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Atlantic Hockey Preview: Top teams do battle this weekend

The standings in the Atlantic Hockey Association could look vastly different come Monday morning depending on the weekend's results of the top teams.

Bentley senior forward Brett Gensler and his team head to western New York to face Canisius.
Bentley senior forward Brett Gensler and his team head to western New York to face Canisius.
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Four of the top five teams in the Atlantic Hockey Association standings battle it out on the ice this weekend. First place Mercyhurst hosts third place UConn while second place Bentley travels to face fifth place Canisius.

The Lakers and Falcons have a fairly solid grip on the top two spots, but a big weekend from either Canisius or UConn could change that.

UConn has a very strong and big defensive corps that will have to protect Matt Grogan in order to be successful this weekend at Mercyhurst. Before last Friday's loss in the series finale to Robert Morris, UConn had won four straight, and are 6-2 since the start of December.

Mercyhurst counters with a talented group of forwards led by double digit goal scorers Matthew Zay and Daniel O'Donoghue. Ryan Misiak, Chris Bodo and Daniel Bahntge all have at least seven goals as well. The Lakers have a one-man breakout crew in senior blue liner Nick Jones.

The most pleasant surprise for Mercyhurst has been the emergence of junior goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant. Heading into the year most thought Jordan Tibbett would be the man between the pipes, but he struggled and Sarjeant took the job and ran with it.

The matchup between Bentley and Canisius features a battle between the two preseason favorites to win the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year. Bentley senior Brett Gensler and Canisius senior Kyle Gibbons were both two of the names most bandied about before the season started.

Gensler has really taken over and will most likely get some serious consideration as a Hobey Baker Award finalist. The St. Charles, Mo. native is now the school's all-time leading goal scorer and points leader. However, Bentley's offense is far from a one-man show. Alex Grieve leads the team in goals with 16 while sophomore Andrew Gladiuk has 13 tallies. Defenseman Steve Weinstein leads the country in helpers with 26.

Golden Griffins senior goaltender Tony Capobianco has struggled, but sophomore Keegan Asmundson has been stellar when called upon by Dave Smith. The two could very well split the duties between the pipes for Canisius this weekend.

Bentley will trot out solid senior Branden Komm who is as reliable a goalie as there is in the AHA.

On paper, the advantage goes to Mercyhurst and Bentley, but parity has been the name of the game in the Atlantic Hockey Association this season. Something tells this writer that the results won't be a sweep for either team when we check back in Sunday afternoon.

Complete Weekend Schedule: Atlantic Hockey Association

Friday, Jan. 17
Connecticut at Mercyhurst 7:05 ET
Holy Cross at Niagara 7:05 ET
Army at RIT 7:05 ET
American International at Robert Morris 7:05 ET
Sacred Heart at Air Force 7:05 MT
Saturday, Jan 18.
Bentley at Canisius 12:05 ET
American International at Robert Morris 7:05 ET
Army at RIT 7:05 ET
Connecticut at Mercyhurst 7:05 ET
Holy Cross at Niagara 7:05 ET
Sacred Heart at Air Force 7:05 MT
Sunday, Jan. 19
Bentley at Canisius 12:05 ET

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.