Slowly but surely, Atlantic Hockey teams are opening the league portion of their schedules.
Two more league members – Air Force and American International – play their first conference games this weekend.
Sacred Heart, which at 2-2-0 overall has already matched its season total for wins from last year, heads to AIC on Saturday night. The teams tied 2-2 in their first meeting last year at Sacred Heart and the Yellow Jackets knocked off the Pioneers twice in mid-February.
Saturday’s is the first of three games between the two teams this season. They play at AIC on Feb. 14 and at Sacred Heart on Feb. 15.
Air Force plays host to both Niagara and Canisius in a round-robin of sorts between teams that have been at the very top of the league and who, according to early polls at least, should be contenders for regular season and tournament honors again.
Canisius is at Air Force on Friday night. Niagara visits on Sunday.
Both of the Buffalo area schools are making the most of their long trips west. Niagara is playing at Denver on Friday and Canisius is playing there on Saturday.
Canisius and Niagara are becoming familiar faces in Colorado Springs.
Six of Air Force’s final eight games last season were against Canisius or Niagara and all six were at the Cadet Ice Arena.
First, Canisius came out for a regular season series in mid-February and went home with 3-1 and 3-2 losses.
Two weeks later, Niagara stopped by on the last weekend of the season and Air Force took two games from the regular season champions, 5-2 and 6-1.
Fueled in part by those wins, the Falcons appeared ready to make a run at yet another Atlantic Hockey tournament title: Until Canisius arrived for a quarterfinal series.
Junior goalie Tony Capobianco and the Golden Griffins, the No. 7 seed in the tournament, eliminated Air Force with a 4-3 win in the first game and 4-3 overtime triumph in the second. Air Force outshot Canisius, 53-25, the first night, 43-26, the next.
The Griffs were on their way to their first Atlantic Hockey title and first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Air Force warmed up for this weekend’s game with a sweep of Penn State last weekend and coach Frank Serratore liked several aspects of the effort, including the way his team blocked shots.
“We had five or six guys take missiles,” Serratore said. “Talking about all of the great saves Torf made, but how many didn’t get to him because we took the missiles? This was a great team win.”
After this weekend, seven of the league’s 12 teams will have played a conference game. Four of the other five – Holy Cross, UConn, Army and RIT and Mercyhurst – will play their first on Nov. 1.
Mercyhurst will be the final team to get on the league’s scoreboard when the Lakers play Air Force at home on Nov. 2.
Player of the Week
Jason Torf, G, sr., Air Force
Torf gave up one even strength goal on the weekend to lead Air Force to 5-2 and 3-1 wins over Penn State. Overall, he stopped 59 of the 62 shots he faced. Penn State broke up his shutout bid on Saturday with a goal with 2:46 left in the game.
Game of the week
Sacred Heart at AIC, Saturday, Oct. 26
The Yellow Jackets got the best of the series between the teams last year. Sacred Heart and AIC played to a 2-2 tie at Sacred Heart on Nov. 17. AIC won a 4-0 game at home on Feb. 15 and rolled to a 9-1 win at Sacred Heart the next night.
Atlantic Hockey Power Rankings
Niagara (1-2-1, 1-0-1) – Just two games into their league schedule, the Purple Eagles are in a familiar spot. On top. They rolled to their first Atlantic Hockey title last season. Niagara is at Denver on Friday and then has a league test at Air Force on Sunday.
Sacred Heart (2-2-0, 1-0-0) – Junior forward Drew George leads the Pioneers with three goals and an assist through four games. Sacred Heart plays at AIC on Saturday. The Pioneers lost 4-0 and 9-1 games to AIC last February.
Canisius (0-1-0, 0-1-0) – Canisius is at Air Force on Friday and Denver on Saturday. The Golden Griffins swept Air Force out of the Atlantic Hockey tournament last winter with 4-3 and 4-3 in overtime wins in Colorado Springs.
Air Force (2-2-0, 0-0-0) – The Falcons scored a power play goal in their 5-2 and 3-1 sweep of Penn State, but still are 1-for-19 with the man advantage. Junior forward Cole Gunner has three goals and two assists going into games against Canisius and Niagara.
Mercyhurst (1-4-0, 0-0-0) – Nick Jones scored with 34 seconds left to lift the Lakers to a 3-2 win at Merrimack on Friday. Merrimack won the rematch on Saturday, 5-2. Jimmy Sarjeant has a .929 save percentage and 2.19 goals against average.
UConn (0-2-0, 0-0-0) – The Huskies dropped a pair of games at Minnesota State in Mankato to spoil the debut of head coach Mike Cavanaugh, who came over from Boston College. Union comes to Storrs for a Friday night game.
Robert Morris (0-2-1, 0-0-1) – Junior forward Scott Jacklin assisted on each of the goals in a 3-3 tie with Niagara. Sophomore David Friedman had a goal and two assists. The Colonials play at Ohio State on Friday and the teams play at Robert Morris on Saturday.
Holy Cross (0-3-0, 0-0-0) – All the Crusaders losses have been to Hockey East schools. They lost at home to Northeastern, 3-1, on Friday and at Northeastern, 5-2, on Saturday. Quinnipiac is at Holy Cross on Friday and the teams play at Quinnipiac on Saturday.
Bentley (1-4-0, 0-1-0) – Nice class balance. Junior Alex Grieve had three goals and senior Brett Gensler, sophomore Andrew Gladiuk and freshman Max French each have a pair through Bentley’s first five games.
RIT (0-3-1, 0-0-0) – Senior forwards Michael Colavecchia and Ben Lynch each have three goals and an assist for the Tigers and senior defenseman Nolan Descoteaux has a goal and three assists. RIT is at Penn State on Friday.
AIC (0-1-0, 0-0-0) – The Yellow Jackets scored four goals in their opener, but they gave up 10 to Providence. Freshman defenseman Carson Grolla scored in his first collegiate game. Freshmen forwards David Norris and Sean Federow assisted on Grolla’s goal.
Army (0-1-0, 0-0-0) – The Black Knights play at Merrimack on Saturday. Last year, Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.) scored two power play goals in 37 seconds to pull Army into a 2-2 third period tie. Merrimack answered with its own power play goal and an empty netter.