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A look through the weekend that was in Atlantic Hockey:

Holy Mackerel!

Just under half of the institutions in Atlantic Hockey have roots in the Catholic Church. At the conclusion of this past weekend, four are in early season positioning for a first round bye under the new AHA format. Highlighting that run are Holy Cross and Sacred Heart, both of which gained monster three-point weekends.

Although a team not known for their offensive prowess, Holy Cross went pound for pound with RIT, scoring five goals and rallying after blowing leads on both nights. On Friday, the Crusaders built a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Danny Lopez and TJ Moore. RIT, however, tied it up with a second period goal from Brady Norrish and a third period goal from Andrew Miller. Holy Cross was able to grab a lead two minutes after the Tigers tied it up, but an empty net, extra attacker goal forced a 3-3 tie. On Saturday, RIT outshot Holy Cross, 2-1, but again the Crusaders built a lead, lost the lead, and scored a go-ahead goal. This time, it held up.

As for Sacred Heart, they continued their run of strong hockey by taking three points at home from Canisius. Down 2-1 in the second period on Friday, the Pioneers scored twice in four minutes in the late stages of the frame, including once on the power play. Andrew Bodnarchuk then held on with a strong third period to preserve the victory. After the team’s skated to a tie on Saturday night, the Pioneers found themselves in third place with eight points, undefeated in their last three games, three points back of idle first place Robert Morris.

Coaches, along with media members and fans, always talk about how it’s not where you start but where you finish. That said, fast starts are always a big help, and with an unbalanced schedule providing more east/west matchups, it’s good to see more parity coming down the pipeline with stronger eastern pod victories.

Holy Cross heads to Army next weekend, while Sacred Heart has a one game, non-conference tilt against UConn at the Taft School in Watertown, CT.

Wild Weekend In Erie

A great indicator of the crazy brand of hockey we all enjoy in Atlantic Hockey came from Mercyhurst-Army this past weekend. The series ended up as the highest-scored series with 14 goals scored over two nights, but what’s more amazing is that it came after the Lakers beat the Black Knights, 2-0, on Friday. That said, even that game provided some wildness, and no, I’m not talking about penalties.

Friday featured fantastic goaltending on both sides of the ice, highlighted by Jimmy Sarjeant’s 39-save shutout. But he was matched nearly stop-for-stop by Parker Gahagen, and Mercyhurst won the game based on goals 44 seconds apart. It was one of those games where a fan of good defensive hockey went home completely satisfied. Highlights are available by clicking here.

And then there was Saturday. I’m not sure if both teams used up all of their goaltending on Friday night, but it took the night off in the second game. They combined for six goals in the second period alone after a 1-1 first, including a penalty shot for Army scored by Tyler Pham. Mercyhurst rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game at 3-3, then rallied from down 4-3 to tie things up at 4-4……..all in the same period. Army took a 5-4 lead, but the Lakers finished things off by scoring twice and adding an empty net goal for a 7-5 victory.

Consider this. A night after he went toe-to-toe with arguably the league’s best goalie, Parker Gahagen gave up six goals and still made 34 saves. On the flip side, Sarjeant made 39 saves to shut out Army on Friday, but he didn’t finish the game on Saturday and picked up a no-decision as Spencer Bacon came off the bench, made 12 saves, and received his first career victory in just his second career appearance.

The Lakers head east for the first time this season to take on Bentley next weekend while Army wraps up nine of 11 at home to start the year against Holy Cross.

Niagara off the schneid

If you remember back to last season, I repeatedly said over and over how I didn’t think Robert Morris was as bad as their infamous record portrayed them. At one point, they were 0-5-1, then 1-8-1, then 2-12-2 as the calendar year turned over. This year, I said the same thing about Niagara.

Niagara lost on Friday night to Bentley, 6-0, which made them 0-8 on the season. Watching the Purple Eagles sure as heck didn’t feel like a team that was 0-8, and for the most part, it was just a case of something bad happening right as it felt like things were turning around. As they battled back, things just snowballed and went to worse, and the Falcons capitalized in their own building in a big way. It certainly wasn’t a lack of effort or talent. It just was it was.

But give credit where credit’s due. With players sidelined by injury, Niagara’s hung very tough, and it showed on Saturday night. They never trailed and prevented Bentley from scoring an even-strength goal in a 3-2 overtime victory. Coach Dave Burkholder’s team looked solid defensively all night, and Jackson Teichroeb made 28 saves to pick up the team’s first victory.

Ironically enough, Niagara outshot Bentley 31-30 with the 31st shot being Isaac Kohls’ overtime winner. It was the only shot in overtime.

The Purple Eagles now receive a much needed bye weekend to rest up their banged up roster before playing five of their next six games at home. It starts in two weeks against Army.