Happy New Year, everyone!
If you’re like me, you woke up on Jan. 1 feeling like you ate an entire cow (apologies to any vegetarian or vegan readers). You rolled out of bed, stepped on a scale, and either cried or cheered over how impressive your holiday weight gain went.
I realized the other night how much I really enjoyed throwback foodie performances, at least until I frantically sprinted for the bottle of Maalox in the medicine chest at 3 a.m.
Anyways, the new year is upon us, so let me wish you, on behalf of all of us at USCHO and in college hockey, a very happy, healthy new year and new decade. It’s the unofficial start of the season’s second half this weekend, meaning our own personal breaks are ending in time to become a little bit more serious about on-ice hockey.
We didn’t have much to speak about after the holidays, so I’m choosing to look ahead.
In the spirit of the New Year’s holiday, here’s a #NewYearNewMe for each of the teams.
This is a little different from the exercise usually undertaken when we ask Santa for something under to be placed under our teams’ trees. I’ll be going in alphabetical order in the league, since the standings seldom make sense in Atlantic Hockey before the last weekend of the season (sorry, bad joke).
Anyway, here’s a list of New Year’s resolutions for our Atlantic Hockey programs:
Air Force: Sing Second. Air Force plays at West Point in two weeks, after a home series against AIC. Assuming the Falcons hold serve at home in the altitude, the Army series now magnifies as a huge series in Atlantic Hockey. For Air Force, opening up the second half with wins would essentially push the team into the top tier of the league. Losing those two series will make it a little bit tougher – though not impossible – because the second half is largely against teams seeded behind it. So beat AIC, then beat Army, and the rest will fall into place.
American International: Make a run at the top two seeds. Last year’s champion woke up in November when a sweep of RIT kicked off a 5-3-0-1 stretch (I don’t know how we’re supposed to denote an overtime loss in the new standings format). Two of those three losses came in non-conference play, so there isn’t a whole lot anyone would change. AIC is back, and with seven of its last 10 games at home, there should be a reasonable expectation to see the Yellow Jackets host a second consecutive quarterfinals series, as long as it can hold off Bentley and Robert Morris.
Army West Point: Win the Fortress Invitational and get an at-large bid. I know it’s an early resolution for the Black Knights, but Army has a legitimate chance to clinch an at-large bid for Atlantic Hockey this year. They enter this weekend’s Fortress Invitational ranked No. 20 in both the USCHO national poll and the all-important Pairwise, and wins in this tournament can rocket this team north into the picture.
That’s easier said than done, of course. All three teams are ranked inside the Pairwise tournament bubble, and both Cornell and Ohio State are vying for No. 1 seeds. But if Army wins this field, it’s inside the bubble with some staying power unless it collapses in Atlantic Hockey play. So win the tournament first before focusing on the second half of the season.
Bentley: Be more consistent and sweep a couple of weekends. A sweep loss to Robert Morris left Bentley with a 3-8-0 overall record entering the Thanksgiving break. The Falcons, facing down a host of issues after that weekend, responded to close the first half with a 5-2-1 stretch of hockey, including a win over a nationally-ranked Sacred Heart team.
It’s clear the Falcons are revving up for a second half charge, but they’ll need to be more consistent in order to truly earn a top four slot. They dominated in a win over Army West Point but lost, 4-3, the next night after giving up three second period goals. Bentley lost to Sacred Heart, 4-0, before turning on a hard-fought, 3-2 victory. The goal is always to not lose points, but if this team can put together a couple of sweeps, especially with a large number of home games in January and February, a long run isn’t out of the question.
Canisius: Win on the road to play at home. Canisius is eight points behind Niagara for the final home playoff spot as the second half begins. Getting past the Purple Eagles will require strong performances in January, where the team plays seven of eight games and eight of ten on the road before playing five straight at home.
The six-point weekend against Holy Cross might be just what the doctor ordered for the Griffs’ struggling defense. Jacob Barczewski made 50 saves, including eight in the third period of the second game, to lift his team past the Crusaders, so if he can provide a hot hand to start the second half, there’s a chance Buffalo can experience a little something something in February.
Holy Cross: Find a little bit of luck. The Crusaders finished the 2019 portion of their schedule with three wins – two against Sacred Heart and one against Providence. This is very much the same core team that played well against Merrimack and tied Northeastern, and I still think there’s a deep run in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs hidden within that roster. But it just seems like something happens in these games where the key goal goes the other way.
Holy Cross led Air Force 2-1 after one period but lost when the Falcons lit up the third period. A 2-2 game against Canisius turned into a 5-2 defeat. A 2-1 lead against Bentley resulted in a 3-2 loss after a shorthanded goal. Within those games are some really good performances, and I stand by my reasoning that this team will make some noise in the second half.
Mercyhurst: Surprise a few of us. Six of Mercyhurt’s first seven games are at home, including a rescheduled game against Robert Morris before a home-and-home with the Colonials. With five of seven games in the last few weeks also at home, the Lakers aren’t likely going to stay in 11th place for very long if they can start moving and grooving.
This league is ultra competitive, so I don’t know what happens. And I certainly I won’t predict home ice or not. But if I see the Lakers in the mix of things by mid-February, I’ll probably say, “I told you so.”
Niagara: Don’t let Canisius play at home. Niagara has a brutal stretch run, especially in January, when it plays at Air Force, home against Army West Point and at Bentley on consecutive weekends. Factor in the last three weekends – at Sacred Heart, home-and-home with RIT and home against Robert Morris – and the Purple Eagles have an opportunity a) to catch every team in front of them and b) to avoid being passed for home ice.
Even if they don’t win all of those series, they just have to do enough to keep Canisius in the rearview mirror. Watching these two teams catch and run against one another in the second half is going to be fun because the logjam in the standings means someone has to wind up on the road.
RIT: Beat Bentley in February Someone reading this is probably thinking I didn’t put any time into this, but I know Ed Trefzger and Chris Lerch don’t want to open their phones on February 16 to a meme or gif from me regarding a bird spearing a tiger.
Robert Morris: Nothing. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Robert Morris has a powerful, physical offense built around tough, rugged defense and stingy goaltending. The first half ended with a down stretch, but the Colonials are still in position to earn a first bye as long as they handle business in the second half of the season. They only play two games against teams currently in the top four.
Robert Morris shouldn’t have a New Year’s resolution because it doesn’t have to change anything. The losses at the end of the first half hurt, but every team goes through its blips. See you in Buffalo…again.
Sacred Heart: Win the state, then win the league. Connecticut will host its in-state tournament at the end of the month when its four Division I teams playoff in a midseason bracket. The Pioneers draw Yale in the first round before getting either Quinnipiac or UConn in the championship/consolation game the next day.
There’s no reason to think the Pioneers will walk away empty handed. They can avoid Quinnipiac, which can match SHU’s style of play, if UConn wins, and I like the team’s chances against both Yale and Connecticut.
From there, it should be a trip watching the Pioneers in the last month, since there’s a chance this team is the “new AIC” looking to pull of a double and head to the national tournament.