Three (O.K., four) things from Atlantic Hockey play this weekend:
A tale of two days
Atlantic Hockey opened play seeking to improve on last year’s 25-48-12 non-conference record, best in the league’s ten-year history.
On Saturday, Atlantic Hockey teams had plenty of chances to notch a victory, but went 0-7. Leads were blown, and dramatic comebacks attempted. All but one of those contests were close enough for the AHA squad to pull its goalie in the final minute looking for an equalizer, but in each case to no avail.
That leaves Atlantic Hockey just 2-14 in inter-league play so far.
An unprecedented positive for the Pioneers
Sacred Heart’s victory over No. 1 ranked Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday was arguably the biggest in program history. It was the first time SHU had ever beaten a top-ranked team, and was all the more important to coach C.J. Marottolo’s program coming off a 2012-13 season that saw his team go 2-30-4.
Drew George scored both goals for Sacred Heart, including the game-winner about a minute after the River Hawks had tied the game at 1-1 early in the third period.
“I thought we played a pretty structured, disciplined game,” Marottolo said. “I liked our energy level throughout the whole game. The turning point in the game was our guys’ response to the Lowell score. You could feel the energy level in the building rise, and we responded with a quick goal.”
Big buildings, big games
On Friday, Army helped Penn State open its $88 million new home, Pegula Arena. In front of a sellout crowd of 6.370, the Black Knights fell to the Nittany Lions 4-1. It was not the result Brian Riley’s team wanted, but coming off a week of uncertainty due to the Government Shutdown, it was a positive just to be able to play.
“This was an unbelievable experience for our team,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “Give all the credit in the world to Penn State for putting on this first-class night. We’re very appreciative of the patience and understanding they showed all week as well.”
At Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, a sellout crowd of 10,556 were on hand to see Michigan defeat host Rochester Institute of Technology 7-4 in a wild contest that saw the Tigers erase a 4-0 deficit to the No. 11 Wolverines, but run out of gas in the third period.
Like Riley at Army, RIT coach Wayne Wilson wasn’t happy about the score, but had praise for the atmosphere.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with what this game has taken on,” Wilson said. “We’ve got Boston College (coming in) next year.”
Battle of the Bridge, part one
You couldn’t have asked for a better game to kick off the AHA conference schedule than defending conference champ Canisius making the 30 minute trip to arch-rival Niagara, facing off against the defending regular season champion Purple Eagles. Games in all sports in this rivalry, which goes back for more than a century, are referred to as the “Battle of the Bridge”.
In this first hockey version of the battle, Niagara persevered in a wild 6-4 win that saw the Purple Eagles come back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to score the final five goals of the contest.
“The Canisius-Niagara rivalry is the best kept secret in Western New York,” coach Dave Burkholder said after the game. ”There can’t be anyone leaving this building that doesn’t want to come back and see both teams. It was a great college game—hard fought, hard hitting and some pretty good goals on both sides.”
It’s perhaps no so much of a kept secret anymore, with both teams advancing to the NCAA tournament last season. There was a sellout crowd for this one at Dwyer Arena.
The teams meet again on Feb. 7-8, and, if fans are lucky, again in the postseason.