Holy Cross and Connecticut, the two New England teams still standing in the Atlantic Hockey tournament, are looking to finish what they started two years ago in the playoffs.
That year, the Crusaders and Huskies each advanced to the championship round in Rochester, N.Y., where each came up a game short of the title contest. RIT eliminated UConn, 4-2, and Air Force ousted Holy Cross, 3-2, in the semifinals.
The first step this weekend for Holy Cross and UConn is to earn their way back to Rochester. It’s a goal shared with the six other teams battling in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals.
The matchups for the best-of-three series starting on Friday night have No. 6 seed Mercyhurst at No. 3 Holy Cross, No. 5 Robert Morris at No. 4 UConn, No. 8 RIT at No. 1 Niagara and No. 7 Canisius at No. 2 Air Force.
Holy Cross and UConn each are unbeaten in their last five games at 4-0-1.
“We’ve gotten hot at the right time,’’ Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl told the Boston Herald. “Offensively, we’re scoring goals. We’ve got our power play going and our penalty-kill is getting better. We’ve been able to stay away from any long losing streak. It’s a fun bunch to coach.”
Holy Cross, UConn, Air Force and Niagara are coming off bye weeks, earned by finishing in the top four spots in the league standings.
Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, Canisius and RIT each swept a series from their quarterfinal opponents to advance.
UConn coach Dave Berard, who became interim head coach after Bruce Marshall first took a leave of absence and then resigned during the season, said last week was about reflecting on what the team went through and accomplished.
“This week everyone focused on who we’re going to play,” he told the Hartford Courant. “We haven’t talked about the past. We’re talking about the present. Robert Morris is playing good hockey. Our series with them was very tightly contested.”
The Huskies, who have been led by senior goalie Matt Grogan’s outstanding play in the second half, split a pair of games at Robert Morris in January.
They won on Jan. 11, 3-2, and fell the second night, 4-4.
Senior forward Sean Ambrosie, the team’s leading scoring, scored a short-handed goal the first night and the Huskies had a pair of power play goals. Each team had a power play goal, and a shortie, the next.
The quarterfinals offer matchups with assorted history between the teams.
UConn and Robert Morris have never met in the post-season, nor have Canisius and Air Force, which has won the last two championships and five of the six since it joined the league.
Niagara, this year’s regular season champion, lost in the semifinals last year to RIT, 2-1 in overtime.
The four winners this weekend move on to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester to play for the league’s tournament title, and NCAA berth, next weekend.
Player of the Week
Matt Garbowsky, F, so., RIT
Garbowsky had a goal and four assists in RIT’s sweep of AIC and continues to pile up the late season points. He has 17 points on eight goals and nine assists over the last nine games. He is at 10-21-31 for the season which puts him a point behind senior defenseman Chris Saracino (11-21-32) for the team lead in scoring.
Games of the week
Merychurst at Holy Cross, Friday, Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday
The Lakers and Crusaders go at it again in a rematch of a quarterfinal from last year. Mercyhurst took a tight three-game series last year at home and this year the teams switch sites to the Hart Center in Worcester. Mercyhurst and Holy Cross split a pair of games in Erie in January.
1. Niagara (21-8-5, 20-5-2) . . . The No. 1 Purple Eagles take on No. 8 RIT in the quarterfinals. Senior forward Giancarlo Iuorio is at 17-12-29 in 23 games this season and at 41-56-97 in 111 games for his career. Junior Carsen Chubak has the fifth-best save percentage in the country at .941 and is eighth in goals against average (1.85).
2. Air Force (17-11-7, 15-7-5) . . . The No. 2 Falcons play host to No. 7 Canisius. Senior forward Kyle De Laurell leads Air Force at 18-15-33 and senior Stephen Carew, junior Tony Thomas and sophomore Cole Gunner each have 27 points. Junior goalie Jason Torf takes a .921 save percentage and 2.76 gaa into the quarterfinals.
3. Holy Cross (19-12-3, 15-9-3) . . . Senior forwards Kyle Fletcher at 10-16-26 and Rob Linsmayer at 7-19-26 lead a balanced Crusader attack into a quarterfinal series at home against Mercyhurst. Holy Cross won a 2-1 game at Mercyhurst on Jan. 11 and lost the rematch the next night, 4-2.
4. UConn (17-13-4, 14-10-3) . . . The Huskies host Robert Morris this weekend and are 1-5-0 against the Colonials. The win came this year at Robert Morris, 3-2, on Jan 11. UConn fell the next night, 4-3. Senior goalie Matt Grogan has a .941 save percentage and 1.86 goals against average to go with his 12-3-3 record.
5. Robert Morris (20-12-4, 13-11-3) . . . Senior forward Adam Brace contributed a goal and four assists to help the Colonials outscore Sacred Heart 10-2 and advance to the quarterfinals with a first-round sweep. Brace leads Robert Morris at 14-26-40 for the season and has career numbers of 46-68-114.
6. Mercyhurst (16-15-5, 12-11-4) . . . The Lakers snapped their eight-game winless run with a pair of wins over Army and move on to play at No. 3 Holy Cross. Junior forward Daniel O’Donoghue had two goal two assists in the series. The Saturday night win was No. 450 of his career for coach Rick Gotkin.
7. Canisius (15-18-5, 12-13-2) . . . Sophomore forward Cody Freeman and junior goalie Tony Capobianco led the Griffs to a 4-0 and 2-1 sweep of Bentley. Capobianco stopped 70 of the 71 shots he faced. Freeman scored three goals, including both game-winners. He had five goals in his first 48 career games and has six in his last four games.
8. RIT (15-16-5, 11-12-4) . . . Sophomore goalie Jordan Ruby stopped 65 of 67 shots in his post-season debut to lead RIT to a 2-1 and 7-1 sweep of AIC. Freshman forward Dan Schuler scored the winning goal on Saturday while the Tigers were shorthanded and also had a pair of assists in the game.
9. AIC (12-17-6, 9-12-6) . . . The Yellow Jackets lost a pair of games at RIT. Adam Pleskach ended his career at 59-56-115, leaving him one behind the school record in assists and two back in goals and points. Goalie Ben Meisner finished with an Atlantic Hockey record 3,684 saves, 12th on the NCAA Division I career list.
10. Bentley (12-20-3, 10-14-3) . . . The Falcons completed a tough end to the season with a pair of losses at Canisius. They were 0-5-2 in their last seven games. Bentley’s top eight scorers, led by junior Brett Gensler (16-24-40), seven defensemen and three goaltenders are all eligible to return next season.
11. Army (7-22-5, 7-15-5) . . . The Black Knights went winless in their last 17 games (0-14-3) and finished with a pair of losses at Mercyhurst. Senior forward Andy Starczewski was the only player in doubles figures in goals and led the team in points at 11-15-26. Sophomore defenseman Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass,) was next in points at 6-12-18.
12. Sacred Heart (2-30-4, 2-21-4) . . . The Pioneers closed out with a pair of loses, 4-1 and 6-1, at Robert Morris. Senior Eric Delong scored the Friday night goal and finished his career at 46-72-118 in 143 games. He led the team this year at 13-19-32. Sophomore Brian Sheehan was next at 11-17-28 and is at 21-29-50 through two seasons.
Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org