Three things from Championship weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
One and done
For the third consecutive season, the top seed went down in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey tournament. This time it was defending champion Robert Morris, who put 62 shots on net against Mercyhurst in 63 minutes of play, but fell to the Lakers, 4-3 in overtime.
Freshman goaltender Brandon Wildung made a whopping 59 saves for the win. The Lakers opened a 2-0 early lead, but after that the Colonials took charge and seemed to have the game in hand until Mercyhurst’s Chris Bodo scored an extra-attacker goal with 34 seconds left in regulation. Then after Wildung made several big saves early in overtime, Zac Frischmon cruised into the Colonials’ zone and beat RMU goalie Danton Izyk for the game-winner at 3:04 of OT.
That meant another early ticket home for the top seed. In 2013 Niagara finished first but lost in the semifinals, although the Purple Eagles managed an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, the first and only time that has happened to an AHC team. In 2014, regular season champs Mercyhurst failed to make the title game.
“We were in this situation last year, so we know how it feels,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “I wish their was some way to get Robert Morris into the tournament because they’re a great team.”
One and only
The only AHC to make the NCAA tournament this season is Rochester Institute of Technology, which was at Blue Cross Arena for the first time since 2012 and won it all for the first time since 2010.
RIT brought its fans with it for the seven mile trip from its campus to downtown Rochester, and the Corner Crew and company came away happy, cheering the Tigers on to a 2-1 win over Canisius in the semifinals and a 5-1 victory against Mercyhurst in the championship game.
RIT will try to recapture some of the magic that saw Wayne Wilson’s team advance to the Frozen Four in 2010. But the ten other AHC teams will be watching on TV, because the league’s poor non-conference showing put all of its members well below the PairWise ranking threshold for an at-large berth.
“Our league for the most part, with the exception of one year, only one team is going.” said Wilson.
“Robert Morris has had an outstanding year. They would be very deserving in going on to the NCAA but the PairWise doesn’t work out that way for them.”
The Tigers are the No.16 seed and will face top seed Minnesota State at the Midwest Regional in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday. Nebraska-Omaha and Harvard are the other teams at that regional.
One more chance
RIT goaltender Jordan Ruby’s college hockey career almost ended on Feb. 20, when he gambled and lost on a breakaway chance by Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo with less than 10 seconds to play in a tie game.
Ruby came out to play the puck but got there a second too late, and Wydo put the puck into an empty net for the RMU victory and its first regular season title.
Sophomore Mike Rotolo backstopped the Tigers to a win over the Colonials the next night, and a sweep of Mercyhurst the next weekend. He and Ruby had battled for the starting position all year, and it looked like Rotolo was going to be the Tiger’s goaltender for the postseason.
But an injury to Rotolo in practice opened the door for Ruby, who then backstopped RIT to a 2-1, 7-3 sweep of Air Force in the quarterfinals and allowed just two goals this weekend.
“You have to learn how to have amnesia and forget about things that happened.” said Ruby. “Rotolo had a great year and (us) just back-in-forth between the pipes, you have to get ready to go. I felt like this was my best year, all year.”
And it’s not over.