December 15, 2011

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Cream is rising to the top

by Allen Lessels

RIT goalie Shane Madolora (photo: RIT Athletics)

RIT pulled within a point of first place in Atlantic Hockey with a sweep of AIC last weekend and the standings have tightened up a bit as the league hits its holiday break.

No surprise there.

On either count.

The Tigers have won at least a share of the regular season championship in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five, and are gunning for another title. The only year they didn’t win the championship, in 2007-08, they were second to Army and the one year they were forced to share the crown -- 2008-09 -- Air Force tied them in points.

Air Force, which has dominated the league tournament in the same manner RIT has owned the regular season, currently sits in the top spot with 17 points. RIT and Mercyhurst each have 16 points.
RIT can conceivably be in first place by Saturday night. The Tigers play at Robert Morris on Saturday.

The flip side of that equation is that Robert Morris has a chance to create a three-way tie for second. The Colonials are in fourth place with 14 points.

Five more teams -- Niagara (13), Holy Cross (12), Bentley (12), Canisius (10) and Connecticut (9) -- are within five points of Robert Morris.

All of it bodes well for an entertaining and competitive second half of the season.

Air Force, Mercyhurst, RIT and the other leaders certainly plan to give no ground. But the teams below have every intention of getting into the mix.

“Our last three games, we’ve really stepped it up,” said Cole Schneider, UConn’s leading scorer. “The record may not show it, but at times we outplayed the other teams and it’s definitely a step in the right direction. When we come back from break, I think we’re going to be a tough team to play.”

The Huskies split a series with RIT two weeks ago and on Friday dropped a 4-2 decision to Bentley in a game that was tied 2-2 early in the third period and included an empty-net goal.

Bentley, too, is interested in making some noise in the stretch run.
The Falcons put up a 9-13-5 record in the league last year. They are 5-3-2 going into the holidays.

“We definitely think we have the talent, especially when we play the game we want to play,” said sophomore goaltender Branden Komm. “We’re excited about the second half.”

They aren’t the only ones.

Game of the Week

RIT at Robert Morris, Saturday

An easy choice for Game of the Week, considering it’s the only game with everyone else already in their holiday break. It’s an attractive game in any case, as both teams are chasing first place in Atlantic Hockey.

The Colonials are unbeaten in their last seven. This is the first of nine straight road games for RIT, which has won seven of its last eight league games. The Tigers don’t play at home again until Mercyhurst comes to town for a two-game set on Jan. 27-28.

Atlantic Hockey power rankings

1. Air Force (9-4-2, 8-2-1 AHA). . . . Four straight wins is a season high.

2. RIT (8-5-2, 7-3-2). . . . Tigers are 7-1-0 in last eight league games.

3. Mercyhurst (8-8-2, 7-2-2). . . . Two power-play goals in 36 seconds key 6-4 win over Canisius.

4. Holy Cross (8-7-0, 6-4-0) . . . A short-handed goal and two PP goals beat Army 3-1.

5. Robert Morris (8-6-2, 6-2-2). . . . 2-1 win over Canisius follows 2-2 tie with Niagara.

6. Niagara (5-5-6, 4-2-5). . . . Purple Eagles unbeaten in last six at 3-0-3.

7. Bentley (5-8-3, 5-3-2). . . . After 4-2 win at UConn, Falcons are off until Jan. 1 at Yale.

8. UConn (5-9-2, 4-6-1). . . . Hosts Army next in first round of UConn Classic on Dec. 29.

9. Canisius (4-10-3, 4-5-2). . . . Losing streak at four with losses to Mercyhurst and Robert Morris.

10. Army (1-8-6, 1-6-4). . . . Winless in last eight at 0-4-4.

11. AIC (3-14-2, 2-9-2). . . Yellow Jackets don’t play again until Jan. 10 at Rensselaer.

12. Sacred Heart (1-16-1, 0-10-1). . . . Outscored 10-2 in losses to Quinnipiac and Dartmouth.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.