This Week in Atlantic Hockey: RIT enduring ’emotional roller coaster’ as 2020-21 season moves forward, but ‘grateful to be playing’

RIT junior Will Calverley leads the Tigers in scoring thus far with six goals and 16 points over just 10 games (photo: RIT Athletics).

Rochester Institute of Technology has had seven of its scheduled 17 games postposed so far this season, about average for teams in Atlantic Hockey.

Some schools have been able to get the majority of their schedule in, like Niagara (13 games played so far, 11 in league play), American International (13 games played, nine in conference) and Robert Morris (14 games played, 10 in league play).

Other teams have been less fortunate: Sacred Heart has played just three league games so far (five overall); Canisius has been able to suit up just four times, all conference games.

The Tigers, who came close to not having a season at all, have had zero players and staff test positive for the coronavirus so far.

“We’ve done a good job,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We’ve erred on the side of caution. Plus we’ve been able to limit interactions. Our students (had been sent home) before our first game, and they’re still gone. Campus has been a ghost town.”

Having a slew of cancellations, including a current stretch of five straight, have left the Tigers able to only practice against each other.

“We’re grateful for that,” said Wilson. “To be able to come to practice every day and have a chance to play games.”

To minimize the risk, RIT didn’t send any players home for Christmas.

“Players have made sacrifices and you hope they get rewarded by being able to play games,” said Wilson. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”

The Tigers have played .500 hockey so far, 4-4-2 overall and 2-2-1 in league play, good for sixth in the Atlantic Hockey standings, which are being kept by winning percentage this season.

Junior Will Calverley leads the team in goals (six) and points (18) while senior Logan Drackett has started eight of the RIT’s 10 games to date with a 3-3-2 record to go along with a 3.34 GAA and a .878 save percentage.

With just six weeks left in the regular season, teams will be in a mad dash to make up as many games as possible, with the likelihood of even more postponements to come.

Teams need to play 13 games to be eligible for the NCAA tournament. That could cause problems for teams like Canisius, Sacred Heart and Bentley, who have less than half that number right now.

It’s currently up to coaches to try to get these games in, but Wilson thinks the league will have to coordinate things down the stretch.

“I don’t think it should be left up to the coaches,” he said. “Coaches are always going to do what’s best for their team, that’s expected.

“I like what Hockey East is doing (with its scheduling). We’ll need (the league to establish) competitive balance.”

For schools like RIT with zero or few positive tests, the worry is that an outbreak could come at the worst possible time — the postseason.

“Our students come back to campus next week,” said Wilson. “I’m a little nervous about that, but we’ll continue to do what’s right. Our team, our school, the league — we’re all putting player safety first. Games are important, but not as important as that.

“We’re grateful to be playing.”

Changing on the fly

With the Atlantic Hockey schedule changing by the hour with postponements due to COVID-19 protocols, teams are looking to pick up games on the fly.

This past week, a total of 12 games were postposed, and three of the four games that were actually played weren’t on the schedule until a few days prior.

Air Force was forced to postpone last weekend’s series with rival Army West Point, but the Black Knights were able to pick up a pair of games with Long Island University.

That may have something to do with the coaches. LIU’s Brett Riley, leading the Sharks in their inaugural season, is the nephew of Black Knights coach Brian Riley, in his 17th season behind the West Point bench.

The teams split the series, with the Black Knights opening with a 5-2 win on Friday behind a hat-trick from senior Mason Krueger. Krueger entered the game as the leading active career goal scorer for Army (21 goals), but had failed to light the lamp this season until the outburst on Friday.

LIU came back the next day with a 3-2 overtime win, with rookie defenseman Jordan DiCicco getting the game-winner in the extra frame.

Holy Cross was set to return to play for the first time since Dec. 23 but its games with Sacred Heart had to be rescheduled. American International was supposed to tangle with Bentley, but that was also called off.

That gave the Yellow Jackets and Crusaders a chance to make up one of their postponed games, and their Sunday game was a barn-burner, with AIC coming away with a 1-0 win.

Redshirt freshman goaltender Jake Kucharski, who sat out last season after transferring from Providence, recorded his first career shutout, stopping all 21 shots he faced.

Another rookie, forward Julius Janhonen, scored the game’s lone goal late in the first period.

Holy Cross netminder Erik Gordon took the hard-luck loss, making 30 saves.

Looking ahead, a total of 12 games are on the Atlantic Hockey schedule this week. Five have already been postponed.

Fingers crossed on the rest.

Miss me?

This is my first column of the season, and I’m looking forward to more.

A big thanks to Dan Rubin for carrying the load while I was dealing with some health issues.

I’m psyched to be back.

To quote one of the league’s coaches, “LFG.”

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