The same teams.
The same commissioner. The same name.
Could this really
be Atlantic Hockey?
to which changes are second nature amazingly looks pretty much the
same as when we left it. Oh, sure, there’s a new coach (but
not a new last name) at Army. Brian Riley has replaced his brother
Rob, who replaced their father, Jack, years ago. And the league
tournament has switched from a one-rink format to a various-site,
on-campus affair. And we all know that Quinnipiac is blowing the
coop before next year, destined for the ECACHL. But, for this precious
season at least, things seem calm.
Bob DeGregorio is still making the calls. The same nine teams that
finished last season are starting this one. The same scholarship
limit is in place, yet the quality of play continues to improve.
Mercyhurst is still the team to beat. Quinnipiac, Holy Cross, Sacred
Heart and Connecticut are right there. Canisius and Bentley are
on the way up, and Army and American International are trying to
figure out how to join them.
the league will be back to normal, meaning that everything’s
up in the air and enrollment issues will be at the forefront. Air
Force, Robert Morris and Division III Rochester Institute of Technology
have expressed various levels of interest in joining the conference,
and the rumor mill has included other schools in the speculation.
now, we know what we’ve got. So let’s enjoy the season.
Without a doubt,
Connecticut has the talent to compete for the Atlantic
Hockey championship. The question is whether one season of college
hockey was enough seasoning for the 14 sophomores on the Huskies’
roster. If those second-year players can step up, the upperclassmen
are good enough to make it a special season in Storrs.
Forward Tim Olsen is the league’s most productive forward,
and defenseman Mark Murphy is as difficult to beat 1-on-1 as any
rearguard in Atlantic Hockey. Mix in forwards Chris Uber, Matt Scherer
and Beau McLaughin, and UConn is fine up front. If Scott Tomes can
stop a few more pucks (3.31, .895 last season), the Huskies easily
could improve upon last year’s fifth-place finish.
FOR A FALL
Cross had a charmed run to the AHA regular-season and playoff
titles last year, building a monstrous early lead in the standings
and coasting into the league tournament. But it’s tough to
stay on top. The pucks that bounced their way last season might
not this year, you know? Especially without R.J. Irving and J.R.
Walker manning the blue line.
No one’s saying Holy Cross is incapable of repeating. With
Tony Quesada in net and Pierre Napert-Frenette, Jimmy Sixsmith and
Andrew McKay up front, Holy Cross has the pieces in place. But if
they think they had to work hard to win last season, they’re
going to have take it up another notch to avoid a letdown.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
Quesada backstopped Holy Cross to the school's first-ever NCAA
Tournament berth in 2004.
With a move
to the tougher ECACHL looming on the horizon, this could be lame-duck
Quinnipiac’s best chance to make the NCAA
tournament for the next few years. Star goalie Jamie Holden is as
good as it gets in Atlantic Hockey, and the lineup card is loaded
with skilled players at every position.
Expectations are more moderate after last year’s somewhat
disappointing injury-plagued campaign, but that might be a blessing.
No one’s saying that other teams won’t respect the Bobcats
– in actuality, opponents would probably love to stick it
to them before they leave the league – but the target on their
backs isn’t quite so noticeable. If they can put everything
together, the Bobcats could play into late March. If they do, however,
they had better savor the flavor. It won’t be easy to get
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
International was a bad team even with all-league forward
Guillaume Caron. So what will the Yellow Jackets be without him?
A lot of that depends on junior C.J. McConnell. The Sault Ste. Marie,
Ontario, native has the best nose for the net among returning AIC
forwards, meaning that he’ll not only have to replace Caron’s
scoring, he’ll probably have to surpass it to make the Jackets
competitive. He’ll certainly benefit from Jeremy Leroux’s
play-making ability, but Andy Walbert will have to deflect some
of the defensive pressure away from McConnell by having another
Until someone goes on a tear this year, Connecticut's
Tim Olsen arguably is still the hottest player of 2004.
After all, he erupted for 33 points (including 18 goals) in the
Huskies’ final 20 games of last season – a streak that
started right about the time the calendar turned over. If he finishes
‘04 the way he started it, the reigning AHA Player of the
Year could start generating some All-American buzz come Christmas.
At the very least, Olsen is the most menacing forward on a UConn
team that looks poised to score a bunch of goals this season.
forward Ben Cottreau was named to the Ontario Hockey Association’s
top prospects team after scoring 43 goals and 52 assists in 43 games
for the Markham Waxers last season. At 6-feet, 200 pounds, he has
a college-ready body and will fit in well on a Lakers team that
won’t need him to carry the load this year. Also keep an eye
on Mercyhurst forward Matt Warren and Holy Cross forward Cal St.
Denis, whom one AHA coach called “one of the top prospects
in any conference.”
The name doesn’t
immediately spring to mind, but Bentley forward Brendan
McCartin is one of the most dynamic players to ever play
in the MAAC/Atlantic Hockey. He is somewhat anonymous because he
hasn’t really showed his talent yet. McCartin played one season
at Miami before transferring to Fairfield, which dropped its program
after the NCAA-mandated year he spent sitting out. So McCartin headed
to his third school, Bentley, with three years of eligibility remaining
but not an inkling of how good he could be in Atlantic Hockey. He
started slowly last season before picking it up and scoring 18 of
his team-high 26 points after Christmas. He capped it off with a
hat trick and an assist in a league tournament loss to Mercyhurst.
Coach Ryan Soderquist expects McCartin to become more of a “brand-name
player” in the league this year. “He has great speed,
great size, a great shot, and he plays hard every game. He didn’t
really know what he could do in this league at first. He was just
taking the puck past the center line and dumping it in. But then
he realized, ‘Hey, I can carry the puck in, I can get to the
net. And, hey, I can score.’ He knows he can handle the league
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
Larson was Sacred Heart's leading scorer a year ago with 19
goals and 10 assists.
Brian Riley be able to reinvigorate Army’s squad? Yep.
Will it be enough this year? We’ll see. Riley won’t
settle for anything less than maximum effort, and he isn’t
afraid to sacrifice a few wins in the present to get his point across.
Thus, he cut skilled senior Chris Casey, among other thought-to-be-returners,
this offseason. The Black Knights will play hard this year. Whether
that translates to wins is to be determined.
2. Will anyone be able to challenge Mercyhurst for the league
crown? Of course. Honestly, it wouldn’t be surprising
at all if Quinnipiac, Holy Cross or Sacred Heart were able to walk
off with the championship. Even Connecticut, which seems to be a
year or two away, could be a contender. The Lakers have two things
going for them: history and the best roster on paper. But they had
the same attributes last season, yet watched the Crusaders lead
wire-to-wire and fly to Colorado for the NCAA tournament while they
any of the lower-division teams poised to crack the upper echelon?
Why don’t you ask Quinnipiac, which was bounced from
the conference tournament by Canisius last year? Or Holy Cross,
which was beaten by Bentley on the last day of the regular season?
Those same Falcons also swept weekends from Quinnipiac and Sacred
Heart in 2003-04. They’re right there. Army and AIC don’t
appear to be threats to finish in the top half of the league, but
Canisius and Bentley are just about ready to make the jump. With
another goal per game and a little luck (the Griffs and Falcons
combined for 12 ties last year), they could do it.
Five things you can take to the bank in Atlantic Hockey this season
Smith will get more chances to help out in Sacred Heart’s
net. Kevin LaPointe performed admirably last season, but
sophomore Smith will be the team’s netminder when the Pioneers
eventually get where they want to be. He might as well play like
will find some way to wring more offense out of his squad
that scored just 2.47 goals per game and clicked on 11.3 percent
of its power plays last season. With star goalie Simon St. Pierre
on his final year of eligibility, he’d better do it quickly.
the league tournament at campus sites will prove to be a good decision.
Army’s Tate Rink did a great job hosting the one-site tournament,
but bringing the real March Madness to campus rinks will help get
more fans in more regions excited about the action.
will lead the league on Presidents’ Day. Whether
the Lakers hold it through their final four regular-season games
(two at Holy Cross, two versus Sacred Heart) will determine the
character of the team.
will be missed. Yeah, it’s too bad the Bobcats are
leaving. But you can’t be overly mad at them (after all, Mercyhurst,
Holy Cross and Sacred Heart tried to leave, too). Just remember
the good times and wish them luck as they go on their way.
Hansen setting up David Wrigley for a goal is a
thing of beauty. Again, again and again.
need Matt Froehlich to regain goal-scoring touch
he had as a sophomore.
of leaders Greg Kealey, Jeff Dams and R.J. Irving
creates need for someone to step up.
of first 11 games are on the road. So are three of final four.
Longest homestand of the year is three games.
Pierre-Luc O'Brien can build on strong freshman year and complement
leading scorer Garrett Larson, the Pioneers will be a tough
draw for anyone.
Coccimiglios, two Irish-Bakers and two Rubertos make Golden
Griffins feel like a family reunion.
excited to finally have two lines capable of
Chad Fifield has gone from a roster cut under Rob Riley to a
team captain under Brian Riley.
the plus side for the Yellow Jackets, the goaltending tandem
of Frank Novello and Chad Davis is experienced and formidable.