It’s a question that is shrouded in as much uncertainty as the recipe for Super Suger Crisp or McDonald’s secret sauce – where will Air Force finish in Atlantic Hockey?
With seven games to play, the Falcons sit in eighth place, one point out of sixth. Five points in either direction and they’re either in third place or tied for last. That’s how tight this conference is this season.
Why is the finish so important? In Atlantic Hockey the top five teams get a first-round playoff bye. That would be huge for a team that has battled injuries. Finishers 6-8 host a first-round series. That would help. The final three finishers open on the road and have to win two road series just to reach the final four in Rochester, N.Y.
Here are some Falcons facts to consider entering the home stretch:
- With 21 games played, the Falcons have games in hand on every school except fourth-place Mercyhurst, ninth-place RIT and last-place Sacred Heart.
- The Falcons have five road games left (at Bentley, vs. Sacred Heart in a neutral-site game and at Robert Morris). The Falcons are 1-1-1 vs. Sacred Heart and have not played wither Bentley or Robert Morris. The home series is against first-place Canisius, which AFA split with earlier this season. Three games (all in the next week) are against teams below them in the standings. The other four are against teams in the top 3.
- Some tiebreakers to consider – Air Force would not have one if they finish tied with Holy Cross (0-1-1) or Army (0-2). They would have them against RIT (3-1) and AIC (1-0-1). They are 2-2 vs. Niagara and 1-1 vs. Mercyhurst. Bentley, Canisius, Sacred Heart and RMU are to be determined.
- The Falcons are struggling on offense in league play. Their 2.55 goals per game are 10th and their power play is 11th. However, they have offset that with AHC’s stingiest defense (2.25 goals per game), the fourth-best penalty kill (83 percent), the fourth-best face-off margin (52.7 percent) and they take the fewest penalties (8.15 minutes per game).
Add it up and what does it mean?
The schedule offers the Falcons a chance to make up some ground, but can they make up enough to get into the top five? The guess here, and it’s a only guess, is they move up enough to host a first-round series, but with three teams to leapfrog into a top-five slot, they would need some help.
And keep in mind, the series at Bentley will be the final one at the infamous “JAR” so you can bet the hosts will be fired up, and even though Sacred Heart is in last place, AFA is .500 vs. the Pioneers this season.
Despite a dearth of offense many nights, the Falcons have a lot of fundamentals in place to win close games and road games (where they’re 6-2-2 in AHC play), something they will need to do going forward if their season is to extend well into March.
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