|UConn goalie Garrett Bartus (photo: Steve Slade/UConn)|
RIT and Air Force, along with Holy Cross and Connecticut, get the weekend off.
They grabbed the first-round byes -- RIT and Air Force from the West scheduling pod and Holy Cross and UConn from the East -- for the Atlantic Hockey tournament that begins on Saturday.
They get to wait and watch while the rest of the league’s teams square off in single-game match-ups to fill out the quarterfinal field.
The first-round pairings, set by region, on Saturday: AIC plays at Army, Sacred Heart is at Bentley, Canisius is at Niagara and Mercyhurst is at Robert Morris.
After the first round, the field will be reset based on the final regular-season standings and without regard to scheduling pods, for the quarterfinals.
RIT, Air Force and Holy Cross all are guaranteed to get home ice for the quarterfinals, best-of-three series beginning on March 11. Niagara will take the fourth home-ice berth if it survives its opening-round match-up.
Niagararolls into Saturday’s game off a three-point weekend against RIT, which had already wrapped up its third straight regular-season championship and fourth in five years. The Purple Eagles won Friday night’s game, 5-2, at RIT and the teams tied, 3-3, on Saturday.
RIT got something out of the series, too, said Tigers coach Wayne Wilson.
“This weekend has prepared us well for the playoff run, in regards to physical play and hard work,” he said on the team’s Web site after Saturday’s game. “Tonight’s tie was a step forward. If we meet (Niagara) in the playoffs, we have to take the next step to get the win.”
Niagara beat RIT twice and the teams had the one tie during the season series.
The Tigers followed up on their regular season title last year with the tournament title and then advanced to the NCAA’s Frozen Four.
NEHJ Player of the Week
Cory Conacher, sr., Canisius
Conacher had two goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 win over Mercyhurst on Friday night. He had three goals and an assist for the weekend.
Sacred Heart at Bentley, Saturday
Bentley finished 10th overall in the standings and hosts Sacred Heart, which grabbed the No. 11 spot with a 5-1 win over Army on Saturday.
Around Atlantic Hockey
The Yellow Jackets head into their playoff match-up at Army with three players who have reached double figures in goals scored. Last year, Adam Pleskach, then a freshman, had 15 goals, and was the only Yellow Jacket with as many as 10. … Pleskach is at 12-13-25this year, junior forward Michael Penny is at 11-11-22and freshman Jon Puskar is at 11-7-18.
The Falcons closed out the regular season on a four-game win streak to pull into second place in the final standings behind RIT, capture a bye in the first round of the tournament and secure home ice for the quarterfinals. Air Force leapfrogged Niagara and Robert Morris down the stretch to take the runner-up spot.
The Black Knights won all three games this season against AIC, the team they face in Saturday’s opening round. Army won home games by counts of 9-3 (on Nov. 19) and 6-4 (on Feb. 18), and also won at AIC, 4-1, on Feb. 19. … Army split a pair of games with Sacred Heart last weekend, winning 4-1 at home on Friday and losing 5-1 on the road on Saturday.
Freshman forward Brett Gensler collected the league’s Rookie of the Month honors for February for his totals of 5-6-11in eight games. Gensler had a goal in five of the eight games and at least one point in all but one game. … The Falcons won all three games this season against Sacred Heart, its first round opponent. The scores: 6-2, 5-4 in overtime and 3-2.
Canisius lost two of the three games it played this year against Niagara, its opponent on Saturday in the first round. But the Griffs took Niagarato overtime before losing 6-5 in the first meeting and got their win in the last, on Feb. 18. In addition, that 6-3 triumph came in the only game of the series at Niagara.
Senior forward Andrew Olsen collected both game-winning goals as the Huskies won a pair of one-goal games over AIC to grab a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Olsen has 14 tallies to lead a group of five Huskies with at least 10 goals. He has three game-winners. … UConn is idle this weekend and then takes a three-game winning streak into the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals.
The Crusaders have a bye this weekend before taking a school record 11-game unbeaten streak into the quarterfinals. Holy Cross is 8-0-3 during that stretch and shares the mark for longest string without a loss in the nation with Union. Union is 10-0-1 in its last 11. … Senior goalie Adam Roy (Feeding Hills, Mass.) was named the league’s Goalie of the Month after putting up a 6-0-2 record in February.
The Lakers snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) with a 5-1 triumph over Canisius on Saturday. Senior goalie Ryan Zapolski had 34 saves for the win. … The Lakers are 1-1-1against Robert Morris, the team they face this weekend in the first round. The teams split a pair of 3-2 games at Robert Morris and tied 4-4 at Canisius.
Senior forward Paul Zanette scored two goals in a 5-2 win over RIT and two more in a 3-3 tie. He passed the 100-point mark for his career and is now at 53-50-103. His numbers for this year are 29-24-53. … The Purple Eagles were fourth in the finals standings so if they can get past Canisius in the first round, they get to play a quarterfinals series at home.
The Colonials lost a pair of 4-2 games at Air Force and as a result slipped from second to fifth in the standings. Robert Morris plays host to Mercyhurst in Saturday’s first round of the playoffs. … Senior forward Nathan Longpre at 14-28-42 and senior defenseman Denny Urban at 8-31-39lead the Colonials.
The top-ranked Tigers are off this weekend and then head into the playoffs with one tie and a pair of losses in their last three games. … Senior forward Andrew Favot is at 12-28-40for the season. For his career, he has 40-87-127 totals, which is second best on the school’s Division 1 list and five points shy of the top spot.
The Pioneers lost all three games they played this season against Bentley, their first-round opponent. But one of the games was a 5-4 loss in overtime and the most recent was a 3-2 decision. … The Pioneers will try to ride the momentum of Saturday’s 5-1 win over Army into the tournament. Sophomore Eric Delong had two goals and two assists in that game and senior goalie Olivier St. Onge stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced.
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.