This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Canisius looking to ‘put the pedal down all the time’ with Bentley on tap to open playoffs

Canisius freshman Keaton Mastrodonato has collected 10 goals and 17 points heading into the first round of AHA playoffs (photo: Marshal Filipowicz/Canisius Athletics).

In Atlantic Hockey, all 11 teams make the postseason tournament.

No matter what kind of regular season you’ve had, the slate is wiped clean and second chances are offered.

Of course, the road is harder for teams in the lower half of the standings, but in recent years, teams as low as the eighth seed have made it to Rochester and now Buffalo for championship weekend.

Canisius is the ninth seed, coming off an up-and-down regular season that saw the Golden Griffins start slow, string together some wins around the holidays, and play .500 for the second half of the season.

Like several AHA teams, Canisius is young this season, with 10 freshman on the roster. Veteran leadership is critical, and Canisius has it, on and off the ice, from senior captain Matt Hoover, whose 31 points lead the team, as well as classmates Nick Hutchison (16 goals to lead the team) and Matt Stief (22 points as a defenseman).

“It feels like a different team than what we had to start with,” said Canisius coach Trevor Large. “Young guys have developed along the way thanks to our older guys, who have been great leaders.”

Hoover, Hutchison and Stief are rewriting record books at Canisius. Steif is now second all-time in assists by a defenseman, while Hutchison’s 58 career goals is third all-time. Hoover needs two more points to crack the career century mark.

First-year players who are making their mark include forward Keaton Mastrodonato, who has 17 points so far, 14 of them coming in the second half of the season. Rookie Jacob Barczewski has seen the majority of time in net, posting a .911 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA.

“It’s been exciting to see the development of our younger guys,” said Large. “Keaton has taken a big step. He started to play more assertively, and obviously chipping in some goals has boosted his confidence.

“And Jacob Barcewski was injured a little bit earlier in the season but since Christmas, he’s been fantastic.”

The Golden Griffins travel to Bentley for a first-round series after ending the regular season with a sweep of rival Mercyhurst.

But Large doesn’t believe in momentum.

“I don’t think you can carry momentum from one game to another or from week to week, or from the regular season to the playoffs,” he said.

“You need to start fresh and put the pedal down all the time, especially in the playoffs, where every game is so important.

“We’re going to focus on one game at a time.”

Cloudy crystal ball

Prior to the beginning of the season, the league’s coaches were polled to predict the final standings. Dan Rubin and I also made our guesses. How’d we all do?

TeamActual finishCoaches' predictionDan's predictionChris' prediction
American International1131
Sacred Heart2444
Army West Point48107
Air ForceT-6666
Robert MorrisT-6788
Holy Cross1010710

In hindsight, the coaches and columnists should have been more bullish on Army West Point, which exceeded expectations the most.

On the other hand, Niagara and Bentley finished lower than predicted.

Alternate history

The first regular season using the new tiebreaking system is now in the books.

In case you missed it, Atlantic Hockey adopted tiebreakers this season, using a 3-on-3 for five minutes and a potential sudden death shootout if nothing is settled after the traditional five minute overtime.

The game goes into the books as a tie if still deadlocked after the five minute five-on-five overtime, and the three-on-three and possible shootout is used to award an extra point to the winner of the tiebreaker.

Dan and I touched on this throughout the season, but here are the final seedings under the old system (each game worth two points, one point each for a tie) versus the new system:

TeamNew systemOld system
American International11
Sacred Heart22
Army West Point44
Air Force68
Robert Morris77
Holy Cross1010

Air Force, which won five of six tiebreakers (three by 3-on-3 and two by shootout) benefited the most, moving from what would have been an eighth seed to a sixth.

Bentley, which was unable to convert on two tiebreaker opportunities, would have been a No. 5 seed (and earned a bye) under the old system. Instead, it wound up eighth.

Here are the records of Atlantic Hockey teams in tiebreakers this season, sorted by winning percentage:

Army West Point3-0
Air Force5-1
Holy Cross2-1
Robert Morris3-2
Sacred Heart0-2
American International0-1

And so it begins

Here are your first round Atlantic Hockey tournament matchups:

No. 11 Mercyhurst at No. 6 Air Force

Head to head so far: Air Force had a win and a 3-on-3 victory to earn five of six points.

Key players for Mercyhurst: Senior forward James Anderson (10-10-20), sophomore forward Steven Ipri (10-8-18), senior goalie Garrett Metcalf (.907 SV%, 3.52 GAA).

Key players for Air Force: Senior Brady Tomlak (6-16-24), junior defenseman Zack Mirageas (3-18-21), sophomore goalie Alex Schilling (.901 SV%, 2.49 GAA)

Why Air Force will win: The Falcons tend to peak at the right time, and that starts now.

Why Mercyhurst will win: Why not? Eleven seeds haven’t been pushovers in recent years. Since the league adopted this 11-team format in 2015, teams in the No. 11 spot are 3-2 vs. No. 6 seeds. All five series between No.11 and No 6 have gone three games.

No. 10 Holy Cross at No. 7 Robert Morris

Head to head so far: The teams split their only series.

Key players for Holy Cross: Sophomore forward Connor Jean (12-5-17), senior forward Neil Robinson (9-13-22), freshman goalie Matt Radomsky (.899 SV%, 2.96 GAA).

Key players for Robert Morris: Senior goalie Justin Kapelmaster (.923 SV%, 2.70 GAA), junior forward Nick Prkusic (11-16-27), senior forward Jacob Coleman (8-12-20).

Why Holy Cross will win: The last win for the Crusaders was back on Feb. 14 — against Robert Morris.

Why Robert Morris will win: The Colonials seem to find another gear in the AHA tournament, reaching at least the semifinals each of the last six seasons, including years when they were the seventh and eighth seed.

No. 9 Canisius at No. 8 Bentley

Head to head so far: The teams tied twice, with Canisius picking up the extra point each time.

Key players for Canisius: Senior forward Matt Hoover (14-17-31), senior forward Nick Hutchison (16-12-28), freshman goalie Jacob Barczewski (.911 SV%, 2.72 GAA).

Key players for Bentley: Sophomore forward Jakov Novak (16-14-30), senior forward Jonathan Desbiens (12-14-26), freshman forward Matt Gosiewski (10-13-23).

Why Canisius will win: The Golden Griffins took four out of six points at Bentley back in January.

Why Bentley will win: The Falcons are playing some of their best hockey of the season: 7-3 in their last 10 games.