February 16, 2013

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Crusaders vie for bye

By Allen Lessels

Defenseman Evan Zych and Holy Cross willl look to finish the 2012-13 season strong. (Photo: Peter Cooke)

Holy Cross finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Atlantic Hockey standings last year and in a tiebreaker was the odd team out.

The Crusaders became the No. 5 seed in the tournament and won a first-round series over Army, but then had to go to Mercyhurst, one of the teams they had tied for third, for the quarterfinals and were knocked out two games to none.

One of the Holy Cross goals down the stretch, with three weekends left in the regular season, is to take care of business and secure a spot in the top four in the standings and thus a first-round bye and home-ice for the quarterfinals.

Coach Paul Pearl, no fan of the league’s tiebreaker system, hopes to avoid going through that again.
First, the Crusaders must deal with UConn, which is coming off an impressive sweep (4-1 and 9-0) of Bentley.

“All the teams are getting better and they’re playing tougher,” Pearl said. “I like to think we’re in that category, too.”

UConn and Holy Cross are right in the middle of things in the race for the top four and are currently tied for third along with Canisius. Those three are three points behind third-place Air Force and four behind second-place Mercyhurst.

Holy Cross has an edge on the others. Because their series with Sacred Heart was postponed last week, the Crusaders have eight games remaining, while all other contenders for top four spots have just six.

The Crusaders are at UConn on Friday and play the Huskies at home on Saturday.

They will play their games against Sacred Heart the next two Tuesday nights, at Sacred Heart on Feb. 19 and at home on Feb. 26.

The other two series Holy Cross has left are against Army and AIC, who sit in 10th and 11th in the standings going into this weekend’s games.

“After the second game against Sacred Heart in two weeks we’ll be going into the final weekend and we’ll know whether we have a shot at home ice and a bye, first place or who knows where,” Pearl said.

He expects the standings to be jammed up again and isn’t excited about the prospects of seeing the tiebreaker put back to use.

“Atlantic Hockey has the single stupidest tiebreaker ever invented,” said Pearl, who noted that he has complained before and not gotten far with his issues with the system. “It’s total goals, rather than something like your record against the top four teams.”

As a result, teams can get penalized for pulling their goalie for an extra attacker if the opponent scores into an empty net.

Player of the Week

Matt Grogan, G, sr., Connecticut

Make that two in a row for Grogan. He’s the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks after stopping 54 of 55 shots to lead the Huskies to a sweep of Bentley, 4-1 and 9-0.

Grogan earned his first career shutout with 24 saves in Monday night’s 9-0 rout in Storrs.

Games of the week

Holy Cross at UConn, Friday, UConn at Holy Cross, Saturday

The Crusaders and Huskies go into their weekend series locked in a three-way logjam for fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey standings. Canisius, which is at Air Force for a pair of games, is the third team in the mix. Holy Cross knocked off UConn, 2-1, in the first game of the season series in Worcester on Oct. 26.

Power Rankings

1. Niagara (18-5-5, 17-2-2) . . . Junior goalie Carsen Chubak made 32 saves for his sixth shutout of the season and Niagara bounced back from a 2-0 loss at Canisius with a 2-0 win over the Griffs at home. The Purple Eagles lead Mercyhurst by 10 points in the standings and could lock up the top spot this weekend against Robert Morris.

2. Mercyhurst (14-11-3, 12-7-2) . . . The Lakers needed a goal with just 2:26 left in regulation for a 2-2 tie against Air Force to salvage something from the weekend series and hold off the Falcons in the standings. Mercyhurst lost the first game of the series, 4-2, and remains in second-place, a point ahead of Air Force, with RIT coming to town.

3. Air Force (12-10-7, 10-6-5) . . . The third-place Falcons ramped up the pressure on second-place Mercyhurst by taking three points from the Lakers. Freshman forward Max Hartner had two goals in a 4-2 win on Friday and senior forward Kyle De Laurell had both in a 2-2 tie on Saturday. The Falcons host Canisius this weekend.

4. Holy Cross (14-10-2, 10-7-2) . . . The storm forced postponement of both Holy Cross games against Sacred Heart, leaving the Crusaders with eight games to play, while most contenders for first-round byes have six. The makeups are scheduled for Feb. 19 at Sacred Heart and Feb. 26 at home against the Pioneers.

5. UConn (13-12-3, 10-9-2) . . .  The Huskies made a move in the standings, jumping from a tie for eighth place to a three-way tie for fourth with a sweep of Bentley, 4-1 and 9-0, on Sunday and Monday in a storm-delayed series. Junior forward Brant Harris scored two goals in the first game and nine different players had goals in the second.

6. Canisius (11-14-5, 10-9-2) . . . The Griffs and Niagara swapped 2-0 wins with Canisius junior Tony Capobianco stopping 35 shots on Thursday for his third shutout of the season and fourth of his career. The Griffs are in a three-way tie for fourth place, three points behind third-place Air Force. They are at Air Force this weekend.

7. Robert Morris (15-11-2, 10-10-1)  . . . The Colonials and RIT put on a power play clinic in a 4-3 Robert Morris loss at home on Saturday.  The Colonials went 3-for-7 on the power play and RIT was 3-for-6. A weekend split left Robert Morris a point in front of RIT.  Robert Morris has a home-and-home series with Niagara this weekend.

8. RIT (10-13-5, 8-9-4) . . . A night after going 0-for-5 on the power play and being shut out 3-0, RIT scored three times with the man advantage and beat Robert Morris, 4-3. Sophomore Matt Garbowsky had three assists, junior Michael Colavecchia had a goal and two assists and freshman Dan Schuler scored the game-winner unassisted.

9. Bentley (11-15-1, 9-11-1) . . . The Falcons were swept for the second straight weekend as UConn knocked them off, 4-1 and 9-0, in games on Sunday and Monday that were postponed from Friday and Saturday by the storm. Bentley will try to regroup in a home and home series with Army. 

10. Army (7-14-4, 7-9-4) . . . The Black Knights were shut out for the fourth time this season when AIC blanked them, 3-0, at West Point on Sunday. Army plays at Bentley on Friday and the teams meet at Army on Saturday. The Saturday game starts a string of three straight home games for the Black Knights. 

11. AIC (7-14-5, 4-11-5) . . . Senior goalie Ben Meisner stopped 36 shots to win at Army on Sunday, 3-0, for his first shutout of the season and seventh of his career. The shutout gave AIC consecutive wins for the first time this season. The game was postponed from Friday due to the storm. Saturday’s game against Army was moved to Feb. 26 at AIC.

12. Sacred Heart (0-24-2, 0-17-2) . . . Sacred Heart’s scheduled weekend series with Holy Cross was postponed. The games will be played Feb. 19 at Sacred Heart and Feb. 26 at Holy Cross. The Pioneers are at AIC this Friday and the teams meet at Sacred Heart on Saturday. Sacred Heart and AIC played to a 2-2 tie at Sacred Heart on Nov. 17.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.