March 21, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: It's anybody's tournament now

By Allen Lessels

So who do you like now?

Canisius? The defending champion proved last year that it can win the whole thing from the No. 7 seed and enjoyed the process so much it is intent on repeating from the same spot.

Mercyhurst? The Lakers grabbed hold of the top spot in the Atlantic Hockey standings at mid-season and refused to let go and now hope to add a second tournament title to the one they captured in 2005.

Niagara? Can the Purple Eagles finish now what they started last year when they ran away with the regular season championship and then ran into the buzzsaw that was Canisius in the semifinals?

Or how about Robert Morris, which fell to 2-12-2 with losses to Penn State and Bowling Green in the Three Rivers Classic holiday tournament as 2013 ended and has been on fire in 2014 and is playing in the championship round for the first time?

It all should make for an interesting weekend at the Atlantic Hockey championships at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

Canisius and No. 1 seed Mercyhurst get it started in a rematch of last year’s championship game on Friday at 4:05.

No. 6 Niagara and No. 5 Robert Morris, the former College Hockey America rivals playing in their fourth Atlantic Hockey seasons, are scheduled to play at 7:35.

Note the high numbers. Seeds No. 2, 3 and 4 were eliminated when they lost on their home ice last weekend.

Robert Morris gave No. 4 UConn a rude parting gift when it swept the Huskies out of the tournament. UConn’s next game will be as a Hockey East member next fall.

Niagara was no more polite as a guest. The Purple Eagles lost 2-1 on Friday night and came back to beat Air Force, 4-3 and then 4-3 in overtime, in Colorado.

Mercyhurst was the lone home ice survivor and knocked off No. 8 Holy Cross.

Canisius had the wildest weekend.

The Golden Griffins gave the first game up late and lost to No. 2 Bentley, 4-3 in overtime. They roared from behind to beat the Falcons 5-4 in double overtime on Saturday and came from behind again for a 3-2 win on Sunday to advance.

“It was crazy,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “It had a little bit of everything. Dramatic comebacks by us and by them. Us blowing a 4-1 lead in our own building on Saturday. Give credit to them. They won on Sunday and these were two teams that could have been playing the next weekend. But that’s the way it goes. I’m very proud of our guys and how they battled.”

The Falcons had plenty of scoring bids to put Saturday’s game, and the series, away late in regulation and in overtime.

Canisius senior goalie Tony Capobianco turned them all aside.

“He was pretty special for them,” Soderquist said. “He stood on his head at times. We had some phenomenal scoring opportunities and we had the puck on the sticks of the right players and he made some saves that were unbelievable. It was pretty intense.”

The intensity cranks up a bit more this weekend.

Player of the Week

Mitch McCrank, jr., F, Canisius

McCrank had a couple of assists to help Canisius to a come-from-behind, 5-4 win in double overtime at Bentley on Saturday night. Then he scored all three of the Golden Griffin goals in a 3-2 win on Sunday that clinched a spot in the Atlantic Hockey championship round for the defending tournament champions.


Game of the week

Canisius vs. Mercyhurst

The Golden Griffins and Lakers meet in a semifinal that is a repeat of last year’s championship game. Canisius won that one, 7-2, and took two of the three games between the teams this season. The Canisius-Mercyhurst winner plays the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Niagara and Robert Morris.

  1. Mercyhurst (21-12-7, 17-4-6)  – The Lakers swept Holy Cross, 5-4 in overtime and 4-1, to advance to the semifinals for the third straight season. Each of those years, they took out Holy Cross in the quarterfinals.  
  2. Bentley (19-14-4, 16-7-4) – Senior Brett Gensler had three goals and five assists in three games against Canisius. He ends his career at 33-94-167 in 145 games. Goalie Branden Komm finishes tops in career wins (47), GAA (2.46) and save percentage (.923).
  3. Robert Morris (17-17-5, 13-9-5) – Freshman Dalton Izyk won his first career game in relief against Army in the deciding game of the first-round series. He stopped 69 of 71 shots to knock UConn out in the quarterfinals, 3-0 and 3-2.
  4. UConn (18-14-4, 15-9-3) – UConn ended its season and stay in Atlantic Hockey with a pair of quarterfinal losses at home to Robert Morris, 3-0 and 3-2. Senior Matt Grogan ends his career with a program-best 2.32 career goals against average.
  5. Air Force (21-14-4, 15-9-3) – Air Force’s season ended for the second straight year with a 4-3 loss in overtime at home in the quarterfinals. Last year, it was to Canisuis, this year, to Niagara. Senior Jason Torf tied the school’s best career save percentage at .915.
  6. Niagara (15-19-5, 11-11-5) – Senior defenseman Matt Williams picked a timely moment for his third goal of the season, eighth of his career. He scored 3:49 into overtime to give the Purple Eagles a 4-3 win at Air Force in Game 3 of their quarterfinal series.
  7. Canisius (16-20-3, 11-13-3) – Senior goalie Tony Capobianco dropped his first Atlantic Hockey tourney game in Friday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Bentley, and then helped the Golden Griffins to wins on Saturday and Sunday nights. He is 10-1-0 in league playoffs.
  8. Holy Cross (14-22-3, 11-13-3) – Senior Adam Schmidt finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in games played. He led Holy Cross at 14-15-29 this year and was 52-60-112 in 151 career games. The Crusaders lead the country with 658 blocked shots.
  9. RIT (12-20-5, 10-14-3)  
  10. Sacred Heart (12-24-0, 11-16-0) 
  11. AIC (10-25-1, 9-17-1) 
  12. Army (6-28-0, 5-22-0)

Allen Lessels can be reached at