American International senior goaltender Ben Meisner has been proving his critics wrong for years and would like nothing more than to do it one final time as Atlantic Hockey speeds toward the postseason, his last in college hockey.
Meisner and the Yellow Jackets gained some confidence by taking three points last weekend at Air Force. Meisner led the way with 88 saves, including the 3,361st in his career, which set an AHA record. That series with the Falcons is the kind of environment that AIC will face in the opening round of the playoffs.
“It feels good,” he said. “We’re unbeaten in our last three games and 2-2-2 in our last six. We’re getting better and starting to believe that we can hang with the best teams. We played well against Quinnipiac and Penn State and have been putting the pieces together to playing really good hockey in hostile environments.”
Those wins at Air Force, Penn State and Quinnipiac all have one thing in common: Meisner made a lot of saves. He stopped 39 shots in a 2-1 win over the now-No. 2 Bobcats on Nov. 6 (AIC had 17 shots on goal), 50 in a 2-2 tie in Colorado Springs last Friday (SOG were 52-23 in favor of Air Force), 38 more the next night in a 2-1 victory (SOG 39-26 in favor of the Falcons), and an amazing 61 to spoil Penn State’s first varsity home game on Oct. 12. Shots were 63-29 but the Yellow Jackets won 3-2 in overtime.
Notice a pattern? Ten times this season, Meisner has been called on to make 40 saves or more. The lowest number of saves he’s made in a win was the 38 on Saturday.
Meisner said he gets a thrill out of shutting down the opposition in front of a big, partisan crowd. It’s something he doesn’t see at home, where the Yellow Jackets are last in the NCAA in attendance.
“I get energized by a big crowd,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a visiting goalie in a packed environment stealing the game and stealing the spotlight.
“It’s one of the things I enjoy the most, making it tough on fans and the other team. The more saves you make, the more they get nervous and the quieter it gets. It’s definitely a thrill.”
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native’s hockey travels took him to St. Catharines, Ontario, and then to Massachusetts to play at the Winchendon School, about 65 miles from AIC.
“My math teacher and lacrosse coach was a former goalie [at AIC],” Meisner said. “He made some calls for me.”
Arriving at AIC at 19, Meisner wasn’t sure where he would fit in. But it soon became apparent that he was going to be a four-year starter when he posted shutouts in two of his first four starts.
“I accepted a scholarship to come here but I was not sure what I was going to do, be a roster member or a key guy,” Meisner said. “I kind of established myself as the starter and got a chance to play in over 100 games and set some records.
“It’s cliche but I wanted to prove some people wrong. People that said I couldn’t play Division I hockey. But I surprised some people and that’s something I’ll always remember.”
The psychology major said he has no regrets about playing for a team that’s struggled to put wins together for most of the program’s Division I history.
“It’s definitely been an experience,” he said when asked to look back on his college career. “There’s been ups and downs and everything in between. But I’ve gotten to play with some great teammates and I think we really have the ability to do some damage in the playoffs this year.”
Once he’s taken off the AIC sweater for the last time and received his degree, Meisner plans to test the pro hockey waters.
“I plan to keep going with it,” he said. “I feel more than capable and I think I’ve developed over the last four years. I hope deep down there will be place for me and I can play a little longer. I’ve always wanted to play pro hockey and to not explore it would be selling my childhood dreams short.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Ryan Misiak, Mercyhurst
The sophomore forward put up six points in three games as the Lakers went 2-0-1 last week. Misiak posted a pair of assists in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Canisius and then had a hat trick and another assist in Mercyhurst’s 8-1 win over Army on Saturday. He leads the Lakers in scoring with 27 points.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Matt Grogan, Connecticut
The senior from Gilbert, Ariz., continues to impress with a 34-save performance in a 3-1 win at Rochester Institute of Technology on Friday. Grogan improved to 6-2-2 with a 1.77 goals against average and a .945 save percentage.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Karl Beckman, Holy Cross
The rookie defenseman had a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win at Canisius on Sunday. He has a goal and five assists on the season.
With a sweep of Bentley last weekend, Niagara moved up two places to No. 15 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. The Purple Eagles have been ranked for a school-record 11 straight weeks.
This time of the year, attention shifts from the poll to the PairWise Rankings, and there, Niagara is tied for ninth. That’s an at-large position, meaning if the Purple Eagles can hold that spot they don’t need to win the league title to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
An at-large berth would open the door for a second Atlantic Hockey team in the NCAA tournament should Niagara lose in the playoffs.
The last time an AHA team was close to getting an at-large bid was Air Force in the 2008-09 season. The Falcons captured the playoff title so their at-large status did not come into play.
I received some emails about my ballot for the Atlantic Hockey 10th anniversary team (scroll down the end of the column), the majority asking why I hadn’t mentioned former Quinnipiac defenseman Reid Cashman.
I didn’t vote for Cashman because he wasn’t on the ballot. Only players from the 12 current teams are eligible, and only for the years they played in the AHA.
Cashman would have been my top choice among defensemen. He was the league’s first All-American in 2005, when he led Atlantic Hockey in scoring with 45 points, the only defenseman ever to do so.
Cashman played his final two years in the ECAC and was named to that league’s all-decade team (2000-09) and as one of its top 50 players of all time.
Still in rotation
By this time of the season, teams have typically settled on their go-to guy in net. Few teams have gone far into the postseason with a platoon system. This year, there are three teams that are still tinkering with their goaltending.
RIT’s Jordan Ruby and Josh Watson have been battling for the top spot all season, and it looked like Watson had won the battle, seeing most of the starts since Christmas. But Ruby played both games last weekend in a split with Connecticut. Who’s starting this Friday at Robert Morris remains up in the air.
Connecticut had been Garrett Bartus’ team but he’s been splitting time in the new year with senior Matt Grogan. Grogan started both games against AIC on Jan. 25 and 26 but the goalies again split the weekend last Friday and Saturday at RIT. Grogan was sharp in a 3-1 win on Friday but Bartus struggled, allowing seven goals in a loss on Saturday. Grogan has posted the better numbers since the two began going head-to-head, so it will be interesting to see what coach David Berard decides this weekend when the Huskies play a two-game series with Bentley.
Army has been platooning sophomore Rob Tadazak and senior Ryan Leets all season. Tadazak got the start both nights last weekend against Mercyhurst but was pulled for Leets in Saturday’s 8-1 loss. Who will get the nod this Friday when Army opens a two-game set with AIC?
Welcome to the club
It took exactly 46 minutes and 36 seconds for Canisius alumnus Cory Conacher to score his first NHL goal. Now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Conacher’s goal in his first NHL game on Jan. 19 was the first in history for a former AHA player. He’s added four more to date.
It look Vancouver’s Chris Tanev, a former RIT player, 63 games (plus 10 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) to get his first goal. But it was a dandy, an overtime game-winner at Edmonton on Monday night.
Those 63 games included Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Tanev, who had 10 goals for the Tigers in his only season (2009-10), is plus-18 in his NHL career with four assists.
Watching these videos reaffirms it for me and hopefully for you that there is nothing in sports like the emotional explosion of a goal, especially an overtime winner.