This is supposed to be the time of year when there’s a natural separation in a league’s standings. The top tier starts to settle into a race for the league championship, and the bottom teams are left to fight for a first round home series. It’s supposed to set natural order.
The rest of college hockey seems to have that happening. Notre Dame leads the Big Ten by seven points over Ohio State, with the Buckeyes another six points ahead of Wisconsin. ECAC’s top three teams are five to ten points ahead of the cut-off for a first round bye. The NCHC is in a similar situation, and the WCHA is turning into a runaway for three of the top four teams in the playoff race. Even Hockey East’s seven-point differential would only take a first place team out of a first round bye.
But Atlantic Hockey? After this past weekend, seven points separates first place Canisius from a first round ROAD series.
Teams with a chance to separate from the rest of the league simply didn’t do that. Canisius and Holy Cross split to remain tied at the top of the league, with Robert Morris earning a sweep to pull within two points. Mercyhurst is right in there, too, at 24 points, with Niagara hanging around at 23 points in fifth.
Then it gets extra dicey. Bentley swept RIT to pull the Tigers out of a first round home series – and pull the Falcons right into it with no road games left on the schedule. Air Force is about to come east for three games in five days, and AIC and Army West Point are tied for sixth.
It’s February in Atlantic Hockey. Let the games begin.
Wanted: Ritter Magic
With their sweep this weekend, the Bentley Falcons have now won just as many games at the Polisseni Center as they had in the previous decade before it opened at Ritter Arena. The wins improved the Falcons to 6-0 in the new house after winning just eight games in the Ritter era.
Jonathan Desbiens and Kyle Schmidt especially enjoyed the trip. Desbiens scored twice in Friday’s win over the Tigers, then added another goal on Saturday. Schmidt, meanwhile, scored a hat trick on Saturday, tying his teammate for goals on the weekend.
It continued a resurgence for the Falcons, who have now won three in a row dating back to the Canisius game. They’re all of a sudden a major factor in the playoff race; they enter this weekend against Air Force just four points behind Niagara for fifth place, and they won’t travel the rest of the season. The last five games of the season are all at home, including the final three at the new Bentley Arena on campus.
RIT, meanwhile, now needs a weekend win at Robert Morris to climb back over the ninth place hump. They won’t play at home again until the final two games of the season, against Mercyhurst.
There always seems to be some major storyline coming out of a weekend, from AIC’s surging ability to rally for a point or Bentley’s ability to bring heat. Robert Morris is on fire, and Air Force’s afterburners are kicking into gear (no pun intended).
And then there’s Army West Point. The Black Knights are seemingly overlooked, but they remain in sixth place in the Atlantic Hockey standings. They took three points from Niagara this weekend, winning 6-2 on Friday before holding on for a 1-1 tie on Saturday.
The Black Knights haven’t been swept in a weekend series since they played Canisius after Thanksgiving. In the second half of the year, they’ve taken three points from Bentley, a tie from Mercyhurst and three points from Niagara, with a single game tie against Sacred Heart sprinkled in.
That they’ve done it shouldn’t be a surprise, but the Black Knights continue to simply fly under the radar. They very easily could wind up with a first round bye, especially since they have an opportunistic bye this weekend. They’ll return to the ice for their final four games to play Bentley on the road and host Sacred Heart.
Army historically plays very well at Bentley, but they won’t be playing in the JAR, instead opening Bentley Arena on February 16 and 17. After that, they conceivably won’t have to leave base again, ending the year with Sacred Heart before the playoffs.