Niagara certainly made a shambles of this final weekend.
Dave Burkholder’s team ran away with the Atlantic Hockey regular season championship and took some of the starch out of what could have been a riveting last series at defending champion Air Force.
More power to the Purple Eagles.
They have plenty left to play for as they angle to get to the NCAA tournament, either by winning the league tournament or by their standing in the PairWise rankings, and much is likewise on the line across Atlantic Hockey as all teams jockey for playoff positions.
“So many teams in the league are a few games over .500 or at .500 or a few games under .500,” said AIC coach Gary Wright. “There are all kinds of scenarios going into this weekend. If you tried to guess where someone might be going for the playoffs, it’s a pretty big task.”
The fact that most teams competing against each other for particular spots are not playing against each other adds another element to the equation.
“The whole idea of scoreboard watching is one of the intriguing aspects of it,” Wright said.
Niagara and Air Force are the only two teams who have clinched byes for the first round of the tournament.
Things get interesting after that.
Holy Cross sits in third place and UConn is a point back in fourth and they can nail down the other two byes with sweeps this weekend. Holy Cross plays a home and home with Army and UConn with Sacred Heart.
Robert Morris is in fifth place, a point behind UConn, and Mercyhurst and RIT are tied for sixth, another point back.
Mercyhurst and Robert Morris play each other. RIT meets Canisius.
Bentley is in eighth, three points behind Mercyhurst and RIT.
Bentley must watch out below, too.
That No. 8 position is a coveted spot. Teams that finish fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth will host first-round, best-of-three series next weekend.
Canisius is a point behind Bentley.
AIC is three points behind Bentley and gets a shot at the Falcons this weekend. The teams play Friday at AIC and Saturday at Bentley.
Got all that?
“Some of that is in our control and some of it is not,” Wright said of the prospect of catching Bentley for the eighth spot. “Our big thing is being prepared for Friday night. They’re a very good team and obviously quite prolific and dynamic. We’ll have to play very well and after Friday night we’ll focus on that second game.”
There will be a whole lot of that – and scoreboard watching – going on all around the league.
Player of the Week
Brant Harris, F, jr., UConn
Harris scored three goals and contributed three assists in a sweep of Army over the weekend and ran his career-high point scoring streak to eight games in the process. He has six goals and eight assists in the eight games. Harris had two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-3 win on Friday and a goal and three assists in Saturday’s 6-3 win.
Games of the week
Bentley at AIC, Friday, AIC at Bentley, Saturday
Bentley looks to lock down home ice for the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs against one of the hottest teams around. The Yellow Jackets moved into 10th place in the standings with a 4-1 win over Army on Tuesday night. Bentley is in eighth place, three points in front of AIC. The Yellow Jackets lost to Bentley, 7-3, at home on Nov. 6.
1. Niagara(21-6-5, 20-3-2) . . . Junior goalie Carsen Chubak continued his fine play with a pair of 4-2 wins over Mercyhurst. He stopped 62 of the 66 shots he saw for the weekend and has the seventh-best goals against average in the country (1.77) and fourth-best save percentage (.942). The Purple Eagles are at Air Force this weekend.
2. Air Force (15-11-7, 13-7-5) . . . The Falcons became the second team, joining Niagara, to clinch a first-round bye for the playoffs when they split with RIT. Senior forward Kyle De Laurell had two goals and an assist in Friday night’s 4-3 win. He leads the Falcons at 16-14-30 in all games and has 15 goals in league games.
3. Holy Cross (17-12-3, 13-9-3) . . . The Crusaders moved into third place in the league with a 4-2 win over Sacred Heart on Monday night. Senior forward Rob Linsmayer had a pair of assists and is now at 31-67-98 in 145 career games. Holy Cross is at Army on Friday night and plays the Black Knights at home on Saturday.
4. UConn (16-13-3, 13-10-2) . . . The Huskies have won three straight games and hold down the fourth spot in the league standings, a point ahead of Robert Morris. Senior forward Sean Ambrosie hit the 100-point mark last weekend and is at 33-70-103 in 145 career games. UConn plays Sacred Heart at home on Friday and is at Sacred Heart on Saturday.
5. Robert Morris (18-12-2, 13-11-1) . . . The Colonials swept Canisius last weekend and are in fifth place, a point out of fourth and two out of third. Sophomore forward Cody Wydo scored a short-handed goal in Saturday’s 6-3 win. He and senior forward Adam Brace each have three shorties on the season.
6. RIT (13-14-5, 11-10-4) . . . Sophomore forward Matt Garbowsky kept up his torrid scoring pace in a split at home against Air Force. He had three goals for the weekend and has seven in the last seven games. The Tigers are tied for sixth place in the league with Mercyhurst, two points out of fourth, and play Canisius this weekend.
7. Mercyhurst (14-15-3, 12-11-2) . . . A pair of 4-2 losses to Niagara left the Lakers in a four-game losing streak and six-game winless stretch and dropped them into a tie for sixth place. They will try to regroup and gain some momentum going into the playoffs in a series against Robert Morris. The Lakers trail the Colonials by a point in the standings.
8. Bentley (12-16-3, 10-12-3) . . . The Falcons managed only a point in their series against Sacred Heart and are 1-6-2 in their last nine and have dropped into eighth place. Down 5-1 early in the third period on Friday night, they exploded for five straight goals to take the lead, but Sacred Heart scored with 2:28 left for a 6-6 tie.
9. Canisius (11-18-5, 10-13-2) . . . The Griffs lost a pair of games to Robert Morris and have now lost five straight, their longest such streak since dropping nine in a row in the middle of the 2005-06 season. They trail eighth-place Bentley by a point and play a home and home series against RIT this weekend.
10. AIC (10-15-6, 7-12-6) . . . The Yellow Jackets extended their unbeaten string to seven with a 4-4 tie with Holy Cross on Friday night. AIC took a 4-0 lead in the first period, but could not hold it. The streak was snapped with a 4-1 loss at Holy Cross on Saturday, but AIC rebounded with a 4-1 win over Army on Tuesday.
11. Army (7-18-5, 7-13-5) . . . The Black Knights were swept by UConn over the weekend and lost at AIC, 4-1, on Tuesday night and are 0-10-3 in their last 13. Sophomore defenseman Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.) had the goal against AIC and is second in scoring at 6-11-17. Army plays Holy Cross home-and-home this weekend.
12. Sacred Heart (2-27-3, 2-20-3) . . . The Pioneers went 28 games without a win to open the season and then picked up two victories and a tie in the span of three games. They tied Bentley, 6-6, on Friday and beat the Falcons, 3-1, on Saturday. Sacred Heart lost to Holy Cross, 4-2, on Tuesday and closes out against UConn this weekend.
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.