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October 19, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Atlantic Hockey Team-by-Team Previews

by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Writer

Air Force

Head Coach: Frank Serratore
2011-12 Record: 21-11-7 Overall, 15-6-6 AHA (1st)

Changes: There is very little changeover this year for the Falcons, having lost only four seniors from. But those players were cornerstones for the last four years. Hobey Baker finalist Tim Kirby and Scott Mathis provided a dynamic duo at the back end, combining for 178 points in their four years. Stephen Caple came up huge in net when Jason Torf went down with an injury last year, and Paul Weisgarber and his 73 career points.

The Falcons do bring in seven new faces this year, led by Ben Carey. In two seasons with the Wenatchee Wild, Carey recorded 100 points (46 goals, 54 assists). Carey could help ease the offensive void left by Kirby and Mathis.

Strength: The Falcons were the second-highest scoring team in Atlantic Hockey last year, and that should continue this year. Serratore returns 78.9 percent of his scoring from last year, including his top two goal scorers Kyle De Laurell (15 goals) and John Kruse (16 goals).

In total, the Falcons return four players who recorded 20 points or more. And the offense only looks to get better as last year’s freshmen sensations Cole Gunner and Chad Demer continue their success. If that happens, the Falcons could eclipse last year’s 12 games with four goals or more.

Weakness: The one knock on the Falcons coming into this year is their special teams. Last year the Falcons ranked in the middle of the road when it came to their powerplay (17.1 percent, 6th AHA) and penalty kill (81.2 percent, 8th AHA). If they improve, the Falcons will be even more dangerous.

2012-13 Outlook: With five Atlantic Hockey Tournament championships in six years, the Falcons are the model of excellence in the league. But this year team will have a different look.

“Our defense core is going to have a different look to it this year,” Serratore said. “We’re probably not going to be as glamorous back there as we’ve been with Kirby and Mathis, but we certainly can be more difficult to paly against.”

That new look defense will be lead by Adam Mackenzie, who Serratore is very impressed with.

“(He) is probably one of the best defensemen, if not the best defenseman, in the country that nobody’s ever heard of,” Serratore said.

If the offense continues its success from last year, the Falcons will be in great shape for another run at the Atlantic Hockey title.

The Falcons haven’t finished out of the top four since their inaugural season in Atlantic Hockey (2005-2006). That trend should continue. With many of the same faces back, the Falcons are in god shape to repeat as Atlantic Hockey champions.

American International

Head Coach: Gary Wright
2011-12 Record: 8-26-3 Overall, 6-18-3 AHA (10th)

Changes: The Yellow Jackets graduated four players at the end of last season. But the biggest shoes to fill belong to Nielsson Arcibal. Arcibal finished his career with the fourth most points recorded in AIC history (77).

But the Yellow Jackets do have a couple freshmen coming in that could help fill the void. David Gandara and Chris Porter both put up impressive numbers last season with their respective junior teams and will look to continue that into college. Gandara finished last season with 52 points in 60 games while Porter had 80 points in 49 games.

Strength: The Yellow Jackets were one of the most disciplined teams in the league last year, averaging just 11.1 penalty minutes a game, third best in the conference. That trend should continue with only four new faces this season.

Weakness: For the last two seasons the Yellow Jackets have had multiple double-digit goal scorers but it hasn’t changed the offense as a whole. They still averaged the third lowest goals in the conference last season (2.22 goals per game). Gandara and Porter could help that number.

2012-13 Outlook: The Yellow Jackets haven’t won more than nine games since they joined Atlantic Hockey in 2003. This year should be another struggle without the likes of Arcibal and Michael Penny. Wright will have to rely on Adam Pleskach to lead the way and hope some of the freshmen can make an impact.

Army

Head Coach: Brian Riley
2011-12 Record: 4-23-7 Overall, 3-19-5 AHA (11th)

Changes: The Black Knights enter this season without three of their stalwarts from the last four seasons. Mike Hull (99 points), Danny Colvin (80 points) and Marcel Alvarez (73 points) all leave holes to be filled this year.

But the Black Knights have 13 freshmen looking to make an impact and help fill the void. Thane Heller, who recorded 67 points with the Boston Jr. Bruins last year, could be one of the freshmen that make an immediate splash. Joe Kozlak could join Heller in filling the void left by Hull. Colvin, and Alvarez.

Strength: The Black Knights enter this season with 14 new faces. That can be seen either as a good thing or a bad thing, but it’ll be good for these Black Knights. After four straight losing seasons, a large fresh group of Cadets could never hurt.

Weakness: The Black Knights struggled to find goals last season. They average just 1.91 goals a game last year and scored one goal or less in 11 games last year. That includes being shutout three times.

2012-13 Outlook: The Black Knights lost a lot of offense and leadership with the graduation of Hull, Colvin, and Alvarez. There will be holes that need to be filled nd if Riley can find a way to fill them, the Black Knights can start to take steps towards a brighter future. While Ryan Leets will probably never carry the Black Knights, he can keep them in enough games that they will have a chance to improve on last year’s four wins.

Bentley

Head Coach: Ryan Soderquist
2011-12 Record: 16-16-8 Overall, 13-7-7 AHA (6th)

Changes: The Falcons' biggest loss this season comes with the graduation of Kyle Rank. Rank served as a starter for his first few seasons but backed up Branden Komm last year.

Even with nine of the top 10 scorers from last year back, the Falcons continued to reload. This year’s freshmen class is highlighted by Andrew Gladiuk, Tyler Kruse and Mike Reardon. Reardon could provide some much needed offensive punch from the backend for the Falcons.

Strength: The Falcons have one of the strongest groups of underclassmen in Atlantic Hockey. Last season the Falcons' top six point producers were all either freshmen or sophomores. That bodes well for this year with that whole group back.

Weakness: Even with all the success last year, the Falcons struggled in one major category: the power play. They finished the season converting just 11.4 percent of the time, ahead of only Sacred Heart and Canisius in Atlantic Hockey. It’ll be tough to repeat the success of last year if the powerplay doesn’t improve.

2012-13 Outlook: After coming within one point of a top four finish and a first round bye in the playoffs, the Falcons enter this season on a mission.

And losing out on the home playoff spot taught the Falcons lessons that will be carried into this season.

“There were times when we looked back at the end of the year and a couple more points here or there over the course of the season and we get that home playoff spot,” Soderquist said. “I think that just has to do with becoming a more mature team and understanding that every single game matters, every day matters and we can’t let points get away from us.”

If the Falcons can carry those lessons into this season, things will be bright in Waltham, Mass.

A top four finish is definitely in reach for the Falcons. It will take a lot to knock Air Force and RIT out of the top four but the Falcons have the talent and motivation to do so. The Falcons will finish third this season.

Canisius

Head Coach: Dave Smith
2011-12 Record: 10-22-4 Overall, 10-14-3 AHA (9th)

Changes: There is very little changeover for the Golden Griffins this year. Dave Smith graduated just two players last year (Dan Morrison and Scott Moser) and brought in five new faces.

With the majority of the roster back, there appears to be little room for the freshmen to make an impact. If any make an impact, Ralph Cuddemi could be the guy. Cuddemi recorded 63 points last year for the Mississauga Chargers and could provide some much needed help to the Golden Griffins offense.

Strength: With the majority of the roster back, there should be little doubt where each player fits in. Everyone knows their role and that should help the Golden Griffins early in the season as other teams are still figuring out who can play with whom.

Weakness: The Golden Griffins average 1.83 goals a game last year, lowest in Atlantic Hockey. That will need to change if they are to succeed this year. But with almost the entire roster back from last year, it doesn’t seem too likely to change.

2012-13 Outlook: With another year under their belts, the Golden Griffins should be on the rise. The strong group of juniors can carry most of the offense but they will need others to step up. With Tony Capobianco back in net and Ben Danford still on the blue line, it will come down whether the Golden Griffins can score enough.

The offense will improve for the Golden Griffins but not enough to keep up the likes of Holy Cross, Air Force, and RIT. Finishing just outside the top four seems possible for this group.

Connecticut

Head Coach: Bruce Marshall
2011-12 Record: 16-19-4 Overall, 12-12-3 AHA (8th)

Changes: The biggest loss for the Huskies comes with the early departure of Cole Schneider. Schneider left at the end of last season to sign with the Ottawa Senators. Schneider broke UConn’s single season goals (23) and points (45) record last season.

While Schneider was a huge part of the Huskies attack the last two seasons, Marshall has a fresh group of 10 young Huskies who can help fill the void. It could come down to a trio of these young Huskies to help ease the pain of Schneider’s departure. Joe Birmingham (69 points), Tyler Bouchard (66 points) and Tyler Helton (66 points) all enter the season coming off impressive seasons for their respective junior teams.

The biggest change was the announcement that UConn would move to Hockey East, but that's not for another two seasons.

Strength: The Huskies boast arguably the best pair of special teams units in Atlantic Hockey. Last year, the Huskies’ powerplay (25.7 percent) was the best in Atlantic Hockey and the third-best in country. Their penalty kill (84.2 percent) wasn’t too far behind, coming in at third best in the conference. These units should continue to produce as well this year, especially with Brant Harris and his 10 power-play goals back.

Weakness: Overtime was not kind to the Huskies last year. Who knows, they could have just been unlucky but the Huskies finished with a 1-4-4 record in overtime games. If a couple of those losses and ties become wins, the Huskies could be looking at different outcome this season.

2012-13 Outlook: The Huskies face a huge challenge trying to fill the hole left by the Schneider. Harris should help, but he can’t do it alone. Figuring who will help Harris will be the key to season. The Huskies are all set in net with Garrett Bartus back and four defensemen who saw significant minutes last year back as well.

The Huskies should be able to do a little better than .500 in conference play, but with so many talented teams in front of them, it will be hard to crack the top four this year.

Holy Cross

Head Coach: Paul Pearl
2011-12 Record: 20-15-4 Overall, 15-8-4 AHA (4th)

Changes: The Crusaders graduated eight players last year, which leaves some big holes to fill. Matt Clune and Mike Daly gave the Crusaders some punch from the blueline but have now moved on. The Crusaders will also have to replace Andrew Cox and his six powerplay goals, tied for the team lead last year.

Coming in this year are a pair of defensemen who can help ease the loss of Clune and Daly. Karl Beckman and Nathaniel Domagala both were offensive weapons during their junior careers.

Strength: Last year, the Crusaders featured the top offense in Atlantic Hockey, averaging 3.08 goals a game. With much of the talent back this year things should stay the same. Adam Schmidt should continue to improve after his 18-goal sophomore season. Last season, the Crusaders had four players score double digit goals. Three of those players return this season.

Weakness: The Crusaders will need a more balanced attack this season to continue their recent success. Last season Adam Schmidt, Andrew Cox, Eric Vos and Brandon Nunn scored 61 goals combined. The rest of the team scored 59. And with Cox gone, the Crusaders will need more people to step up.

2012-13 Outlook: The last time the Crusaders had a 20-win season was 2005-06. They won just 10 games the next year. But things will be different this year. With Schmidt, Cox, and Vos all returning, the Crusaders offense should continue to click, even if it isn’t the most balanced around.

“Every team strives to have three or four lines that can score. If that can be the case, we’d be really excited,” Pearl said. “I don’t really care if one scores all our goals as long as we score the goals.”

And Pearl is looking to create an even better offensive attack than he had last year after the Crusaders scored just five goals in their quarterfinals loss to Mercyhurst.

The Crusaders finished just two points out of first place last year and should again challenge for that top spot. It he offense continues to produce like it did last year, the Crusaders can knock Air Force or RIT out of their familiar top spot.

Mercyhurst

Head Coach: Rick Gotkin
2011-12 Record: 20-16-4 Overall, 15-8-4 AHA (5th)

Changes: The Lakers bring back almost the same roster as last year. Only three players graduated and the top five scorers are all back. This leaves very little room for the incoming freshmen to make an immediate impact. But that doesn’t mean they won’t. Rick Gotkin has brought in more offensive talent to add to last year’s talented group.

Strength: The Lakers had an amazing turnaround last season thanks in large part to the freshmen class. And now that the same group of players is a year older, they should only get better. Daniel Bahntge (10 goals, 21 assists) and Nardo Nagtzaam (11 goals, 19 assists) were the top two scorers for Gotkin last year and could easily do it again this year.

Weakness: The Lakers struggled during third periods last year, surrendering 43 goals, third most in Atlantic Hockey. The Lakers can be better this year, but only if their third period play improves.

2012-13 Outlook: With practically the same roster as last year coming back, the Lakers should be able to repeat the success of last season. After a somewhat surprising freshmen season, Gotkin’s entire sophomore will be looked towards to lead the way again.

“As a group they played great (last year). It was different guys, different nights,” Gotkin said. “We’d like to see these guys continue to get better.

“They’re a year older and hopefully a year wiser.”

Along with the sophomores, Gotkin aims to have an even balanced offense after last year saw six Lakers score double digit goals. If that happens, the Lakers will be an extremely dangerous team.

Niagara

Head Coach: Dave Burkholder
2011-12 Record: 17-11-9 Overall, 14-6-7 AHA (2nd)

Changes: The Purple Eagles lost six players from last year’s team, but two of them leave big hole to fill. Chris Noonan (14-6-5, 1.61 goals against, .944 save percentage) leaves Dave Burkholder without a No. 1 goalie entering the season, while Scott Arnold’s early departure leaves a hole in the offense. Arnold signed with the Phoenix Coyotes on March 23.

But the Purple Eagles do have some talented freshmen coming in, led by Hugo Turcotte. Turcotte recorded 50 plus points in each of his two seasons in juniors. If he can continue that with the Purple Eagles, the loss of Arnold won’t be felt as much.

Strength: Even with the loss of Arnold, the Purple Eagles still return the second best power play in the conference. Chris Lochner scored eight powerplay goals last season, a season in which he didn’t score a goal until Dec. 31. Combined with Patrick Divjak, the Purple Eagle should continue to produce on the power play.

Weakness: Last season the Purple Eagles rode Chris Noonan to the playoffs. But this season, there will be someone new in net. Cody Campbell, Colby Drost and Carsen Chubak have played a combined 37 games in their Niagara careers, with Campbell having played the most with 21 appearances. One of the three will have to step up for the Purple Eagles to continue last season’s success.

2012-13 Outlook: There are big holes to fill on the Purple Eagles roster, primarily in net.

“Everybody’s going to be given and opportunity and we’re going to let them fight it out,” Burkholder said.

The key to the Purple Eagles season will be who can take hold of that No. 1 job. But it could easily be like last year when Chris Noonan got hot at the right time.

“If someone gets hot, its hard not to ride them,” Burkholder said.

On the offensive side, the hole left by Arnold can be filled, or at least patched over. With five 20-plus point scorers coming back, there should be enough offense to keep the Purple Eagles going.

Once Burkholder figures out who his starting goalie is going to be, the Purple Eagles can continue the success they found in the second half of last season. While the top of the standings will again be crowded this year, the Purple Eagles have a real shot at a top four finish.

RIT

Head Coach: Wayne Wilson
2011-12 Record: 20-13-6 Overall, 14-7-6 AHA (3rd)

Changes: The Tigers lost several of their cornerstones for the last couple years. Cameron Burt and Chris Haltigan have both graduated, while Shane Madolora turned pro at the end of last season.

Coming in to try and replace those lost include Andrew Miller, Josh Mitchell, and Kenneth MacLean. Miller and Mitchell can help fill the void left by Burt and Haltigan, who combined for 212 career points. MacLean will compete to win the starting job vacated by Madolora.

Strength: The Tigers had one of the best penalty kills in the conference last year, converting at 84.7 percent. But it goes beyond just killing penalties. The Tigers led Atlantic Hockey with six shorthanded goals. More of the same should be expected this year with many of the penalty killers back.

Weakness: While the Tigers have a very good penalty kill, they spend too much time on it. Last season, the Tigers lead Atlantic Hockey with 606 total penalty minutes, 53 more minutes than Sacred Heart in second. The Tigers need to stay disciplined if they want to reclaim the Atlantic Hockey title this year.

2012-13 Outlook: Even with the loss of eight players from last year the Tigers will welcome the return Bryan Potts and Chris Saracino, who both missed most of last season due to injuries.

“Those additions are nice and a little more reassuring that we’re getting a couple experienced guys back having lost eight guys,” Wilson said.

With a less experienced team than in the past, Potts and Saracino will be looked to continue the success they had last season before their injuries. Potts was the Tigers leading goal scorer when he went down at Air Force. Saracino had been named the MVP of the Catamount Cup when he was hurt against Wisconsin.

But the Tigers' season will come down to who will replace Madolora in net. Wilson is looking towards his two returning goalies, Josh Wilson and Jordan Ruby, to step up and be the No. 1.

“I think their mindset is ‘It’s about time. I’m ready to go,’” Wilson said. “I think they both feel like they’re ready to take over the reins.

“We know they’re both capable of being the No.1 goalie here at RIT. We just have to wait it out and let them show what they have.”

Robert Morris

Head Coach: Derek Schooley
2011-12 Record: 17-17-5 Overall, 13-9-5 AHA (7th)

Changes: The Colonials lost a large group (10 in total) to graduation. This group included the likes of Nick Chiavetta, Cody Crichton, Trevor Lews and Brooks Ostergard. Those players played big roles in the Colonials' move to Atlantic Hockey and the immediate success. But now there are holes to fill.

But Derek Schooley has brought in a very talented class to help fill those holes. The new Colonials include four players who recorded 50 or more points last year with their respective junior teams.

Strength: The Colonials are the owners of the best penalty kill in the country. Last year, the Colonials killed 89.9 percent of the penalties they took. This could be key this year with a young team taking the ice. In total, the Colonials have 16 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

Weakness: Goalie Brooks Ostergard had played in at least 19 games every year. This year, however, someone else will have to take over the starting role. The only returning goaltender, and the most likely to get the starting job, is Eric Levine, but he hasn’t played in more than 13 games in any season.

2012-13 Outlook: The Colonials have many holes to fill this year and it should be a challenge, especially with the forwards.

“We have seven returning forwards and seven new forwards,” Schooley said. “Obviously we’re going to have a lot of growing pains with that group.”

With the likes of Chiavetta, Crichton, Lewis, and Ron Cramer gone, it will be up to the current forwards to get the job done. But Schooley isn’t worried.

“We’ve got guys here who have played a lot of hockey,” Schooley said. “Guys like Adam Brace who has been over 20 points every year he’s been in college. Cody Wydo and Scott Jacklin had really good years as freshmen last year. And you throw in the mix Colin South and Zach Hervato, we’ve got a good group of returners.”

The Colonials should find some success once the growing pains up front are sorted out.

Sacred Heart

Head Coach: C.J. Marottolo
2011-12 Record: 6-28-3 Overall, 4-20-3 AHA (12th)

Changes: The biggest name that left the Pioneers after last season was Matt Gingera. Gingera graduated after recording 109 points in his four years. With little spots open, the freshmen class will have to work hard to make an impact.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t. Beau Walker (45 points last season, 62 the season before) and Morgan Bonner (64 points last season, 54 the season before) could make a big splash with the Pioneers.

Strength: The Pioneers are in the midst of a youth movement, with two of their top three scorers last season being freshmen. If the young guns continue to improve and the incoming class makes an impact, there could be a brighter future ahead.

Weakness: The Pioneers aren’t going anywhere until they can figure out their defense. Last season they were last in the country, surrendering 4.68 goals a game. And when you’re scoring just 2.27 goals a game, and that just isn’t going to cut it.

2012-13 Outlook: The Pioneers are going to have to look to someone new to carry the offensive load this year with the loss of Gingera. They need to find that skater or two quickly. They’re defense is still in shambles but if they can cut down on the goals against even just a little bit, there could be an extra win or two there.

Expectations shouldn’t be high for the Pioneers. It’s going to be another long year, most likely concluding with another last place finish.
 

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