Here is my view of how Atlantic Hockey will pan out this year.
1. Air Force Falcons
Air Force made it back to back Atlantic Hockey tournament championships last year while finishing in third place in the regular season. This earned them an NCAA berth, in which they took Miami (OH) to overtime before losing 3-2 in the first round. They also had some good results in non-conference action last season. They started with asweep over ECAC foe Quinnipiac 4-1 and 3-1. They defeated 4th ranked Denver for the first time in 19 years 5-2. The next night, they gave #3 Colorado College all they could handle before falling 2-1. They also tied #12 Minnesota on the road in theconsolation game of the Dodge Holiday Classic.
Air Force will have one of the more potent offenses in Atlantic Hockey. They had four players score double digit goals, and they are all returning. Brent Olson ledthe team with 18 goals last year. He added 20 assists to tie for the team lead in points with 38. Jeff Hadner (13-23-38), Matt Fairchild (11-18-29), and Josh Frider(13-14-27) were in double digits in goals. There were also several players who contributed 5 or more goals. They do lose their Hobey Baker finalist from 2 years ago in Eric Ehn. But they have plenty of depth. Freshmen Paul Weisgarber and Greg Burgdoefer were recruited to add to that depth and will work to get playing time forthe Falcons.
The defensemen for Air Force will be a mix of veterans and newcomers. They return one of the better defensemen in the conference in Greg Flynn. He had 8 goals and 23 assists on the year. He and Michael Mayra will provide senior leadership on the blueline. Brad Sellers is the only other defensemen returning that played a majority of games for the Falcons. They lose a couple of defensemen in Matt Charbonneau and Frank Schiavone. Fighting to fill their slots will be returnees Brandon Johnson,Kevin Wright and newcomers Tim Kirby, Scott Mathis, and Mark Williams.
In goal for the Falcons is one of the more underrated goalies in Atlantic Hockey in Andrew Volkening. He does not have eye-popping numbers in save percentage. He only had a .901 save percentage in conference action. But he almost always came up big when he needed, allowing only 21 goals in 11 non-conference games. That gave him a 2.09 goals against average on the season. He will be backed up by Tim Trystrosek and Stephen Caple. Neither of them have had any experience in the NCAA.
2 (tie) Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers
RIT followed up their regular season championship with a second place finish and asemifinal loss to Air Force in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. The Tigers also had some big non-conference wins last year. They defeated Cornell 4-1 in their first game at Blue CrossArena. The Tigers also upset Minnesota in the Dodge Holiday Classic 4-3. They followed that up with a loss to eventual champion Boston College 6-0 in a game theytrailed only 1-0 after 2 periods. Overtime was also a big story last year, as RIT played 11 overtime games, winning 4 (including their first home OT win in 10 years) and tying 6.
RIT will need to figure out where the offense will come from. The top two scorers, Simon Lambert and Matt Smith graduated last year. The leading returning goal scorer is Matt Crowell. He had a good sophomore season with 11 goals and 11 assists. Most of those were earlier in the season though. Anton Kharin will be counted on to putup numbers similar to his freshman year. Sean Murphy and Andrew Favot should improve upon some solid freshman numbers, scoring 5 goals each. The Tigers also have some solid recruits in this area. Scott Knowles averaged 1.5 points per game last year in the BCHL. He had 26 goals and 64 assists. Mark Cornacchia also averaged more than a point per game in the OPJHL. He had 30 goals and 43 assists last year. The Tigers will need these players to score goals.
A big strength will be the Tiger defense. The best of them is Dan Ringwald. He argualably was the best overall defensemen in the conference. He is a threat on offense, as his 3 goals and 30 assists showed. He also had a +9 rating last year to show he was good on defense. Al Mazur is another strong defenseman. Mazur has a strong shot (the "Mazur lazer") that connected for 5 goals. He is also pretty goodon defense. They are joined by Justin Hofstetter and Bobby Raymond as the core group of blueliners. Newcomers Riley Clark, Trevor Eckenswiller, Chris Haltigin, and Daniel Spivek are also expected to contribute as well.
Another area RIT should not need to worry about is goaltender. Louis Menard has shown himself to be one of the best goalies in the league. Menard had a 2.75 goals against average and a .902 save percentage last year. In conference play, he was even better - 2.29 and .917. Jared DeMichiel was his backup last year. He was inconsistant. He had a win over Holy Cross and tie against Niagara. However, hehad 2 bad losses against Canisius. He will be battling with Jan Rapponen for the #2 job. Rapponen did not play last year for the Tigers, but was on the roster.
2 (tie). Mercyhurst Lakers
Mercyhurst had an decent regular season, finishing fifth in the confernece. But they had an oustanding postseason. They started with a sweep of Canisius in the first round. They followed it up with a win over Sacred Heart in the Four-Five game at the Final Five. Then they upset Army in the semifinals. The dream weekend ended in the finals though, losing in double overtime to Air Force. They did not get any points in nonconference action, but they played tough teams and that helped with theirpost season run.
The Mercyhurst offense will return mainly intact. They lose their top scorer, but the next eight players will come back. Matt Pierce leads that group with 27 points on 15 goals and 12 assists. Steve Cameron made his mark as a freshman with 11 goalsand is the other returning player with double digit goals. Ryan Toomey will return from a medical redshirt last year. He is a weapon with 27 career goals. The depth will make it hard to focus soley on those players. The recruits will look to add to that depth. Derek Elliot seems to be the best of that bunch, with 25 points last year.
The defenese for Mercyhurst was not so great last year. They allowed over 33 shots per game in conference play last year. They have size here, as only one defenseman is under six feet. They are also experienced, with 3 juniors and 2 seniors. Matt Fennell was the best offensively of this bunch. Bobby Phillips and Kirk Medernachare the seniors here. With all the expecrience, it will be hard for recruits Kevin Noble and Patrick Goebel to get time.
Goaltending was supposed to be a strength last year, but didn't quite turn out that way. Matt Lundin was injured early in the season and was not the same when he cameback. His work in the postseason showed what he could be like when healthy. Lundin had a 2.81 goals against average and .918 save percenatage last year. Those numbers should be better this year. Ryan Zapolski got to see good playing time as Lundin's backup. He had a 3.82 goals against average and .896 save percentage. Max Stang was recruited as the third goalie.
4. Army Black Knights
Army won it's first ever Atlantic Hockey Association regular season title last year,racking up a good 17-8-3 conference record last year. They went 11-1-1 in their final 13 games last year. Then they swept AIC in the first round of the playoffs inmpressive fasion. However, Mercyhurst ended the dream season in the semifinals of the AHA tournament. Army also had a tie against Brown for their only non-conference point.
Army will need to figure out where the offense will come from. They do return their top scorer in Owen Meyer. Meyer had 21 goals and 18 assists last year, and will be counted on to repeat if not top those numbers. Cody Omilusik showed promise last year as a freshman with 9 goals and 7 assists. Joey Ammon was the only other forward that had more than 3 goals last year with 8 goals. There are eight freshman forwards on the roster that will look to replace some of the offense lost to graduation. The more heralded of these are Jack Barnes and Danny Colvin. They were stars at prep school and will likely see significant time for Army.
The defense for Army is one of their strong points. The were very stingy in allowing shots to get to the goalie - allowing less than 26 shots on goal last year. A key player returning here is the AHA defensemen of the year, Jake McKelvie. He will be counted on even more this year with four defensemen graduating. Matt Hickey and Pat Copeland were the only other returning starter that saw significan action. Four new defensemen will look to grab some ice time. Marcel Alvarez and Scott Warner are thebest of this group.
The biggest strength for Army is their goaltenders. Josh Kassel earned several accolades as the Army goaltender. He was the voted AHA player of the Year and wasa second team All American. Kassel had a minute 1.92 goals against average and a .925 save percentage last year. Jay Clark and Joe Spracklen will fight for playing time as his backup. Because of the defense, these two also posted goals against averages under 2 and save percentages better than .924 last year.
5. Sacred Heart Pioneers
Sacred Heart continued their tradition of excellance on ice with a fourth place finish last year in Atlantic Hockey. In the playoffs, they needed the full three games to defeat their in state rival UConn. However, in the Final Five play-in game, the Pioneers lost to Mercyhurst. Sacred Heart was particularly tough at home, going 11-4-2 on the season.
Scoring goals was not a problem for Sacred Heart last year, and this will be a strength again. The Pioneers have five players returning that scored 10 or more goals last year. The best of the bunch is Bear Trapp. Trapp tied for the team lead in points with 40 on 13 goals and 27 assists. Trapp has 123 points in his career in only104 games. Dave Jarman and Erik Boisvert scored over 30 points each last year. The depth on the offense makes this team hard to stop. They were also excellant in powerplay, scoring over 25% of the time. The Pioneers added a couple of forwards to add to their depth. Matt Gingera comes in as the better of the two, leading the Manatoba Junior League in goals and set a team record in points.
The Sacred Heart defense was pretty solid last year. They held teams to 31.3 shotsper game last year. This year, they return most of their defenseman. They have three seniors to provide leadership and experience. Dave Grimson and Paul Ferraro have the most experience here. Sophomore Chris Brown lead the team in +/- last year on defense. Corey Laurysen is was a top +/- defensemen on the team as well. This group will make recruits Chris Baker and Ryan Miniaci fight for playing time thisyear.
The Pioneers are pretty set in goal this year. They will count on Stefan Drew to play the bulk of the games this year again. The senior put up solid numbers this year for Sacred Heart. He posted a 2.63 goals against average in conference play. He also had a conference save percentage of .915 last year. Those numbers were good enough to win 14 conference games. Oliver St. Onge will again be the primary backup. While posting a 2.22 conference goals against and a .916 save percentage inconference play, he did not win a game. Angelo Tsagameas was recruited from the clubteam to be the third goaltender.
6. Connecticut Huskies
The UConn Huskies finished the season in seventh place in the Atlantic Hockey Association. They ended the season by taking Sacred Heart to a third game in the best of three series in the playoffs. The non-conference season highlight was a win over Colgate in overtime. They also had a four game winning streak at the end of the season, sweeping AIC and Holy Cross. Another area there were good in was overtime games. The Huskies went 4-1-3 in overtime games last year.
The offense is a mix bag of good news and bad news. The good news is that they return their top seven scorers from last year. The bad news is that only two players scored more than 20 points and nobody had more than 25. Andrew Olson lead the team in goals and points with 14 goals and 24 points. Chris Ochoa was the only other double digit goal scorer with 10 goals. He added 13 assists to be the other 20 pointscorer for UConn. They will look to some of their freshman to add more punch to theteam. Corey Jendras lead his team in scoring last year with 30 goals and 39 assistsin 57 games last year. Daniel Naurato had 61 points in 45 games last year. PatMcAuley had 51 points and was in the top ten in scoring in the AJHL. If this area improves, the Huskies will be a dangerous team to play.
The Husky defense was pretty average last year. Having Sean Erickson back for a full season will be a boost to the team. He provides senior leadership as a co-captain for UConn. Joining Erickson as captain will be Nick Schneider. Schnieder gives great effort during the games, and helps out on offense. They allowed 32 shots pergame, but were effective in stopping power plays, allowing goals on only 14.2% of chances. With most of the defensemen returning, recruits Brad Cooper and Bobby Reiners will have to fight to get playing time.
The real strength of the UConn team is their goaltending. In particular their star Beau Erickson. Erickson had a 2.68 goals against average and a .918 save percentage in conference action. He had a pair of shutouts last year. He was named second team All-Conference. Jon Glant and Brad McInnis will fight for playing timeas backups. Glant went 2-2 last year with a 3.51 GAA and .869 save percentage in fourgames. McInnus was 0-2 with a 5.92 GAA and .851 save percentage.
7. Canisius Golden Griffins
The Canisius Golden Griffins will look to improve on a solid season last year. They finished sixth in the conference during the regular season, before being swept inthe first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. The Griffins had some non-conference success as well. They tied St. Cloud in the second game of their series. They also defeated their Western New York rivals Niagara 4-3. They were particularly tough athome, racking up a good 9-5-1 record at their home arenas. In the end, the Griffins tied or set four school and individual records.
Canisius has quite a few weapons on offense. They return their leading goal scorerin Jason Weeks with 12 goals. He will have help from the Griffins top two scorers in Vincent Scarsella and Josh Heidinger. Scarsella lead the team in assists with 22and the team in 31 points. Hiedinger had 9 goals, tying him with Scarsella for third on the team. There was also quite a bit of depth, as six returning players had 10 points or more. They also added some weapons in recruiting. Adam Bruce had 90 points last year in the CJHL last year. Dave Kostuch had 74 points in the OPJHL last year with 37 goals. Finally, Scott Moser was all-state second team, recording 51 points last year. This could be an explosive offence.
The Griffin defense was a bit suspect last year and needs to get bettter. There will be some experience here, with one senior and three juniors. The senior, John Patera,did not play a lot last year, but has played 52 games in his career. Chris Forsman was one of the better overall defensemen. He had 15 points, and a +3 rating. Carl Hudson is also a tough defenseman, scoring 12 points. These two will be keys in shoring up a defense that allowed over 33 shots a game. They will be joined by the only defensive recruit, Wes Love. Love was a All Division defenseman last year. If they improve here, Canisius will be a darkhorse.
Andrew Loewen in the main goaltender for Canisius, and he posted strong numbers. He had a 2.54 conference goals against average last year in conference. He had a save percentage of .920 during conference play. Backing him up will be Taylor Anderson and recruit Dan Morrison. Anderson played decently in limited action with a 3.70 goals against average and a .855 save percentage. Morrison was 24-4-6 last year for the Elmira Sugar Kings with a 2.21 goals against average and a .938 save percenatage last year.
8 (tie). Holy Cross Crusaders
The Holy Cross Crusadors finished a dissapointing ninth last year in Atlantic Hockey. They then proceeded to lose a pair of overtime heartbreakers at RIT duringthe first round of the playoffs. They got off to a pretty good start, being 5-4-5 tostart the year. That included a win over Providence. They had the dubious distinction of finishing fourth in the Catamount Cup in spite of not losing a game. They tied Vermont in the first game before losing in shootout. They followed that up with a tie against Western Michigan before again falling in shootout. The second half did not go as well for Holy Cross though, as they went 5-12-2 after the start of the new year.
Holy Cross will need to improve their offense to get better in the league. One key to the team's success will be Everett Sheen. Sheen had 15 goals and 9 assists as a freshman last year. The 15 goals lead the team. Everett Sheehan led the team inpoints with 33 on 13 goals and 20 assists. Joe Brock nearly joined them in the double digit goal club, but fell short with 9 goals and 8 assists. They brought ina plethora of recruits to help here. Jay Silvia is one of the top guys that they hope can light the lamp. He had 88 career points in his high school career. Andrew Cox was outstanding at Phillips Academy Andover, racking up 23 goals and 33 assists last year. Matt Gordon had 40 goals and 68 points in the CJHL last year.
The Crusadors will look to replace four seniors on a defense that was not that great last year. They were pretty good in allowing shots, but were dreadful in penaltykill - allowing goals at a whopping 25.6% of the time. Shane McAdam and Marty Damsare the seniors that will look to tighten that unit up. But there are four freshmen on defense that will be fighting for playing time. Matthew Davis may be the best of the group. He was a three time league all star in the EJHL. He even adds some scoring pop, with 14 goals and 48 assists.
In between the pipes, Holy Cross has a pair of average goalies. Adam Roy played the most games last year. He was respectable, allowing 2.64 goals per game in conference play on a .918 save percentage. Overall, he had a 8-14-4 record last year. Ian Dams also saw significant time. He had a 3.25 goals against average and a .890 save percentage during conference play. He got the non-conference win. Charlie Lockwood was on the roster, but did not play.
8 (tie). American Internations College Yellowjackets
American International College once again was the celler dweller of Atlantic Hockeylast season. However, things may be on the upswing for the Yellowjackets. They went from 15 points in 2006-07 to 19 points in 2007-08. They also managed to pick up a pair of ties against ECACHL opponants. They tied #16 RPI in the first round of the Rensselaer Holiday Hockey tournament before falling in shootout. That was the first points ever against a ranked opponent. They also tied Dartmouth. However, they only managed 1 tie in their last eight games, including a 2 game sweep against Army in the AHA playoffs.
The offense for AIC was a little more diverse last year. But it was still senior driven and they will need to replace several top scorers. They do return their leading overall scorer in Mike McMillan. He had 8 goals and a team leading 16 assists last season. Chris Campanale and Steve McLeod were players that got their first significant action and contributed with double digit points. Tom Mele also added five goals on the year as a freshman. Five freshmen have been recruited to help inthis area. The most proficient of these is Michael Penny. He had 56 points in 62 games in the USHL. Rob Florintino also adds scoring punch, with 36 points in 53 games last season.
The defense for AIC was their biggest weakspot. They did give up 3.75 goals per game last year. They also gave only limited offensive output. The best offensive defenseman returning is Frankie DeAngelis, who had 4 goals and 10 assists. Keith Rogeris the only other returning defenseman that scored a goal last year. Roger and MattWoodard are the seniors of the group and hope to make this group stronger. The Yellowjackets have some new recruits to help strengthen this squad. Pat Beckwith, Rob Blanchette, and Licaino Primiani will likely be expected to compete for playing timeand make this part of the team a strength.
Goaltending was not much of a problem for AIC last year. Dan Ramirez has a strong freshman year in net. He was the winning goalie for all of AICs wins last year. He posted a 3.29 goals against average. He had a .896 save percentage. Those were solid numbers for a goalie that had a weak defensive group in front of him. Tom Fentonwill back up Ramirez. He had a 4.66 GAA and a .860 save percentage. Jack Andersonis on the roster, but did not see any action last year.
10. Bentley Falcons
Bentley comes into this season coming off an eighth place finish in the Atlantic Hockey Association. That was followed up by a sweep in the playoffs against Air Force. With most of that team coming back, the Falcons will be looking to improve upon that. Bentley did not win any non-conference games, unfortunately. But they were tough at home, with a 4-6-4 record. Season highlights were a pair of 3 game winning streaks last year. They also tied three games in a row.
The Falcons will need to be more consistant than last year. They do have the players to be solid. They averaged 2.89 goals per conference game. They had 4 double digit goal scorers, and they all return. Leading the way will be Dain Prewitt. He lead the team with 32 points on 15 goals and 17 assists. The leading goal scorer was freshman sensation Erik Peterson with 16 goals. Junior Marc Menzione and senior Jeff Gumaer are the other double digit goal scorers returning. They added three newcomers to the front lines to add depth. Herbie Kent, Jamie Nudy, and Aaron Stonacek are the freshman forwards. Stonacek is the best of the bunch, with 36 points in 56 games last year.
Bentley's defense will need to improve from last year. They lose three defensemen from a defense that gave up a bunch of shots last year. Casey Russell will be the only senior defenseman. Bobby Preece and and Brandon Graffunder are the only other defensemen that played last year as underclassmen. They will be counting on their four recruits to play significant amounts of time. Trent Bonnett had 21 points and a +28 in 58 games last year. Tyler Quartuccio had a +33 and had 26 points in 44 games.
One thing Bentley does not have to worry about is goaltending. Joe Calvi played great as a freshman last year for the Falcons. He was the goaltender for all of Bentley's wins last year and all but one of their ties. Calvi posted a .915 savepercentage and a 2.76 goals against average in conference play last year. Look for that to get even better if the defense improves. Jason Kearney and Nick Moise hadlimited action for Bentley last year. They also brought in Kyle Rank. They will be battling for the backup job.