If you went
away for a long weekend, you might have missed it:
in first place in Atlantic Hockey.
just a couple of days – from Saturday’s win over American
International until Holy Cross beat Connecticut on Tuesday night
– but with five teams separated by five points at the top
of the standings, two-and-a-half days in first place might be
about average for the next couple of weeks. In fact, if you’re
reading this on Friday night, the league leader will probably
change several times before you finish the last Fry.
Three of the
five – first-place Holy Cross, fourth-place Quinnipiac and
fifth-place Mercyhurst – are all fulfilling their expectations
by battling for this season’s AHA crown. They were supposed
to be in this race in one way or another. Third-place Canisius
is the most surprising school in the mix. Then there’s Sacred
Heart, kind of a cross between the perennial powers in Worcester,
Hamden and Erie and the upstart squad in Buffalo.
were picked to finish second in the league in the preseason coaches’
poll after advancing to the AHA tournament title game last year.
But the best way to describe Sacred Heart during this campaign
is “quiet.” They don’t grab headlines like Quinnipiac
and Canisius (OK, so the Griffins’ headlines aren’t
necessarily hockey-related. Whatever). And they don’t have
the championship pedigree of Mercyhurst and Holy Cross.
But if they
beat the Crusaders on Friday in Milford, they’ll be where
all those other schools want to be – alone in first place.
haven’t been one of the teams that has represented our league
in the (NCAA) tournament, and we might be overlooked a little
bit because of that,” Pioneers head coach Shaun Hannah said.
“But we’re not worried about that kind of stuff. We
have a calm group, a mature group that is just going to focus
on our goals.”
If one of
the team’s goals was to win a nonconference game this year,
it failed. Sacred Heart’s travails outside of the league
(an 0-10-0 record with a 51-11 goal differential) have been well-documented.
But rather than dwell on those shortcomings, Hannah praises his
squad’s ability to move on and succeed in league play.
the number one characteristic of this hockey team, bouncing back
from adversity,” Hannah said. “We looked at our nonconference
experience as just that. An experience. We were able to work on
things, and, it didn’t show up in the win column, but we
did have success in improving our game to where we could compete
better in those games.”
Sacred Heart’s home stretch is as tough as anyone’s
in the league. The Pioneers host Holy Cross on Friday and American
International on Saturday, then finish up with a home-and-home
against Quinnipiac and a series at Mercyhurst. It’s the
kind of schedule Hannah says he likes heading into the one-and-done
playoffs. But it will make it awfully difficult to grab and hold
on to that hot-potato top spot in the Atlantic Hockey standings.
AND HEARD IN THE LEAGUES
it Over – Air Force is still deciding whether to
accept Atlantic Hockey’s conditional invitation to join
the league starting in 2006-07. The AHA made the offer to the
academy after a conference call of league athletic directors last
Friday, but still hasn’t received a response from the school.
nature of the offer isn’t known, but sources have confirmed
that it includes stipulations of an unbalanced schedule –
something along the lines of 10 home games and 17 road games –
for the first three years of the deal. That is believed to be
the major sticking point causing all of the uncertainty at Air
have refused to share their feelings on the proposal, citing ongoing
administrative discussions. Atlantic Hockey officials say they’re
just waiting to hear back.
Apart – Niagara has clawed its way into third
place in the CHA, partly because coach Dave Burkholder separated
his team’s two most dangerous offensive threats. Ryan Gale,
who can thank playmaker Barret Ehgoetz for setting up more than
a few of his 19 goals this year, was moved off Ehgoetz’s
line to create more balance during the Wayne State series last
seemed to work, as Ehgoetz had a goal and an assist in a 2-2 tie
on Saturday, and Gale set up one of new linemate Justin Cross’
two markers in a 3-1 win Sunday. Cross had been on a 10-game goal-scoring
drought coming into the game.
did it so teams can’t key on the Ehgoetz line,” Burkholder
said. “We’ve been firing blanks on offense, often
out-chancing teams with nothing to show for it. Hopefully, this
will springboard us.”
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
Holy Cross at Sacred Heart (Fri.), Canisius at Quinnipiac
(Fri.-Sat.) With the top four teams in the ultra-tight Atlantic
Hockey standings facing off against each other this weekend,
Connecticut is the place to be. First-place Holy Cross and
second-place Sacred Heart meet in the rubber match of their
season series Friday in Milford. Obviously, the winner will
have a major advantage if home ice in the league tournament
comes down to tiebreakers. Meanwhile, third-place Canisius
and fourth-place Quinnipiac will play a pair in Northford.
The teams tied in their previous meeting. Just four points
separate these four teams, and Mercyhurst is lurking just
one point behind Quinnipiac with a winnable home series
against Connecticut on this weekend’s docket.
you’re there: You had might as well make it a real
Tour de Constitution State and hit up something at UConn
on Saturday afternoon. Our best bets? Women’s hockey
against New Hampshire or women’s basketball against
Syracuse. Both games start at 2 p.m., leaving you plenty
of time to get to Northford for the main event.
is on the Tim Madsen bandwagon. The Niagara
freshman forward from Elk River, Minn., embodies all that
is great about college hockey: speed, feistiness, creativity,
the desire to finish checks. At 5-feet-8, 170 pounds, he
won’t have NHL scouts drooling, but coach Dave Burkholder
is going to love penciling him into the lineup for three
more years. He’s the kind of player who makes things
is in danger of having to go on the road for the AHA tournament’s
play-in game because of a damning inability to finish. Before
being shut out Saturday by Mercyhurst, the Black Knights
had held third-period leads in each of their previous four
games – and lost all four. Two were in overtime. Brad
Roberts was the goalie in each contest, and all four times,
he allowed the game-tying or game-winning goals with less
than five minutes left in regulation.
last time Air Force won at Alabama-Huntsville
(Feb. 25, 1989), Falcons sophomore Theo Zacour was barely 3 years
old. On Saturday, Zacour helped end the academy’s 14-game
losing streak at UAH with a goal and an assist in a surprising
3-2 victory. Zacour, freshly back from a semester-long academy
suspension, a groin strain and a game misconduct penalty, has
added some zip to the Falcons’ forward corps.
win was a big one not only because it got the Alabama-size monkey
off Air Force’s back, but also because it lifted the Falcons
out of a tie with Robert Morris at the bottom of the CHA standings.
On the other hand, it took some of the luster off of this weekend’s
series between UAH and Bemidji State in Minnesota.
The first-place Beavers now have a five-point lead over the second-place
Chargers with just a few weeks to go. UAH does have two games
in hand on BSU, but if it doesn’t get at least a split this
weekend, it will be tough to catch Bemidji for the regular-season
Morris’ leading scorer, Jace Buzek, is still cradling
his arm in a sling as he recovers from a fractured collarbone.
He might not be back in the lineup until the CHA tournament. In
other Colonial news, goalie Jamie Flury got his first start since
late November on Friday and nearly stole a win. He made 40 saves
in a 2-1 overtime loss to Bemidji State. Christian
Boucher, who had started the previous 14 games for RMU, was back
in net Saturday.
Hockey attracted 4,055 fans to its doubleheader at the FleetCenter
last weekend – a couple thousand fewer than what officials
had hoped. Nonetheless, the league hopes to stage a similar event
next season, with Army likely to join Holy
Cross, Bentley and Connecticut
on the docket.
Quinnipiac at American International
game that was bumped by the FleetCenter event has been rescheduled
for 8:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield,
the wake of Aaron Clarke’s dismissal from the team and several
nagging injuries, Niagara is so thin up front
that it played two defensemen – Brian Hartman and Jason
Jones – at forward Sunday against Wayne State.
individual performances stood out from Mercyhurst’s
sweep of Army last weekend. Lakers sophomore
Scott Champagne assisted on seven consecutive Mercyhurst goals
– the final four of a 5-4 OT win Friday and the first three
of a 4-0 victory Saturday. The outburst put Champagne (8-17—25)
within a point of the team scoring lead held by David Wrigley
(12-14—26), who scored on four of Champagne’s assists
and added two helpers of his own last weekend.
of the most dangerous lines in the CHA were stymied last weekend,
but the teams’ results still weren’t that bad. Bemidji
State managed to sweep Robert Morris
despite not getting a single point from the Luke Erickson-Andrew
Murray-Brendan Cook line all weekend. It was the first time the
trio had been blanked for an entire series this season. Before
the RMU series, the Beavers were 0-2-1 when the EMC line didn’t
score. Down in Huntsville, UAH’s top line
of Jared Ross, Craig Bushey and Bruce Mulherin was held to one
Bushey goal on each night of the team’s split against Air
Force. Ross had just one assist, but, in his defense,
he sat out Friday’s game because of a suspension for spearing.
Meanwhile, it was Mulherin’s first weekend without a point
going 1-1, Quinnipiac goalie Jamie Holden had
a rough go last weekend. In the first period against AIC
on Friday, he allowed more goals (2) than he had saves (1). Still,
the Bobcats came back for a 6-3 win. On Saturday, he allowed a
season-high five goals in a damaging loss to Holy Cross.
State had a true “bye” this week. The Warriors
haven’t practiced since before last weekend’s Niagara
series, because the team needs to mend some injuries, coach Bill
Wilkinson said. Most notable of those ailing are senior captain
John Grubb (knee) and junior defenseman A.J. Bozoian (leg). Grubb
is the lone senior on the Warriors’ roster. Though not practicing,
WSU did manage to cross one thing off its to-do list this week
– retaking the team picture.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.