Atlantic Hockey Championship Preview
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter
Atlantic Hockey will crown a champion this weekend in Rochester, with the winner gaining an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. All of the teams in the semifinals have been the to the NCAAs except Connecticut, and all three of the others have not only gotten there, but won NCAA games.
6. Connecticut (15-17-4) at 1. RIT (18-10-8)
It’s the young guns and the experienced veterans. Connecticut and their group of freshmen head to Rochester to take on the experienced Tigers. The Huskies are coming off a sweep of Mercyhurst in the quarterfinals while the Tigers easily handled AIC to advance.
The young Huskies will have a tough test on Friday and they know it.
“They’re very good,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “There’s a reason they were in the Frozen Four last year. There’s a reason they won the regular season the last couple years. They’re very powerful offensively and their goaltender is playing very well for them.
“If we don’t have our ‘A’ game they can pour it on you pretty quickly.”
That was proven during the regular season when the Tigers swept the Huskies in Rochester. But that could mean nothing on Friday.
“It just seems so long ago that we played them that it’s going to be a new season,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “We’re going to have to re-familiarize ourselves with them.”
But both teams have changed since those meetings in November.
“I know their freshmen are doing a tremendous job for UConn,” Wilson said. “I’m sure they’ve grown up quite a bit over the course of the year. For us, we were carrying three freshmen defensemen at that time and I’ve seen the improvement in them.”
And those underclassmen could play a huge role in the game. Unlike past years UConn has the ability to put the puck in the net, mostly due to the emergence of the underclassmen.
“With the group of guys (UConn) has brought in and the chemistry they have, they are able to score goals,” Wilson said. “They’ve got some forwards who are capable of scoring goals.”
The Huskies' offensive attack is led by freshmen Cole Schneider (31 points) and sophomore Sean Ambrosie (27 points). In all, four of the Huskies’ top five scorers are underclassmen.
The Tigers, while led by upperclassmen Andrew Favot and Tyler Brenner, have gotten key contributions from underclassmen. Ben Lynch is the Tigers’ third leading scorer in just his first year. On the backend the Tigers are led offensively by sophomore Chris Saracino (19 points) and freshman Greg Noyes (15 points).
Pick: It’s been four years since the Huskies were last seen in the semifinals and it won’t be a happy return this year. Going against the Tigers is no small task as the Huskies are well aware of. And things won’t be much different from the regular season. The Tigers will move on to their second straight Atlantic Hockey Championship game.
3. Holy Cross (17-15-5) at 2. Air Force (18-11-6)
It’s been a revival year for Holy Cross, and it continues as it rides into its first semifinal game since 2006. But the Crusaders will have a stiff test waiting for them in Air Force.
When the teams met during the season, it was the Falcons who came out on top, winning 7-6 and drawing to a 1-1 tie. But like most of the playoff series, these two teams come in looking differently than when they met back in December. That doesn’t mean the two teams don’t know each other, Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said.
The Crusaders enter having not lost in the last 11 regular-season games. The biggest difference in the Crusaders is the emergence of Adam Roy in net.
“Roy has solidified their goaltending,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore of Roy, who didn't play against the Falcons in December.
Roy led the Crusaders to a third-place finish and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
But he’ll have his hands full stopping the Falcons’ attack, led by seniors Jacques Lamoureusx and Derrick Burnett. The Falcons have the top offense in Atlantic Hockey, averaging 3.77 goals per game.
“(Air Force) is a fast team. They’re very good in transition,” Pearl said. “They have an offensive minded ‘D’ crew so that you can’t just defend a three-man rush. Sometimes your defending a four-man rush.”
The Falcons have three defensemen with 19 or more points, the most in Atlantic Hockey. Scott Mathis leads the charge from the backend with 26 points and is followed by Tim Kirby (22 points) and Adam McKenzie.
Lamoureux and Burnett are looking to end their careers on a high note. Both have already eclipsed the 100-point plateau for their careers and are the main weapons in the Falcons attack.
It will be a very close game between two teams that finished one point apart in the standings. In the end, Air Force’s experience on offense with Lamoureux and Burnett will lead them back to the finals.