May 9, 2013

From NEHJ: AIC turns the corner in Atlantic Hockey

By Allen Lessels

Junior Blake Peake and American International was 1-11-3 in Atlantic Hockey after 15 games, but put together an 8-3-3 finish to salvage the 2012-13 season.
 

American International College hit a rough patch around the holidays.

The Yellow Jackets knocked off Mercyhurst, 7-3, in Erie, Pa., on Dec. 7, but the next night lost the rematch, 7-2. They then lost two more games, both also by 7-2 scores, to Connecticut and Brown in the UConn holiday tournament.

They had league-leading Niagara at home to open the new year and lost two more games and fell to 1-9-3 in Atlantic Hockey. AIC played the Purple Eagles tough, though, losing 3-2 the first night and 3-1, including an empty-net goal, the second.

Turns out, the Yellow Jackets had turned the corner.

“From the beginning of January on, we went on a pretty good run,” said coach Gary Wright. “I don’t know if it was any one thing, but we came out of the gate strong in the second semester. I thought it was a combination of things. We got real good goaltending down the stretch and our power play became pretty potent, and that was a factor.”

Senior goalie Ben Meisner was stopping all kinds of shots and senior forward Adam Pleskach led the offense. The play and leadership of the senior class overall was key and the penalty kill was good, too, and the team played with more and more confidence as it got better results.

Juniors Jon Puskar and Blake Peake followed Pleskach on the scoring list.

AIC turned its league mark around and put up an 8-3-3 record in the second half and came up just short of earning home ice for the first round of the playoffs. Its overall record of 12-17-6 marked the first time the Yellow Jackets have been in double figures in wins in the 10 years of Atlantic Hockey. It was also the team’s most wins since the 1998-99 season.

“We moved up in the standings to ninth,” Wright said. “That’s still a somewhat modest achievement. … Certainly we’ve struggled some, but as much as anything the best part of it was probably seeing the enjoyment and sense of achievement our players derived from it. You could see it even from some of our upperclassmen given some of the difficult times and adversity they’ve had to deal with, particularly with wins and losses. As a coach, that was really satisfying. I guess that’s one of the reasons we do this.”

 

2012-13 Team Recaps

AIR FORCE

The Good: The Falcons rallied to finish second to Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey standings. Air Force swept the Purple Eagles at home, 5-2 and 6-1, on the last weekend of the regular season to wrap up the No. 2 seed and take some momentum into the playoffs.

The Bad: The momentum was not enough and Air Force became the first upset victim of Canisius in the quarterfinals, losing a pair of 4-3 games at home, the clincher in overtime. For the first time in its seven years in Atlantic Hockey, Air Force did not make it to championship weekend in Rochester, N.Y.

The Future: The Falcons, who had won five of the previous six Atlantic titles, lose their top two scorers. But 12 of the next 13 return, led by Cole Gunner, who had 7-22-29 totals this year and is at 15-42-57 in 76 career games. Goalie Jason Torf, who backstopped Air Force to titles as a freshman and sophomore, will also be back for one more go-round.

 

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL

The Good: The Yellow Jackets had one highlight early, a 2-1 win on Nov. 6 at Quinnipiac, the eventual NCAA runner-up to Yale. They had a bunch of highlights in the second half, including points in nine of their last 10 regular-season games, leading to their most overall wins since the 1998-99 season.

The Bad: AIC was 4-12-3 overall and 1-9-3 in the league through the first week of January. The Yellow Jackets went to RIT for their first-round series and played well in a 2-1 loss the first night, but a 7-1 loss in Game 2 left a sour taste.

The Future: Heavy duty goaltender Ben Meisner and 114-point scorer Adam Pleskach and their fellow seniors led the second-half charge and will be missed. Junior forwards Jon Puskar and Blake Peake and freshman forward Chris Porter, who made the league’s All-Rookie team, will try to help the team build on the second half.

 

ARMY

The Good: The Black Knights had an impressive first half of the season and shut out Robert Morris, 5-0, at home on Jan. 4 to move to 7-3-2 in the league.

The Bad: Army lost to Robert Morris, 4-1, also at home the next night and things went south from there. The Black Knights did not win another game all season, going 0-12-3 in their last 15 league games. They struggled both on the power play (12 percent success rate) and killing penalties (opponents were at 23.3 percent).

The Future: Leading scorer Andy Starczewski was a senior, but the next 11 high scorers return. Nine of them were either freshmen or sophomores, starting with sophomore defenseman Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.) at 6-12-18 and freshman forward Joe Kozak at 7-10-17. Sophomore goalie Rob Tadazak had a .903 save percentage and GAA of 3.02. The Black Knights need to do something about their slow starts: They were outscored 41-18 in first periods.

 

BENTLEY

The Good: Freshman forward Andrew Gladiuk put up 13-16-29 numbers to join Alex Grieve as back-to-back league Rookies of the Year. The Falcons were in good shape through most of January and challenged for a top-four spot.

The Bad: Bentley lost a 2-1 game to Holy Cross at home on Jan. 26 and the bottom fell out. The Falcons went 1-10-2 to close out the season, slipped into 10th place and had to go on the road to Canisius in the first round, and the season ended with a pair of losses, 4-0 and 2-1.

The Future: Brett Gensler (16-24-40), who will be a senior, Grieve (10-21-31) and Gladiuk lead a group that should have plenty of offensive punch, and sophomore defenseman Steve Weinstein was at 6-19-25. The Falcons improved their goal scoring to 3.09 goals a game. Problem was, their goals-against average jumped as well, to 3.31, leading to a slide in Bentley’s league record from 13-7-7 to 10-14-3.

 

CANISIUS

The Good: The Golden Griffins caught fire at the end of the season and, led by goalie Tony Capobianco and forward Kyle Gibbons, a couple of juniors, rolled to their first Atlantic Hockey tournament title and NCAA appearance out of the No. 7 seed in the league tournament. They won their quarterfinal series at Air Force then beat Niagara and Mercyhurst in Rochester.

The Bad: Canisius played well defensively all year but struggled at times to score goals. The Griffs started the season 1-5-3 overall. They lost five games in a row late in the season but went from that stretch directly into an eight-game win streak that carried into the NCAA tournament.

The Future: The Griffs gave eventual NCAA runner-up Quinnipiac all it wanted in the NCAAs before falling, 4-3. They have a bunch of pieces back to try and build on the success. Six of the top seven scorers and five of the six regular defenseman return, along with Capobianco and his .929 save percentage and 2.40 GAA.

 

UCONN

The Good: Fueled by the outstanding play of goalie Matt Grogan, who was previously rarely used, and led by interim head coach David Berard (West Warwick, R.I.), the Huskies played their best hockey of the season down the stretch, earned a bye for the first-round of the league playoffs and finished over .500 for the first time since 1999-2000.

The Bad: The Huskies were 0-4-1 in their first five games, were three games under .500 at Christmas and were 12-12-3 on Feb. 10. They dealt with adversity along the way when Bruce Marshall (West Boylston, Mass.), who coached the team for 25 years, took a medical leave in early November and then resigned two months later.

The Future: Grogan was listed as a senior but has a year of eligibility remaining. Leading scorer Sean Ambrosie departs, but the next eight high scorers behind him return, led by a pair of juniors in Brant Harris (15-16-31) and Jordan Sims (10-21-31) as the Huskies take one more crack at an Atlantic Hockey title before they move to Hockey East for the 2014-15 season, with new coach Mike Cavanaugh (North Andover, Mass.).

 

HOLY CROSS

The Good: A 20-14-3 record gave Holy Cross its first back-to-back 20-win seasons ever and the Crusaders earned the No. 3 seed in the league tournament and a first-round bye. Their power play was third best in the league at 22.5 percent.

The Bad: Holy Cross could not take advantage of the bye and was ousted by Mercyhurst for the second consecutive year in the quarterfinals. Each time the series has gone three games. Holy Cross was next to last in penalty killing in the league, allowing opponents to score 24.1 percent of the time.

The Future: Junior Shayne Stockton led the Crusaders in scoring at 13-15-28, but the next three high scorers were all seniors. The Crusaders had to retool their defense in 2012-13 and now five of their six defensemen return. Four of them, including Joe McNamara (Chestnut Hill, Mass.) and Jake Bolton (Ellington, Conn.) will be only sophomores. Goalie Matt Ginn (.915 save percentage, 2.63 goals-against average) will be a junior.

 

MERCYHURST

The Good: The Lakers had a roller-coaster ride of a season. They were sitting in second place in the league standings as February started and in the end they advanced to their first league championship game since 2009.

The Bad: In between, Mercyhurst stumbled to the end of the regular season with an 0-5-3 record in its last eight games and squandered a top-four spot and the first-round bye that comes with it. The Lakers were in the title game for the first time since making back-back appearances in 2008 and 2009, but they lost, 7-2, to Canisius.

The Future: Five of the top six scorers return, led by a couple of sophomores. Matthew Zay was at 13-26-39 and Ryan Misiak was right behind at 18-20-38. Jordan Tibbett, who started the last three games in net, has one year remaining and had a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. The Lakers need to improve their penalty kill. Opponents scored on 22.8 percent of their power-play chances.

 

NIAGARA

The Good: The Purple Eagles put together a season of superlatives on their way to their first Atlantic Hockey regular-season championship and the first at-large appearance by a league team in the NCAA tournament. Junior goalie Carsen Chubak was instrumental in Niagara going unbeaten in its first 13 league games and everything else it accomplished.

The Bad: Niagara lost in an Atlantic Hockey semifinal to rival Canisius, 5-3, in Rochester. The game was tied at 3-3 when Canisius scored with 20 seconds left in the third period then held on for the win.

The Future: High-scoring forwards Giancarlo Iuorio and Marc Zanette leave, but junior Ryan Murphy, who led the team in scoring at 15-21-36, is due back. So too is senior-to-be defenseman Kevin Ryan. And oh yes, Chubak, who was 23-7-5 with a .939 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average, is back as well.

 

ROBERT MORRIS

The Good: The Colonials had an impressive 5-1-1 non-conference record that kept them in the running for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They split a series with eventually NCAA runner-up Quinnipiac, won one and tied one with Ohio State, beat Miami and won two against Penn State.

The Bad: Robert Morris had the seventh-best penalty-killing numbers in the league during the season at 18.6 percent. In the quarterfinals at Storrs, Conn., UConn was able to score on one of its two power-play opportunities in each game and ended up sweeping the series with 4-1 and 4-3 wins.

The Future: The Colonials lose two of their three top scorers including Adam Brace and his 41 points, but three of the top six scorers were sophomores. Cody Wydo, one of the second-year guys, led the way in goals at 21-12-33. The Colonials must also replace Eric Levine, who had a big senior year, in goal.

 

RIT

The Good: The Tigers opened some eyes right off the bat with a 5-4 overtime win at Michigan to start the season. They did a nice job of boosting their goals scored from 2.54 in 2011-12 to 3.21, led by sophomore Matt Garbowsky, who emerged in the second half especially and finished at 11-22-33.

The Bad: The Michigan win was not a sign of things to come in the early going: The Tigers won once in their next 12 after the opener. They played better as the season went on but for the first time since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2006-07 finished under .500 (15-18-5 overall, 11-12-4 in the league).

The Future: Garbowsky and Michael Colavecchia (12-18-30 as a junior) lead the returners up front and Greg Noyes (9-20-29) is one of six defensemen due back. Jordan Ruby, a sophomore, came on strong late in the season in net and will try to help the Tigers cut back a goals-against average that bumped from 2.21 in 2011-12 to 3.32.

 

SACRED HEART

The Good: The Pioneers picked up five of their eight league points in a span of five days in late February with a 7-3 win over Holy Cross and a tie (2-2) and win (3-1) against Bentley. They also earned a 4-4 tie at UConn on March 1.

The Bad: Those were the only two wins of the season for the Pioneers and they struggled to an 0-26-2 start before they got the first one. The eight points left Sacred Heart deep in the Atlantic Hockey cellar.

The Future: The Pioneers will look to the likes of forward Brian Sheehan, who led them in scoring at 11-17-28 and is at 21-29-50 through his first two years, to lead the way and build off the late run. Sophomore Andrew Bodnarchuk had the two wins in net. The numbers at both ends of the ice must improve: Sacred Heart scored 2.31 goals a game and gave up 5.06.

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