January 31, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: Tight league race kicks into high gear

By Allen Lessels

Junior Trevor Gerling and the UConn Huskies head west this weekend for a big clash with Air Force, which sits just two points behind third-place UConn. (Photo/UConn Athletics)

It’s showdown weekend.

The battle lines among the top four teams in the Atlantic Hockey standings are clearly drawn this weekend with five weeks remaining in the regular season.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than No. 2 Bentley facing off against No. 1 Mercyhurst in Erie and No. 3 Connecticut heading west to take on No. 4 Air Force.

The balance at the top is impressive, too. Mercyhurst holds a two-point lead on Bentley in the standings. UConn is two points behind Bentley and two ahead of Air Force.

Robert Morris is two points behind Air Force and Canisius is one point back from there.

There no doubt will be some scoreboard watching taking place and it won’t be limited to the teams up front – folks throughout the league will be looking to see which teams move ahead and which might falter a bit.

In fact, from top to bottom in the standings, there are no ties for position, but there are only two spots where a team trails the team ahead of it by more than two points. Holy Cross is ninth, three points behind RIT, and Army is in 12th, four behind Sacred Heart.

“There’s so much parity,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing.”

Riley’s team goes into the weekend with three wins and has lost its last seven games, but has been playing some good hockey, he said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good things,” Riley said. We just haven’t been able to score the big goal when we need it. We’re close.”

Army is at Robert Morris, which is coming off a sweep of Air Force, for games on Friday and Saturday.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Riley said.

The Black Knights, like everyone else, are gearing up for the stretch run to the postseason and he thinks it’s going to be an interesting race.

“Right now, I think the league tournament is wide open,” he said. “You’ve got a team like Holy Cross – are you kidding me? – it wouldn’t surprise me if they were to battle and win the tournament. Really, going into the tournament it’s whoever is healthy and gets good goaltending can win. It’s going to be anybody’s to win.”

Mercyhurst and Bentley are right at the top of the list of contenders.

The Lakers took a hit when junior goalie Jimmy Sarjeant went down with an injury on Saturday night against Canisius. The Golden Griffins took advantage and rallied to a 7-4 win. The loss snapped a 13-game unbeaten streak in league play for Mercyhurst.

The Lakers are 10-1-3 in their last 14 league games.

Bentley is as well.

Player of the Week

Adrian Ignagni, fr., G, Niagara

Ignagni stopped 69 of the 70 shots he faced in 3-0 and 5-1 wins over RIT. He had 29 saves on Friday night for his first career shutout. Ignagni improved his record to 4-6-2, his goals against average to 3.02 and save percentage to .906.

Games of the week

Bentley at Mercyhurst, Friday and Saturday

The Falcons and Lakers square off in a battle for first place in Erie. The Stanley Cup will be in the house at the Mercyhurst Ice Center on Saturday night in honor of Laker athletic trainer and equipment manager Mike Folga. Folga was equipment manager for the New York Rangers when they won the Cup in 1994.

  1. Mercyhurst (14-10-4, 12-2-3) – The Lakers suffered a blow in Saturday’s game against Canisius when junior goalie Jimmy Sarjeant left with an injury in the second period. Canisius rallied against backup Jordan Tibbett to a 7-4 win.
  2. Bentley (13-8-3, 11-3-3) – Coach Ryan Soderquist picked up his 150th career win in a 5-3 victory over Holy Cross. Sophomore Andrew Gladiuk scored two of the Bentley goals. The Falcons are at Mercyhurst for a pair of games this weekend.
  3. UConn (12-7-4, 10-4-3) – Freshman goalie Robby Nichols stopped 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 win over AIC in the first game of a weekend sweep. It was the first league win for Nichols, who has a 3-0-2 record, 1.76 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
  4. Air Force (14-8-4, 9-5-3) – Air Force’s two losses at Robert Morris marked the first time the Falcons had been swept on the road since November of 2012 at UConn. Air Force has UConn at home on Friday and Saturday.
  5. Canisius (9-13-2, 8-7-2) – The Golden Griffins turned a 3-1 second period deficit into a 7-4 win to earn a split with Mercyhurst. It was the third straight road win for the Griffs, who are at AIC for a pair of games this weekend.
  6. Robert Morris (8-13-3, 8-6-3) – The Colonials stopped Air Force 3-1 and 5-3 for their first sweep of the Pioneers since the 2005-06 season. Junior forward Jeff Jones and sophomore forwards Brandon Denham and Greg Gibson have five-game point streaks.
  7. Niagara (7-14-3, 7-7-3) – The Purple Eagles outscored RIT 8-1 in a weekend series sweep. The Purple Eagles are at Sacred Heart for games on Friday and Saturday. Niagara will try to keep intact its 9-0-1 unbeaten record against the Pioneers.
  8. RIT (8-13-3, 7-9-1) – Sophomore forward Dan Schuler scored RIT’s only goal on the power play in 3-0 and 5-1 losses to Niagara. The Tigers play their next six games at home, starting with a pair against Holy Cross this weekend.
  9. Holy Cross (6-16-2, 5-10-2) – Senior forward Adam Schmidt scored a short-handed goal in a 5-3 loss to Bentley on Saturday and moved to within two points of the career 100-point mark at 44-54-98. Holy Cross is at RIT this weekend.
  10. AIC (6-17-1, 5-11-1) – The Yellow Jackets dropped a pair of one-goal games to UConn. Senior Jon Puskar (11-10-21) and freshman David Norris (3-18-21) lead AIC in scoring. AIC plays Canisius at home this weekend.
  11. Sacred Heart (6-18-0, 5-12-0) – Freshmen linemates Jeff Carroll (four goals, one assist) and Justin Danforth (five assists) each have five points in the last four games. The Pioneers have Niagara at home for a pair this weekend.
  12. Army (3-18-0, 3-14-0) – Junior Maurice Alvarez registered a pair of goals to lead the Black Knights to a 5-2 exhibition win at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday night. Army is at Robert Morris Friday and Saturday.

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