February 28, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: Lakers lock up first regular-season title

By Allen Lessels

Mercyhurst lent a semblance of sanity to the Atlantic Hockey standings last weekend and, with a tie and a win over Niagara, locked up its first regular season league championship.

A few other results around the league helped the Lakers and made for some surprises and, more than that, served notice that it’s likely to be a wild Atlantic Hockey tournament ahead.

The Mercyhurst title-clinching perhaps illustrates the point best.

The only way the Lakers were going to nail down the title on Saturday was if they won or tied against Niagara and Air Force, Bentley and Robert Morris all lost their games.

All three, it should be noted, were playing against teams that were at least seven points below them in the standings and two of them were playing at home.

Mercyhurst took care of its business with a 4-2 win at Niagara.

And Air Force, Bentley and Robert Morris all lost. RIT won at Air Force, 3-2, Sacred Heart won at Bentley, 5-2, and Canisius, playing at home, beat Robert Morris, 6-3.

They weren’t the only upsets of the weekend. Sacred Heart also beat Bentley on Friday night, 5-4, and Army, which had not won a league game since early December, won at UConn, 4-3, also on Friday night.

“I thought for sure it was going to come down to Saturday night (the last night of the regular season) at 10 and we were going to figure out where we ended up and where everyone else ended up,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “But we got a tie and a win and got a lot of help and that took care of that part of it.”

So Mercyhurst has its title, which brings us to the final weekend of the regular season.

First-round byes and home ice for the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals are still on the line for four teams.

Mercyhurst is guaranteed one of the byes.

Behind the Lakers, Bentley, Air Force, UConn and Robert Morris are battling it out for the other three byes. Bentley has 32 points going into the weekend, Air Force and UConn have 31 each and Robert Morris has 30.

Bentley plays a home-and-home series with AIC, UConn does the same with Sacred Heart and Robert Morris with Mercyhurst. Air Force is at Niagara.

The team out of Bentley, Air Force, UConn and Robert Morris that misses out on a bye will host a first-round, best-of-three series next weekend along with Canisius and Niagara.

Holy Cross sits in eighth place in the standings going into the weekend and is in good position to grab the fourth and final home ice berth for the first round. The Crusaders are three points up on Scared Heart and need one point out of their two-game set with Army to lock up a home series.

Player of the Week

Drew George, jr. F, Sacred Heart

George led the Pioneers to a sweep of second-place Bentley with five points. George had two goals and an assist in Friday’s 5-4 win and followed up with two assists in a 5-2 decision on Saturday. He has four goals and five assists in his last four games.

Games of the Week

UConn at Sacred Heart Friday and Saturday

UConn goes into the weekend tied for third place in the standings and is trying to hold onto a top four spot. Sacred Heart is in ninth place and still has an outside shot of catching Holy Cross for eighth with a big weekend. The teams split a pair of games at Storrs earlier in the season, UConn winning 4-2 and Sacred Heart 3-0.

Power Rankings

1. Mercyhurst (18-12-6, 16-4-5)  . . . Junior Jimmy Sarjeant made 38 saves in a 4-2 win at Niagara on Saturday and is 14-0-4 in Atlantic Hockey games. Leading scorer Matthew Zay missed the weekend with a lower body injury. He’s due back for the playoffs.   

2. Bentley (16-12-4, 14-7-4) . . . Sophomore Andrew Gladiuk scored a pair of power play goals, giving him a nation’s-best 16 man-advantage goals for the year, but the Falcons dropped a pair of games to Sacred Heart.

3. UConn (17-11-4, 14-8-3) . . . Freshman goalie Robby Nichols made 27 saves to lead UConn to a 3-1 win at Army on Saturday that avenged a 4-3 loss on Friday in Storrs. Nichols has a 1.69 goals against average, .946 save percentage and record of 7-1-2.

4. Air Force (19-11-4, 14-8-3) . . . The Falcons scored a pair of power play goals in a 4-3 win over RIT on Friday. Scott Holm had the game-winning goal, his team-leading fourth of the season. The Falcons close out at Niagara.

5. Robert Morris (13-15-4, 13-8-4) . . . Jeff Jones scored the game-winner and Terry Shafer made 35 saves in a 4-1 win over Canisius on Friday. The Colonials play at Mercyhurst on Friday and have the Lakers at home on Saturday.

6. Niagara (10-17-5, 10-10-5) . . . The Purple Eagles managed only a point in a weekend series against Mercyhurst. Freshman T.J. Sarcona scored the tying goal in a 3-3 deadlock on Friday. He is fourth on the team in scoring and second in goals at 11-7-18.

7. Canisius (12-17-3, 11-11-3) . . . The Golden Griffins went three-for-seven on the power play in a 6-3 win over Robert Morris on Saturday. Canisius plays RIT at home on Friday and is at RIT on Saturday.

8. Holy Cross (11-18-3, 10-12-3) . . . The Crusaders scored all of their goals in the second period in a 4-3 win over AIC on Saturday to compete the weekend sweep. Freshman Brett McKinnon had two of the goals, his second and third of the season.

9. Sacred Heart (11-21-0, 10-15-0) . . . Freshman Spencer Grabowski had a goal in each of Sacred Heart’s two wins over Bentley. He also had two assists on Saturday night The Pioneers play a home-and-home series with UConn this weekend.

10.  AIC (10-21-1, 9-15-1) . . . The Yellow Jackets were outshot 41-17 in a 5-1 loss at Holy Cross on Friday. They evened up the shots the next night, 32-32, at home against the Crusaders, but fell again, 3-2.

11.  RIT (9-18-5, 8-14-3) . . . RIT’s winless streak reached nine games with a 4-2 loss at Air Force on Friday. The Tigers bounced back the next night with a 3-2 win. Josh Mitchell scored the game-winning goal just past the midway point of the third period.

12.  Army (4-24-0, 4-21-0) . . . Freshman C.J. Reuschlein scored a power play goal 2:18 into the third period to lead Army to a 4-3 win at UConn on Friday and snap the Black Knights’ 13-game losing streak. Army plays Holy Cross this weekend.

Twitter: @AllenLessels
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