Three Things: January 12, 2014

A look back at the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey after another surprisingly wild weekend of interdivisional play:

All Roads Lead To Erie

For all the talk of undefeated streaks ending last week by Bentley and RIT, the team everyone’s seemingly forgetting about is Mercyhurst.  The Lakers swept Holy Cross this weekend, their seventh consecutive league weekend without a loss.  They haven’t lost a league game since surrendering a 3-2 lead after the second period against Canisius on November 9th, an eventual 4-3 loss.  They’ve seemingly beaten everybody, and their 11-1-1 start has them three points up on second place Bentley, six points ahead of the cut-off for a first round bye.  They’ve outscored league opponents, 57-25, and they’ve won every conceivable type of game.

This past weekend, it was more of the same.  On Friday, Holy Cross outshot Mercyhurst in the first period by a 23-5 margin despite not a single penalty being called.  Despite the Lakers putting up better numbers in the second (outshooting the Crusaders, 14-10), they found themselves on the wrong end of a 18-7 deficit in the third.  Final shot totals had Holy Cross outshooting Mercyhurst, 51-26, in a fast-paced game featuring only two penalties for both teams.  Yet the Lakers won, 1-0, off a goal by Kyle Cook early in the third.  Jimmy Sarjeant picked up his 12th win of the year.  The next night, Holy Cross outshot Mercyhurst, 38-27, but Chris Bodo registered a hat trick to lead the Lakers to a 4-2 victory and a four-point weekend.

Coming out of their weekend in Worcester, Mercyhurst now took a lead or was tied into the third period in all but one game.  They’re 2-1 in one-goal games, 5-0 in three-plus goal games.  They’ve scored first in ten games, winning eight.  Even when they don’t score first (all three times it’s happened), they simply don’t lose.  We knew they’d be good this year, and they were the prohibitive favorite among both the coaches and the media.  But it’s the way they’re doing it, being quietly dominant, that should have everyone taking note that all roads, this year, are leading to the Great Lakes in Pennsylvania.

Role Reversal

RIT joined Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-2007 season.  On the final weekend of the regular season, the Tigers, ineligible for the postseason tournament, faced the Bentley Falcons in Watertown, MA.  The Tigers beat Bentley on Friday of that weekend, 3-0, to clinch the regular season championship in their first season of AHA competition.  On Saturday, the Tigers lost, 7-6, in the only decision of the season by goalie Jared DeMichiel (who would backstop the Tigers to the 2010 Frozen Four three years later).

Until Friday, that was the last time Bentley’d beaten RIT at home.  Six times the Tigers and Falcons met at the John A. Ryan Arena and six times Bentley failed to pick up a victory.  On Friday, though, that whole slate changed as the Falcons laid a whupping on the Tigers, 8-2, behind four second period goals.  The next night, Bentley won again, 4-1, giving them their first ever sweep of the Tigers in a sloppy game played in less than ideal conditions after 50-degree weather and humidity made ice conditions extremely poor (though it was still better than the Maine-BU game at Fenway Park)

In years past, with the Falcons and Tigers coming off the wrong end of bad weekends (Bentley scored only one point against Niagara; RIT was swept by UConn), the expectations would be there that the eastern team would lose to their more historically powerful opponent.  But Bentley beat RIT handily, holding them below 30 shots on both nights.  Brett Gensler finished the weekend with eight points, including four goals and a five-point night on Friday, becoming the all-time Division I goals leader for Bentley in the process.  Alex Grieve collected his second hat trick of the season, and defenseman Steve Weinstein continued an assault on the record books with three assists.

On the flip side, it was the fourth consecutive loss for RIT.  The Tigers dropped all the way to eighth place, one point ahead of AIC for the final home slot in the playoffs.  Goalie Mike Rotolo, statistically the best goalie in the AHA two weeks ago, is all of a sudden vulnerable, yanked from Friday’s matchup and replaced in goal by Jordan Ruby on Saturday.  His save percentage dropped to .907 while his goals against average rose to 2.79, and he’s 0-3 over the last two weeks.  Entering the UConn weekend with a goal difference of +7 (27-20), RIT is now -7, giving up 40 goals to just 33 scored.  They were 6-7-3 overall, nearly .500, 5-3-1 in conference play.  They’re now 6-11-3 with a pedestrian 5-7-1 AHA record.

The Falcons are now 5-1-2 against the western division, winning three of their four series with their complementary scheduling pod.  Next weekend they head to Canisius, where they were swept in the playoffs’ first round last year, to kick off a six game road trip featuring a trip to Erie to play Mercyhurst.  RIT, meanwhile, returns home to the friendly confines of Ritter Arena to host Army.

East-West Record Update

Last year, the west won the divisional matchups with the east by nearly 2:1 margin, going 43-21-8 and winning all but two season series.  This year, Bentley alone has won three series against the west, losing only to Niagara.  Beyond that, Connecticut’s won two series while gaining a point against Canisius and splitting this past weekend with Robert Morris.  As a result, the east is climbing back against the west, though the pod of Air Force, Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT, and Robert Morris is still ahead, 28-15-5.

Mercyhurst is a perfect 8-0 against the east to lead their western pod with 16 points, and Canisius is 5-2-1.  For the east, Bentley and UConn have 12 and 11 points against the west, respectively.  The east is losing major ground with its other four school who’ve combined for 11 points; AIC is in “third place” among eastern schools against the west with a 2-6 record and four points after dominating Niagara this weekend, 6-2 (though they did lose, 5-0, on Saturday).  Army, Holy Cross, and Sacred Heart all have a single victory, with SHU picking up their first on Sunday against Canisius.  The majority of the west, meanwhile, is hovering around .500, with Air Force going 3-2-3, Niagara going 4-3-1, and RIT and RMU are both 4-4.

Not surprisingly, the standings reflect these results.  Bentley and UConn trail only Mercyhurst in the standings, while the other four schools occupy all the road slots for the first round of the playoffs.  Luckily, there are more games left within the divisions; that should leave the east close enough where some home series will shift closer to the Atlantic coast.  Key matchups continue this week; UConn (tied for third with Air Force) heads to Mercyhurst just four points out of first, while second place Bentley plays fifth place Canisius.  AIC, one point behind RIT for eighth place and two behind Robert Morris for seventh place, heads to Pittsburgh to play the Colonials in another highlighted matchup.