It was AIC’s weekend against Holy Cross. The rest of us were just living in it.
The Yellow Jackets earned their second weekend sweep of the season, beating the Crusaders in two predictably hard-fought games. On Friday night, AIC won at home, 2-1, in a goaltending showdown between Stefano Durante and Paul Berrafato. On Saturday, they jumped out to another early 2-0 lead, then held off the Crusaders on the road for a 4-2, four-point weekend.
Let’s dial back to Friday first. AIC held Holy Cross to 11 shots through the first two periods and held a 23-11 advantage in that regard. There were only two penalties called, one against each side, and both came in the first period. Blake Christensen scored in the game’s first two minutes, and Darius Davidson added a second to give AIC a 2-0 lead.
The third period provided fireworks, though. There were four penalties, including three against AIC. It tipped the ice in favor of Holy Cross, and the Crusaders subsequently outshot the Yellow Jackets, 11-4. The last minor, a high-sticking call against Bryant Christian, resulted in Scott Pooley’s 17th goal of the season. But that was all Holy Cross pushed across the goal line, and AIC walked out of the MassMutual Center with two points.
The next night, the power play again became a huge factor. AIC scored twice in the first again, using a power play goal by Davidson and an even-strength strike by Jared Pike. But this time Holy Cross scored before the end of the period, using Dalton Skelly’s first goal of the season to pull within one.
The power play gave AIC a 3-1 lead halfway through the second when Brennan Kapcheck scored his sixth of the year, and it held up through to the third. But late in the period, with Pike in the box for tripping, Pooley scored another 6-on-4 goal to pull the Crusaders within one. It wasn’t enough, though, and AIC scored an empty net goal to grab the four-point weekend.
If you’re just waking up on Sunday morning, consider what four points can do for a team. Holy Cross is the third place team in Atlantic Hockey and is widely considered among the consistent cream of the conference. Two points behind them in fourth place is now AIC. If the playoffs started right now – which, of course, there’s a lot of hockey left to play – the Yellow Jackets would be hosting a second round series.
Next week’s series against Canisius is all of a sudden must-see theater. The Yellow Jackets head to Buffalo for a pair on Friday and Saturday while Holy Cross looks to rebound with a home-and-home against Sacred Heart.
He met the Easter Bunny and Bigfoot.
Air Force head coach Frank Serratore treated us this week to one of his most quotable moments when he said there were three things he’s never seen: Big Foot, the Easter Bunny and a referee admitting he called a bad game. He did, however, admit to meeting Santa Claus, who “likes his mom.”
Well he can finally scratch two of those off his list.
The Easter Bunny and Bigfoot both attended Air Force’s Friday night game against Mercyhurst. They might have picked the wrong night to attend, though, since the Falcons lost, 1-0, to Mercyhurst that night. The next night, the cadets rallied, winning 5-1 for their first league win in four games.
Air Force used two goals within a minute to pace past Mercyhurst, including Alex Mehnert’s first career strike. The power play goal book-ended Pierce Pleumer’s second of the season to push the Falcons ahead, 3-1. They added a fourth goal before the end of the period before an empty net in the third helped seal the win.
The split drew the Falcons into a dangerous mix around the last home playoff spot. Mercyhurst currently occupies that territory with 12 points, pushing ahead of Bentley with Friday’s win. The Falcons slipped into ninth without any conference games this weekend, but they have Tuesday’s game against Sacred Heart to make up that ground.
Air Force sits in 10th, though, one point behind Bentley, and Sacred Heart is only two points back of that. It sets up a second half with potentially slimmest margin between home playoffs and 11th place since UConn’s departure. Last year, 13 points separated Niagara from the next closest team, and the year before that saw both the Purple Eagles and AIC finish eight points behind ninth.
Look, I know I can keep saying, “There’s a lot of hockey left to play,” but we all know what’s going to happen here. The next two months are going to be very anxious, and every week and game is going to create a dramatic feeling every step of the way.
You might notice how frequently I’ve called out the power play, and that’s done with good reason. Penalties are every team’s bad dream, and they’re killers when they happen in tough spots.
That’s essentially what happened in Bentley’s weekend against Northeastern. On Friday, No. 9-ranked Northeastern took a high-sticking call early in the third period that set up Kyle Schmidt’s seventh goal of the year. It wound up as the difference in a tie game, especially since the Huskies, who are one of the best power play teams in the nation, went 0-for-3.
On Saturday, the Huskies scored two power play goals and added a short-handed strike to push past the Falcons at home, 6-1. In the second period, Bentley absorbed a bench minor at 3:26, killed it off and immediately took a tripping call. Northeastern scored to increase what was a two-goal lead to 3-0 at the time.
Bentley is back at in a midweek game against Sacred Heart on Tuesday before heading to Army West Point over next weekend.