Before I jump into observations (for the record, there’s four) from this past weekend, allow me to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year in 2015. I know I speak for Chris and all of our USCHO family in my sincerity for wishing you all nothing but the best.
Atlantic Hockey, Party of One
Facing an already uphill battle in order to get back into the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Robert Morris University Colonials traveled west to Ohio to take on Bowling Green with a last ditch chance at cracking into the top 16 of the Pairwise Rankings. While not a given to get into the tournament, wins over the sixth-ranked team in the rankings would’ve done wonders to get an Atlantic Hockey team closer to a locked slot in the national field.
On Saturday, down 2-0 going into the third period in an outdoor game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Greg Gibson and Brady Ferguson scored to tie the game at 2-2. They had the only two shots on goal in the extra overtime but couldn’t crack undefeated, 5-0 goalie Chris Neil. It was still good enough to score a tie and ruin Neil’s previously unblemished record.
On Sunday, Scott Jacklin scored just about 90 ticks into the game to stake RMU to a 1-0 lead. Even though Kevin Dufour scored to even the battle at 1-1 after the first 20 minutes, the Colonials entered the second with a solid chance at taking a win and pushing themselves up from 25th in the Pairwise Rankings.
But Bowling Green scored three unanswered goals, including two in the third period, and Robert Morris lost, 4-1. At 12-4-4, RMU still has one of the ten best winning percentages (even better than teams like Boston University and Yale), but unless all hell breaks loose in college hockey, only one team will get into the national tournament – the conference champion.
Series of the Year?
American International and Army turned in what might have been the best weekend of hockey played to date. Playing a home-and-home, the Yellow Jackets won on the road at West Point in overtime on Friday in a game featuring 76 shots. Down 2-1 after two periods, Johno May scored his third goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2. That’s where AIC struck again, feeding Austin Orszulak for a game winning goal just 18 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory.
The next night, we got more thrills from the two clubs. Army ripped off 15 shots in the first period, scoring four goals. Tyler Pham, Zak Zaremba, CJ Reuschlin, and Joe Kozlak all scored in the game’s first 14 minutes, staking the Black Knights to a 4-0 lead and chasing goalie Hunter Leisner from net a night after he made 43 saves.
Amazingly, AIC rallied back, scoring once off the stick of May with 15 seconds left in the period. That little bit kept the door open for a Nathan Sliwinski power play goal in the second period and a David Gandara goal in the third. Off the bench, Alex Murray stopped 22 shots.
Best part about this weekend is that it’s not the last we’ll see of these two against each other. AIC and Army duel again on the season’s last games when playoff seeding will undoubtedly come into play.
Up For The Challenge
Two teams in Atlantic Hockey produced big time bounce back performances after first game struggles.
Let’s start with Mercyhurst. Ohio State came into the Erie Insurance Arena and dominated Friday night’s game against the Lakers, outshooting them 43-18. The Buckeyes scored three goals in the first period and a fourth in under three minutes to start the second period en route to a 6-3 victory. On Saturday, though, the Lakers bounced back, taking a 1-0 late in the first period when Jack Riley scored. They turned it into a quick 2-0 lead in the second period’s first 90 seconds. Though Ohio State scored and ended the game with a 2-2 tie, it wasn’t without having to work for the extra decision.
Then there’s RIT. UMass-Lowell crushed the Tigers on Friday afternoon in the first game of the Mariucci Classic out at Minnesota, taking a 4-0 lead and cruising to a 7-3 victory that relegated the loser to the consolation game. As Minnesota took the ice to play Merrimack, prognosticators assumed the Gophers would handle the Warriors and set up the championship game at 7 PM on Saturday against the River Hawks.
Too bad Merrimack didn’t get the memo. The Warriors beat the Gophers, 3-2, meaning RIT’s consolation prize was a game before 10,000 fans in the “State of Hockey.” RIT, though, rose to the challenge, rallying from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 while being outshot 49-21. They took eighth-ranked Minnesota to overtime, where Kyle Rau scored at the 2:34 mark. Mike Rotolo saved 46 shots while absorbing the loss.
The Lakers host Sacred Heart this weekend, while RIT hosts American International.
Purple People Eaters
Believe it or not, Robert Morris is not pulling away with first place in Atlantic Hockey. Holy Cross continues to remain very much in the equation after taking three points from Air Force. On Friday, in a 1-1 tie, the Crusaders held Air Force to just 23 shots. On Saturday, the defense did even more, holding Air Force to just 10 shots through two periods before Matt Ginn did Matt Ginn things by stopping 15 of 16 shots in the third period.
Call this a major contrast of styles. Robert Morris is the fourth best offense in the nation, scoring well over three goals per game. Holy Cross is 13th best in the nation on defense, easily the best in back in Atlantic Hockey.
They meet in three weeks. While Holy Cross still has to go through Canisius and Mercyhurst on the road first, Robert Morris has to get through Bentley and American International at home. Still, the possibility of a potential grudge match weekend between the two is enough to make us start circling our calendars even more than we already were.