March 7, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: Here we go again?

By Allen Lessels

So here sits Canisius, tied for seventh in the Atlantic Hockey standings and awarded the No. 7 seed for the league tournament that begins this weekend.

Sound familiar? Ring at least a bit of a bell?

Dave Smith’s crew, some might recall, tied for seventh in the standings last year and went into the tournament as the No. 7 seed.

The Golden Griffins, led by the crunch-time goaltending of junior Tony Capobianco, proceeded to roll right through the whole darn thing to their first league tournament title and first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

There, Canisius led Quinnipiac 3-1 early in the third period before falling 4-3.

Now the Golden Griffins will try to repeat the process.

Eleven other Atlantic Hockey teams have the same idea.

“That’s the beauty of the playoffs,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “Everybody’s starting over. It’s a clean slate. Whether you had a great year or one that was not so great, if you’re in it, you have a chance to win it.”

Mercyhurst gets to start from the front. The Lakers clinched their first regular season league championship with a weekend to spare and are the No. 1 seed, followed by Bentley at No. 2, Air Force at No. 3 and Connecticut at No. 4.

Those four get this weekend off and wait to see how the dust settles after what should be an entertaining first round of best-of-three series.

The pairings have No. 12 Army at No. 5 Robert Morris, No. 11 AIC at No. 6 Niagara, No. 10 Sacred Heart at No. 7 Canisius and No. 9 RIT at No. 8 Holy Cross.

There are no givens in the matchups.

Sacred Heart and Canisius split their regular season series and so did AIC and Niagara. Holy Cross took three points at RIT.

Army lost its two games against Robert Morris. The Black Knights and Colonials were tied at 4-4 with less than five minutes to go in the second game before Robert Morris pulled way to a 6-4 win. 

“That’s our league,” Gotkin said. “We played Army in January and won both games 3-1. Both were tight games and we left West Point feeling real fortunate that we won those games. They’re in 12th place and we felt luck to beat them.”

So now it begins.

Will Canisius reprise last year’s script and go on another championship run? Will it be Holy Cross, RIT, Sacred Heart or someone else this time around?

Will a team, or teams, surviving this weekend pull an upset and get past the quarterfinals, too, and move on to the league championship series at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.?

Stay tuned.

“It’s exciting stuff,” Gotkin said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Player of the Week

Mike Rotolo, fr., G, RIT

Rotolo led the Tigers to a season-ending sweep of Canisius. He stopped 53 of the 54 shots he faced and put up 1-0 and 3-1 wins. He made 27 saves on Friday for his second shutout of the season and has won his last three starts.

Series of the week

RIT at Holy Cross

The Crusaders are the No. 8 seed and the Tigers No. 9 in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Holy Cross took three points in its series at RIT with a 3-3 tie on Jan. 31 and a 4-2 victory the next night.

Atlantic Hockey Power Rankings

  1. Mercyhurst (19-12-7, 17-4-6) – Senior forward Daniel O’Donoghue scored a couple of goals and junior goalie Jordan Tibbett had 48 saves in a 5-2 win at Robert Morris on Saturday. The teams tied 5-5 on Friday at Mercyhurst.
  2. Bentley (18-12-4, 16-7-4) – Senior forward Brett Gensler became Atlantic Hockey’s all-time leading scorer with a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win over AIC on Friday. Gensler has 70 goals and 89 assists for 159 points in 142 career games.  
  3. UConn (18-12-4, 15-9-3) – Senior Billy Latta came up with a couple of huge goals in a 4-3 OT win at Sacred Heart on Friday. He scored an extra attacker goal with 37 seconds left in regulation to tie it and got the winner with 42 seconds to go in OT.
  4. Air Force (20-12-4, 15-9-3) – Senior goalie Jason Torf made 16 saves in a 4-1 loss on Friday and 34 in a 4-1 win on Saturday at Niagara. The Falcons pulled down the No. 4 seed and now wait to see who they face in a quarterfinal series at home.
  5. Robert Morris (13-16-5, 13-9-5) – Robert Morris managed only one point out of a series with Mercyhurst. Sophomore forward Brandon Denham had a goal and three assists in a 5-5 tie on Friday. The Colonials play host to Army this weekend.
  6. Niagara (11-18-5, 11-11-5) – Niagara beat Air Force 4-1 at home on Friday and lost the next night by the same score. AIC comes to town for the quarterfinals. Freshman Jackson Teichroeb needed only 12 saves to shut out AIC, 5-0, on Jan. 11 at Niagara.
  7. Canisius (12-19-3, 11-13-3) – The Golden Griffins take a two-game losing streak into the playoffs after a pair of losses to RIT. Canisius plays host to Sacred Heart this weekend. The teams split a pair of one-goal games at Sacred Heart in January.
  8. Holy Cross (12-19-3, 11-13-3) – The Crusaders lost at home to Army on Friday night and rebounded with a 2-0 win at West Point behind Matt Ginn’s 27-save effort. It was the junior’s first shutout of the season, fourth of his career.
  9. RIT (11-18-5, 10-14-3) – The Tigers won at Canisius, 1-0 on Friday, and beat the Griffs 3-1 at home on Saturday and take a three-game win streak into the playoffs. RIT is at Holy Cross for the quarterfinals.
  10. Sacred Heart (12-22-0, 11-16-0) – Junior Drew George scored the winner on the power play in the second period in Sacred Heart’s 2-1 win over UConn on Saturday. The Pioneers could not close out the Huskies on Friday night and lost, 4-3, in overtime.
  11. AIC (10-23-1, 9-17-1) – The Yellow Jackets have lost four straight games going into the playoffs and have scored a single goal in three of the defeats. AIC is at Niagara this weekend. The Yellow Jackets split a pair of games there in January.
  12. Army (5-26-0, 5-22-0) – Freshman goalie Parker Gahagen had 45 saves in Army’s 5-2 win at Holy Cross on Friday night. Army is at Robert Morris this weekend. The Black Knights lost a pair of games there this season, 4-0 on Jan. 31 and 6-4 on Feb. 1.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com