Atlantic Hockey’s penultimate weekend didn’t disappoint, once again drawing the league right back into a massive logjam. Canisius, the proverbial leader in the clubhouse, surrendered the top slot to Mercyhurst, who just a few months ago sat as one of the team’s in the bottom three.
RIT, Robert Morris and Army all have some form of inside track to a playoff bye heading into next week. Bentley and AIC next weekend likely determines if they play each other again in the postseason, potentially with home ice implications.
So let’s break some of this down, starting with the race for home ice in the first round, which is at least the cleanest race (supposedly). I add the disclaimer that my quick morning math might be entirely wrong, and I’m sure Chris and I will outline all of the scenarios for each team throughout the week.
Also none of this is currently taking into consideration the RIT-Sacred Heart game scheduled for Sunday afternoon. We can update the scenarios after the game.
AIC currently sits in eighth place after beating Holy Cross with 24 points. Niagara and Bentley are one point behind them, with Sacred Heart four points behind with 20 points. All of these teams have at least two games left except for Bentley, who only plays AIC on Saturday night. Sacred Heart, of course, plays Sunday afternoon.
An AIC win over Holy Cross all but wraps up home ice for the first time in Yellow Jacket program history. It won’t mathematically eliminate Niagara, though, unless the Purps lose or tie to Canisius. A win over the Crusaders would force Niagara to sweep Canisius in order to host in the first round.
A loss, though, opens the door for both Bentley and Niagara. Bentley can clinch extra home games at the Bentley Arena with a direct route. Niagara needs to take no more than one point from Canisius, Holy Cross needs to beat AIC, and the Falcons themselves need to win next Saturday night.
But don’t expect AIC to be looking down. Because the Yellow Jackets are only two points behind Army West Point and Robert Morris, the door is very much open for them to vault into a better seed. It would be tough for them to catch Air Force and RIT for a first round bye, but the mathematical possibility is there.
The Race For the Bye
Air Force is in the most dangerous spot for the rest of the league. The Falcons are in fourth place, tied with RIT but in possession of the head-to-head tiebreaker. After sweeping Canisius, they also sit within striking distance of second place.
Air Force plays at Robert Morris, one point behind them, this weekend. Whoever wins that series, then, likely heads into a bye slot in some capacity. What makes it even more interesting heading into the weekend is this – fourth place hosts fifth place in the quarterfinal, but sixth place hosts eleventh.
The Falcons can finish anywhere from sixth to ninth, depending on how the math shakes down, which – and I feel like I talk about this every year – brings up the travel component. No team has had home ice domination through the years like the academy.
The dark horse in all of this is Holy Cross. The Crusaders finish their season on Thursday against AIC at home. A win there clinches a first round bye, but they’ll need some help in order to avoid finishing fifth. They’re currently in third place, but because everyone else has a game in hand on the schedule, they don’t control their own destiny for a top four slot.
And that leads us to the top
Mercyhurst’s four point weekend in Pittsburgh did everything it needed to do. The Lakers clinched a first round bye and a top four spot. That means they head to RIT next weekend with a shot at clinching the regular season championship for the first time since 2014.
Despite being in first, the Lakers don’t yet hold a tiebreaker clincher over the Golden Griffins. The teams split head-to-head, and Canisius currently holds the secondary tiebreaker scenario victory with one more conference win. So even though Mercyhurst is the only AHC team without ten conference losses, they don’t actually hold a tiebreaker scenario over the team behind them.
Canisius actually holds the third tiebreaker scenario as well in goal differential in head-to-head contests by virtue of a 7-3 win over the Lakers (versus a one-goal loss the night before). So Mercyhurst still has to win its way into the top seed.
Again, I reiterate that my math on all of this could be wrong for a Sunday morning, but I hope the message is clear – the wild Atlantic Hockey standings have only gotten wilder. Stress levels should already be pretty high given the time of year, but from a hockey fan’s perspective, this is going to be fantastic.