a row while Bentley is 5-0-1 in its last six. The two teams meet to finish the regular season this weekend.
In the West pod, Air Force’s 2-1 loss to Mercyhurst on Saturday snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak for the Falcons.
There’s no cup for winning the battle of Western New York, but if there was, it would most likely reside with the Niagara Purple Eagles. Niagara swept Canisius last week and has never lost to RIT since the Tigers moved to Division I in 2005. The Purple Eagles are 9-2-3 against their rivals from Western New York since the 2008-09 season.
Tweet of the week
Yeah, I gave the award to myself.
For the second straight week, there wasn’t a tweet compelling enough to earn TOTW, and it also gives me an excuse to comment on the departure of Paul Kelly from College Hockey Inc.
It’s ironic that Kelly saw his first Atlantic Hockey game just four games before resigning. He was at Niagara last Thursday.
I hope that Atlantic Hockey wasn’t paying a fifth of Kelly’s salary, because if it was, it wasn’t getting much for its money. The mission of CHI (which has seemed to change from time to time and that may have contributed to Kelly’s departure) has been for the most part to convince blue-chip, future NHLers to play college hockey instead of major junior. From that standpoint, I understand Kelly’s lack of interest in Atlantic Hockey because the AHA has zero NHL draft picks and only a handful of alumni to have played in an NHL game.
But the broader purpose is also to promote college hockey in general, not just to potential players, but to hockey fans and schools thinking of starting programs. And from that standpoint, AHA schools, particularly those that are struggling to draw fans and improve their facilities, got little help.
Maybe that wasn’t in Kelly’s job description, but it should have been.
Want to be eligible for TOTW? Follow me at @chrislerch.