2020 Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament Preview

Story posted March 6, 2020 in CommRadio, Sports by Christopher Hess

With conference tournaments beginning around College Hockey, teams are putting the finishing touches on potential late season tournament runs. Each conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while others will be selected at-large.

Over the past two years, the Atlantic Hockey champion has upset the No. 1 overall seed as the last team into the field. Air Force and American International upset St. Cloud State in consecutive years. This year’s Atlantic Hockey champion could be lined up to face another NCHC foe in North Dakota, who currently occupies the No.1 ranking in the PairWise.

First round and quarterfinal matchups are all best-of-three series. The semifinals and finals are each one game.

The top five seeds in the tournament all have byes. They include No. 1 American International, No. 2 Sacred Heart, No. 3 RIT, No. 4 Army and No. 5 Niagara

Let’s dive into the first round matchups and see how the bracket will shake out.

No. 8 Bentley (15-16-3) v. No. 9 Canisius (10-18-6)

Winner plays: No.1 American International

Regular season meetings: Two ties

The Falcons and Golden Griffins have been plagued by inconsistency virtually all season. Both these teams are buried in the bottom third of the PairWise.

Bentley has five players with over 20 points and only two with over 25. Jakov Novak and Jonathan Desbiens have 30 and 26 points respectively.

However, the goaltending situation is not pretty. Fraser Kirk and Aidan Pelino have both experienced struggles, as the team save percentage is just .883.

For Canisius, they are relatively similar to the Falcons in regards to scoring. They too have five players with over 20 points.

Senior forward, Nick Hutchison, has 16 goals and 28 points alongside senior forward, Matt Hoover, who has 14 goals and 31 points.

In net, the Golden Griffins have also experienced trouble with inconsistent goaltending. Jacob Barczewski and Matt Ladd split playing time, but don’t have much to show for it. The team save percentage of .894 is underwhelming and could play a factor in this series.

All in all, both teams have some strengths and weaknesses. It’s all going to come down to which goaltenders can make the big stop. This has the makings of an exciting series that will go three games.

Prediction: Bentley wins the series, 2-1.

No. 6 Air Force (10-18-6) v. No. 11 Mercyhurst (5-27-2)

Winner plays: No. 3 RIT

Regular season meetings: Air Force, 1-0-1

Air Force has only won five games since the start of the new year. The Falcons got a favorable matchup to potentially boost their confidence entering tournament play.

The Falcons have trouble scoring, with only two players having over 20 points and the two leading goal scorers, Marshall Bowery and Max Harper, each have nine.

Goaltending has been relatively stable for most of the season. Alex Schilling holds a .901 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.49.

Mercyhurst had its fair share of struggles throughout the regular season and are probably already looking forward to the 2020-2021 campaign. Dating back to December 6, the Lakers have won just one game in addition to one tie. Their record since that date is 1-19-1 and they have given up seven or more goals on a number of occasions.

Forwards James Anderson and Steven Ipri have 10 goals a-piece, but there isn’t much help behind them. Dalton Hunter leads the Lakers in assists with 14, but that’s virtually it for the No. 60 team in the nation.

Garrett Metcalf has seen the most action in net for Mercyhurst, but it has been tough sledding for the senior, who has a goals-against-average of 3.52 and a save percentage of .907.

This series could get out-of-hand rather fast. The Falcons are the better team and Mercyhurst will be knocked out due to its poor play all-around.

Prediction: Air Force sweeps, 2-0.

No. 7 Robert Morris (11-18-5) v. No. 10 Holy Cross (10-19-5)

Winner plays: No. 2 Sacred Heart

Regular season meetings: Split, 1-1

The Colonials are a team that could be looked upon as a potential dark-horse in this tournament. It’s worth noting that they lost two one-goal games to Arizona State on January 31 and February 1.

However, if there’s one thing that will hold this team back from making a run, it’s offensive production.

Nick Prkusic and Jacob Coleman are the two RMU players with over 20 points. Prkusic is the one who leads the Colonials in the statistical categories of goals, assists and points with 11, 16 and 27 respectively.

Justin Kapelmaster has had a relatively strong season in net for the Colonials, posting a .923 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.70. He will definitely be an x-factor in this series.

Just like the Colonials, Holy Cross also has trouble scoring. The two leading scorers, Neil Robinson and Logan Ferguson, each have 22 points.

Connor Jean and Pete Kessel are the lone 10-plus goal scorers for the Crusaders, a team which lacks a lot of other prolific offensive weapons.

The goalie situation isn’t exactly the best, but it isn’t atrocious. Freshman Matt Radomsky has held his own with a save percentage of .899 and a goals-against-average of 2.96.

These two sides matchup rather well with each other and we could see this series go to three games. RMU has the slight edge on the sole factor of goaltending.

Prediction: Robert Morris wins the series, 2-1.

Looking Ahead

American International and Sacred Heart are near and far the two best teams in the conference and should make it to the championship game without many issues.

Both offenses can score as Sacred Heart ranks third in the nation with 3.85 goals per game and AIC is No. 13 with 3.22.

AIC’s play between the pipes, offensive production and penalty kill will lead them to yet another Atlantic Hockey Tournament championship. They are far more balanced than the Pioneers and will look to make noise once the NCAA Tournament starts.

Tournament Champion: American International

Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.