Three (four) things from quarterfinals weekend in Atlantic Hockey:
And then there were four
When the dust had settled after the four Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series, two higher seeds and two lower ones moved on to Rochester. Two series went the distance while three of the four needed overtime to settle at least one game.
Mercyhurst, Canisius, Air Force and Robert Morris advance to Rochester with the winner going onto the NCAA tournament.
Sweeps were sweet
Top-seeded Mercyhurst recorded a sweep of Sacred Heart, but not without some drama on Saturday. The Pioneers, who lost Game One to Mercyhurst 4-2, opened a 2-0 lead only to see the Lakers mount a comeback late in the second period to eventually tie the game and then win on Jonathan Charbonneau’s fifth goal of the weekend at 9:39 of overtime.
Charbonneau, who also recorded an assist on Saturday, factored in six of Mercyhurst’s seven goals in the series.
Also closing out a quarterfinal series in two games was Robert Morris. In a rematch of last season’s quarterfinals, the Colonials again came out on top over Holy Cross, but this time on the road.
Robert Morris was able to put up a pair of convincing wins at the Hart Center, 4-1 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday. Matthew Graham, Timmy Moore and Luke Lynch each had a pair of goals in the series.
Robert Morris, the seventh seed, will face off against top-seeded Mercyhurst in the first semifinal on Friday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Going the distance
Canisius and Air Force also advanced, but needed three games to vanquish American International and Army West Point, respectively. In both series, the eventual winners took a series lead 1-0 before their opponents claimed victories on Saturday to force a deciding game.
Second-seeded Canisius took full advantage of its bye, allowing for first-liners Ryan Schmelzer and Jeff Murray to return from injury. The offense clicked immediately in an 8-1 win over AIC.
“It’s hard to really know what a week off is going to do for your team, “said Canisius coach Trevor Large.”I know for us, it got us healthy. Getting some guys back really gave us an emotional boost. Having (Ryan) Schmelzer, (Jeff) Murray and (Jesse) Pereira back in the lineup really helped us tonight.”
But the eighth-seeded Yellow Jackets, looking to advance to Rochester for the first time in school history, rebounded with a 2-1 overtime win on Saturday. AIC outshot Canisius 46-24 in the contest, which was decided by Shawn McBride’s goal at 8:06 of the extra period.
Canisius turned the tables in Game Three, outshooting AIC 26-17 in a 3-0 win to close out the series. Golden Griffins goaltender Dan Urbani recorded his first career shutout.
And finally, the series between Air Force and Army West Point, lived up to expectations with a trio of close, hard fought games.
On Friday, the fifth-seeded Falcons prevailed, 5-3, finally closing out the Black Knights on an empty-net goal by Erik Baskin with under a minute to play.
After that, the teams combined for just two goals over the next two games, the second of which required 6:38 of overtime.
Saturday’s Game Two saw Zach Evancho’s first period goal stand up in a 1-0 win for the fourth-seeded Black Knights to even the series. Cole Bruns stopped all 33 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season and fourth of his career.
In the deciding game, the teams battled to a scoreless tie through regulation before Tyler Ledford redirected a shot by Erik Baskin in overtime to clinch a return to Rochester for the Falcons, who seek to repeat as AHC champions.
“I knew this would be a tight series and one for the ages,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “We had so many good chances and, when you don’t score, you start to wonder if it is your night. My biggest fear is that we were not going to get rewarded for all of our hard work.
“For me personally, this might be the greatest experience I have had as the Air Force coach. Coming in here against a good Army team and winning this series is special. These games against Army mean a lot to me. This is as big as it gets.”
The east-west scheduling pods are no more, but the success of the “western” teams continue in the postseason.
All four teams advancing to Rochester are from the western half of the league (comprised of Air Force, Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, Robert Morris and Rochester Institute of Technology). This also happened in 2012, 2014, and 2015.
2007, the first year Rochester hosted the championships, was the last time two eastern teams (Sacred Heart and Connecticut) made the semifinals. Since then, we’ve had Bentley (2009), Sacred Heart (2010), UConn (2011, 2013) and Army (2008, 2016, 2017) which came close to a third straight trip to Rochester.
The last eastern team to win it all was Holy Cross in 2006.
This is astounding in light of the parity we see throughout the regular season, especially lately.
The four teams looking to hoist the Riley Cup have all won it before: Mercyhurst (2005), Canisius (2013), Robert Morris (2014) and Air Force (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2017).
Four teams, one dream.