A popular favorite to top Atlantic Hockey this season, Army West Point finally hit a lull in their season over the last month. RIT outscored them 8-3 in a weekend sweep, and a 3-1 loss to Brown bookended a 1-0 squeaker win over AIC.
In a reversal of tides, the Black Knights blew into the semester break in the schedule like a gale force wind this weekend, taking four points from Holy Cross in a home-and-home among the most traditional of eastern teams.
On Friday, the Black Knights peppered goalie Paul Berrafato in the first period, outshooting the Crusaders by a 12-3 advantage, but failed to crack the scoreboard. That’s something that happened in the second period, when Ryan Nick scored his first of the year to make it 1-0.
They finished off Holy Cross with three unanswered goals. After Dominic Franco scored 30 seconds into the period, Dalton MacAfee made the game 3-0 thanks to an extra attacker, delayed penalty strike with five minutes remaining. Zach Evancho added a goal before the ensuing power play ended, giving the Black Knights three third period goals. Perhaps most impressive, they scored that trio on just six shots the entire period. Though Holy Cross spoiled the shutout bid, it was a great way for Army to get back on track.
That led to Saturday. Conor Andrle scored 53 seconds into the first period as Army rolled out to a 3-0 in the first period to chase Berrafato after 20 minutes. They scored a fourth goal 3:23 into the second against Tommy Nixon, then added four goals in the third en route to an 8-1 victory.
Brendan Soucie, with two third period goals, recorded his first career hat trick, and the Black Knights scored their most goals in a game since 2010.
The weekend vaulted the Black Knights back into first place as the first half winds down, and it sent the message that they’re going to be a big factor in the second half of the year. These were watershed games on the Army season against a tough opponent with no downside.
Actually that’s not true. The downside for the hockey team? They couldn’t rush the field in Baltimore to sing second for the first time in 15 years.
The Forgotten Force?
West Point is getting all the glory this weekend given the football team’s win over Navy and hockey team’s impressive showing against Holy Cross. But out west, another military academy continued its roll.
With its sweep of Niagara, Air Force improved to 3-1-1 in its last five games. The two wins moved them to 6-3-1 in Atlantic Hockey play, which slots them second based on winning percentage. It also continued their rise through the ranks, since it slotted them in fourth at the end of the weekend, tied with Canisius.
Kyle Haak scored twice in the Falcons’ 4-0 win on Saturday after the hosts came from behind to win 2-1 on Friday. In that first win, Jordan Himley and Evan Feno scored roughly four minutes apart. It was Feno’s first goal of the season and his second game-winner of his career.
Of the teams at the top of the standings, Air Force has the least amount of games played. They hold a game in hand over Canisius, two games in hand over Robert Morris, and three games in hand against both West Point and RIT.
Congratulations are in order for head coach Derek Schooley of the Robert Morris Colonials. Saturday’s win over Bentley was the 200th in program history, and it became, in turn, the 200th for the only head coach the program’s ever known.
I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and I always talk about the way things were and are. I love where college hockey’s going, but I love talking about where we were. No program is more indicative of that than the Colonials. They’re a team that started right before realignment, before college hockey started to grow instead of contract. Now they’re one of Atlantic Hockey’s top programs.
Battle of the Bulge
As is the case year after year after year after year after…well you get the idea, we’re going to see a mad dash in the second half of the season.
Mercyhurst split with Sacred Heart, and Bentley split with Robert Morris this weekend. AIC was idle in league play but lost twice at Maine in non-conference affairs. With the results coming down, four points now separate sixth from 10th in the standings.
There’s a trickle down effect to look at. Three points separate a first round home series from a first round bye to await an unknown opponent. Canisius and Air Force are tied, which is always fun to watch because of the travel implications of factoring the academy into everything.
With the rise of programs like AIC and Army West Point in the first half, it’s made the league competitive from top to bottom. With 11 teams capable of winning every single game on any given night, this is what we dream and live for as fans and analysts. Games played now will have an impact, and a bounce here or there will determine where teams go.
The first half of the season is coming to a close. We won’t have a full slate of league games until the first weekend in January, but when we come back, it’s straight through to completion – which means the real fun is still coming, and the clouds are gathering for a storm on the horizon.