Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal Preview
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Atlantic Hockey was inches from a Frozen Four berth with Air Force's OT loss to Vermont last season in the East Regional Final. This year, is it finally time for RIT? After the one-and-done play-in round, these are not best-of-3 quarterfinals, with the winners meeting up in Rochester next weekend for the semis and finals.
No. 9 Connecticut (7-25-3) at No. 1 RIT (22-11-1)
It's been another long, rough season for the Huskies, but a 3-2 overtime win against Mercyhurst to close out the regular season, and a tight 2-1 win at Bentley in the play-in round of the playoffs, has UConn coming into this weekend on a high note.
UConn has never been a power, but its seven wins is the lowest total since Bruce Marshall's first season as head coach, 1988-89. It's been a team effort this year, with scoring impossible to come by (no double-digit goal scorers), and a trio of goaltenders all witih sub-.900 save percentages.
On the other side is RIT, a former D-III power that has comported itself quite well since joining Atlantic Hockey. But the Tigers have yet to get over the proverbial hump and win a title and get to the NCAAs. This despite hosting the Atlantic Hockey tournament since becoming a full-fledged, NCAA tournament-eligible member of the league. This tantalizing carrot has been dangling for three years, and RIT just cannot quite grasp it.
But this year, the Tigers came in first place, and more than ever, it seems like this is their year to finally join the D-I tournament dance.
The signature for RIT this season has been defense. Already with a solid senior in Dan Ringwald (10-18—28, plus-20), the Tigers added freshman Chris Tanev and he made an immediate impact. Tanev has eight goals, 24 points, and a remarkable plus-29 rating, which is second in the nation behind Bemidji State's Matt Read. RIT found a real diamond in the rough, as Tanev grew six inches in his last season of junior hockey.
Behind it all is senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel, who really stepped his game from last season, when he had a 2.70 goals against average. This year, he has a 2.11 and .920 save percentage, and was named the league's Goaltender of the Month for February, when he led RIT to a 7-1 mark, a 1.91 GAA and .930 save percentage, with two shutouts.
No. 5 Canisius (15-14-5) at No. 4 Mercyhurst (15-18-3)
It hasn't always been easy for Canisius and coach Dave Smith, but with one more win, the Golden Griffins will assure a .500 record for the first time in his tenure. With two more wins, they will have the highest total in nine years.
As up and down as Canisius' season has gone, it has two of the biggest non-conference wins of any Atlantic Hockey team this season — at home against Ferris State, and at Colgate, a 7-6 OT thriller. Canisius had really ramped things up with a 6-2-3 stretch run, until getting plastered by RIT in the last weekend of the season.
Still, the team boasts 5-foot-8 dynamo Cory Conacher, who has a career-high 20 goals this season. And senior defenseman Carl Hudson is a threat from the backline, equaling his 13-goal output from a year ago.
The Achilles' heel has been in net, where sophomore Dan Morrison has gotten the most time, and a .903 save percentage.
Mercyhurst, with coach Rick Gotkin now in his 22nd season, has had a storied history, but hasn't been able to win the tournament title — and get an NCAA bid — since 2005.
Once again, Mercyhurst played a very challenging non-league schedule, and lost them — 0-8. But it did toughen up the Lakers for the Atlantic Hockey season, which is exactly the point.
The Lakers are led by a real unsung player in junior defenseman Jeff Terminesi, who has 16 points and is a plus-18 this season.
Canisius won three of the meetings this season, losing only a 3-1 decision at home on Feb. 12.
No. 6 Army (11-16-7) at No. 3 Air Force (14-14-6)
While Air Force's in-conference season was OK, the 0-6 non-league record sticks out like a sore thumb, especially coming off a season last year when it won an NCAA game, and started out 12-0.
This season has been a lot more topsy-turvy. The scoring not as consistent, the defensive not as rock solid. Top scorer Jacques Lamoureux still had 20 goals and 40 points, but that's well off last year's numbers. Andrew Volkening was awesome in net last year, and merely very good this year.
One good thing has been the penalty kill, which is at an 87.9 percent efficiency.
The team went through an 0-5-1 stretch, then finished the season with two home wins over second-place Sacred Heart.
“The 0-5-1 stretch is obsolete now, forgotten about," Lamoureux told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “We’ve got two wins going into the playoffs; we’ve got a lot to feel good about."
Last season, Army had its lowest win total since 2004-05, coach Brian Riley's first season as head coach. This season, it's been exactly the same — 11. The team's play has been erratic in the second half.
Junior Jay Clark has been solid in net, but the team has shown a lot of defensive lapses this season.
Up front for Army, junior Cody Omilusik leads the way with 18-16—34.
In two meetings this season, both at Army, the Knights picked up a win and tie.
No. 7 Holy Cross (12-17-6) at No. 2 Sacred Heart (18-12-4)
Holy Cross has struggled since that magical 2005-06 season, when it won 26 games, culminating in an upset over Minnesota in the NCAAs. And quality wins have been few and far between this season for the Crusaders, notwithstanding a road victory at Dartmouth in January.
Freshman Thomas Tysowsky has gotten the bulk of the work in net, and played well. But the scoring has not been there for Holy Cross this season.
Junior Jordan Cyr has 13 goals this season to lead the way, but that's well off his 19-goal pace from last season.
Meanwhile, Sacred Heart had quite the tumultuous start to its season, when coach Shaun Hannah abruptly stepped down with just weeks to go before opening night, following the death of his younger brother. The new coach was named just before the start of the season.
But for all that trouble, clearly the Crusaders made the right move, because under former Yale assistant C.J. Marottolo, the Pioneers have flourished. With a few more wins, it could have the highest total in the program's history, and with some breaks, perhaps its first-ever NCAA bid.
Things started slowly — with nice wins against Union and Dartmouth, and a tie at St. Lawrence thrown into the mix. That was to be expected, after winning just 11 games last season, and trying to adjust to a new situation so fast.
But Marottolo won the team over early, and then they went about showing it. After New Year, the Pioneers were one of the hottest teams in the countr. They were 9-0-2 in January, split at home against first-place RIT, then won four more in a row — a 14-1-2 stretch. The team did well even when Marottolo had to miss some time because of Bell's palsy.
“I felt they were still trying to get to know me and I was getting to know them,” Marottolo said to the New Haven Register. “I never got discouraged. I knew at some point we’d break through.”
Unfortunately, the season ended with two bad defeats at Air Force, including an 8-1 thrashing. That's despite having beaten Air Force handily at home, twice, to start January. That has left a bitter taste that Sacred Heart will be looking to get rid of this weekend.
Nick Johnson leads the way with a team-record 25 goals up front. And freshman goalie Steven Legatto has emerged in a big way.
“Out of the four years I’ve been here, this is the most confident I’ve been heading into the playoffs,” senior Dave Jarman told the Register.
The teams split a home-and-home early this season, but Sacred Heart swept Holy Cross in mid-February.