Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal Preview
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Writer
Every home team swept last weekend’s first-round games to move on to the quarterfinals. Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross and Connecticut all had the luxury of a weekend off after earning first-round bye.
No. 8 RIT (15-16-5, 11-12-4 AHA) at No. 1 Niagara (21-8-5, 20-5-2 AHA)
Season series: Niagara won 1-0-2
It’s the second straight year these two teams have met in the playoffs. Last year RIT squeaked out an overtime 2-1 victory in the semifinals. That loss is still fresh for the Purple Eagles, who again are the higher seed.
“We have a lot of returning players that went through that, lived through it, played through it,” Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder said. “(It) certainly will be on our minds with this weekend’s series.”
The Purple Eagles enter with a well-rested and healthy team after earning a first-round bye. The Purple Eagles had a truly restful week with last week being Niagara’s spring break. According to Burkholder, it’s the first time all season that he has the entire team healthy. With the way the three regular season games went, Burkholder will need everyone to stay healthy.
“They were hard hitting, very even games,” Burkholder said. “ It felt like last shot wins in all three games.”
The Tigers know what it takes to succeed in the playoffs. They’ve made the trip to Rochester five straight seasons and Burkholder knows they will be a challenge.
“They’re a very good team, arguably the fastest team, as a group of forwards in the league,” Burkholder said. "They have one of the best power plays in the country. ... It’s a tough matchup for us.”
The Tigers’ power play is ranked second in the country at 25 percent. They’ve already scored four power-play goals in the three regular-season games against the Purple Eagles.
Pick: The Tigers have given the Purple Eagles some trouble this year. They’ll need to rely on their transition game and power play to give themselves a chance. But having a full week of rest with no classes should really help the Purple Eagles. It’ll be a tightly-contested series, going the full three games, but Niagara moves on to Rochester.
No. 7 Canisius (15-18-5, 12-13-2 AHA) at No. 2 Air Force (17-11-7, 15-7-5 AHA)
Season series: Air Force won 2-0-1
Air Force got off to a slow start and didn’t look like the team that was picked to finish first in the preseason poll. But it recovered in the second half to finish in the second place. The Falcons have lost just three times in 2013 and scored fewer than three goals only five times in 17 games.
Canisius was an inconsistent team during the season. Every time it looked like they were ready to go on a winning streak, something would go wrong the next game. But they’ve put it together recently, ending the regular season with a sweep of RIT before sweeping Bentley in the first round last weekend.
The biggest difference between the two teams is in the offensive end. The Falcons rank second in Atlantic Hockey, averaging 3.26 goals a game. The Golden Griffins ranked 10th at just 2.37.
But the Golden Griffins may be the team that can slow down the Falcons. Led by goaltender Tony Capobianco, Canisius is one of the toughest teams to score on in Atlantic Hockey. The Golden Griffins surrender 2.34 goals a game, tops in Atlantic Hockey and 11th in the country. And they kill penalties at a 90.8 percent rate.
Pick: Eventually the Falcons scorers will figure out how to beat Capobianco. They won’t get a lot of goals but they’ll get enough to win.
No. 6 Mercyhurst (16-15-5, 12-11-4 AHA) at No. 3 Holy Cross (19-12-3, 15-9-3 AHA)
Season series: Tied 1-1
Holy Cross’ bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Due to a snowstorm in February, the Crusaders had just played six games in the last two weeks and were tired and a little beat up. But they’re tired of sitting around. They want to play.
“We’re getting to the point where guys want to play,” Crusader coach Paul Pearl said. “They’re hungry to play Friday night.”
On Friday night, they’ll get a chance to exact some revenge on the team that knocked them out of last year’s tournament. And just like last year’s tournament games and the regular-season games this year, Pearl is expecting a tightly-contested series.
“Goals will be tough to come by,” Pearl said. “Both teams are pretty good defensively. I think that each of us are concentrating on shutting down the other’s power play because we’re both pretty good on the power play.”
The Crusaders and Lakers power plays rank third and fourth, respectively, in Atlantic Hockey. But there’s a good chance they won’t get many opportunities to use them. These are the two least penalized teams in Atlantic Hockey.
“We got two fairly evenly matched teams that had pretty good regular seasons and so it should be a good series,” Pearl said. “Really good series.”
Pick: The Crusaders and Lakers have played very tight games the last two seasons. Each of the last seven games between the two has been a one-goal game or one team has added an empty-net goal at the end. This series should be no different. The Crusaders will squeak out the victory in three games.
No. 5 Robert Morris (20-12-4, 13-11-3 AHA) at No. 4 Connecticut (17-13-4, 14-10-3 AHA)
Season series: Tied 1-1
UConn is riding a wave of confidence right now. It had its first winning season since 2000 and hasn’t lost in five straight games. But the Huskies are facing a team with just as much confidence. Robert Morris has set a program record for wins and hasn’t lost in seven straight.
“We’re going to have to do all the little things well and compete until there’s nothing left to give,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “Then you may have to even give some more, because it’s going to be that big of a challenge.”
The Colonials and Huskies split a pair of one-goal games in January and nothing suggests that this series will any different.
It all starts in net for both teams. Eric Levine for the Colonials and Matt Grogan for the Huskies have been big parts of their team’s success. Both have started every game during their respective team's streak.
If the Huskies want to advance to Rochester, they’ll have to convert on the power play. They’ll get their chances with the man advantage as the Colonials average just over 13 penalty minutes a game.
“We’re going to have to go out and play the right way, do the right things and give a tremendous effort,” Schooley said. “It’s going to be a series where the winner’s going to have to pay the price.”
Pick: This series could easily go either way. Both goaltenders can steal a win and both coaches have well-balanced lines. Robert Morris will make it’s first trip to Rochester since joining Atlantic Hockey.