Atlantic Hockey Playoff Preview
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter
Capsule previews of Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series this weekend:
12. American International (8-22-1) at 1. RIT (16-10-8)
The Tigers and Yellow Jackets split the two games they played this year in Springfield, Mass., with RIT winning 4-0 and the Jackets winning 6-2. But this is a different Tigers team than the one back in early December. Shane Madolora has emerged has the No. 1 goalie for Wayne Wilson. He led the conference in save percentage (.929) and goals against average (2.09) and didn’t lose until Feb. 19. And the very few times that Madolora has struggled, the rest of the team is there to pick him up, averaging just over three goals a game.
The Yellow Jackets go into Rochester confident coming off their 6-3 win over Army in the first round, but will be hard pressed to pull off another upset. The Jackets do have talented players in Adam Pleskach (28 points) and Nielsson Arcibal (24 points), but there just isn’t enough to be able to upset the regular-season champs at home. The Tigers lost just one conference game at Frank Ritter Memorial Arena this year.
Pick: The Yellow Jackets won back-to-back just twice this season and it won’t happen again. Madolora and the Tigers will handle the Yellow Jackets and take the series.
7. Mercyhurst (15-16-4) at 6. Connecticut (13-17-4)
As the regular season wound down, UConn and Mercyhurst finished in a fight for sixth place. Ultimately the Huskies finished in sixth, two points ahead of the Lakers, and that was enough — under Atlantic Hockey's goofy playoff system — to earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs. And with wins in five of their last six games, the Huskies enter the weekend on a roll.
“(The bye) came at the right time,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “It gave us a chance to recharge the batteries.”
And the rest could prove to be vital. The Huskies rely on several underclassmen for their scoring. After a regular season in which four of their top five scorers were either freshmen or sophomores, the underclassmen will play a huge role for the Huskies. Freshman Cole Schneider led the Huskies with 29 points, while Andrew Olson led the team in goals with 14.
“I think they’ll be excited to play. In some ways they don’t know any better,” Marshall said. “They may just continue to play the same way they have the entire year.”
For the Lakers, who went through a tumultuous season but came out better for it in the end, it’s all about the seniors. They are led by Scott Pitt (18 goals, 21 assists) up front and Ryan Zapolski mans the net. With Zapolski, the Lakers have an advantage over the Huskies. The Lakers have surrendered 103 goals on the season, the same amount that the Huskies have scored. The Huskies, on the other hand, have given up 124 goals, just two less than the Lakers have scored.
And the seniors will have to guide the underclassmen for the Huskies if they are to advance. The seniors on this UConn squad are looking at their potentially last game of their collegiate career and are trying to show how precious every moment is to the freshmen, Marshall said.
Pick: If the underclassmen continue their stellar play for the Huskies, they can advance. And after playing in playoff-like games at the end of the regular season, the Huskies are ready for the playoffs. Playing at home will give the Huskies the extra boost to get past the Lakers and advance.
8. Canisius (12-17-6) at 3. Holy Cross (15-14-5)
Holy Cross enters this series as one of the hottest teams in the league, going 8-0-3 in its last 11 games and vaulting itself into third. Canisius is also coming in confident after upsetting archrival Niagara, 6-3.
“There’s a lot on the line in the battle of western New York,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “The guys feel good about the way we played and advancing in the playoffs.”
While both teams can score, they get it from completely different sources. The Griffs are led by seniors Cory Conacher and Vincent Scarsella. The Crusaders, on the other hand, are led by a group of underclassmen, specifically Kyle Fletcher and Rob Linsmayer.
With such similar teams, the difference between the two could be the special teams and goaltending.
“If someone gets hot or cold on special teams, that could make a difference,” Smith said. “If a goaltender gets hot or cold, that could make a difference.
For the Crusaders, that could be a good thing. Their power play is ranked third in the country, converting at 26.4 percent. The Griffs power play converts at 15.6 percent. On the flip side, both teams kill off penalties well, the Crusaders at 79.3 percent and the Griffs at 79.5 percent.
Pick: In the end the Crusaders’ power play will help them advance to the semi-finals.
No. 11 Sacred Heart (6-23-6) at 2. Air Force (16-11-6)
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises/disappointments of the years has been Sacred Heart. One year after making the Atlantic Hockey finals, the Pioneers struggled the entire year, finishing in 11th place just in front of AIC. The Pioneers will have their hands full facing off against Air Force.
The Falcons have the top scoring offense in Atlantic Hockey and will focus their attack on the Pioneers, who surrender the most goals per game in the league. The Pioneers' inability to keep the puck out of the net can be traced back to Steven Legatto, who has taken a step back this year. After a sensational freshmen year, Legatto had a 4.70 goals against average and a .887 save percentage this season.
And he will be hard pressed to stop the Falcons, led by Jacques Lamoureux and Derrick Burnett. The two seniors will be looking to end their careers with a conference title. In net, the Falcons might have found a replacement for graduated Andrew Volkening in Jason Torf. The freshmen has stepped in and kept the Falcons in contention the entire year.
The Pioneers on the other hand have struggled to replace its top two scorers from last year, Nick Johnson and Dave Jarman. With the lack of scoring could prove to be a death blow to the Pioneers. They were tenth in the league in scoring during the regular season.
Pick: While the Pioneers went 1-0-1 against the Falcons in Fairfield, Conn., it will be a different story out in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons will down the Pioneers and advance to the semifinals.