Atlantic Hockey Playoff Preview
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Writer
The Atlantic Hockey regular season came down to the wire with seven teams vying for a first-round bye. But after the last weekend of the regular season, Air Force, Niagara, RIT and Mercyhurst were able to outlast the rest of the field and secure one.
The first round saw Connecticut and Holy Cross sweep their series while Robert Morris and Bentley were forced to go three games before prevailing.
No. 8 Connecticut (15-17-4, 12-12-3 AHA) at No. 1 Air Force (17-9-7, 15-6-6 AHA)
Season series: Air Force won 2-0
Nov. 25, 2011 – Air Force 3, UConn 1
Nov. 26, 2011 – Air Force 4, UConn 3
The Huskies and Falcons squared off in Colorado back in November and things have certainly changed since then. Back then, the Falcons were relying on Stephen Caple in net while waiting for the return of Jason Torf from injury. Torf is back now and playing well. He was named the Atlantic Hockey Goalie of the Month for February. He had a 1.11 goals against average during the month and recorded four shutouts.
The Huskies will need to solve Torf if they hope to win. Cole Schneider, second in Atlantic Hockey in points, was held to just two assists when the two teams met back in November. The Falcons also held Brant Harris pointless that weekend.
The Huskies do have some momentum on their side, riding a three-game winning streak.
Prediction: Air Force, 2-0
No. 7 Robert Morris (17-15-5, 13-9-5 AHA) at No. 2 Niagara (15-10-9, 14-6-7 AHA)
Season series: Niagara won 2-0-1
Dec. 9, 2011- Niagara 2, Robert Morris 2
Jan. 27, 2012 – Niagara 2, Robert Morris 1
Jan. 28, 2012 – Niagara 2, Robert Morris 1
This may be one of the more intriguing matchups of the quarterfinals. The two teams finished just four points apart in the standings and every game between the two this year has been decided by one goal.
The Purple Eagles have relied on Chris Noonan in the second half of the season and he has responded. He helped propel the Purple Eagles to the No. 2 seed, and he’s been in net for every game against the Colonials. If his play continues into the playoffs, he could make a big impact on the series.
Noonan will have to deal with a balanced attack from the Colonials, who have five players with at least 20 points. They’re lead by seniors Trevor Lewis and Cody Crichton who will be trying to make the most of their last playoff run.
Prediction: Niagara wins, 2-1
No. 6 Bentley (15-14-8, 13-7-7 AHA) at No. 3 RIT (17-11-6, 14-7-6 AHA)
Season series: RIT won 2-0
Jan. 20, 2012 – RIT 2, Bentley 0
Jan. 21, 2012 – RIT 2, Bentley 1
The Tigers and Falcons also played very close games during the regular season. And it should be very similar this time.
Both teams rely on strong goaltending, Shane Madolora for RIT and Branden Komm for Bentley. Madolora’s 1.94 goals against average sits just ahead of Komm’s 2.39.
Because of that, this series could come down to who can play better on special teams. There were a combined 22 power plays in the two meetings during the regular season. Bentley scored the only power play goal in the two games.
And when it comes time to score, Bentley holds a slight edge with three 30 point producers. Brett Gensler leads the group and Atlantic Hockey with 47 points.
But RIT has been here before. Last year they made it to the AHA championship game. That experience should play a role.
Prediction: Bentley wins, 2-1
No. 5 Holy Cross (19-13-4, 15-8-4 AHA) at No. 4 Mercyhurst (18-14-4, 15-8-4 AHA)
Season series: Mercyhurst won 1-0-1
Jan. 20, 2012 – Mercyhurst 3, Holy Cross 2
Jan. 21, 2012 – Mercyhurst 5, Holy Cross 5
The Lakers come into the series with a young team that, thanks to the bye, will be rested. The Lakers have 12 freshmen on the roster, but that hasn’t slowed them down. The top three scorers for the Lakers are freshmen.
While the Lakers’ freshmen may have exceeded expectations during the regular season, the playoffs are different. The freshmen will have to play well for the Lakers.
For the Crusaders, it’ll come down to goalie play. Matt Ginn seems to have found his groove, not losing since Dec. 30. But he is also a freshman.
But if Ginn falters, there is a strong cast of skaters who were part of the Crusaders run to the semifinals last year. The likes of Adam Schmidt, Andrew Cox, and Eric Vos will lead the way offensively for the Crusaders.
The two teams tied for fourth in the regular season but the tiebreakers gave Mercyhurst the bye.
Prediction: Holy Cross, 2-1