Three things from the final weekend of regular season play in Atlantic Hockey:
The No. 17 Air Force Falcons entered the weekend knowing that nothing less than four points were needed to clinch their first regular season title since 2012.
A 5-0 win on Friday put Frank Serratore’s team in excellent position to claim the title, and on Saturday, Air Force led Sacred Heart 2-1 with 53 seconds to play. But with goaltender Nathan Perry pulled for the extra attacker, Stephen Hladin scored his second of the night to tie the score and send the game to overtime.
And at 2:31 of OT, Jordan Minello put home a rebound from a shot by Mitch Nylen, and Sacred Heart had officially spoiled the party.
The ending wasn’t without some controversy. Air Force, which was on a power play in overtime, was penalized when goaltender Shane Starrett shot the puck down the ice after a whistle. Here’s the Air Force description of the play from its official recap:
“With 2:33 left, Kyle Mackey took a shot from the point that was saved. After a brief scuffle in front, SHU goalie Nathan Perry slid the puck the length of the ice into the Air Force end. Falcon goalie Shane Starrett slid the puck back down the ice to where the faceoff would be and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.”
That resulted in a 4×4 situation and put the faceoff in the Falcons’ zone. Sacred Heart won the draw and scored just two seconds later.
“Terrible call in my opinion,” said Serratore in a postgame radio interview. “Their guy shot it down to our end, (Starrett) shot it back down to where the faceoff was going to be. It went in the net.”
You have to wonder if it’s still a penalty if Starrett’s clear after the whistle doesn’t end up in the Sacred Heart net. It shouldn’t matter, but it looks like it did.
But Serratore said his team can’t focus on a weird call.
“We didn’t capitalize on power plays,” he said (the Falcons were 0-3 with the man advantage in the third period). “We left a guy open on the extra-attacker (goal).”
Serratore said his team will take the bye week to move past this and prepare for the quarterfinals.
“It doesn’t get any more painful than this,” he said. “Unless this is a loss that ends your season. Is this a defining moment, or does this define us?”
1,500 miles away in Buffalo, a celebration ensued. The Air Force loss gave Canisius, which closed the regular season on a 15-game unbeaten streak, its first regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Ding! Round one
Seedings for the Atlantic Hockey Tournament are as follows:
#2 Air Force
#3 Army (wins 5th tiebreaker with Robert Morris – record against #1 seed)
#4 Robert Morris
#5 Holy Cross
#6 RIT (wins tiebreakers over Mercyhurst (head-to-head) and Bentley (conference wins))
#7 Mercyhurst (wins tiebreaker over Bentley (conference wins))
#9 Sacred Heart
#10 American International
The top five seeds get byes into the quarterfinals, where we know one of the matchups will be Holy Cross at Robert Morris.
The first round pairings for best-of-three series are:
#11 Niagara at #6 RIT
#10 American International at #7 Mercyhurst
#9 Sacred Heart at #8 Bentley
Predictions are hard. Here’s how Dan Rubin and I did vs. the coaches in our preseason prognostications:
|Final Standings||Coach’s Poll||USCHO|
|2. Air Force||2nd||2nd|
|T-3. Army West Point||T-4th||5th|
|T-3. Robert Morris||6th||6th|
|5. Holy Cross||3rd||4th|
|9. Sacred Heart||7th||7th|
The coaches were a bit more accurate, off by an average of 2.27 places vs. Dan and me, off by 2.36 places. Canisius was obviously the biggest surprise. Will the Golden Griffins continue to surprise in the postseason? Stay tuned.