Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – Monday, March 18

Three things from the penultimate weekend in Atlantic Hockey for the 2012-2013 season:

Things change

For the first time since 2007, Atlantic Hockey will have a new champion. Air Force, which won titles in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 will not be in Rochester for championship weekend for first time since entering the league in the 2006-2007 season. The Falcons were swept on home ice by Canisus, 4-3 on Friday and by the same score in overtime on Saturday.

Both games of the series had wild endings. On Friday, leading 3-2, Canisius got a power play with about a minute and half to go. That would seemingly have ended things, but Air Force’s Tony Thomas scored shorthanded to tie the game with 1:08 to play. That set the stage for a dramatic game-winner by Canisius’ Kyle Gibbons on that same power play with nine seconds to go.

On Saturday, Canisius trailed 3-2 with less than two minutes to play before Matthew Grazen got the equalizer at 18:02. Grazen had been suspended for eight games earlier in the season for a hit on Air Force’s George Michalke, ending Michalke’s season.

It took just 1:08 of overtime for Duncan McKellar to win the game and the series for the Golden Griffins. His shot deflected high in the air and into the net, bouncing off the back of Falcons’ goaltender Jason Torf.

Air Force outshot Canisius 43-26 on Friday and 53-25 on Saturday, but Tony Capobianco stood tall in net for the Golden Griffins.

“The difference in the game was Capobianco,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “He was great. This game certainly didn’t go the way it was supposed to go for us. I give Canisius credit, they fought back to tie the game and then they got the bounce in overtime. This is a bitter pill to swallow. But we have been very fortunate in this league and we have done this to a lot of teams. I am very proud of our team. We got off to a rough start this season and these guys battled back to get a first-round bye. We were 14-4-4 in the final 20 regular-season games and credit those guys for hanging tough together.”

Rochester Institute of Technology, which also got as far as the conference semifinals every year starting with its first eligible season in 2008 and won the title in 2010, also won’t be playing in the Big House this weekend thanks to being swept out of the tournament at the hands of Niagara.

Niagara, Canisius, and Connecticut would each be first time Atlantic Hockey champs. Mercyhurst won an AHA title in 2005. The only other team to win a championship was Holy Cross in 2004 (the league’s first season) and 2006.

Connecticut did win a title in the MAAC, which began in 1998 and preceded Atlantic Hockey. The Huskies were MAAC champions in 2000.


Things stay the same

As mention above, the other perennial team at Blue Cross Arena on championship weekend has been RIT, but the Tigers won’t be there after getting swept at top seed and 15th-ranked Niagara.

The results kept RIT winless against the Purple Eagles in 12 attempts at Dwyer Arena dating back to 1996. It also kept alive a streak of unbeaten games for the Niagara on home ice that has now reached 22 games, dating back to last season and now carrying over to 2013-2014, making Niagara the only Division I team to avoid a loss at home this season (15-0-2). Amazingly, the Purple Eagles have done this before, going unbeaten for 22 games between 2006 and 2007.

“I told the boys, we have a 22 game unbeaten streak going back to last year on the line,” said Nuagara coach Dave Burkholder on Saturday. “Now we’re the only team in the nation to go unbeaten at home so I can’t say enough about these guys.  They are resilient; to bend and not break under the pressure is amazing.”


Be there or be square

The 2006-2007 season was the first time Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena hosted the Atlantic Hockey championships. RIT was in the second of its transition years from Division III to Division I and ineligible for the AHA tournament.

Attendance for the tournament that year, which featured an Army-Air Force matchup in the semifinals, drew 780 people on Friday and 713 on Saturday. The rink holds 10,313 for hockey.

RIT has sold out the BCA three times for homecoming games, but drew considerably less there for Atlantic Hockey tournament contests with 3,933 setting the mark for the largest crowd, set during an RIT-Air Force semifinal in 2007.

Here’s a look at the attendance figures:


Can you guess which games didn’t feature RIT? That has to be a concern for the league office.

On the bright side, Canisius (75 minute drive to Rochester), Niagara (90 minutes) and Mercyhurst (2.5 hours) are the closest teams to Rochester not named Tigers. Hopefully, that will make for a good fan presence.

Championship hockey is wonderful, and all the more better when played in front of a big crowd. Hopefully that will be the case this weekend.

Regardless, will be there with wall-to-wall coverage including a live blog for each game.