March 2, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Atlantic Hockey Reaches Playoffs After Wild Finish

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer

If you noticed Atlantic hockey head coaches walking around their campuses this week with a little less hair, I hope you didn’t point and snicker.

The Atlantic Hockey regular season likely caused a few sleepless nights and spiked blood pressures of its league’s head coaches, finishing the season with the top-7 teams separated by just five points.

As if the hectic final few weeks of the regular season weren’t stressful enough, the league tournament opens this weekend.

Atlantic Hockey has been one the most-tightly contended races in the country, and it may have been the wildest.

“I could not have asked for a better ending to the season,” Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio said. “This just shows how competitive our league has been all season.”

In the end, Air Force, which despite the tight race had been atop the standings for much of the regular season, finished leading the way.

Although a power in recent years, this was the Falcons’ first ever outright league crown, after sharing the title in 2008-09.

All-time, the Falcons are 17-2 in the Atlantic Hockey postseason.

Those same seven teams that finished clumped together in the final standings all had a chance at a first-round bye at some point during the last weekend in the regular season.

Bentley may have been on the wildest roller coaster of them all. With Niagara and Canisus playing a midweek series to end their seasons, there were multiple days of standings movement and scoreboard watching.

“It was the wildest two weeks I’ve ever been involved in,” said Dan Rubin, Bentley’s play-by-play voice. “With Bentley, we went from being sixth, to fifth, to a tie for third with a chance to win it all, to finishing sixth. It was utter and complete chaos for eight days.”

RIT, the preseason favorite in the coaches poll, finished in a three-way tie for third but just two points back of the Air Force.

“You always want every team to have a chance come the end of the season and this year, all of the teams in Atlantic Hockey did not disappoint me or their fans,” DeGregorio said.

Niagara finished second in the league, just one point behind Air Force, but nearly clipped the Falcons for first place last Saturday. Netminder Chris Noonan turned aside a whopping 51 shots in a 2-2 tie with RIT. Had Niagara squeaked out a win, it would have finished in the top spot.

“We were a bounce away from winning a championship,” head coach David Burkholder said. “From start to finish (RIT) was the hungrier team. Chris Noonan stole the show for us. He got us at least a point, which ends up being the number two seed in the league.”

RIT was a bit happier with the result, earning a first-round bye in the tie-breaker.

“We wanted the bye and we knew we needed at least a tie to get it,” head coach Wayne Wilson said.

Things become a bit more clearer this weekend. Win, and you move on. Lose, and it’s the end of the road.

First Round

No. 8 Connecticut vs. No. 9 Canisius
When: Friday, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Freitas Ice Forum (Connecticut)
Regular Season Series: UConn won 2-0

No. 5 Holy Cross vs. No. 12 Army
When: Friday, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Hart Center (Holy Cross)
Regular Season Series: Holy Cross won 3-0

No. 6 Bentley vs. No. 11 Sacred Heart
When: Friday, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Ryan Skating Arena (Bentley)
Regular Season Series: Bentley won 2-0-1

No. 7 Robert Morris vs. No. 10 AIC
When: Friday, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Island Sports Center (Robert Morris)
Regular Season Series: Tied 1-1-0

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