The Atlantic Hockey preseason media outing
in Rochester was coming to a close when Army coach Brian
Riley was queried about his team being picked for ninth
place in the coaches' poll. Riley looked like someone had
stepped on his favorite Boston Red Sox cap, and he chose
his words carefully.
this guy? The coaches in Atlantic Hockey sure did,
and factored Brad Roberts' graduation into a projection
that Army would finish ninth in the league.
"I think probably what some of the coaches
are saying, just by looking at that poll, is maybe they
felt we were in that position last year because of one player,
Brad Roberts," Riley said.
Roberts graduated following last season and
has posted solid numbers in goal for the Youngstown Steelhounds
of the Central Hockey League. "I think our players
back home will certainly look at this and ... be motivated
by trying to prove some of these guys wrong."
If you put any stock in preseason polls, then
Army is one of the biggest surprises of college hockey.
The Black Knights have already clinched at least third place
in Atlantic Hockey, and a sweep of Sacred Heart this weekend
would propel Army into second place and the coveted top
seed in the playoffs.
League-leading Rochester Institute of Technology
is two points away from clinching the regular season title,
but the Tigers – a second-year NCAA Division I member
– are ineligible for the post-season until next season.
"This is a team that was picked for ninth
place," Riley said. "The fact we are in the position
that we are in is a credit to the players and how they prepared
during the offseason and how well they performed during
the season. I am proud of these guys."
Army (16-10-5) is enjoying its best season
in seven years due to a host of reasons.
First off, sophomore Josh Kassel stepped into
the void left by the all-star Roberts and has posted numbers
better than his predecessor ever did – Kassell leads
the league in goals-against (2.27) and ranks 16th in the
nation. He has held opponents to two goals-or-less in 13
games. Last weekend he made 43 stops as Army swept Bentley.
Army has not been an offensive power since
returning to Division I league play, but the Black Knights
are tickling the twine a bit more of late. Army's goal production
has improved from 1.94 in 2004-05 to 2.22 last season and
2.66 this season. Six players have scored at least six goals
and eight have produced double-figure points. Luke Flicek's
30 points is the best since Mike Fairman posted 32 and Tim
Fisher had 30 in 2000-01.
"I definitely think we have more depth
up front," Riley said. "Guys have accepted roles
on the team, whether it's guys who were perceived as being
the goal scorers or guys who understand they are supposed
to be more of a defensive, checking type of line. I think
everybody has bought into their role on the team."
Army's special teams have been improving.
The power play has improved 52 percentage points and the
penalty kill has improved 43 points since the 2004-05 season.
The Black Knights are staying out of the penalty box, ranking
fourth-best in the nation at 12.9 minutes.
The road has been kind to Army this season
– the Black Knights have secured points in seven road
contests (6-9-1), their best effort in the past eight seasons.
At home, Army is one of the more formidable foes in the
the nation, posting a 10-1-4 record.
Army has never advanced past the quarterfinal
round in Atlantic Hockey and the Metro Atlantic Athletic
Conference Hockey League. "Hopefully we're ready to
take that next step," Riley said.
This weekend's series with Sacred Heart could
be the ideal playoff primer.
"If you are going to have success in
the playoffs, you have to beat a Sacred Heart," Riley
said. "I think this is a great opportunity for our
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
Sacred Heart at Army (Fri.)
Army at Sacred Heart (Sat.)
The top seed in the upcoming Atlantic Hockey tournament
is still at stake. Army must win both games to secure
the No. 1 seed and second place in the standings.
One stumble, be it a tie or loss, and the top billing
goes to Sacred Heart, which still has an outside chance
of leap-frogging Rochester Institute of Technology
and claiming its first regular-season title. There's
not much separating Army and Sacred Heart this season:
they played a 2-2 tie in October and a 3-3 draw in
November. Sacred Heart brings a four-game win streak
into the matchup; Army brings a 10-1-4 home record
into the Friday opener.
Force's Andrew Ramsey waited until Senior Weekend
to finally top 100 career points. He had
two helpers in Friday's loss and then posted two goals
and two assists for a career-high four points in a
win over Canisius. Ramsey now has 104 points.
Mercyhurst staked itself to a 4-1 lead
at RIT, only to have penalties become its undoing.
The Lakers gave up four power play goals,
including the game-winner with two seconds
on the clock as RIT prevailed 6-5.
• If the playoffs began now (season
series): Play-in game – American International at
Canisius (1-1); Quarterfinals – Sacred Heart vs. AIC
(SH 2-0) or Canisius (SH 3-1); Bentley at Army (Army 3-1);
Mercyhurst at Connecticut (1-1); Holy Cross at Air Force
• Potential playoff tie-breakers: Connecticut
over Air Force (more conference wins); Air Force over Holy
Cross (goal differential); Mercyhurst over Holy Cross (2-1-1
series); Bentley over Holy Cross (wins); Holy Cross over
Canisius (3-1 series); Mercyhurst over Bentley (2-0 series);
Bentley over Canisius (2-0 series).
• No go on clincher: Rochester Institute
of Technology posted a stirring 6-5 victory over Mercyhurst
last Friday for its 20th win of the season, bouncing back
from deficits of 4-1 and 5-4. The game-winner came with
1.5 seconds left on the clock as Dan Ringwald scored on
the power play. All RIT needed to clinch the regular-season
title was another win on Saturday, but Mercyhurst spoiled
the party with a 3-2 triumph, snapping a four-game win streak
by the Tigers. RIT needs two points at Bentley this weekend,
but the Tigers are facing a Falcon team which is desperately
trying to avoid the play-in game. Bentley and RIT split
two November meetings.
• Give the guy a start: Mercyhurst coach
Rick Gotkin turned to senior Mike Ella on Saturday. Ella,
making his second start of the season, made 27 stops in
the 3-2 win at RIT. It was his first win since beating Canisius,
4-3, on Dec. 10, 2005. It was the Lakers' first win at RIT
in eight tries, dating back to Dec. 4, 1992, when both teams
played ECAC Division III.
• Are you kidding?: When Mercyhurst
out-shot RIT, 32-29, on Saturday, it marked only the fourth
time this season the Lakers have out-shot an opponent.
• Please help: Holy Cross senior James
Sixsmith has 29 assists and needs just one helper to tie
current San Jose Shark Patrick Rissmiller for the Division
I school mark. Matt Scherer of Connecticut needs just one
point for 100 in his career. Holy Cross and Connecticut
duel this weekend.
• Mile-high club: Canisius made its
first-ever foray into the state of Colorado, splitting a
pair of games at Air Force.
• Flying first class: The Air Force
class of 2007 has posted 53 Division I victories, more than
any other in school history. The 14 wins ties the school
record at the Division I level.
• Going out together: American International
College and Wayne State from College Hockey America were
the last two teams in the nation not to produce a tie this
season. That came to an end on Saturday as AIC battled Connecticut
to a 2-2 draw. Four minutes later, Wayne State completed
a 4-4 draw with Niagara.
• OT addendum: American International
College and Connecticut played an overtime contest on Friday
as well. Jereme Tendler scored 30 second into the extra
session to lift AIC to a 3-2 win. AIC's previous nine overtime
contests finished in ties, and its previous OT win came
on Jan. 28, 2005, against Connecticut.
• Flying home for the playoffs: Air
Force clinched a home-ice quarterfinal berth with its 5-0
win over Canisius on Saturday. It also snapped a five-game
losing streak. Senior Ben Worker made 21 saves for his second
career shutout, and the Falcons' top line of Andrew Ramsey
(two goals), Eric Ehn (one goal) and Jeff Hajner (one goal)
each had four points. Holy Cross could catch Air Force in
points but would lose on the goal-differential tie-breaker.
Air Force trails Connecticut by one point and could finish
in fourth place overall.
• A Pioneering effort: Sacred Heart
dispatched Holy Cross, 5-4 and 4-1, extending its win streak
over the Crusaders to six dating back to last season. Goaltender
Jason Smith posted his 36th career victory on Saturday,
tying him with Alexis Jutras-Binet (1997-01) and Eddy Ferhi
(1999-03) for the school record. The Pioneers have posted
six consecutive seasons of top-four league finishes, bested
only by Mercyhurst's seven, a string broken this season.
Holy Cross (2002-06) and Quinnipiac (2001-05) each had five,
and Canisius (1999-2001) had three.
• Engineering success: RIT ranks third
in the nation in scoring (3.84 goals per game), second in
power play (24.2 percent) and seventh in penalty killing
• Unfamiliar territory: Holy Cross sits
in sixth place and could drop as low as eighth. This will
be the Crusaders' worst finish in league play since placing
tenth in 2000-01. Mercyhurst could move up one spot to sixth
or finish ninth – the Lakers had finished first or
second in every season since joining the MAACHL in 1999-2000.
• Stuck in the cellar: AIC has finished
last in the four seasons since Fairfield disbanded its program.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached