March 15, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Atlantic Hockey Championship Preview

by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter

The regular season ended with just two points separating first (Air Force) and fourth (Mercyhurst). After battling until the last weekend for the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title, the top four teams will meet again in Rochester, N.Y., to decide who will represent Atlantic Hockey in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 1 Air Force (17-9-7, 15-6-6 AHA) vs. No. 4 Mercyhurst (18-14-4, 15-8-4 AHA)

Season series: Mercyhurst won 2-1
Nov. 12, 2011 - Mercyhurst 3, Air Force 2
Feb. 17, 2012 - Air Force 8, Mercyhurst 0
Feb. 18, 2012 - Mercyhurst 2, Air Force 1

The Falcons have made the trip to Rochester every year since joining Atlantic Hockey, and the only time Air Force hasn't won it in those six years was 2009-10, the year RIT made the Frozen Four.

But it will be a fight this year. Air Force goes up against Mercyhurst, a team that beat the Falcons twice this season.

For the Falcons to have success, they’ll have to figure out goaltender Max Strang, something Frank Serratore is aware of.

“We had a losing record against Mercyhurst during the year and the two games we lost, we lost to Strang. The only game we won, we beat (Jordan) Tibbett,” Serratore said. “That’s going to be one of the major obstacles for us is figuring out how to solve that guy.”

Strang limited the Falcons to three goals in the Lakers' two wins. You’d expect a young team like the Lakers, with 12 freshmen on the roster, to have some nerves going into the weekend. But Rick Gotkin doesn’t see any in his players.

“I can’t sense any nerves or anything else,” Gotkin said. “I know we’re excited.”

Pick: It’ll be a very tight game but Strang's dominance over the Falcons this year gives the Lakers the edge. Lakers win by just one goal.

No. 2 Niagara (15-10-9, 14-6-7 AHA) vs. No. 3 RIT (17-11-6, 14-7-6 AHA)

Season series: Niagara won 1-0-2
Oct. 8, 2011 - Niagara 0, RIT 0
Feb. 24, 2012 - Niagara 4, RIT 1
Feb. 25, 2012 - Niagara 2, RIT 2

The Tigers come to Rochester in an odd position, as the road team in front of a presumably pro-RIT crowd. And it will be considered the underdog, but that’s just how Wayne Wilson likes it.

“I think sometimes when you come in as the favorite ... there’s a little bit of nervousness that you don’t want to screw up. It would be considered an upset,” Wilson said. “Our mindset is we want to go in there and upset people.”

But they’ll have to deal with a hot Niagara team that is unbeaten in its last seven games and was the only team to sweep its quarterfinal series.

This is Niagara’s first trip to Rochester in just its second season in Atlantic Hockey. While the Purple Eagles are the higher seed and are the home team, many of the Purple Eagles have never played in games like these. RIT, on the other hand, was in the championship game last year. And Wilson believes that the experience his team has will help them.

“We’re very comfortable in that arena. We’ve won some big games there this year, an overtime game against St. Lawrence. I think that bodes well for us,” Wilson said. “Our guys have been tested in the big game environment.”

Pick: This will be another very close game but the Purple Eagles are on a roll. Led by Chris Noonan in net, the Purple Eagles move on to the championship game.

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