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With the higher-seeded team prevailing in all three opening-round series in Atlantic Hockey, the quarterfinals start this weekend as the intensity ramps up and a trip to the semifinals is two wins away.
With a bye week for the top five seeds — American International, Sacred Heart, RIT, Army West Point, and Niagara — the rested teams will get back into the fight for a national berth this weekend.
Another round of best-of-three hockey pits the conference’s top eight teams against each other. Stream the entirety of Atlantic Hockey action live, right here on FloHockey this weekend.
(8) Bentley at (1) AIC
An 11-goal output earned the Falcons a sweep over Canisius with 6-1 and 5-3 victories over the weekend. The Falcons could prove a bit tougher for top-seed AIC than their eight-seed would project.
On their second-longest winning streak of the season with four straight victories, the seniors are leading the way for a shot at the program’s first NCAA tournament berth. Senior Ryner Gorowsky recorded four goals and an assist in the series sweep while Jonathan Desbiens had a goal and three assists.
But the No. 20-ranked Yellow Jackets have been among the nation’s best teams with 13 wins in their past 15 games. They hold a 2-0 record over the Falcons this season and are well-rested following a bye week.
A deep offense and consistent tandem in the crease gives the Jackets all the tools to keep winning and earn a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney.
Players to Watch
With seven seniors on the roster, the Falcons will need them to collectively step up and play for an extension of their season. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets’ blue line will need to be steady to allow the offense to keep its spark.
The Yellow Jackets have been too consistent over the past 15 games and will use their week off properly with a trip to the semifinals.
(7) Robert Morris at (2) Sacred Heart
After a loss in Game 1, the Colonials squeezed out a 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 before a 5-1 series clincher in the opening round of the tournament.
Defenseman Nick Jenny scored two goals in the series while Daniel Mantenuto recorded a goal and three assists to lead the Colonials to the second round. The duo helped them earn their first wins in three games.
The Pioneers went 2-0 over the Colonials this season with a combined score of 10-2. With a 7-2-1 record over their past 10, they’ll be a tough out for the Colonials.
A potent offense has seen the Pioneers lose just three games when they have recorded at least three goals and have only failed to score three goals in seven of their 34 games.
Players to Watch
After depth heroics in each game, the Colonials need leading scorer Nick Prkusic to step up and add offense after an 11-goal regular season with 28 points in 34 games. For Sacred Heart, netminder Josh Benson will be integral in leading the Pioneers past the Colonials, with his heaviest workload since his 2017-18 USHL season.
Don’t confuse the Pioneers’ second-seed finish with a late-season slip, as it was merely a standings surge by the Jackets. Because of that, the Pioneers will be too much to handle in a best-of-three series.
(6) Air Force at (3) RIT
The Falcons’ sweep over Mercyhurst earned them their fourth win in five games. They have allowed one goal or fewer in each of those four wins. Despite three of those victories coming over last place Mercyhurst, the fourth came in a split series with RIT just two weeks ago.
Falcons goalie Alex Schilling has been the deciding factor in those games with a .926 save percentage over his last five games, where he has surrendered just seven goals.
#NCAAHockey Plays of the Week 🏒— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 10, 2020
4️⃣ | @AF_HKY goalie Alex Schilling stopped a two on zero by Mercyhurst as the Falcons went on to win the game with sophomore netminder allowing only one goal.🛑🛑 pic.twitter.com/zVTeWN8A6z
RIT holds a 3-1 record over the Falcons this season. A fresh memory has the Tigers matching up against the Falcons for the third and fourth time in as many games (fifth, if necessary). One of two losses over their past nine games belongs to the Falcons.
The Tigers still hold the upper hand with consistent offensive inclination and a possessive game of patience. But defensive miscues and lapses have come back to bite them this season.
Players to Watch
Schilling will need to continue his dominant play to help the Falcons’ chance at upsetting a strong RIT team that averages 3.14 goals per game. For the Tigers, their own zone is pivotal, meaning support for Logan Drackett — in addition to his overall play — will make the goalies the ones to watch.
The Tigers have played too well to lose two of their next three, they have the chance and ability to earn their first NCAA berth since 2016 and won’t give in yet.
(5) Niagara at (4) Army
Winners of six of their past eight and eight of their past 12, the Purple Eagles are riding a confidence that could make for the first upset of the tournament, even if it is a five seed over a four seed.
The two programs are trending in opposite directions and the Purple Eagles are the ones heading the right way.
Niagara also holds a 2-0 record over the Black Knights this season, sweeping them in late January by a combined score of 7-3. An offensive breakout has the eagles averaging 4.4 goals per game in their last five contests.
Meanwhile, the Knights are winless in their past three (0-2-1) and have just three wins over their past 10 (3-6-1), making them a legitimate target for Niagara. Inconsistent offense has sparked inconsistent wins with a complete dropoff in the second half of the season (13-5-1 in 2019, 4-9-2 in 2020).
Players to Watch
With eight points (3 G, 5 A) in his past five games, senior Ben Sokay will need to keep up his production to help lead the Eagles in the tournament. Black Knights goalie Trevin Kozlowski will need to be the difference-maker in order to hold off Niagara; he’ll need to steal the series if the Knights are to come out on top.
The first upset appears to be on a silver platter for five seed Niagara to claim en route to a trip to the semifinals.
Don’t miss any Atlantic Hockey action; catch Round 2 live, right here on FloHockey this weekend.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.