Army got off to a slow start but charged from
eighth place on Jan. 18 to clinch its first regular-season
title on the final night of the season.
Rochester Institute of Technology won the
regular-season crown in their first Atlantic Hockey season,
and finished just two points out of first this time. Air
Force lost Hobey Baker candidate Eric Ehn to an injured
leg and still managed to finish a close third. Sacred Heart
finished fourth, keeping alive its streak of nine consecutive
Mercyhurst fell out of the upper division
for the first time last season, but regained a tiny bit
of swagger by finishing fifth and gaining home-ice advantage.
Canisius gained four points and three spots to finish sixth,
before being ousted by Mercyhurst in the playoffs. Graduation
losses made it tough for Connecticut to repeat as a Final
Four entry and the Huskies dropped into sixth. Bentley,
Holy Cross and American International rounded out the standings,
and all were swept in the first round.
There are few teams in college hockey that
have enjoyed as much success over the past two months than
Army. The Black Knights are 13-1-1 in their last 15 games,
and defense has been the key. Josh Kassel's MVP goaltending
and a solid defensive corps have produced five shutouts,
six one-goal games and three two-goal outings since mid-January.
Army relies on a veteran lineup with 12 seniors.
The Black Knights are 4-1 in their last five post-season
games and understand how to play playoff hockey.
THE GATE CRASHER
Rochester Institute of Technology has spent
the past two seasons in playoff pergatory. When the Tigers
were promoted to Division I, the reparation was one year
of independence and one season of insignificance as a newcomer
to Atlantic Hockey. In Seinfeld "Soup Nazi" terms,
"No playoff for you!"
The Tigers made the regular-season their playoff
and won the Atlantic Hockey title in their first go-around
but it rung hollow as Rochester's Blue Cross Arena hosted
the tournament for the first time and the "home"
team wasn't invited.
RIT should drag along a couple thousand crazy
fans to BCA this weekend, which may be just enough support
to give the Tigers a major boost and the Atlantic Hockey
crown they really crave.
Final Five Preview
5 Mercyhurst vs.
No. 4 Sacred Heart M:
13-18-7 (11-10-7 Atlantic) SHU:
16-18-3 (14-11-3 Atlantic) Season Series:
Sacred Heart leads 2-1-1. Laker Fact:
Mercyhurst's last semifinal appearance came in 2006 Pioneer Fact: Sacred Heart has averaged
four goals in its last five playoff games How
Mercyhurst Wins: Matt Lundin is playing well
of late in nets and could easily backstop the Lakers
to a couple wins. Any team with Ben Cottreau lining
up at forward is a dangerous threat. How
Sacred Heart Wins: The Pioneers use Alex Parent
and Bear Trapp on separate lines. Stopping one is tough,
stopping both is near impossible.
No. 3 Air Force
vs. No. 2 RIT AF: 19-11-6 (14-9-5 Atlantic) RIT: 19-11-6 (15-8-5 Atlantic) Season Series: Tied 2-2-0. Falcon Fact: Air Force has won five
consecutive Atlantic Hockey playoff games Tiger Fact: RIT won only other game
at Blue Cross Arena, 4-1 over Cornell How Air Force Wins: Andrew Volkening
discovered a hot hand in last year's playoffs and
has wielded a hot glove of late, going 7-1-2 in his
last 10. How RIT Wins: The Tigers have won
five in a row and have scored five goals in each of
the last four games. Scoring like that will win most
No. 1 Army A: 19-13-4
(17-8-3 Atlantic) Season Series:
Army leads Sacred Heart 3-1-0, sweeping the final weekend.
Mercyhurst leads Army 2-0-0, and is lone Atlantic team
to sweep the Black Knights, taking two in Erie in January. Black Knight Fact: Army has four playoff
wins in past two years, and just one in its first three
seasons of Atlantic Hockey play. How Army
Wins: Count on Josh Kassel to make all the
necessary saves in net. Army scored nine goals each
of the past two weekends but scoring will get tougher
in the later rounds.
INCH'S ALL-ATLANTIC HOCKEY TEAM
F – Simon Lambert, RIT
Atlantic Hockey's likely scoring champ carries an 11-point
lead into the final playoff weekend. With 21 goals and 30
assists, the senior from Ste.-Therese, Quebec, is tied with
teammate Dan Ringwald for the league lead in helpers. His
51 points ranks sixth in MAAC/AHA history, and he needs
one assist to move into a tie for eighth. Lambert has got
the job done on the power play, posting seven goals and
F – Alex Parent, Sacred Heart
The senior forward ranks second in points (40). His 19 goals
is fourth-best in the league. The skater from Boisbriand,
Quebec, is a shade under a point-per-game producer in his
career with 141 points in 143 contests, tying him for sixth
in all-time scoring in MAAC/AHA play and three points out
of fourth. With 54 goals, he is one tally away from ninth
all-time. His 87 assists ranks sixth.
F – Matt Smith, RIT
The top goal scorer in Atlantic Hockey (27) is tied for
third in points (39). He needs just two goals to tie the
MAAC/AHA mark. Smith leads the league in power play goals
(a league-record 17) – almost double that of any scorer
– and is second in power play points. With three man-advantage
points he will set the league record. The Toronto native
leads the league in game-winners (five), and notched hat
tricks in both playoff wins last weekend.
D – Dan Ringwald, RIT
The sophomore is the leading point getter (33) and assist
man (30) among defensemen. His 33 points is fifth-best among
blue liners in MAAC/AHA history. Ringwald ranks third in
power play points (35) and tied for the league lead in power
play helpers (22). The Oakville, Ontario, skater helped
lead RIT to a second-place finish, and posted a plus-nine
D – Greg Flynn, Air Force
The junior leads all defensemen in goals (8) and is second
in points (30). The Lino Lakes, Minn., product has one of
the best ratings in the league at plus-15. He leads a Falcon
unit which dropped its goal against from 2.67 last season
G – Josh Kassel, Army
The junior netminder not only leads the league in key goalie
stats, he's dominating. His goals-against average of 1.84
is more than a quarter-goal better than anyone else and
far better than the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference/Atlantic
Hockey record of 2.21. His save percentage of .927 is 11
points better than the competition. He is 13-1-1, with five
shutouts and six one-goal efforts in his last 15 outings.
You might say he's peaking at the right time.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Brian Riley, Army. In four
seasons at the helm, has taken the Black Knights from a
point out of last place, to a point out of a home playoff,
to one win from the playoff title, to Army's first-ever
Division I league banner. Riley pushed all the right buttons
over the past two months, and his best decision was giving
his incumbent goalie just one more chance. Josh Kassel responded
with a 13-1-1 streak which has carried into the final playoff
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Josh Kassel, Army. If there
was an award for comeback player of the year – within
the same season – Kassel would glove it. Following
a 3-0 setback to Canisius on Jan. 18, Kassel had a 2.80
goals against, an .888 save percentage, no shutouts and
a 5-8-1 record – Army's fifth consecutive loss extended
a winless streak to eight games, and the eighth-place Black
Knights were two points out of last.
Kassel went up to Riley after the game and
asked for another chance to prove himself the next night.
A 2-1 win over Canisius was the start to a six-game win
streak and nine-game unbeaten streak. A 2-1 loss to Bentley
on Feb. 22 didn't slow Kassel down as he posted five wins
since then for a 13-1-1 finish.
Army went from eighth place to first. The Black Knights
became the No. 3 ranked defensive team in the nation. Kassel
dropped his goals against almost a full goal and raised
his save percentage 39 points.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Vincent Scarsella, Canisius.
The rookie forward from Lackawanna made an immediate impact
with the Golden Griffins. Scarsella led Canisius in assists
(22), was third in goals (nine) and ranked 10th among league
freshmen in points.
Brent Olson, Air Force. The
junior forward from Baudette, Minn., saw a huge jump in
production. As a sophomore, Olson produced a goal and seven
assists in 22 contests. This season, Olson is tied for the
team lead in goals (15) and ranks second in points (33).
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• Four in four: Atlantic Hockey and
ECAC Hockey are the only two circuits with four different
regular-season champs in the past four seasons. Atlantic
Hockey has crowned Quinnipiac, Holy Cross, RIT and Army
in the past four years. The ECAC Hockey title has gone
to Cornell, Dartmouth and Colgate (co-champs), St. Lawrence
and Clarkson since 2005.
• Nine-for-nine: Air Force had nine
different goal scorers in a 9-2 win over Bentley in Game
One of their series on Friday. That's got to be a record
in any league, as was the seven goals scored in the second
period. Brett Nylander and Jeff Hajner each had two assists
for three-point nights.
• OT, OT, OT: Atlantic Hockey had
three of its five playoff games go overtime in Game Twos
on Saturday. Mercyhurst (Kerry Bowman, 1:45) beat Canisius
2-1; Connecticut (Michael Coppola, 5:28) topped Sacred
Heart 3-2; and, RIT (Matt Smith, 4:17) outlasted Holy
Cross 5-4. RIT won by the same overtime score in Game
One as Matt Crowell scored the game-winner at 15:19 of
• Two hats: Matt
Smith of RIT produced back-to-back hat tricks in the
sweep of Holy Cross. Simon Lambert had six assists, but
helped on only four of Smith's tallies.
• Five goals to the top: Mercyhurst
senior Ben Cottreau carries 154 career points (60 goals,
94 assists) into the weekend, ranking third all-time in
MAAC/AHA history. Louis Goulet of Mercyhurst set the league
mark in 2002 with 157 and Pierre-Luc O'Brien of Sacred
Heart broke it last season with 158.
• Ehn watch: Air Force senior forward
Eric Ehn, out since mid-January, has begun working out.
His status remains doubtful for the semifinals. Ehn was
a Hobey Baker finalist in 2006-07.
• Four-oh: Army goalie Josh Kassel
beat American International, 4-0, in Friday's first-round
opener. It was the third consecutive time he blanked
AIC, all by 4-0 scores.
• Turn out the lights: No, Dandy
Don Meredith wasn't in the house, but West Point suffered
a power outage during the first period of Saturday's
playoff. Army had just tied the game at 1 when a local
transformer blew. The teams headed to their respective
locker rooms for about a half-hour before power was
restored. Emergency lights kept Tate Rink lit just enough
for the restless fans.
• Avoiding the upset: Sacred Heart
coach Shaun Hannah was positive there would be at least
one first-round upset in Atlantic Hockey. It turns out
all five top seeds prevailed, but not before Sacred
Heart was pushed to three games by Connecticut. Adam
DeJong staked his team to a 2-0 second-period lead and
the Pioneers held on for a 4-1 win in Game Three.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached