In a full slate of Atlantic Hockey games over a weekend, five series give ten teams a shot at four points apiece. One team has a bye, which continues until the end of the season when, as is usually the case, all hell breaks loose.
This week, it was Army West Point’s turn for a weekend off (more on that later), meaning the bulk of Atlantic Hockey’s annual logjam faced off against one another. My math might be incorrect, but that would mean the league could thin its races out a little bit as long as teams could distance themselves with four point weekends.
So of course half of the series earned splits while the other ones created an even bigger logjam. In the marquee matchup of the weekend, between two top-seeded teams, Air Force defeated Robert Morris, 6-2, on Friday, only to watch the Colonials pick up a 2-0 victory on Saturday behind two Alex Tonge goals.
In the middle of the pack, Mercyhurst and Holy Cross skated to a pair of 3-3 ties, meaning they both earned two points for a spiritual split that allowed both teams to close gaps in front of them.
And in the bottom of the standings, Sacred Heart split with Bentley in a home-and-home that jammed the race for home ice in the first round. The Pioneers rallied after losing at home, 3-2, on Friday to open up a 5-2 lead on the Falcons before holding on for a 5-4 victory of their own at the fabled JAR.
If that’s not enough, Canisius’ sweep of RIT and AIC’s sweep of Niagara means the playoff race got muddled even more. The Golden Griffins joined a pack of teams in the race for home ice in the quarterfinals, while the Yellow Jackets vaulted their way into the conversation for home ice in the first round.
The stretch is run is up on us as February dawns. In true AHC form, we’re heating things up.
While the rest of the league was duking it out, the Army West Point Black Knights played an exhibition game against the Royal Military College of Canada Paladins. In a wild game held in the USA, the teams combined for 73 shots and eight goals in a 5-3 victory for the host academy.
Army opened things up with a 1-0 lead in the first and a 17-6 shot advantage, then opened up a 2-0 lead with a goal in the second period’s second minute. They surrendered a goal to RMC just 24 seconds later but responded to go back up two, 3-1, at the 4:14 mark. The teams traded goals again later in the period as part of a five-goal frame and a 4-2 Army lead. In the second period, the teams combined for 28 shots, with 18 for the Black Knights.
RMC closed the gap with the only power play goal of the night, 4-3, early in the third, but an empty net goal with under a minute to go gave the Black Knights a two-goal victory. But the Paladins arguably outplayed the Americans with a 15-7 shot advantage in the third.
In a competitive show of goodwill, Army West Point once again gave the United States a hockey victory over their Canadian counterparts, but it wasn’t without its own struggles in its right. The game might not have counted for more than nationalistic pride, but that’s good enough for the combatants on the ice.
In my conversations throughout rinks with fans and other media members, the AHC postseason conversation starts early in the season. Because points are always at a premium for positioning later in the year, we always talk about how an early-season loss or blown lead comes back to haunt a team in February.
Well February’s finally here. And in the spirit of looking ahead, this is the best time of the year. True to form, Atlantic Hockey already looks insane.
Air Force, Army West Point, Canisius, and Robert Morris currently sit in the top four slots, which position them with inside tracks to second round home series. They all have games in hand over teams sitting behind them, giving them even more of a pretty position. Two points separate those four from each other, with the Griffs and Colonials tied at 22 points for fourth, the Black Knights one point ahead of them, and the Falcons one point up on their service academy brothers.
RIT is in fifth, which would earn the Tigers a bye but a road series to fourth place. But they’re only four points back of Air Force, who is in first.
Mercyhurst, Holy Cross, and AIC sit in home first round series positioning, but three points separate the Yellow Jackets from RIT and a bye slot.
Bentley (16), Sacred Heart (15), and Niagara (8) are currently on the road in the first round, but the Falcons and Pioneers are a good weekend away from the Tigers as well.
If the playoffs started today, here would be the matchups:
First round bye, awaiting first round winners: Air Force, Army West Point, Canisius (1-0-1 vs. RMU)
Second Round Series: RIT at RMU
First Round Series: Niagara at Mercyhurst, Sacred Heart at Holy Cross, Bentley at AIC
In true form, I’ll be checking in more and more as the weeks start to progress.