February 10, 2011

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Jockeying for a first-round bye

Bentley senior goaltender Joe Calvi says, 'We're playing for that first-round bye, and it's coming down to the wire.' (photo: Bentley University)

Here’s the race within the race.

A quick check of the Atlantic Hockey standings with three weekends left in the regular season shows Bentley, Army and Connecticut tied for eighth place with 18 points apiece.

A closer look reveals this: It’s a battle for eighth, and so much more.

A bye in the first round of the league tournament is at stake.

The 12-team league, with the addition of Niagara and Robert Morris, was broken down into two pods for scheduling purposes this season, and the way the tournament is set up, the first two teams in the West pod and first two in the East pod receive first-round byes.

Five of the top six teams in the standings going into this weekend are in the West pod. If the season ended today, RIT and Robert Morris would receive first-round byes out of the West.

Holy Cross, as the top seed in the East at the moment, would receive also get a bye. The other East bye would come down to a tiebreaker between Bentley, Army and UConn.

Holy Cross, which owns a five-point edge on the other three, will try to hold onto its spot over the next three weekends.  Bentley, Army and UConn will try to create some separation from each other and eliminate the need for a tiebreaker.

“We’re playing for that first-round bye, and it’s coming down to the wire,” Bentley senior goalie Joe Calvi said.

The three teams each split a series last weekend — Army and UConn played each other — and are in the same position they were in a week ago.

The only head-to-head series left between them is a Bentley-UConn series Feb. 18 and 19.

The matchups the rest of the way look like this: Bentley plays AIC this weekend, then has UConn and Holy Cross; Army has Holy Cross this weekend, AIC and Sacred Heart; and UConn has Sacred Heart this weekend, Bentley and AIC.

“We’ve only got six games left, and they’re all real important,” Calvi said.

They certainly are.

Player of the Week

Kyle Fletcher, so., Holy Cross

Fletcher scored three goals and added five assists to lead the Crusaders to a sweep of AIC, 5-2 and 8-4. He had two goals, including his fourth game-winner of the season, and three assists in the 8-4 win Saturday night.

Looking Ahead           

UConn at Sacred Heart, Friday; Sacred Heart at UConn, Sunday

The Huskies are the home team Sunday, but the game is being played at Rentschler Field in East Hartford as part of the Whalers Hockey Fest. The contest is one of about 30 high school, prep, college and professional games taking place at the rink.

Around Atlantic Hockey

AIC

Junior forward Michael Penny and sophomore forward Adam Pleskach combined for four goals and five assists in a pair of weekend losses to Holy Cross. Pleskach had a goal and three assists and leads the Yellow Jackets with 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points. Penny was at 3-2-5 for the weekend and is at 10-9-19 for the season. … AIC hosts Bentley on Friday and is at Bentley on Saturday.

Air Force

The Falcons scrambled from an early 4-0 deficit to earn a 5-5 tie with RIT on Saturday night. That salvaged a point for the weekend after a 1-0 loss Friday night. … Air Force enters this weekend’s home series against Niagara in fourth place in the league, a point behind the Purple Eagles. The Falcons are also only a point ahead of Mercyhurst and Holy Cross, who are tied for fifth.

Army

Senior captain Cody Omilusik and the Black Knights came up huge in the third period Saturday night to split their series with UConn. Army trailed 1-0 entering the period and behind Omilusik’s three goals, captured a 5-3 win. It was Omilusik’s second hat trick of the season and third of his career. … Sophomore defenseman Cheyne Rocha (Rye, N.H.) had three assists in the third period. … Army is at Holy Cross for a pair this weekend.

Bentley

Junior defenseman Mike Switzer and sophomore forward Joe Campanelli had the key goals as Bentley gave Sacred Heart a taste of its own medicine on Saturday night. On Friday night at home, Bentley lost 6-3 after leading 3-1 in the second period. The next night, Bentley was behind 4-1 in the third period and rallied for a 5-4 overtime win. Switzer’s extra attacker goal with 1:01 to play got it to OT and Campanelli scored 47 seconds into the extra session.

Canisius

Senior Cory Conacher is at it again for Canisius. His third career hat trick led the Golden Griffins to a 5-4 win over Robert Morris on Thursday. Conacher passed Josh Heidinger (2006-10) to become the school’s all-time leading scorer. He’s at 58-77-135 for his career. … The Griffs are at RIT on Friday and play the Tigers at home on Sunday.

UConn

Freshman Billy Latta scored a pair of goals on Friday night to pace UConn to a 4-2 win at Army. Sophomore Sean Ambrosie had a goal and an assist the next night when the Huskies dropped the rematch, 5-3, at the XL Center in Hartford. The game was moved to Hartford when UConn’s home rink was closed for precautionary reasons because of snow on the roof.  … UConn plays at Sacred Heart on Friday, and the teams meet at Rentschler Field in East Hartford at 1 p.m. Sunday.

HolyCross

The Crusaders ran their winning streak to four and are 4-0-1 in their last five with 5-2 and 8-4 wins over AIC. It’s the longest win streak for Holy Cross since a six-game run in March 2006. … Sophomore linemates Kyle Fletcher (three goals, five assists) and Rob Linsmayer (two goals, six assists) each had eight points for the weekend. … Tied for fifth in the standings with Mercyhurst, the Crusaders are a point out of fourth and two points out of third. … Army is at Holy Cross for two games this weekend.

Mercyhurst

The Lakers swept a pair from Niagara, 8-5 and 4-0, to keep pace with Holy Cross and close in on a top four spot. Mercyhurst and Holy Cross are a point behind fourth-place Air Force, two behind third-place Niagara and three behind second-place Robert Morris. … Mercyhurst is at Robert Morris for a pair this weekend. … Senior Scott Pitt had four goals against Niagara, three of them Saturday.

Niagara

The Purple Eagles fell to third place, a point behind Robert Morris, after being swept by Mercyhurst. Niagara has a game in hand on Robert Morris. … Niagara is a point ahead of Air Force and travels to Colorado Springs to take on the Falcons this weekend. The Purple Eagles split the last time they went to Air Force in March 2006, but are 1-10-1 in their last dozen there.

Robert Morris

Junior Brooks Ostergard worked in relief in an 8-4 loss to Mercyhurst on Friday and came back and made 48 saves in a 4-1 win on Saturday. … The Colonials improved to 16-9-6 overall with the win and set a school record for victories. … Senior forward Nathan Longpre has scored at least a point in nine straight and 16 of the last 17 games. He’s at 14-25-39 for the season. … Mercyhurst is at Robert Morris on Friday, and the teams play at Mercyhurst on Saturday.

RIT

The Tigers ran their unbeaten string to nine (4-0-5) overall and to 13 (9-0-4) in Atlantic Hockey with a 1-0 overtime win and 5-5 tie at home against Air Force. … Sophomore forward Adam Hartley scored 2:07 into overtime Friday, and sophomore goalie Shane Madolora made 20 saves for his third shutout of the season Saturday. Madolora is 12-0-6 overall, 12-0-5 in Atlantic Hockey. … RIT plays Canisius at home Friday, and the teams meet Sunday at Canisius.

Sacred Heart

The Pioneers came from behind for their first road win of the season at Bentley, 6-3, Friday night. But they couldn’t hold off a Bentley rally and lost 5-4 in overtime Saturday at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. Sophomore Ben Ketchum (Greenwich, Conn.) scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, Friday night. He also had an assist. Sacred Heart has UConn at home Friday night and plays the Huskies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com