January 5, 2012

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Leaders gaining some separation

By Allen Lessels

RIT got the second half of the season off to a nice start.

Air Force’s kickoff to a long stretch run was more mixed. 

Goalie Branden Komm and Bentley find themselves among the second tier of teams as the second half begins. (photo: Bentley Athletics)

Goalie Branden Komm and Bentley find themselves among the second tier of teams as the second half begins. (photo: Bentley Athletics)

And now, Atlantic Hockey teams turn back to league play with the top nine teams in the standings pretty much divided into two tiers.

“You’ve got a few teams with a boatload of points,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall.

Then there are several more sitting well within striking range of the top.

It starts with Air Force, which holds down the No. 1 spot in the league. But the advantage is far from daunting.

The Falcons have 17 points. Robert Morris, Mercyhurst and RIT are all right behind with 16.

Niagara heads up the next group with 13 points. Holy Cross and Bentley have 12, UConn 11 and Canisius 10.

To make matters a bit more interesting, Air Force took one on the chin last weekend. The Falcons won 2-1 at Colorado College on Friday and then got whacked the next night by Denver, 7-1, at home.

“They dominated the special teams and dominated the goaltending, and that was a good old-fashioned butt kicking,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said afterward. “We haven’t been beaten like this in a long time. This was both humbling and embarrassing.”

Serratore put the onus on himself.

“I’m not getting down on the guys,” he said. “If I’m going to blame anyone, I’ll blame myself for giving them almost a month off and then facing two top 15 teams. We like to give the guys a nice break and we feel that they are fresher in February and March. That is the formula we have used the last few years and it has worked. Last night we showed what we are capable of and tonight showed that we still have some work to do.”

RIT showed what it is capable of over the weekend.

The Tigers took out Ferris State, 3-0, and Lake Superior State, 3-1, on the way to winning the University of Vermont’s holiday tournament.

“I thought we were strong in all aspects over the two games,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We received great goaltending, our special teams were strong and we competed hard all week. This is a great way to start the second half of the season.”

The schedule balances up a little this weekend.

RIT, which has played two more league games than most of the other contenders, plays a pair at Wisconsin before resuming its Atlantic Hockey scheduled at Sacred Heart next weekend.

Games of the Week

Niagara at UConn, Friday and Saturday

UConn climbed to within two points of Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey standings with its 2-0 win over Army in the first round of the UConn Hockey Classic. The Huskies are in eighth place in the standings, Niagara is in fifth.

Holy Cross and Bentley are between the two in a tie for sixth. UConn looks to make a move in Atlantic Hockey with five of its next seven games at home.

Atlantic Hockey power rankings

1. Air Force (10-5-2, 8-2-1 AHA). . . . Five-game win streak ends with 7-1 loss to Denver.

2. RIT (10-6-2, 7-4-2). . . . 3-0 win over Ferris State gives Shane Madolora three shutouts in 12 starts.

3. Robert Morris (9-7-2, 7-2-2). . . . Colonials are 6-0-2 in last eight Atlantic Hockey contests.

4. Mercyhurst (10-8-2, 7-2-2). . . . After two at home with Sacred Heart, Lakers hit the road for the next six.

5. Niagara (5-6-7, 4-2-5). . . . Ryan Murphy’s goal with 54 seconds left earns 3-3 tie with Princeton.

6. Holy Cross (8-9-0, 6-4-0) . . . Crusaders host Air Force for a pair.

7. Bentley (5-9-3, 5-3-2). . . . Falcons try to bounce back from a 9-3 loss to Yale vs. Robert Morris.

8. UConn (6-10-2, 5-6-1). . . . Huskies 4-for-9 on power play in 2-0 win over Army and 4-3 OT loss to UMass-Lowell

9. Canisius (4-11-3, 4-5-2). . . . Canisius seeks first win since Nov. 27 in series at Army.

10. Army (2-9-6, 1-7-4). . . . Black Knights face Canisius, look to build off second win.

11. AIC (3-14-2, 2-9-2). . . Yellow Jackets must wait for next game, at Rensselaer on Jan. 10.

12. Sacred Heart (1-16-1, 0-10-1). . . . Pioneers scoring 2.28 goals a game, allowing 5.33.

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