With two weekends left in the Atlantic Hockey regular season, the expectation, as it is every year, was for carnage and chaos to reign supreme in the standings. Sports often taught me that expecting a certain thing to happen usually results in the complete opposite happening. So without actually saying it, there was a part of me that expected the playoff picture to be crystal clear following the slate of games.
Though home ice seeds aren’t remotely close to settled and the final bye spot is very much still in play, the quiet part of my brain was happily proven a little bit right. Army West Point sealed up a first round bye and home ice in the quarterfinals by sweeping Holy Cross. Though the Black Knights can still finish fourth, they’re more likely to finish third with a home-and-home coming up next week against AIC.
At the same time, RMU’s split with Mercyhurst gave them a three-point lead over both the Lakers and Holy Cross for the final bye spot. The Colonials still have a shot at third place but would need Army West Point a winless weekend against the Yellow Jackets. After splitting with the Black Knights earlier this year, RMU can’t win the head-to-head tiebreaker for the conference. Should the two teams wind up in a tie with 15 conference wins, they go to a third tiebreaker of goal differential in head-to-head matchups – which is even between the two teams thanks to a pair of one-goal games. The next tiebreaker is goals allowed, which is the same because both one-goal games had the same score.
So we go to the fifth tiebreaker, which is head-to-head winning percentage against teams starting with the #1 seed. RMU owns that regardless of who finishes first – Air Force or Canisius. All of this is contingent on a tie, again, which can be avoided if Army West Point avoids the AIC upset. It also assumes RMU doesn’t lose to former CHA rival Niagara.
Bye, Bye, Bye
If there’s an interesting dynamic coming out of the weekend, it’s the race for the final bye spot. The RMU-Mercyhurst split threw a life preserver to Holy Cross, who remain tied for fifth after losing both games to Army West Point.
Bentley makes the race even more interesting, though. The Falcons still have a good shot at the last bye spot, but they need three points and some help. One point back in seventh following their split with Sacred Heart, the Falcons play their only two games of the season against their longtime rival Holy Cross this weekend. Since they’re two of the three teams in the hunt for fifth, it gets even funkier to think about the drama of the upcoming week.
Bottom line is that this race is what will be the center focal point from the final weekend, especially given the Falcons-Crusaders series. Then again, I assumed Bentley had mathematically clinched home ice with their win on Friday. They didn’t, and there’s still a chance they wind up on the road if RIT wins and Sacred Heart sweeps Air Force. One point against Holy Cross, though, and there’s at least one final playoff series at the JAR before they turn the lights out next season.
If this ends up in a three-way tie, well then I’ll just throw my hands up and throw the abacus out into Boston Harbor.
The Road To Rochester
Further back from Bentley, RIT still has a good chance to move up in the standings despite absorbing two losses to Air Force. The Tigers got a huge assist from the Bentley-Sacred Heart split, since a Pioneer sweep would’ve created a real mess at the bottom of the race for home ice.
But the losses took a first round bye off the table for the Tigers, meaning RIT might have to leave Rochester at some point during this postseason. They will play a first round home series, but they need a win on Saturday if they want to avoid finishing eighth. They’re a point back of the Falcons and can still finish as high as sixth with a win.
Clearing Up The Race
While we’re at it, don’t count out Sacred Heart. Though Friday’s loss to Bentley hurt, they’ll enter the final weekend with a chance at home ice if they sweep Air Force on the road. That seems mathematically unlikely, but after all that we’ve seen this year, I’ll ask the famous question of – “Why not now?”
For what it’s worth, the Pioneers also have to deal with AIC nipping at their heels. The Yellow Jackets can pass the Pioneers if the games break the right way. They’ll pay a home-and-home against Army West Point.
Entering the final weekend, 10 of the 11 spots are still up for grabs but at least we know the teams that are in the race for those hunts. We know who will likely be on the road and at home for the first and second rounds of the playoffs, which is good if you’re a math guy, but it comes with the asterisk of saying it’s all subject to change.
Last weekend did a little bit to help clear things up, which is exactly why it’s still as muddy as ever.
WRITER’S NOTE: This has been edited to correct an earlier error. It was previously stated that Mercyhurst had only one game remaining where, in fact, they have two. This also has been updated to reflect the correct tiebreaker scenarios, which was previously incorrectly stated as the third scenario being goal differential. It is goal differential in head-to-head matchups.