RIT coach Wayne Wilson saw this coming.
The season had yet to begin, and he fully expected new arrivals Niagara and Robert Morris to jump right into the top tier of Atlantic Hockey teams.
“I like adding those teams,” Wilson said back in September. “I think both Niagara and Robert Morris give our league even more strength.”
He picked both the Purple Eagles and Colonials to finish in the top four in the preseason coaches poll.
As January comes to an end, Niagara and Robert Morris, the teams that came over from College Hockey America, are giving chase to first-place RIT in the standings.
And they’re headed for a showdown.
Niagara and Robert Morris square off for a pair this weekend. They play Friday night at Niagara and the next night at Robert Morris.
Robert Morris needs to get back on track a bit. The Colonials have been neck-and-neck with Niagara for most of the last two months but slipped back a little last weekend when they managed a single point in a series at Army.
Niagara, meanwhile, swept Sacred Heart at home and moved to within four points of RIT.
Robert Morris is in third place, three points behind Niagara, but must watch out below, too, with Air Force just a point back and Mercyhurst and Canisius two points behind that.
Seniors lead both Niagara and Robert Morris in scoring.
Niagara’s Brian Hazcyk and Paul Zanette have been on fire since being put on either side of sophomore center Giancarlo Iuorio just after Thanksgiving.
Haczyk ran his point-scoring streak to a school-record 20 games in the sweep of Sacred Heart.
“It’s an honor to have this record,” Haczyk said on the team’s website. “It feels great, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. We really are clicking right now.”
Zanette, who had three goals and three assists in the Sacred Heart series, is at 21-16-37 for the season and Haczyk at 21-14-35.
Senior forward Nathan Longpre leads Robert Morris with 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points and senior defenseman Denny Urban is close behind at 7-22-29.
Player of the Week
Cory Conacher, sr., Canisius
Two goals in a 6-4 series opening win against AIC on Sunday night and two more on Monday in an 8-3 win for the sweep give Conacher a Division 1 team-record 53 for his career. Jason Weeks (2006-10) held the old mark of 50.
UConn at Holy Cross, Friday and Saturday
The Huskies and Crusaders each picked up a single point in the standings last weekend and are looking for more. UConn is in seventh place in the league, and Holy Cross is a point behind, tied with Army for eighth.
Around Atlantic Hockey
Winless in its past eight games, AIC plays a home-and-home series with Sacred Heart this weekend. The Yellow Jackets are in 12th place in the league, two points behind Sacred Heart. … Sophomore forward Adam Pleskach leads AIC in scoring at 8-8-16. … Junior Michael Penny is at 6-6-12 and senior Tom Mele at 7-5-12.
Seven different players scored goals in Air Force’s three-point weekend — a 2-1 win and 5-5 tie — at UConn. … The Falcons scored four power-play goals in nine chances and killed off 10 of 11 UConn power plays. … Canisius heads to Colorado Springs for games Friday and Saturday. Air Force is in fourth place in the league and Canisius is two points back in the standings, tied for fifth with Mercyhurst.
Sophomore goalie Ryan Leets stopped 73 of 76 shots to help the Black Knights to a 3-1 win and 2-2 tie and three points against Robert Morris. Leets and the Army penalty-killers did not allow a goal on 12 Robert Morris power plays. … Junior forward Mike Hull had a goal and an assist in each game and has eight points in his past four games. … Army is at Bentley for a pair this weekend.
The Falcons bounced back nicely from an 8-2 loss at home to Mercyhurst on Friday night with a 3-2 win on Saturday. … They then dropped an 8-5 decision at UMass-Lowell on Tuesday. … Freshman Jared Rickford and Brett Gensler scored 26 seconds apart early in the second period to tie the Lowell game, but the host team eventually pulled away. … The Falcons trail Army and Holy Cross by two points in the league standings and play Army twice at home this weekend.
Senior center Vincent Scarsella, along with Cory Conacher, had a big weekend in the sweep over AIC. Conacher scored four goals and Scarsella had two goals and four assists. … The Griffs now take aim at Air Force, which is two points ahead of them in the league standings, in two games in Colorado. … The series between the teams is tied at 5-5-3, and Canisius won the last two games at Air Force, 5-4 and 4-2, in 2009.
After dropping the weekend opener to Air Force, 2-1, the Huskies came back for a 5-5 tie in the finale. Twice in the third period, Air Force took the lead and twice UConn battled back to tie it. Senior forward Andrew Olson had the first UConn goal in the period and senior Jason Krispel the second. … UConn is at Holy Cross for a pair of games this weekend.
The Crusaders lost 4-0 to RIT on Friday night and earned a point out of the weekend with a 3-3 tie on Saturday. … Junior defenseman Mike Daly (Burlington, Vt.) had a hand in all three Holy Cross goals. He assisted on the first two and scored the final one to tie it 3-3 with 3:38 left in regulation. … Holy Cross dropped a 2-1 decision to UConn, this weekend’s opponent, Dec. 29.
Sophomore Phil Ginand (Milford, Mass.), senior Jeff Terminesi and freshman Daniel O’Donoghue each picked up four points in a split with Bentley. … Sophomore Paul Chiasson scored a pair of goals in Friday night’s 8-2 win. … The Lakers are at RIT for a single game on Saturday night. RIT won a pair of 4-2 games at Mercyhurst on Dec. 10 and 11.
Among their 21 goals each, senior linemates Paul Zanette and Brian Haczyk have four game-winners apiece. Haczyk has eight power-play goals and Zanette seven. Zanette has three shorthanded goals and Haczyk has two. … Junior Chris Noonan has a 6-2-1 record with a 2.82 goals-against average and save percentage of .905. Freshman Cody Campbell is at 3-1-0 with a 2.50 GAA and .916 save percentage since coming in at midseason.
Senior Denny Urban assisted on both Robert Morris goals in a 2-2 tie at Army on Saturday to become the school’s first defenseman to pass the 100-point mark. He’s at 27-74-101 for his career. … The Colonials open a home-and-home series at Niagara on Friday night and are looking for their first league road win since a 4-2 triumph at Holy Cross on Nov. 5.
Sophomore Shane Madolora had 22 saves on Friday night against Holy Cross saves for his second shutout of the season. The next night he had 37 saves, including three huge ones in the final minute of regulation, in a 3-3 tie. Freshman forward Ben Lynch scored a pair of goals on Saturday night. … The Tigers put a 10-game unbeaten streak in league games (7-0-3) on the line against Mercyhurst in a single weekend contest at home on Saturday night.
The Pioneers lost a pair of games to Niagara last weekend and were thumped, 7-1, by No. 19 Princeton on Tuesday night. They will try to rebound in a home-and-home series against AIC this weekend. The series opens at the Milford Ice Pavilion on Friday night and moves to West Springfield, Mass., on Saturday night. … Sacred Heart beat AIC, 4-2, on Nov. 6 at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org