January 17, 2013

Atlantic Hockey Journal: UConn looking to make a move

By Allen Lessels

Senior Garrett Bartus enters the weekend with a .922 save percentage. (Photo: UConn Athletics)

The University of Connecticut, coming off a split with Robert Morris, plays a pair of games at home against Mercyhurst this weekend with an eye on moving up in the Atlantic Hockey standings.

“Our team has been getting a lot closer, you can see a lot of chemistry through all four lines and that’s starting to show in our scoring,” said sophomore forward Cody Sharib. “In the beginning of the season we were struggling with scoring. We were getting a lot of shots, but couldn’t find the back of the net. . . . I think we’re about ready to go on a run right now.”

The Huskies dug themselves a bit of a hole early when they went 0-4-1 overall to start the season and lost their first three league games.

They go into this weekend tied with RIT for ninth place in the standings, but are only two points behind Robert Morris, Air Force and Bentley, who are all tied for sixth. Mercyhurst, in its own three-way tie for third place, is five points in front of UConn.

The Huskies scored 21 goals in their first 13 games of the season and have scored 22 in their last six.

They have no player with as many as seven goals, but they do have some nice balance. Senior Sean Ambrosie, junior Jordan Sims and sophomore Trevor Gerling have six goals each and Sharib and junior Brant Harris each has five.

UConn also has some new-found balance in net.

Senior Garrett Bartus has been a workhorse throughout his UConn career. In recent weeks, fellow senior Matt Grogan has gotten a chance and is taking advantage of it. 

“They’re giving us a two-headed monster there and both have played well,” said interim head coach Dave Berard. “It’s been good. We’ve relied on Garrett a lot in the past and when you play every minute, you get tired. This way it allows us to have a fresh goalie each game. The last two weekends we’ve split them and we’ve won three of four. Something’s working.”

Grogan, who has a year of eligibility remaining and plans to come back for next season, made 30 saves to pick up a 3-2 win over Robert Morris on Friday last week.

Bartus had 39 stops the next night and the Huskies were locked in a 3-3 tie well into the third period until Robert Morris scored with less than seven minutes to go and then held on for a 4-3 win.

Grogan takes a .943 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average with his 3-1-1 record into the series against Mercyhurst. Bartus is 5-8-1 with a .922 save percentage and 2.54 gaa.

Last year, the Huskies lost a couple of close games at Mercyhurst. They fell 4-3 in overtime in the first game and dropped the next 2-0 when the Lakers scored two third period goals, the second into an empty net.

UConn will look for a little payback as well as to advance its Atlantic Hockey standing. 

“We’ll try to get four points this weekend,” Sharib said. 

Player of the Week

Kyle De Laurell, sr., F, Air Force

De Laurell’s second career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, led the Falcons to a 4-1 win over Army on Friday night. He came back on Saturday to contribute another big goal. His fourth goal of the weekend in the third period tied the game at 3-3 and it stayed that way through overtime, earning Air Force three points in the series. 

Games of the week

Niagaraat Holy Cross, Friday & Saturday

The Crusaders get their shot to try and slow the runaway train in Atlantic Hockey that is Niagara. The Crusaders are in a three-way tie with Canisius and Merychurst for third-place in the league. Army is one point in front of those three in second place and Niagara is another eight points ahead of that. 

Power Rankings

1.      Niagara (13-3-4, 12-0-1) . . . The beat goes on at the top of the league standings. The Purple Eagles had to work for their sweep at AIC with 3-2 and 3-1 wins but when all was said and done they had extended their lead to eight points over second-place Army. They move on to a series at Holy Cross. 

2.      Holy Cross (11-7-2, 7-4-2) . . . No damage was done at Mercyhurst where the Crusaders and Lakers split a series last weekend, leaving the teams tied for third place in the league standings. Now Niagara, undefeated in league games, visits Worcester. Holy Cross and Niagara split a pair of games at Niagara early last season.

3.      Robert Morris (11-6-2, 6-5-1)  . . . Robert Morris and UConn split a series last week, leaving the Colonials two points up on the Huskies in the standings. Senior Adam Brace had two goals and two assists in the series and sophomore forward Cody Wydo added two goals and an assist. 

4.      Mercyhurst (10-8-1, 8-4-0) . . . After losing 2-1 to Holy Cross on Friday night, the Lakers rebounded for a 4-2 win on Saturday. Senior goalie Max Strang stopped 32 shots for the win and has won his last four starts. He has a 1.98 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that stretch.

5.      Canisius (8-9-5, 7-4-2) . . . The Golden Griffins moved up a bit in the standings with a sweep of Sacred Heart, 5-1 and 6-3. Freshman defenseman Chris Rumble, whose start to his collegiate career was delayed as he dealt with leukemia, made his second and third appearances of the season and has a goal and two assists in his three games.

6.      Army (7-10-3, 7-5-3) . . . Andrew O’Leary (Norwich, Vt.) returned to the lineup on Friday after missing three games and scored his first collegiate goal on Saturday. His goal gave the Black Knights a 3-1 lead early in the second period, but they were unable to hold off Air Force and had to settle for a 3-3 tie, getting one point out of the weekend.

7.      Bentley (8-10-1, 6-6-1) . . . Bentley and RIT matched shutouts. Junior Branden Komm made 41 saves, 18 in the first period to win Friday night’s game at RIT, 3-0. It was his first shutout of the season and fourth of his career. Bentley hosts Canisius for a pair this weekend. The Falcons trail the Griffs by three points in the standings.

8.      Air Force (7-9-5, 5-5-3) . . . The Falcons picked up three points by beating Army, 4-1, on Friday and then rallying for a 3-3 tie. Junior Jason Torf made 26 saves for the win on Friday and came back with 27 on Saturday in the tie. Air Force is at Sacred Heart for games on Saturday and Sunday.

9.      UConn (8-9-2, 5-7-1) . . . The Huskies split a pair of one-goal games at Robert Morris, winning 3-2 and falling 4-3. Junior forward Jordan Sims led the Huskies with two goals and three assists for the weekend. He had two goals, one of which was UConn’s first short-handed goal of the season, and an assist on Saturday.

10.  RIT (6-10-4, 4-6-3) . . . The Tigers rebounded nicely from a 3-0 loss to Bentley on Friday night to post their own 4-0 win on Saturday behind Josh Watson’s 31 saves. Watson has started nine of the last 10 games for RIT and has a 2.49 goals against average and .927 save percentage during that stretch. RIT is at Army this weekend.

11.  AIC (4-12-3, 1-9-3) . . . The Yellow Jackets essentially dropped a pair of one-goal games to unbeaten league leader Niagara. They lost 3-2 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday when the Purple Eagles scored an empty net goal with one second left in the game. Senior goalie Ben Meisner stopped 80 of the 85 shots he faced for the weekend.

12.  Sacred Heart (0-19-2, 0-13-2) . . . The Pioneers dropped a pair at home to Canisius, 5-1 and 6-3, last weekend and have Air Force in for a pair on Saturday and Sunday. Sophomore forward Brian Sheehan at 8-9-17 and senior forward Eric Delong at 7-10-17 lead Sacred Heart in scoring. 

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