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.