January 24, 2013

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Trio of sweeps shuffle up standings

By Allen Lessels

Bentley, Air Force and RIT were the movers and shakers in Atlantic Hockey last weekend.

They were the teams that swept their weekend series, helping to reshuffle and tighten the league standings even more with the regular season shrinking to six weekends left.

Bentley took a pair from Canisius at home, Air Force won a couple at Sacred Heart and RIT outlasted Army at West Point.

The two wins allowed Bentley to jump Canisius in the standings and move into a three-way tie for fourth place with Air Force and Army.

But it’s not like anyone in the league – except perhaps the folks at Niagara – is feeling particularly comfortable at the moment.

Here’s why: Niagara has a solid nine-point lead on the crowd with 27 points, but the next eight teams are separated by a total of three points. Add Connecticut into the mix and it’s nine teams within five points of each other.

Things can change in a hurry. Just ask Canisius.

The Golden Griffs slipped from a tie for third place into seventh with two losses. They lost 3-2 in overtime the first game and 7-2 the next when Bentley broke open a 3-2 game in the third period with four straight goals.

“It was a close game going into the third period and Bentley’s tempo got us on our heels,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith on the team’s web site. “We know that the standings are tight and we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We need to regain our confidence and be ready to play next weekend.”

That goes for all teams across the board.

There are several matchups that have the potential to shuffle the deck again.

Bentley and Holy Cross are at, or at least near, the top of the list.

Holy Cross and Mercyhurst are tied for second in the league with 18 points. Bentley, Air Force and Army are a point back and Canisius is one point behind that.

Robert Morris and RIT are a point behind Canisius.

Canisius and Mercyhurst square off in a home-and-home set in another featured series this weekend and Robert Morris is at Air Force for a pair.

Air Force, which has won the last two Atlantic Hockey tournament championships, is gearing up for a stretch run like everyone else.

“Our game and our spirit are on the upswing,” said coach Frank Serratore on the team’s web site after the sweep of Sacred Heart. “We took care of business this weekend and got the points we needed to get.”

The Falcons, starting with the series against Robert Morris, play four straight home games and eight of their last 12 games are at the Air Force Academy.

Player of the Week

Andrew Gladiuk, fr., F, Bentley

Gladiuk had an assist in Bentley’s 3-2 overtime win over Canisius on Friday night and was just getting warmed up. He contributed two goals, including the game-winner, and two assists to lead the Falcons to a 7-2 victory on Saturday. Gladiuk is tied for the team lead in goals at 12-10-22 and is second to Brett Gensler, 12-19-31, in points.

Games of the week

Bentley at Holy Cross, Friday, and Holy Cross at Bentley, Saturday

Bentley pulled within a point of Holy Cross in the Atlantic Hockey standings with last weekend’s sweep of Canisius. The Crusaders are tied with Mercyhurst for second place in the league behind Niagara. Bentley is in a three-way tie for fourth with Air Force and Army. Holy Cross beat Bentley, 4-3, in Worcester on Nov. 9. 

Power Rankings

1. Niagara (14-4-4, 13-1-1) . . . The Purple Eagles lost their first league game of the season, 5-3, at Holy Cross on Friday night and bounced right back with a 4-1 win on Saturday. Senior defenseman Dan Weiss assisted on a Marc Zanette goal that gave Niagara a 3-1 lead early in the third period and later scored his first of the year into an empty net.

2. Holy Cross (12-8-2, 8-5-2) . . . The Crusaders kept pace with Mercyhurst in the standings by splitting their games with first-place Niagara. Holy Cross and Mercyhurst trail Niagara by nine points and hold a one-point edge over Air Force, Bentley and Army, who are all tied for fourth place.

3. Mercyhurst (11-9-1, 9-5-0) . . . The Lakers lost to UConn, 5-5, on Friday night and rebounded behind the goaltending of senior Max Strang for a 5-0 win on Saturday. It was Strang’s second shutout of the season and fifth of his career. He allowed one goal in 31 minutes of relief work on Friday night.

4. Robert Morris (12-7-2, 7-6-1)  . . . The Colonials fell at AIC, 4-1, on Friday night and came back for a 5-4 win on Saturday. Junior defenseman Andrew Blazek had two goals on Saturday, senior forward Adam Brace had a couple of assists and sophomore forward Cody Wydo a goal and an assist. The Colonials are at Air Force for two this weekend.

5. Bentley (10-10-1, 8-6-1) . . . Sophomore Brett Gensler scored 2:09 into overtime with assists from junior Brett Gensler and sophomore Alex Grieve to lift the Falcons to a rare home OT win against Canisius on Friday. Bentley had played 25 overtime games (going 0-4-21) at home since its last extra-time win on March 6, 2004 against Holy Cross.

6. Air Force (9-9-5, 7-5-3) . . . Freshman forward Ben Carey had a couple of goals and an assist and junior goalie Jason Torf stopped 59 of the 64 shots he faced to lead the Falcons to their first sweep of the season with 5-2 and 6-3 wins at Sacred Heart. Air Force is 3-0-1 in its last four games, its longest unbeaten run of the year.

7. Canisius (8-11-5, 7-6-2) . . . The Griffs fell to 0-7-0 in one-goal games and 0-3-5 in overtime when they lost at Bentley, 3-2 in OT, on Friday night. They lost 7-2 to Bentley on Saturday. Canisius had given up as many as four goals only one time all season. The Griffs are at Mercyhurst on Friday and host the Lakers on Saturday.

8. Army (7-12-3, 7-7-3) . . . The Black Knights played RIT tight but lost a pair of games, 6-5 and 4-2, and now are 0-4-1 in their last five, all league contests. They slipped from second place behind Niagara into a three-way tie for fourth and play an exhibition against Royal Military College on Saturday. Army is at Mercyhurst next weekend.

9. RIT (8-10-4, 6-6-3) . . . Senior forward Jeff Smith scored four goals and added an assist to lead the Tigers to a 6-5 and 4-2 sweep at Army. Smith had a pair of goals in each game. The Tigers are on a season’s best three-game win streak and are 5-1-1 in their last seven league games. They host Niagara on Friday and are at Niagara on Saturday.

10. UConn (9-11-2, 6-8-1) . . .  The Huskies split a pair with Mercyhurst on the weekend and then gave No. 2-ranked Quinnipiac all it could handle on Tuesday night before falling, 2-1, on the road. Senior Matt Grogan had 48 saves for the Huskies, who were outshot, 50-22 by Quinnipiac. UConn faces AIC in a home-and-home series, starting on Friday in Storrs.

11. AIC (5-13-3, 2-10-3) . . . Junior Blake Peake and senior Adam Pleskach each scored a couple of goals to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 4-1 win over Robert Morris on Friday, Pleskach also had an assist in the game and his efforts took him to the 100-point mark for his career. He’s at 51-49-100 in 124 games.

12. Sacred Heart (0-21-2, 0-15-2) . . . Sophomore Jared Eng went into the weekend with three assists for the season in his first 17 games. He had a goal and three assists in a pair of loses to Air Force. The Pioneers play at Princeton on Sunday in the last regular season game for an Atlantic Hockey team against a non-league opponent this year. 

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