After a couple of weeks lacking in the news department, we weren’t without a lack of storylines. Let’s review the weekend that was:
The wonder ball. Goes round and round.
The Bentley Falcons have had a topsy-turvy couple of weeks. Despite competing hard with nationally-ranked Quinnipiac, they lost on the road. Then they went back to the Nutmeg State and picked up their first win in almost two years over Sacred Heart. Heading into Saturday of last weekend, the Falcons probably stood as the fourth or fifth strongest team in the league.
Then came Saturday. The Falcons came completely unglued in a 6-3 loss to the Pioneers, one that highlighted the question marks and showed that there would be a lot of work on the table if they intended to compete at a level commensurate with their last few seasons. The lowlights included three ejections, including a game disqualification, and 66 penalty minutes, 40-plus of which came in the game’s final two minutes. Anyone who watched the effort on Saturday would’ve immediately put them much, much further down the Atlantic Hockey power rankings.
But everything comes full circle. The Falcons regained their pride this past weekend by demolishing ECAC foe Rensselaer. On Friday, Kyle Schmidt scored his first two career goals, Alex Grieve scored his first of the season, and the Falcons posted four third period strikes en route to a 5-2 win. On Saturday, they only put 16 shots on goal, but four found the back of the net, and they won 4-0.
Bentley’s defense looked solid, and their goaltending stood tall. Gabe Antoni picked up the win on Friday, and senior Blake Dougherty earned his first career shutout on Saturday. The Falcons now head to Penn State next weekend with a chance to really earn some non-conference brownie points for the Pairwise Rankings, and once again, they look like an entirely different team. Identities early in the year are hard to define, but the mental toughness exhibited this weekend will serve this team well when AHA play resumes.
Well, Atlantic Hockey officials, you’ve done it again
I don’t envy referees. When they call a solid game, nobody ever pats them on the back or says, “Hey, good game out there.” When they do something wrong, however, it’s enough to make heads explode. In Atlantic Hockey, the single worst thing a ref can do is cost a team a league game in a huge matchup. Yet that’s exactly what happened in Saturday’s game between the Air Force Falcons and the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers.
Let’s reset the scenario in the third period of Saturday’s game between the academy and RIT. Officials whistled the Tigers for a too many men on the ice penalty 1:50 into the game’s overtime session. As the penalty was getting ready to expire, RIT had the puck in their own end. They cleared the puck down to the other end of the ice, as is customary for a team on the PK.
The puck, however, hit the ref out by the blue line and fell into the stick of an Air Force skater. Air Force dumped it back into the RIT zone, and the Tigers once again iced the puck with about four seconds left on the penalty. The puck went the length of the ice, and the officials blew the whistle for icing. The puck was iced with RIT clearly on the penalty kill, but the player came out of the box with the puck in transit.
The icing call led to a faceoff near goalie Mike Rotolo, and Air Force ultimately scored to win the game, 4-3. There are multiple videos surfacing based on the incident. The first, which is most damning, shows the puck hitting the official and being sent back in. It then shows the Tigers icing the puck with time left on the power play, a clear indication that icing should not have been called. At least that’s what the broadcast shows; I obviously wasn’t there and can’t speak to the time left on the scoreboard clock, but four seconds seems like a lot of time to say, “Well maybe it was close.”
The second video shows the goal. After the goal is scored, my eyes wander immediately to the orange jerseys. RIT players, steaming mad, slam sticks on the ice and voice frustration. The Tigers eventually gained a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after the goal was scored.
Look, I’m not one to try and jump all over the referees, and I feel for them in a sense that making a mistake can cost a team a game. When they do their job right, nobody notices, but when they do their job wrong, there’s a lot to discuss. You just hope this game doesn’t eventually become the difference between an RIT home series or bye anywhere along the way.
How ’bout them Pioneers?
The scores indicate they lost by a combined 7-4 count, but the Sacred Heart Pioneers got their money’s worth against #4-ranked Colgate at home this weekend. On Friday, SHU rebounded from giving up the first goal in both the first and second periods to play level hockey through 40 minutes. On Saturday, they were within two seconds and a power play goal of holding Colgate scoreless in the second period and remaining tied, 1-1, after two periods. While they ended up losing both games, they still played very well and earned the respect of a team expecting to travel to Boston in the spring for the Frozen Four.
The AHA hasn’t been great in non-conference play, still hovering below 10 out-of-conference wins. But looking within the numbers shows some really great hockey games with tough competition. Sacred Heart, an example of that, is playing some solid hockey, and they just went toe-to-toe with some of the country’s best.