February 1, 2012

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Goaltending key for UConn, Niagara

By Allen Lessels

Niagara and Connecticut were the big winners last weekend as the Atlantic Hockey race to the end of the regular season, and jockeying for playoff position, heated up. 

Huskies goalie Garrett Bartus (Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics)

They were the only two teams to sweep their weekend series. Niagara took a pair of 2-1 games from its old CHA rival, Robert Morris, and slipped past the Colonials in the standings in the process.

UConn went into the weekend tied for sixth place in the standings with Holy Cross and Bentley. The Huskies took down Holy Cross, 3-1 and 3-0, and, with Bentley splitting with Army, managed to put just a little distance between themselves and their fellow New England entries.

UConn and Niagara, as the scores indicate, benefited from outstanding goaltending once again. Huskies junior Garrett Bartus stopped 64 of the 65 Holy Cross shots he faced for the weekend.

On the first shot of the third period in the 3-0 win on Saturday night, Bartus broke the school’s Division 1 record for saves when he recorded stop number 2,432 of his career.

“I think that means we give up a lot of shots … but he makes all the saves I guess,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall on the team’s web site. “He puts in the work, he’s diligent, he watches film, he’s on the ice with coach (Dave) Berard all throughout the week. These type of records are good for when you are older and you look back. Right now he needs to keep his focus and keep playing well down the stretch.”

Niagara senior Chris Noonan wasn’t far off the Bartus pace. He stopped 61 of 63 Robert Morris shots.

Bartus and Noonan are among several league goaltenders putting up impressive numbers.

The UConn netminder has a .929 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average in overall games, and those statistics improve to .935 and 2.04 in league games.

Noonan is at .942 and 1.69 overall, and .952 and 1.44 in the conference.

The productive weekends moved UConn and Niagara up the Atlantic Hockey ladder.

The Huskies are tied for fifth place with Robert Morris, two points out of third. They are on the outside looking in this weekend, though. UConn has played one game more than most league teams and the Huskies are off until they play Army at home on Tuesday.

Niagara jumps right back into the thick of the race, hosting Mercyhurst on Friday and Saturday. The Purple Eagles start the weekend tied with Air Force in third place in the standings. Mercyhurst is a point in front of those two in second and leader RIT is a point ahead of that.

“The league is so tight top to bottom,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “As far as playoff implications, every Friday and Saturday night is going to be crazy with a lot of scoreboard watching, and getting on the Internet and seeing where people are at.”

Games of the Week

RIT at Air Force, Friday and Saturday

The top four teams in the league square off against each other this weekend, and this clash of teams that have won most of the Atlantic Hockey hardware in recent years may well be the marquee match-up.

Mercyhurst plays at Niagara and those two might beg to differ, however. RIT leads the league standings by a point over Mercyhurst. Air Force and Niagara are tied for third, a point behind Mercyhurst.

Atlantic Hockey power rankings

1. RIT (15-8-3, 12-4-3 Atlantic Hockey) . . . Tigers take three points from Mercyhurst, leapfrog Lakers into first. 

2. Mercyhurst (14-10-4, 11-4-4) . . . Nick Jones scores two in third for 2-2 tie with RIT.  

3. Air Force (12-7-6, 10-4-5) . . . Falcons 2-for-2 on power play in 3-0 win over Canisius; 0-for-7 in 1-1 tie.

4. Niagara (11-8-7, 10-4-5) . . . Purple Eagles have not allowed more than a goal in any of six straight wins.

5. UConn (12-13-2, 11-8-1) . . . Huskies rebound from being swept with sweep of Holy Cross. 

6. Robert Morris (12-11-3, 10-6-3) . . . 2-1 losses to Niagara leave Colonials pointless for the first time in a league weekend this season.  

7. Bentley (8-12-6, 8-6-5). . . . Freshman Alex Grieve gets two goals in 6-2 win over Army.

8. Holy Cross (10-13-3, 8-8-3) . . . 65 shots in two games net Crusaders a single goal against UConn.

9. Canisius (8-14-4, 8-8-3) . . . Senior Dan Morrison’s 32 saves earn 2-2 tie with Air Force.

10. AIC (5-19-2, 4-13-2) . . . Adam Pleskach’s two goals lead rally to 3-2 OT win over Sacred Heart.

11. Army (3-15-7, 2-13-5) . . . Black Knights get second league win, 3-1, at Bentley; off until Tuesday at UConn. 

12. Sacred Heart (2-23-1, 1-17-1) . . . Junior Steve Legatto makes 45 saves, 20 in the third period, for Pioneers’ first league win, 4-2 over AIC. 

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