There is a sense of post-season optimism for
most teams in Atlantic Hockey. The league had tremendous
balance this season, which should put everyone on notice
for playoff upsets.
The major difference this season, though,
is the one-game playoff – used since the creation
of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Hockey League
– has been scrapped in favor of a best-of-three quarterfinal
series. Top seeds like it because the better team will generally
survive a three-game series.
"I like it," said Canisius coach
Dave Smith, whose team travels to Mercyhurst for the quarterfinals.
"I think that it gives you an opportunity. We're the
No. 6 team going in on the road. If we can be the better
team, we have a chance to win a two-of-three series. It
doesn't come down to a fluke bounce, a fluke goal or a team
gets a hot goaltender. The best team of the weekend is going
to come out on top."
"I have been on both sides of the one-game
playoff, where we had success and came out on the other
end," said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah. "I
just think it takes out the bad-bounce scenario, good and
There has been a playoff upset in all four
Atlantic Hockey tournaments. Last year the top four seeds
triumphed in the quarterfinals, but not before American
International upset Canisius in a play-in game. No. 6 Connecticut
upended No. 3 Sacred Heart in 2006. No. 7 Bentley knocked
off No. 2 Canisius in 2005. In 2004, AIC upset Army in the
play-in, and No. 6 Canisius outlasted Quinnipiac.
"With the way our league was, I believe
there is that possibility," Hannah said. "Just
top-to-bottom, the teams are so tight. Maybe a few years
ago you wouldn't see that as much, but now with the parity
in the league, on a given night anybody can beat anybody.
That opens the door up for the potential for an upset, even
in a best-of-three series."
SEEN AND HEARD IN ATLANTIC HOCKEY
See You Next Week: Canisius
got a heads up on its playoff foe, taking three of four
points from Mercyhurst last weekend. Andrew Loewen made
36 saves in a 5-3 win in Buffalo on Friday but just 20 in
a 5-5 draw on Saturday in Erie. Kyle Bushee of Canisius
and Ben Cottreau of Mercyhurst each had two goals in the
opener. Canisius' Chris Forsman and Ryan Klusendorf each
had two goals in the nightcap.
"It feels good to be rewarded,"
said Canisius coach Dave Smith, "but none of us are
looking past the strengths they have over there."
Smith was just glad to see his team respond
well from a 3-0, 4-3 sweep at the hands of Air Force a week
"I think we woke some guys up,"
he said. "They realized the end is coming quick. Give
them credit – they worked their tail off the last
Canisius and Mercyhurst combined for 29 goals
this season, and Smith figures 25 of them were the direct
result of mistakes.
"If we can take care of our business,
I think we like the matchup," said Smith, a former
assistant under Rick Gotkin at Mercyhurst. "If we don't
skate and play well on special teams, it doesn't matter."
Atlantic Hockey First Round Matchups
10 AIC at No. 1 Army AIC:
8-21-5 (8-17-3) A: 17-13-4 (17-8-3) Season Series: Army leads 4-0 Yellow
Jacket Fact: AIC won playoff opener last season,
and disposed of Army in 2004 play-in game. Black
Knight Fact: Army has lost once since Jan.
19 (11-1-1), which includes pair of 4-0 wins over AIC. How AIC Wins: Yellow Jackets must re-discover
their offense after stretch of six goals in six games
– AIC scored 22 in previous six games. How
Army Wins: As long as Josh Kassel stays strong
in net with the No. 3 defense in the nation, Army should
find enough offense.
No. 9 Holy Cross
at No. 2 RIT HC: 10-17-7
(9-15-4) RIT: 17-11-6 (15-8-5) Season Series: RIT leads 2-0 Crusader
Fact: Holy Cross posted at least one playoff
win in four consecutive seasons (winning the 2004 and
2006 titles) before suffering first-round loss to Air
Force in 2007. Tiger Fact: This
is RIT's first Division I playoff outing. Last Tiger
playoff was 2005 and last playoff win was 2004. How Holy Cross Wins: The Crusaders
are the second-least penalized team in the nation and
own the No. 3 power play; RIT is prone to taking penalties
so Holy Cross must make the Tigers pay. How
RIT Wins: The Tigers are 3-0-2 in last five
and playing well offensively, and league scoring leader
Simon Lambert has a nine-game point streak.
8 Bentley at No. 3 Air Force B: 9-19-6 (9-13-6) AF: 17-11-6 (14-9-5) Season Series: Air Force leads 2-1-1 Bentley Fact: Bentley has a playoff
win in three of the past five years, all as an underdog. Air Force Fact: Air Force has hot
hand, going 4-0-1 down stretch. How Bentley Wins: Dain Prewitt has
three goals and an assist in four career games at
Air Force, and the Colorado native has played well
in the post-season. How Air Force Wins: The best way
to test freshman goalie Joe Calvi is by firing lots
of shots, and Air Force is best at that in Atlantic
No. 7 UConn at
No. 4 Sacred Heart C: 12-19-3 (11-14-3) SH: 14-17-3 (14-11-3) Season Series: Sacred Heart leads
4-0 Husky Fact: Connecticut beat Sacred
Heart in the 2006 quarterfinals. Pioneer Fact: Sacred Heart has never
won the league title, bowing out in the 2004 finals,
the 2005 and 2006 quarterfinals and the 2007 semifinals. How Connecticut Wins: The Huskies
have rediscored their offense just in time, with 18
goals in the last five games. Beau Erickson is back
in net and won his last two. How Sacred Heart Wins: Just keep
rolling the lines out because the Pioneers have six
players with at least 10 goals.
6 Canisius at No. 5 Mercyhurst C:
11-18-6 (10-13-5) M: 11-18-7 (11-10-7) Season Series: Canisius leads 2-1-1 Golden Griffin Fact: Canisius has not
won a playoff game since 2004 (0-3). Laker
Fact: Mercyhurst eliminated Canisius in the
2006 quarterfinals. How Canisius Wins:
The Golden Griffs' power play has picked up of late
and needs to produce. How Mercyhurst Wins:
As long as the Lakers maintain their scoring, they need
a stronger effort in goal.
Hail to the Champs: Sacred
Heart coach Shaun Hannah was looking forward to facing Army
in a clash of No. 2 vs. No. 1 on the final weekend of the
Be careful what you wish for: Army posted
a 6-1 win in Milford and a 3-2 win at West Point, clinching
the outright Atlantic Hockey regular-season title.
"We faced a team that was very hungry
and really played a very strong team game and a determined
hockey game both nights," Hannah said. "To face
a team like that going into the playoffs makes you prepared
for the next weekend."
Hannah praised Army coach Brian Riley for
the job he has done over four seasons, taking the Black
Knights from the bottom half of the league to its first-ever
Division I league championship.
"It's an outstanding achievement,"
Hannah said. "They have to be proud of how they approached
the season and proud with how they built that program over
the last four years and worked to this point. It all came
together for them this year."
Hannah wished it could have been his team
on top, but a touch of patriotism heals all wounds, especially
when service academy teams Army and Air Force succeed.
"When you think about what a lot of those
kids will be facing when they leave the academy, it's a
huge accomplishment for them," Hannah said. "It's
great to see. They are going to serve us in a lot of ways.
It's a good testament to their hard work and what they have
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• Cough, cough: Sacred Heart coach
Shaun Hannah wishes just one thing for his team this week:
health. Some sort of illness has been floating through
the team, though Hannah doesn't expect anyone to miss
this weekend's series with Connecticut.
• Firing blanks: Three of the five
playoff matchups pit high seeds that have swept season
series from the low seed. Army twice blanked American
International in its four wins. Likewise, Sacred Heart
has two shutout wins among its four over Connecticut.
Rochester Institute of Technology won a pair over Holy
Cross, but no shutouts.
Can the top seeds get complacent?
"I think that's always a concern if
you let it be," said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah.
"We tried to approach it as just another hockey game
and we have to prepare for it. It's a playoff game so
you have on focus on the little things instead of focusing
on how we've done against a team going into the playoffs."
• No. 10 seed hopes: Army's Josh Kassel
pitched consecutive 4-0 shutouts against AIC on Feb. 15-16,
something which steamed Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright.
"That was disappointing on our part,"
Wright said. "One of the things we have to figure
out a way to generate more offense. They (Army) have a
strong team, but when they have strong goaltending that
presents even more of a problem."
So how do you beat Army?
Like any game, Wright says. "Get to
the net, transition, don't give up shots, get pucks to
the net," he said. "We have to stage our offense
from our defense, so we have to play well in the neutral
zone. They generate a lot of speed coming through the
neutral zone. We have to be as focused as we ever have
been if we're going to have any success down there."
• Power push: Canisius is converting
one in three power play chances over the past seven games.
For the season, the Golden Griffins rank eighth in the
league at 15 percent (27-for-180).
• Skating like an angel: Canisius
freshman Vincent Scarsella has performed a near-impossible
feat. Not only does he lead the Golden Griffins in scoring
(8 goals, 20 assists), he has not taken a single penalty
this season over 35 games.
• Buzz tops: Sacred Heart's players
will shave their heads this month to raise awareness and
funds for the St. Baldricks Foundation, which supports
childhood cancer research. It is the third year in a row
the Pioneers have participated in the worthwhile charity.
Coach Shaun Hannah said all college students
should be involved with charitable events.
"It is part of the college experience,"
he said. "For a student-athlete, it's excelling in
the classroom, excelling on the ice and doing your part
to serve your community. Through all that, you end up
with an experience when you graduate that's well-rounded.
Community service is an important part of the education
process, I believe, and an opportunity for us to really
do some good for people."
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached