Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal Preview
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Atlantic Hockey made history last season, sending two teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time after Canisius won the conference tournament and Niagara qualified with an at-large bid.
History won’t repeat itself this season, which means the eight teams entering the conference quarterfinals this weekend are playing for their playoff lives.
All games will be played this Friday and Saturday, with decisive third games scheduled for Sunday if necessary.
No. 5 Robert Morris at No. 4 Connecticut
Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs, Conn.
One of the big questions heading into the weekend is the status of Robert Morris starting goalie Terry Shafer, who was pulled in the second period of last weekend’s third game against Army after apparently injuring himself on a play which resulted in the Black Knights scoring a shorthanded goal.
“We are unsure of Terry's status yet as it is very early in the week and it will be determined if he will be able to play until closer to game time,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “We are very confident in all of our goalies and all three of them are very capable of getting the job done.”
Dalton Izyk took over for Shafer and did get the job done last week, making 15 saves in the game’s final 37 minutes, not allowing a goal, to preserve a 3-1 win and advancing the Colonials to this weekend’s quarterfinal.
At the other end, UConn has received stellar goaltending from senior Matt Grogan (.924 save percentage) and freshman Robby Nichols (.942 save percentage), who only started twice in the first half before finding more playing time in the second half and has only lost one game.
“I was surprised Robby didn’t get more attention for the All-Rookie team, because he really has been great for us,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “He didn’t play much in the first half, but you look at what he has done in the second half and he just keeps winning. Matt was the returning starter for us, and he has been great too. Goaltending has definitely been strong for us, and at this time of year it has to be.
“I was a part of a lot of great teams at Boston College, and good goaltending was always one of the most import ingredients.”
Earlier this season, the Colonials and Huskies split a pair of games by scores of 5-1 and 6-1.
“I think I remember Coach Schooley being quoted at the end of one of those games with the media that it didn’t feel like 5-1 and 6-1 games, they were a lot closer than that,” Cavanaugh said. “It just so happened that everything we shot went in one night, and everything they shot was going in the other night.”
Added Schooley, “UConn is a team that plays very good team defense and we are a team that can score so it should be a good battle. Both teams have proven players and it will come down to the team that sacrifices more as well as plays a complete team game.”
The Colonials have played their best hockey since the calendar turned to January, losing just five times in their last 20 games (13-5-2).
“We have been playing very well in 2014,” Schooley said. “We feel we have all the kinks out of our game and believe in this team. I would rather be hot at this time of the year than limping into the playoffs. We have been through a lot in this season and it has made us come together as a group. We are playing the way we envisioned of playing this season.”
Connecticut meanwhile is looking to win its first Atlantic Hockey championship in its last season in the league before making the transition to Hockey East this coming fall. This is a rematch of last year's quarterfinal series, won by UConn.
Prediction: Robert Morris in three
No. 8 Holy Cross at No. 1 Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, Pa.
Mercyhurst breezed through the Atlantic Hockey regular season, going 17-4-6 in league play and finishing four points ahead of Bentley in first place.
The Lakers started the season with a thud, going 1-5-1 in their first seven before finishing the season on a 18-7-1 run in their last 26 games, dating back to Nov. 1.
In January, Holy Cross hosted Mercyhurst for a pair of games in Worcester, which the Lakers won 1-0 and 4-2 with Chris Bodo (10 goals, 10 assists) notching a hat trick in the second game of the series.
The Lakers have scored 3.55 goals per game this season, more than one goal per game better than the Crusaders, who beat RIT in three games last week under some controversy when a puck re-directed off a linesman’s skate, resulting in a 2-on-1 chance that saw Adam Schmidt setup Mike Barrett for the game-winning goal.
These teams met in last season’s tournament as well, with Mercyhurst eliminating Holy Cross in three games at the Hart Center.
Prediction: Mercyhurst in two
No. 7 Canisius at No. 2 Bentley
James A. Ryan Arena, Waltham, Mass.
After starting the season 2-7 in its first nine games, Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist simplified the Falcons’ approach.
“We broke it down to winning each weekend series,” Soderquist told JAR Pride, a blog that is published by the team’s radio broadcaster, Dan Rubin. “We went into each week with the mindset to win individual battles and individual games. We went 8-3 against opponents in terms of individual series.”
The Falcons are 16-5-4 since the 2-7 stretch to start the year, and are paced offensively by senior Brett Gensler, who has 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 34 games. Right behind him are junior Alex Grieve and Andrew Gladiuk, who each have 22 goals on the season.
Senior Branden Komm has a .926 save percentage in 34 starts.
Canisius visited Bentley this past January for a two-game series, losing 4-1 the first night before tying the Falcons, 2-2, the second night.
Griffs senior goalie Tony Capobianco was stellar last season, leading his team to a conference championship and nearly upset No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Capobianco has a .916 save percentage in 25 games this season, but more importantly, he’s a perfect 8-0-0 in Atlantic Hockey tournament play, posting a .1.50 goals against average and a .961 save percentage in his career.
The Griffs have limped into this postseason however, ending the regular season going 4-9-2 in their last 15 games before sweeping Sacred Heart in the first round last weekend.
Prediction: Bentley in two
No. 6 Niagara at No. 3 Air Force
Cadet Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Air Force finished the regular season at Niagara two weeks ago with the teams splitting a weekend series; Air Force took the only regular season meeting at Colorado Springs, 7-4, last October.
Air Force holds an impressive 21-5 record all-time in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs and are looking to get back to the Final Four after missing out for the first time ever last season when it fell to Canisius in the quarterfinal round.
Niagara finished the regular season 13-18-5 with an 11-11-5 mark in league play.
The Purple Eagles have also played some of their best hockey down the stretch, going 10-7-3 in their final 20 games dating back to Jan. 1.
Prediction: Air Force in three