So it comes down to this.
Niagara and RIT squared off in Rochester, N.Y., way back on Oct. 8 in the first Atlantic Hockey game of the season and managed to settle absolutely nothing.
Here we are, nearly five months later, and likewise little is settled in the league heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Niagara and RIT played to a 0-0 tie that October night. Those two teams go back at this weekend, Friday at Niagara and Saturday at RIT, and as two of the top teams in the standings they make up one of the marquee match-ups on the schedule.
There are plenty of other games that stand to have a bearing on how the league standings shake out.
The battle for byes, and playoff positions, grabs the spotlight.
“We’re three points out of first, but could also come in seventh,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “This weekend like a little warm-up for the playoffs. It’s actually just like the playoffs only you don’t have to go home if you lose. It’s a good dress rehearsal.”
Seven teams are in the running for the top four spots in the standings. The top four teams earn byes and get a break the first weekend of the playoffs and can work on fine-tuning their games and getting healthy, and do not have to worry about being knocked out of the tournament.
All the teams, including the one that secures a regular season championship this weekend, will be worrying soon enough.
“The team that wins our league championship this year should feel good about what it’s accomplished,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “But it can’t relax and think it’s going to go out and put itself in the league’s final four right away. And the teams that lose this weekend can’t be getting down on themselves if their finish isn’t quite what they hoped for. If they start feeling sorry for themselves, they’ll get thumped real quickly in the next round and be out.”
The race and the league are that tight.
That seven-way race for home ice starts with Air Force. The Falcons lead RIT by a single point.
And then things start to get really tight.
Bentley, Niagara and Mercyhurst are tied for third, another point behind RIT and two behind Air Force.
Holy Cross comes next, a point behind Bentley & Co., and Robert Morris is another two points back.
There they are -- seven teams for four spots with several of them squaring off against each other.
Besides Niagara and RIT reintroducing themselves, Bentley and Holy Cross do battle and Air Force must travel to Robert Morris for a pair.
“There’s Air Force and us then the three-way tie,” said Shane Madolora, the RIT goalie. “It’s crazy. I’ve never seen it like this.”
Neither has anyone else.
Games of the Week
Holy Cross at Bentley Friday; Bentley at Holy Cross Saturday
Both teams are among the seven teams still in the mix for a top four spot, and thus a bye in the first round of the playoffs as they head into the final weekend of the season.
Bentley is in a three-way tie for third place and just two points out of first. Holy Cross is a point behind Bentley, Mercyhurst and Niagara.
Atlantic Hockey power rankings
Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.