February 14, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: UConn ready for run at regular-season title

By Allen Lessels

Huskies senior goalie Matt Grogan is fourth in Atlantic Hockey with a .925 save percentage. (Photo: UConn Athletics)

Connecticut, coming off a big win and with just half-a-dozen regular season games remaining in its Atlantic Hockey history, takes on Holy Cross this weekend.

The Crusaders and Huskies meet on Friday night in Storrs and then close out their season series on Saturday in Worcester.

As the moment, the teams have different agendas.

UConn is in a tight battle for one of the top four spots in the standings and a bye in the first round of the league tournament.

Holy Cross, too, is in a tense points race. The Crusaders aim to nail down home ice for the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.

Connecticut is headed to Hockey East after this season and one of the goals for the year was to send the seniors, who won’t get to play in the new league, out with a bang.

The Huskies are trying to line themselves up for just that kind of finish.

“We’ve put ourselves in position with six league games left to take a run at the regular season title,” said first-year coach Mike Cavanaugh. “We certainly will have to play well to win it and we will need some help to do it.”

The longer-term goal is to win the league tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

“The tournament championship is the prize for everyone,” said Cavanaugh, who joined the Huskies after a long stint as an assistant to Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) at Boston College. “At the end of the day, we all want to go to the NCAAs.”

The Huskies split a series with Bentley last weekend and come into the Holy Cross series tied with Air Force for third place in the league. Air Force and UConn are a point behind second-place Bentley and three behind league-leading Mercyhurst.

Robert Morris is a point behind Air Force and UConn.

UConn won a 3-2 game at No. 9-ranked Providence on Tuesday night behind the 58-save performance of senior goalie Matt Grogan.

It was the first time UConn had ever beaten a Top 10 team.

“It was a great win,” Cavanaugh said. “Our kids played extremely hard, we were opportunistic and we got very good goaltending on top of that. We did a good job of eliminating second chances and when we didn’t, Grogan was there to make a save.”

Now it’s on to Holy Cross, a team Cavanaugh thinks could do some serious damage in the league tournament.

“They’re going to be a tough out for anyone,” Cavanaugh said.

The Crusaders are in a three-way tie with RIT and AIC for eighth place in the league entering the weekend and split a series with Sacred Heart last weekend.

They are also the last team to beat Boston College, the No. 1 team in the land.

Holy Cross stopped the Eagles, 5-4, on Nov. 29. BC has gone 14-0-1 since. 

Player of the Week

David Norris, fr., F, AIC

Norris scored the game-winning goal against Army in a 2-1 decision on Friday and had an assist on Jon Puskar’s goal that came 14 seconds into overtime in a 5-4 triumph on Saturday. Norris is at 3-24-27 for the season, which ties him with Puskar for the team points lead.

Games of the week

Holy Cross at UConn Friday, UConn at Holy Cross Saturday

UConn is tied for third place in the Atlantic Hockey standings with Air Force, a point behind Bentley and three behind first-place Mercyhurst. Holy Cross heads into the weekend in a three-way tie for eighth with RIT and AIC. 

Power Rankings

1. Mercyhurst (15-12-5, 13-4-4)  . . . Mercyhurst’s hold on first place shrunk to two points with the Lakers being swept at Air Force. The Lakers plan to have senior forward Daniel O’Donoghue and hope to have junior goalie Jimmy Serjeant back at RIT this weekend.

2. Bentley (14-10-4, 12-5-4) . . . Senior forward Jared Rickord had a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over UConn on Saturday that avenged a 3-0 loss on Friday night. The Falcons play a home and home series with Army this weekend.

3. UConn (15-9-4, 12-6-3) . . . UConn split a league series with Bentley and then knocked off No. 9-ranked Providence, 3-2, on Tuesday night. Senior Matt Grogan had 58 saves against the Friars, 23 in the third period

4. Air Force (17-9-4, 12-6-3) . . . Junior forward Cole Gunner had two goals and four assists in a home sweep of Mercyhurst, 5-3 and 2-0. Freshman Chris Truehl had 24 saves in the shutout.

5. Robert Morris (11-14-4, 11-7-4) . . . With a 2-2 tie at RIT and 5-1 win at home over the Tigers, Robert Morris extended its unbeaten streak to nine games last weekend, but then lost at Niagara, 5-3, on Thursday.

6. Niagara (10-15-4, 10-8-4) . . . Junior forward Sam Alfieri scored both of Niagara’s power play goal in Saturday’s 4-2 win at Canisius. The Purple Eagles scored three third period goals to rally to a 5-3 win over Robert Morris on Thursday night.

7. Canisius (10-15-3, 9-9-3) . . . The Golden Griffins picked up a point with a 4-4 tie at  Niagara on Thursday and then fell, 4-2, at home on Saturday. Canisius needed third period goals from Doug Jessey and Ben Danford to get the tie.

8. RIT (8-15-5, 7-11-3) . . . For the second straight weekend, the Tigers picked up only a point and they are 0-4-2 in their last six games. Freshman Mike Rotolo made 40 saves in Friday’s 2-2 tie with Robert Morris.

9. Holy Cross (8-17-3, 7-11-3) . . . The Crusaders scored four goals on six power play chances to bounce back from a 4-2 loss at Sacred Heart with a 6-1 win over the Pioneers at home on Saturday. Senior forward Adam Schmidt had two of the power play goals.

10. AIC (9-18-1, 8-12-1) . . . Freshman David Norris scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Army on Friday and senior Jon Puskar had the clincher 14 seconds into OT for a 5-4 win on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets own their first three-game win streak of the season.

11. Sacred Heart (8-20-0, 7-14-0) . . . Freshman forward Nick Lotito had one goal in his first 20 games and had two, including the winner, in a 4-2 victory over Holy Cross on Friday. Sacred Heart is at AIC on Friday and home against AIC on Saturday.

12. Army (3-22-0, 3-18-0) . . . Junior forward Zak Zaremba scored a third-period goal to get Saturday’s game to overtime, but the Black Knights fell to AIC in the extra session, 5-4.  Army has Bentley at home on Friday and is at Bentley on Saturday. 

Twitter: @AllenLessels
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