Three Things: Atlantic Hockey – November 4, 2013

Easing into league play this weekend within the AHA made sure we didn’t go home disappointed.  Here’s three reasons why, with a little help from my favorite Irish rockers, U2:

Mercyhurst: “Even Better Than the Real Thing”

Let’s run down how the Mercyhurst season has gone to date.  First, it started with the Lakers entering the season as the prohibitive league favorite, returning almost all the key ingredients from a squad that baked up a spot in the league title game.  Their reputation took a hit through the most brutal non-conference stretch of games we’d seen in a while that saw them start 1-5-1.  While there was a thought that Mercyhurst would eventually gel, there was this lingering tension that the Lakers weren’t, maybe, who we thought they were.

Then they smoked Air Force.

Leading 3-1 late in the first, Mercyhurst allowed the Falcons to score late, leading by one after twenty minutes. Then they scored five unanswered goals to crush the visiting service academy, 8-2.  It was a loud statement from a team that needed one, highlighted by Matthew Zay’s 1-2-3 night.  Daniel O’Donoghue and Ryan Misiak each scored twice, Kyle Dutra added two assists, and Randy Cure and Nick Jones both finished with an absurd +4 on the defensive end.  And Jack Riley collected his first collegiate point, which drew the following tweet from his dad (and Army head coach) Brian Riley:

Love the hashtag of #Betteragainstthemthanus, making the tongue-in-cheek reference to the conflicted feelings of a proud father against a coach trying to do his job.

Entering the weekend, a lot of around the AHA scene were wondering  what Air Force’s first league trip east would yield. They shut out RIT 2-0 on Friday  then headed down to Erie for the Saturday game.  A four-point weekend would give Air Force the proverbial solid start out of the blocks in the race for the top seed come playoff time (see also: Niagara, 2012-13).  Mercyhurst, in need of a good showing, took the opportunity take the league’s preeminent power and rudely usher them off center stage by announcing their own arrival.  They got better than that – the Lakers produced a large thunderclap that’s put the rest of the league on notice.

Robert Morris-Penn State’s budding rivalry: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss me (?), Kill Me”

When people talk about rivalries in college hockey, it inevitably begins with games between Boston College and Boston University, Harvard and Cornell, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Maine and New Hampshire.  While Robert Morris and Penn State surely cannot counter with that type of history, the Keystone State opponents are quickly becoming heated adversaries.  An annual rite of passage is forming where the team’s alternate who plays at home with a second game as the opener to the Three Rivers Classic that started last year in Pittsburgh.

Last year, Robert Morris swept the Nittany Lions in their first year in Division I college hockey.  The former new kid on the block as the most recent school to elevate before Penn State, the Colonials won 3-2 in Happy (Hockey) Valley last year despite being outshot 40-29.  That game featured 16 penalties for 32 minutes.  When they met in the Three Rivers Classic, RMU pasted Penn State, 6-0, in a game featuring 13 penalties for 37 minutes.  The first game had a couple of penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct with some embellishment and boarding thrown in for good measure.  Playing at the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were a couple of hitting after the whistle penalties and a game misconduct to Penn State’s David Glen for contact to the head.

Fast forward (or rewind) to this weekend.  Penn State picked up its first win over RMU and second win of the year with three second period goals.  Robert Morris, who led 1-0 after one, scored to make it a 3-2 game before the end of the second, then tied the game on a third period penalty shot.  Penn State would pull away, though, with two power play goals.  Ever the competitive squad, the Colonials refused to go quietly into the night, scoring with less than a minute on an extra attacker goal.  Cody Wydo scored all four goals, a silver lining in a loss that featured another 15 penalties for 38 minutes and a cross-checking misconduct.

While it clearly doesn’t have the history, game between Penn State and Robert Morris are fast becoming intense affairs.  And fans can anticipate more of the same when they meet again at the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center after Christmas.

Army: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Army entered the season knowing they’d have some struggles up front on a team featuring only one senior.  The coaching staff made it clear that they had supreme confidence in Rob Tadazak’s ability as a goalie to keep them in games as they began the jelling process with only two games in October.  But even with Tadazak stopping 90% of pucks this year, the Black Knights are 0-4-0 after getting swept by UConn and Bentley this weekend.

But if there’s a positive in a weekend where they were outscored 9-4, it’s that Army was never really truly put away by any of the teams.  UConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Black Knights, but they never pulled away.  Army kept the score closer by cutting leads to 2-1 and 3-2 before giving up a final strike.  And against Bentley, they went down 3-0 but were able to score 30 seconds after Max French put Army at rock bottom.

Say what you want about an 0-4-0 start, but Army is better than the record indicates.  They just haven’t been able to find wins.  They get back at it on Friday when they face a pair of Bay State foes, hosting Holy Cross on Friday and heading to Boston College for a Saturday tilt.