November 22, 2011

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Middle ground suits AIC

By Allan Lessels

AIC has been picking up league points on a regular basis in the early going of the season and hits the Thanksgiving break in the middle of the Atlantic Hockey pack. 

AIC goalie Ben Meisner (photo: AIC)

AIC goalie Ben Meisner (photo: AIC)

“It could always be better,” said senior captain Nielsson Arcibal. “But we’re off to a better start than in past years.”

The Yellow Jackets have made a point of valuing points each and every night through the long season.

“You kind of look at the standings at the end of the year, and at those games where we could have won and let it slip away,” Arcibal said. “We’ve talked about how we can’t let points slip away.”

The team has collected at least a point in three of its last four games. In its last two games, AIC tied UConn, 2-2, and then Army, 3-3. Before that, it split a weekend series with Robert Morris.

There are a dozen more prime-time points on the table between now and the Christmas break.

First, Canisius comes to town for games on Saturday and Sunday. AIC and Canisius enter the weekend in a three-way tie for sixth place in the standings with Holy Cross.

The Yellow Jackets follow up with series against the league’s premier teams. They have Air Force at home on Dec. 2 and 3 and are at RIT on Dec. 9 and 10 to close out the pre-New Year’s portion of the schedule.

Last year in the regular season, AIC lost its two games at Canisius, and split with both Air Force and RIT.

Junior goalie Ben Meisner has backboned the early start. He made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season, and fifth of his career, against Robert Morris in a 2-0 win, and had 33 saves in the tie with UConn.

He takes a 2-3-2 record in league games -- with a .935 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against mark -- into the Canisius weekend.

Junior Steve Mele, sophomore Jon Puskar and senior Michael Penny each had nine points to lead the offense going into a game at Brown on Tuesday.

“We have a good returning group,” said AIC coach Gary Wright. “We averaged more goals a game than we had been last year and four of our top five scorers returned. Looking through the league, we had just about as many goals returning as maybe seven or eight teams in the league.”

Most often, Wright said, his team has been near the bottom of the league in that department.

“Having Meisner coming back a year older is good, too,” the coach said, “and our last couple of recruiting classes have been a little stronger.”

In the end, the Yellow Jackets hope, it all adds up to more points and thus a better place in the standings.

The initial returns are promising.

So far, AIC has been able to grab at least a point in four of its seven games. Last year, the Yellow Jackets, who have finished last and a point behind the spot above them the last two seasons, managed points in eight of their 27 games.

Games of the Week

UConn at Air Force, Friday and Saturday

Both teams look to get back on a winning track. UConn lost at Yale, 5-3, on Saturday and is 1-3-1 in its last five. Air Force hasn’t played since a 3-1 loss at RIT and 3-2 setback at Mercyhurst on Nov. 11 and 12.

The Huskies return from Colorado Springs to play seven straight and 10 of their next 12 at home, starting with a pair against RIT on Dec. 2 and 3. The Falcons took three points in Storrs in January with a 2-1 win and 5-5 tie.

Atlantic Hockey power ratings

1. Mercyhurst (6-5-1, 5-1-1 AHA). . . . Only Lakers league game decided by more than a goal was a 2-0 win that included empty-netter.

2. RIT (5-3-2, 4-2-2). . . . Shane Madolora 23-save shutout sparked sweep of Holy Cross.

3. Air Force (5-4-2, 4-2-1). . . . After last weekend off, hosts UConn Friday and Saturday.

4. Bentley (4-7-2, 4-2-1). . . . Two goals allowed, one point gained in 0-0 tie, 2-1 loss at Mercyhurst.

5. UConn (4-5-2, 3-2-1). . . . Freshman Brant Harris leads Huskies in scoring with 9-4-13.

6. Canisius (2-6-3, 2-1-2). . . .Pair at AIC start stretch of eight on road in next nine.

7. Holy Cross (4-6-0, 3-4-0). . . . Brown on Saturday starts stretch of five straight at home.

8. Niagara (2-4-3, 1-2-2). . . . Purple Eagles not home again until Jan. 13 vs. Army.

9. Robert Morris (4-6-0, 2-2-0). . . . Seven league games before Christmas, starting with Army this weekend.

10. AIC (2-8-2, 2-3-2). . . . Ties in last two earn league points.

11. Army (1-5-4, 1-3-2). . . . All four of freshman defenseman Maurice Alvarez’s points came in last four games.

12. Sacred Heart (0-11-0, 0-7-0). . . . Seven goals scored, but nothing to show for last two games.

Allen Lessels can be reached at