Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this college hockey season has been like no other.
Not just for the 10 teams that didn’t play this year, but for 51 teams coming back after an abrupt ending to last season and trying to play in the midst of a pandemic.
Arizona State is playing all of its games on the road. Rochester Institute of Technology had its season canceled, then reinstated. Every team has faced big challenges and made big sacrifices just to play.
Perhaps Canisius has had the toughest go of all. Up until last week, the Golden Griffins had been able to play just five times this season.
Canisius wasn’t able to play in the month of December and then was idle again for almost all of January. If not for a two-game series with Mercyhurst on Jan. 2-3, Trevor Large’s team would have been on the sidelines from Nov. 29-Jan. 30.
That’s a lot of ground to make up if the Golden Griffins want to get in 13 games, which is how many a team needs in order to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Canisius was back in action on Feb. 9, looking to get in eight games in the final 18 days of the regular season. So far, the Golden Griffins are making the most of their opportunities, playing three times last week and winning all three games.
“It’s been a journey,” said Large. “The main thing is making sure that guys are healthy and from a COVID standpoint, as safe as they can be.”
At 6-2-0, Canisius is currently in second place in the Atlantic Hockey standings, which are kept this season based on points percentage. The Griffs have captured 18 out of a possible 24 points so far.
The magic formula has been special teams and goaltending. Canisius has the best power play (22.2%) and penalty kill (92.3%) in the conference. The PK is ranked third nationally.
Large said his team generates energy from its penalty kill, and looks to his goaltending tandem of junior Matt Ladd and sophomore Jacob Barczewski to lead the way.
“The penalty kill starts with them, and they are both playing at an unbelievably high level,” said Large.
“Taylor Nelson, one of our assistants, works on the penalty kill. We’ve had good structure and a commitment to blocking shots that’s been refreshing to see. It pays off.”
Large says the power play, while successful, has been a work in progress.
“The time off has hindered the power play,” he said. “You need real game reps to get any momentum going.
“(The power play) hasn’t been pretty but it’s producing. We’re getting goals because our players are playing together and know the importance of getting to the crease area. The goals are coming from effort and the player’s IQ”
Ladd and Barczewski have split time in net, each putting up impressive numbers. Ladd is 3-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Barczewski is also 3-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA and a .942 save percentage.
The splitting of netminding duties arose from the Griffs’ inactivity over the past couple of months.
“From the beginning of the year (splitting time) was a potential option,” said Large. “The (small) amount of games has created that situation as well.
“Early in the year, we wanted to get them both in. But then you take a month off. You want to try to give them both time in that situation to stay fresh.”
Now it’s clearly an advantage for Canisius. Both are playing well, and primed for a grueling finish to the season.
“You have to pay attention to workload at this point,” said Large. “Both are young, but both have experience and won big games for us. Both will play. They’re getting the job done, pushing each other and cheering for each other.”
The final stretch includes a trip to Air Force and a closing set with arch-rival Niagara. The Golden Griffins will look to solidify their spot in the standings while getting in all of their remaining schedule
“The bottom line is that we want to play,” said Large. “It’s important to our players, important to our seniors.”
Where things stand
Because of the unbalanced league schedule, Atlantic Hockey teams are being ranked and seeded this season using a points percentage: the number of points won divided by the total points possible.
A regulation win is worth three points, while a victory in the 3-on-3 overtime or the shootout is worth two points, with a point going to the opponent.
Based on games through Feb. 14, here are the current standings:
1. AIC 32/36 .889
2. Canisius 18/24 .750
3. RMU 29/39 .743
4. AWP 28/42 .667
5. RIT 17/33 .515
6. Mercyhurst 28/42 .487
7. SHU 13/30 .433
8. Bentley 13/29 .333
9. Niagara 9/33 .273
10. Holy Cross .233
11. Air Force .121
Streaking Black Knights
The longest unbeaten streak in Division I belongs to Army West Point. The Black Knights, fresh off a sweep of Bentley, are 7-0-1 in their last eight games.
The streak has featured:
– Four one-goal games
– Three overtime games
– One shootout
– Five games that saw the Black Nights surrender the first goal
As a result, Army West Point has gained 21 of a possible 24 points over this stretch, vaulting them into fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey standings.
Two Atlantic Hockey players, both from Robert Morris, have been named as candidates for the Senior CLASS award.
Candidates demonstrate notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.
Nick Prkusic and Nick Jenny from Robert Morris are two of 15 candidates. The list will be narrowed to 10 finalists in a couple of weeks, with the winner announced at the Frozen Four.
Since the award was establish in 2007, three Atlantic Hockey players have won: Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux (2011) and Kyle Haak (2019) and Army West Point’s Cheyne Rocha (2013).