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Three things I think I think about this past weekend’s return to action for Atlantic Hockey:

How ’bout them Jackets?

The American International Yellow Jackets opened up the second half of the season in a big way, taking three points from the Canisius Golden Griffins. Dating back to the end of the first half of the year, that means AIC is all of a sudden one of the hottest teams in the league with a four game unbeaten stretch that’s moved them one point behind a three-way log jam for sixth place and two points behind fifth place Sacred Heart.

In their first game last weekend, the Yellow Jackets trailed 1-0 after Canisius got a goal from Ralph Cuddemi less than two minutes into the second period. But they scored two before the end of the frame, including a last-minute strike from Jackson Dudley, to take a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. 33 Alex Murray saves later, AIC had already taken two points from the visitors from Buffalo.

The next night, it was more of the same, with Canisius getting an early first period goal; Jeff Murray scored his second of the year just 40 seconds into the first period. It stayed 1-0 throughout the length of the game from there until the first part of the third period. That’s when Bryant Christian knotted the game at 1-1. Murray registered another 37 saves, giving him 70 for the weekend, and the Yellow Jackets had their second straight weekend victory.

It’s still early, but we’re always looking for that breakout team in the second half of the year. Every year, we have no idea of figuring out who it is until it happens. With a Tuesday tilt against Holy Cross on the horizon, it could be the Yellow Jackets who all of a sudden make everyone start looking at their schedule a little bit differently. Then again, that leads us to those Crusaders who are angling for the role of AHC’s best team.

Crusaders rising

Holy Cross played exactly one game this past weekend, a non-conference win at home over the ECAC/Ivy League’s Princeton Tigers. The 4-3 victory probably went unnoticed by the majority of college hockey, who had larger series and tournaments from which to choose their viewing pleasure.

But the Crusaders win elevated them to the tops of Atlantic Hockey. Coupled with Robert Morris’ defeat against Dartmouth in the Ledyard Bank Classic, Holy Cross vaulted over the Colonials in the Pairwise Rankings to 23rd overall. Now the highest rated AHC team in the rankings, they’re now on the verge of becoming the standard bearer for the league.

While RMU remains arguably the most powerful and talented team in the league, Holy Cross is tied with them for first with 19 points as the two teams get back into league play this week. But the Crusaders have a game in hand, meaning their .731 win percentage is slightly better than the Colonials’ .679. In terms of overall records, Holy Cross’ 11-6-1 is one game better than RMU’s 11-6-3. Holy Cross finishes their non-conference slate this weekend at Dartmouth — the very same Big Green team that just beat the Colonials.

In no way is that disrespect to RMU, who I believe remains the team to beat in the league and the presumed favorite to win the whole kitten kaboodle. Holy Cross, however, was our preseason pick to finish ninth out of 11 teams. They’re also flying very much under the radar, receiving 27 less votes than RMU in the most recent USCHO poll. Sometimes it’s the quiet types that just seem to get you.

Get special

AHC teams scored 53 goals this past weekend, 11 of which came on the power play. The 11 for 81 clip by AHC teams averaged out to a 14 percent success rate — or right in line with what to expect from the first half of the year.

Exiting the weekend, AHC teams continue to score power plays at a 17.2 percent rate, but that’s a number skewed by Robert Morris’ ungodly 32% success rate. Removing the Colonials from the equation drops the league average to 15.6 percent, more in line with how the league performed this past weekend.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that special teams played a factor the other direction, with AHC teams scoring six goals on short-handed opportunities.