Finish may not be as frantic but final weekend holds intrigue

The final weekend of Atlantic Hockey regular season play this season won’t be as frantic as it was a year ago.

How could it be? During the third period on the last night of the 2011-12 regular season, there were still three teams in contention for the top seed.

This season, Niagara locked up first place two weeks ago. But there’s still much to be decided:

Niagara (20-3-2, 42 points)

Best: First

Worst: First

Final opponent: at Air Force

Outlook: Niagara has locked up the regular season title, so what looked like a big final-weekend showdown with Air Force has lost some of its luster. But there’s still plenty to play for: Niagara is eighth in the PairWise Rankings and will be in great shape for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament if it can get the sweep.

Air Force (13-7-5, 31 points)

Best: Second

Worst: Fourth

Final opponent: Home vs. Niagara

Outlook: The Falcons have clinched a first-round bye, so their series with Niagara is about getting the highest possible seed and sending a message to the rest of the league to expect yet another late-season run to glory.

Holy Cross (13-9-3, 29 points)

Best: Second

Worst: Eighth

Final opponent: Home and home with Army

Outlook: Teams in the next few positions are bunched up and can see a huge swing based on the outcome of the final weekend. For example, the Crusaders can finish as high as a No. 2 seed with a first-round bye or drop to eighth and host what would be on paper the toughest first-round series with the No. 9 seed. Holy Cross needs three points this weekend to guarantee a bye.

Connecticut (13-10-2, 28 points)

Best: Second

Worst: Eighth

Final opponent: Home and home with Sacred Heart

Outlook: The Huskies also have clinched a first-round home playoff series but are looking for a bye. They need four points to lock one up. In a worst-case scenario that has teams around the Huskies in the standings winning out, three points would leave UConn potentially tied with Robert Morris for the final spot. The Colonials would get the fourth seed based on the third tiebreaker, conference wins. So the Huskies need a sweep to control their own destiny. Losses by RMU, Mercyhurst and Rochester Institute of Technology also could leave the Huskies as a top four seed.

Robert Morris (13-11-1, 27 points)

Best: Third

Worst: Eighth

Final opponent: Home and home with Mercyhurst

Outlook: Robert Morris also has locked up home ice in the first round but would rather have the weekend off. The Colonials do not control their own destiny to get that bye, however. Three points by Holy Cross and a sweep by UConn would knock out the Colonials even if they sweep Mercyhurst.

Mercyhurst (12-11-2, 26 points)

Best: Third

Worst: Eighth

Final opponent: Home and home with Robert Morris

Outlook: From a positional standpoint, the Lakers’ series with Robert Morris is one of the most significant, with fifth and sixth place squaring off. Like RMU, Mercyhurst has locked up at least eighth place and the home playoff series that goes with it. Also like Robert Morris, Mercyhurst needs to sweep and hope that either Holy Cross or Connecticut stumbles.

Rochester Institute of Technology (11-10-4, 26 points)

Best: Third

Worst: Ninth

Final opponent: Home and home with Canisius

Outlook: The Tigers need several things to come together to finish in the top four: poor showings by three of the four teams ahead of them (Holy Cross, UConn, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst) and a sweep of Canisius, to whom the Tigers lost on home ice earlier in the season. RIT needs a point to secure a first-round home-ice spot. A sweep at the hands of Canisius and a Bentley sweep of American International would see the Tigers fall to the No. 9 seed.

Bentley (10-12-3, 23 points)

Best: Sixth

Worst: 10th

Final opponent: Home and home with American International

Outlook: The Falcons have played their way out of contention for a bye in recent weeks but can lock up home ice in the first round with three points against AIC.

Canisius (10-13-2, 22 points)

Best: Sixth

Worst: 11th

Final opponent: Home-and-home with RIT

Outlook: Canisius can clinch a home-ice playoff series with either a sweep of RIT or by getting two points more this weekend than Bentley can manage.

American International (7-12-6, 20 points)

Best: Eighth

Worst: 11th

Final opponent: Home and home with Bentley

Outlook: The Yellow Jackets have been one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch and have a realistic shot at hosting a first-round playoff series. A sweep of Bentley and an RIT sweep of Canisius would do the trick.

Army (7-13-5, 19 points)

Best: Ninth

Worst: 11th

Final opponent: Home and home with Holy Cross

Outlook: A loss on Tuesday to AIC ended the Black Knights’ hopes of playing any home games in the postseason. They’re playing this weekend for the highest seed — and therefore lowest-ranked first-round opponent — possible.

Sacred Heart (2-20-3, 7 points)

Best: 12th

Worst: 12th

Final opponent: Home and home with Connecticut

Outlook: Sacred Heart played its way out of the basement last season with a sweep of Army in the final weekend. They’re too far back this season to finish out of the cellar but the Pioneers’ recent play suggests that they may not go quietly in the playoffs.

Players of the week

From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:

Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Brant Harris, Connecticut

The junior forward had a six-point weekend (three goals and three assists) to lead the Huskies to a sweep of Army. He’s on a career-high, eight-game point streak.

Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Carsen Chubak, Niagara

Chubak wins the award for an amazing seventh time this season but for the first time since Jan. 14. That doesn’t mean the junior goaltender has let up. He made 62 stops in a sweep of Mercyhurst last week to maintain numbers like a goals against average of 1.77 (seventh in the nation) and a .942 save percentage (fourth). His six shutouts lead Division I.

Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Tim Driscoll, Holy Cross

Driscoll averaged a point per game with two goals and an assist as the Crusaders went 1-1-1.

The century mark

Connecticut’s Sean Ambrosie tallied his 100th point last Friday in a win over Army to become the fifth player in the Huskies’ Division I era to accumulate 100 career points. He also set the school mark for career assists with 70 and his 103 points to date are third all-time at the school.

Five other AHA players also hit the century mark this season:

• 1. Eric Delong (Sacred Heart): 116 points and counting

• 2. Brett Gensler (Bentley): 112 points (the only junior in the bunch)

• 3. Adam Pleskach (AIC): 110 points

• 4. Adam Brace (Robert Morris): 107 points (including 23 at Canisius his rookie season)

• 5. Paul Chiasson (Mercyhurst): 106 points

Two more players are in striking distance: Niagara’s Giancarlo Iuorio has 97 points and Rob Linsmayer of Holy Cross is at 95 points.

Getting hot at the right time

This is the time of the season where teams and players are hoping to peak at the right time. Here’s a list of players who have been averaging more than a point per game over their last five contests. They’re players to watch going into the final weekend.

• Matt Garbowsky (RIT): 10 points in his last five games

• Sean Ambrosie (Connecticut): 9 points

• Brant Harris (Connecticut): 9 points

• Jordan Sims (Connecticut): 9 points

• Giancarlo Iuorio (Niagara): 9 points

• Adam Pleskach (AIC): 8 points

• Cody Wydo (Robert Morris); 8 points

• Kyle De Laurell (Air Force): 7 points

• Ryan Murphy (Niagara): 7 points

• Adam Brace: (Robert Morris): 6 points

• Brett Gensler (Bentley): 6 points

• Jon Puskar (AIC): 6 points

• Colin South (Robert Morris): 6 points

• Shayne Stockton (Holy Cross): 6 points

A down year for the new guys

I was interviewed by USCHO Live! this week, and when asked to comment on rookie of the year candidates in Atlantic Hockey, I spaced. It’s just an awful feeling when you can think of nothing to say, but I couldn’t recall a rookie that’s really come to the forefront, especially in the second half of the season.

In my defense, there are aren’t many rookies that are close to being among the scoring leaders in the conference. Bentley’s Andrew Gladiuk leads all freshmen with 28 points. But Gladiuk has just two in his last eight games. Teammate Matt Blomquist, a defenseman, has 17 points from the blue line but only three in his last 10 contests.

The next highest scoring rookies in the AHA are Castan Sommer of Holy Cross and Chris Porter of AIC with 16 points, followed by Ben Carey (Air Force), Thane Heller (Army), Joe Kozlak (Army) and Shawn Pauly (Connecticut) with 15 points each.

Picking an all-rookie goaltender this season is going to be difficult with a total of just four freshmen seeing time in net. Fredrik Melander of Sacred Heart has appeared in seven games, a league high among rookies. He’s 0-3.

The only two rookie goalies with wins this season are Bentley’s Gabe Antoni (1-1-1 in three appearances) and Terry Shafer from Robert Morris (1-2 in three appearances). RIT’s Ken MacLean is 0-1, playing 40 minutes total. That’s it.

To be fair, the league, especially in the goaltending department, has been dominated this season by some great upperclassmen. Also, last year’s rookie class has several players near the top of the leader board in various statistical categories as sophomores. The Class of 2016 will get its chance.