Atlantic Hockey Preview, 2006-07
by David Rourke/Special to CHN
Coach: Frank Serratore
2005-06 Record: 11-20-1
League finish: 5th (Lost in First Round of CHA Tournament)
Changes: The biggest change for Air Force will be that it is playing in a new conference this season. "Playing in a league that guarantees us 14 home games and with Colorado College and Denver at home each year, we are now able to begin the scheduling process with 30 games in hand. In the CHA, we constantly worried about the league falling below the NCAA minimum of six teams, but with 10 teams in the AHA that fear is virtually eliminated.
Strength: Team defense and depth were the strengths last season and should continue. The Falcons return the majority of their nucleus from last season. The team returns 87 percent of its goal scoring from a year ago. The top eight scorers, six of the top seven defensemen and all three goaltenders return to lead Air Force into the 2006-07 season.
Weakness: Goaltending. "Our goaltending was not where it needed to be. Our saves percentage needs to be at 90 percent or better. Playing with goaltending that is under 90 percent is like a baseball team competing with a high ERA pitching."
Outlook: "I am optimistic because I like our team and feel we are capable of beating anyone on our schedule. But people who think things are going to be easier are badly mistaken. The programs in Atlantic Hockey have matured over the same time line as the CHA and are very difficult teams to play against."
Coach: Gary Wright
2005-06 Record: 6-21-5
League finish: 8th (Lost in AHA Quarterifnals)
Strength: The Yellow Jackets return 21 letterwinners from last year's squad. Their top two scorers also return as Jereme Tendler (15-11-26) and Jeremy Leroux (5-12-17) will be looked upon to improve on those numbers. Another possible strength for American International could be its netminder. Sophomore Tom Fenton will be looked upon to improve on a 3.51 GAA and a .900 saves percentage.
Weakness: Earning victories. Over the last three seasons American International has won a total of 15 games overall and 13 in Atlantic Hockey.
Outlook: "We enter the season filled with hope and the belief that we are significantly improved," said Wright. "Most of our team returns, and our recruiting class should provide instant help. We have much to be proud of with respect to the admirable character of our players. But, still, we are burdened by the fact we need to win more, so we are committed to that end."
Coach: Brian Riley
2005-06 Record: 12-18-7
League finish: 5th (Lost in AHA Quarterfinals)
Changes: The biggest change for Army will be who will play net for the Black Knights. As Brad Roberts ended his four-year career at Army, seeing action in 118 games while posting a 47-58-11 mark with a 2.72 GAA and a .906 saves percentage, Army will look to A.J. Drago and Josh Kassel to fill those pads.
Strength: The team will rely on their experience in 2006-07. Sixteen upperclassmen return to the fold ready to carry the program to new heights. A solid nucleus on defense, veterans at the forward position and special teams units that all played together last season are the strength of this club.
Outlook: Experience, discipline and a certain level of physicality is what Army opponents can expect from the Black Knights this winter. Riley and his staff have challenged the returning players to each increase their production and take their game to the next level.
Coach: Ryan Soderquist
2005-06 Record: 16-16-5
League finish: 4th (runner up in conference tournament)
Outlook: This team came within a whisker of throwing the entire NCAA tournament into upheavel, which because of the convoluted Pairwise rules, a win in the conference tournament championship would have accomplished. Instead, they can be comforted by the creation of the "Bentley rule," which will avoid those scenariors. It's a sign of progress, however, when the NCAA has to create a rule because of you.
Coach: Dave Smith
2005-06 Record: 10-23-2
League finish: 7th (Lost in AHA Quarterfinals)
Changes: Canisius lost its top netminder from a season ago, as Dan Giffin left school after one season and is now playing in the CHL. Giffin played in 22 games last season, posting a 6-11-1 mark with a 2.73 GAA and a .920 saves percentage. He was named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie squad, as his GAA and save percentage marks were in the top five amongst all AHA netminders.
Strength: The Golden Griffins return their top three scorers from season ago. Micheal Cohen, Joey Coccimiglio and Joel Kitchen needs to lead the offense to the next level, improving on the 87 goals score by the Griffs last year.
Weakness: Goaltending looks to be the Achilles' Heel of the Griffs, as the lone returner is senior Max Buetow. Buetow saw action in a career-high 14 games last season, but will be challenge by a pair of newcomers in transfer Bryce Luker and freshman Andrew Leowen.
Outlook: Canisius ended the 2005-06 season posting a 5-4-1 mark and looks to carry that momentum into the start of this year's slate. "Our goals are the same as they are every year get into the top four of the league to secure home-ice advantage and to win the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.'
Coach: Bruce Marshall
2005-06 Record: 11-23-2
League finish: 6th (Lost in Semifinals of AHA Tournament)
Strength: "We feel our strength is our senior class and its character, leadership and ability to do what is asked of them to try and win as many hockey games as they can. The other positive is that we have only three kids that graduated out of the lineup that were playing in that semifinal game. The influx of new kids coming in and creating depth with the players returning, we fell that we have positioned ourselves well with a lot of balance, depth and competitiveness."
Outlook: It's no secret that leadership and experience are two essential ingredients necessary for success. With a total of 14 upperclassmen returning (11 seniors, 3 juniors) from a team that earned its first berth in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament semifinals a season ago. The 2006-07 team features a squad that returns its team leader in points, goals and assists, combined with a roster filled with seasoned veterans. Add to that nine highly-touted incoming freshman and there is no reason to believe this club can't have a banner season.
Coach: Paul Pearl
2005-06 Record: 27-10-2
League finish: 1st (Won AHA Tournament)
NCAAs: Lost West Regional final
Changes: Last year's seniors left the program with 82 wins, which are the most wins in four year period in school history. With the loss of the AHA Player of the Year, Tyler McGregor, along with Pierre Napert-Frenette on the frontline as this tandem netted 42 goals, added 57 assists for 99 points. Also losing its backstop, Tony Quesada, who led the AHA with 22 wins and posted a 2.30 GAA and .925 saves percentage.
Strength: Going into the season the strength of the team will be its defense. "We will have to be really good defensively. We have tone of experience back there with a lot of great players. All of them know our philosophy of how we try and stop other teams."
Weakness: You will have to say that goaltending will be the biggest weakness for the Crusaders. With the departure of its two top goalies in Ben Conway and Tony Quesada, the goaltender position will be totally up for grabs. This season Holy Cross will have a netminder who has not seen one second of collegiate action. This happened to Pearl four years ago and look what Conway and Quesada did for Holy Cross four years later.
Outlook: "We have a tough schedule all year but I think if we get better and better and come back after Christmas and really put things together in January and February, we will be a tough team to go up against in the playoffs."
Coach: Rick Gotkin
2005-06 Record: 22-13-1
League finish: 2nd (Lost in AHA Semifinals)
Changes: Mercyhurst lost nine players from last year's squad and long-time assistant coach Chris Herbolsheimer. The key loss for the Lakers comes on the blueline as Jamie Hunt signed a contract with the Washington Capitals forgoing his senior year. Along with the loss of Hunt, Gotkin will have to replace Dave Borrelli's points as he netted 1.55 points per game to lead all of Division I. Mercyhurst lost 40 percent of it offense from a season ago during the off-season.
Strength: The Lakers will not be short on scoring this season, as Mercyhurst returns senior Scott Champagne and junior Ben Cottreau. Cottreau finished second behind Borrelli in scoring with 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points. Cottreau ended the season with a 12-game scoring streak. The Lakers also return all three netminders from a season ago, led by sophomore Tyler Small. Small assumed the starting job in mid-season, played in and started 22 games, finishing with a 14-6-1 record, a 2.75 GAA and a .921 saves percentage
Weakness: What could be a strength for Mercyhurst could also be a weakness, as goaltending might be a problem. Other than Small the other two keepers, Seniors Mike Ella and Jordan Wakefield, have the experience, but each posted a GAA over 3.50 (Ella, 3.69 and Wakefield, 4.85).
Outlook: Mercyhurst can score with the best of them, as the Lakers ended last season with leading all of Division I with 4.17 goals per game and had the second most lethal power play, scoring 22.5 percent of the time. If Gotkin and the Lakers can post a GAA around 3.00 the Lakers could make a run at their second NCAA appearance in three years.
Coach: Wayne Wilson
2005-06 Record: 9-24-2
League finish: First year in Atlantic Hockey
Changes: The biggest change for the Tigers will be playing a full Division I schedule. Last season, RIT played five games against non-college teams and three versus Division III schools. The Tigers will have to be ready every night as they will face a D-I opponent all season long. Also, RIT is not eligible for post-season action, but can receive points during Atlantic Hockey play.
Strength: The Tigers return their top scorer from a season ago in junior Simon Lambert. Lambert netted 17 goals and added 22 assists for 39 points. Another strength could be goaltender Joceyln Guimond. Guimond tied an NCAA Division I three period record with a 66-save performance in leading RIT to a 3-2 win over St. Lawrence.
Weakness: With the lack of Division I experience on the Tigers roster. That might hurt them as the season progresses.
Outlook: "We are very excited about this year with what we return and our newcomers," Wilson said. "We have strong leadership and we will be a better team. After last season, we certainly respect our league opponents and look forward to the challenges outside our league as well. We don't want to just be part of the league, but a member of Atlantic Hockey is proud to have. When we play out of conference, we want to represent the conference really well."
Coach: Shaun Hannah
2005-06 Record: 21-11-2
League finish: 3rd (Lost in AHA Quarterfinals)
Changes: The biggest change will be the newcomers Hannah has brought in. "This group brings elements to our team that was lost due to graduation," Hannah said. "They are a group of young men who are academically focused, with a strong work ethic and solid character
Strength: The biggest strength of this squad will be the top line of senior Pierre-Luc O'Brien, junior Alexandre Parent and sophomore Bear Trapp. Parent, named to the First Team All-Atlantic Hockey, netted 19 goals and added a single season record 31 assists for a school record 50 points. Parent finished the year with 38 points on 11 goals and 27 assists. Trapp, the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year, posted 16 goals and 27 assists for 47 points.
Weakness: There is no glaring weakness with the Pioneers. Their top three forward lines are all returning as are their top two defensive pairings and both of their goaltenders. The weakness might come in the form of integrating the freshman during Sacred Heart's tough non-league schedule.
Outlook: "Over the last few years, the league has been very balanced, and it seems that should be the case this year. It should make for some good battles every night out. Our goal going in is always to the Atlantic Hockey Championship. We'll have to be focused and work hard every day to get to that level."