2008-09 Atlantic Hockey Preview
For two seasons running, the champions of Atlantic
Hockey reside high in the Rocky Mountains.
Air Force has proven it does not need to win
the regular-season title in order to win the tourney title
and automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The Falcons
won as a No. 4 seed in 2007 and as a No. 3 seed in 2008, the
first time a team has repeated in the league's short history.
The Falcons are the favorites to repeat as champion,
returning most of their lineup, including stone-cold playoff
netminder Andrew Volkening, who prevailed in a double-overtime
thriller over Mercyhurst in the 2008 finale.
Hajner shared the team scoring lead at Air Force last
season. The Falcons return 93 percent of their offensive
production from last season.
Mercyhurst has a stacked lineup and is the coaches'
pick for second. Rochester Institute of Technology lost some
crucial offensive pieces – including league scoring
champion Simon Lambert – but is still in good shape.
Likewise for Sacred Heart, which must first find a way to
replace Alex Parent and then find a way to win in March. Defending
regular-season champion Army must find a way to replace 12
players, but the Black Knights do have some talent to work
As the league celebrates its fifth birthday
(or tenth, if you count the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
days), there isn't much change in the power structure of the
league. All 10 head coaches return, and the league has decided
to extend two major contracts: the league tourney will be
hosted by Rochester's Blue Cross Arena through 2010, and the
B2 Networks will webcast all league games.
Ten of the league's 18 all-stars will return,
including All-American goalie Josh Kassel from Army. All-star
teammates Zach McKelvie and Owen Meyer are also back.
Other all-stars back in the fold are defensemen
Dan Ringwald and Bobby Raymond of Rochester Institute of Technology
and Greg Flynn of Air Force, forwards Bear Trapp of Sacred
Heart and Brodie Sheahan of Holy Cross and goalies Beau Erickson
of Connecticut and Joe Calvi of Bentley.
Canisius finished only three
points out of first place in 2004-05. Roster losses, a bit
of off-ice troubles and a coaching change dropped the Golden
Griffins into the bottom half of the league in the years following.
Head coach Dave Smith brought in some new talent, and the
Griffs used points in seven of eight contests at mid-season
to slowly climb the ranks to sixth place.
Goalie Andrew Loewen had the hot hand for stretches,
and freshman Vincent Scarsella put up nine goals and 22 assists
on the way to winning rookie of the year honors. The Griffs
return nine of their top 11 scorers from last season, and
have some promising recruits coming aboard.
Yes, Canisius tends to play a rugged game but
if the Griffs can cut down on the trips to the penalty box,
they will cause problems throughout the league.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
Army's best hope for an NCAA
tourney berth came and went when Mercyhurst eliminated the
regular-season champs with a crushing semifinal loss. The
Black Knights were a senior-ladened lineup and it showed on
the ice. Twelve seniors are moving on, and coach Brian Riley
joked recently that he doesn't recognize the team he's putting
on the ice this season.
Riley saw the same thing happen to him when
he took over the team from older brother, Rob, four years
ago. The Black Knights are probably in better shape for upheaval
than they were in 2004 because they still have the league's
top goalie in All-American Josh Kassel, a dominant forward
in Owen Meyer, an all-star defenseman in Zach McKelvie and
a tremendous sophomore in Cody Omilusik.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
Sacred Heart is the only Atlantic
Hockey team to finish in the top five in all five seasons
of Atlantic Hockey play. What do the Pioneers have to show
for it? Nada, bupkis, zero playoff titles. The Pioneers lost
to Holy Cross in the 2004 finals, and have been nothing but
unimpressive in the postseason ever since, losing in the 2005
and 2006 quarterfinals, a 2007 semifinal and 2008 final-five
How much longer can coach Shaun Hannah keep
the Pioneers in the title hunt? At least for another season
or two. Sacred Heart graduated Alex Parent and a solid defenseman
in Scott Marchesi but the rest of the lineup remains intact.
Bear Trapp is primed to re-write the league's career scoring
records, Eric Giosa is another solid senior forward and the
Pioneers have three productive junior forwards in Dave Jarman,
Erik Boisvert and Nick Johnson.
Come March, though, this team has to find a
way to produce in the playoffs.
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
RIT pushed Army to the final
weekend of the season before settling for second place. Then
both the Tigers and Black Knights got ousted in the Atlantic
Hockey semifinals. Like Army, RIT loses some big pieces to
the puzzle, not least of which are leading scorers Simon Lambert
and Matt Smith. In all, RIT loses seven seniors accounting
for 741 career games, 184 goals and 266 assists.
All is not lost, though. The Tigers return 10
players who produced double-digit points, and RIT remains
strong on the defensive end with the likes of blue liners
Dan Ringwald, Al Mazur and netminder Louis Menard. Ritter
Arena remains one of the best home-ice advantages in the league.
Kassel emerged from the end of the Army bench and became
one of the nation's top goaltenders last season.
Army's Josh Kassel was the
most pleasant surprise of last season – and an embarrassment
for coach Brian Riley. Riley gave Kassel just one look as
a freshman and nothing more. Kassel has since taken his team
to the Atlantic Hockey finals and to the school's first regular-season
Kassel posted the nation's fourth-best goals
against average (1.92), the tenth-best save percentage (.925)
and earned 18 victories. He's re-writing the Academy record
books for netminders, and another strong season is not out
of the question, though he will have to shoulder a bit more
of the defensive burden with a younger blue-line corps.
This is a tough call in Atlantic Hockey. There
are no NHL draftees coming aboard, and just one Division I
transfer by my count. There are some junior hockey all-stars
coming aboard, but they hail from some of the lesser-known
circuits throughout North America.
Canisius has brought in goalie Dan Morrison,
the MVP of the Midwestern Junior League in Elmira. The Griffs
also signed centerman Adam Brace from Pembroke, a first-team
Central Ontario League first-teamer.
Holy Cross recruit Matt Gordon, a center, put
up 40 goals and 108 points with Smiths Falls of the Central
Ontario League, and is a two-time third-team all-star. Army
defenseman Marcel Alvarez was a first-team Central Ontario
all-star from Brockville. Air Force defenseman Mark Williams
was a third-team Central Ontario pick from Cornwall.
Sacred Heart has signed center Matthew Gingera,
who put up 66 goals and 111 points for the Winnipeg Saints
of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Left winger Scott Knowles
has signed with RIT. He produced 26 goals and 90 points for
Surrey in the British Columbia league.
Dain Prewitt of Bentley has
been overshadowed just a bit in each of his first three seasons.
The forward has finished second in team goal scoring each
campaign. He has raised his production from 11 goals to 13
and then 15 last season. Prewitt has proven himself when it
counts, scoring four game-winners, 11 goals on the power play
and five in short-handed situations.
1. Will the top seed actually
win the Atlantic Hockey tournament? Three out of five seasons,
the regular-season champ (or No. 1 playoff seed in 2007) has
failed to win the post-season tournament.
2. Is expansion in the future?
So far, league officials say no, but the shaky standing of
College Hockey America will always leave Atlantic Hockey as
a potential liferaft.
MARK IT DOWN
Three things you can take to the bank in Atlantic Hockey this
• Bear Trapp will set the Atlantic Hockey
record for career points. Trapp needs 25 goals for the all-time
goals mark, so that looks like it will be out of reach. He
needs 28 assists for the all-time assists mark and 36 points
for the all-time points mark, well within reach for the three-time
• Goal production could take a dip with
the return of every starting netminder. Nine of ten starters
produced goals against averages under 3.00 and nine of ten
stopped more than nine of ten shots fired at them.
• Sadly, American International will finish
last for the sixth season in a row. The Yellow Jackets lost
a lot of senior leadership and critical points.
||The two-time defending tourney champs
return 93 percent of their offense, and the best money
goalie in the league in Andrew Volkening. Advantage: Falcons.
||The Lakers were just one shot away
from the NCAA tournament. Ben Cottreau is gone but everyone
else is back.
||As long as Rochester remains host
to the Atlantic tourney (through 2010), the Tigers remain
the sentimental favorite for the home crowd.
||The Pioneers have the offensive firepower,
but need to tighten up the D to go deep into March.
||The Black Knights must replace 12
seniors and half of their offense but there is still enough
talent to stay in the top division.
||The Crusaders lose 10 seniors but
return seven of their top nine point getters and two young
||The Griffins will tickle .500 in league
play if they can stay out of the penalty box and ride
some young talent.
||The Falcons return their top nine
point scorers. Fill a few holes on defense and Bentley
will be formidable.
||The Huskies showed a bit of life at
the end of the season but this team remains very young.
||AIC has improved its win total each
of the past four seasons but the Yellow Jackets will have
a tough time replacing seven seniors and 41 goals from
a starving offense.