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October 9, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Atlantic Hockey Team Preview Capsules

by Tony Jovenitti, Ryan Hannable, Joe Meloni/CHN Reporters

Mercyhurst captain Daniel O\'Donoghue

Mercyhurst captain Daniel O'Donoghue

American International

Head Coach: Gary Wright
2012-13 Record: 12-17-6 overall, 9-12-6 AHA, (9th)

Changes: The Yellow Jackets lost some key players following last season including goaltender Ben Meisner, who posted a 2.98 GAA and a .923 save percentage. They also lost All-Conference team members in Adam Pleskach and Jeff Ceccachi. In all, AIC lost 35 goals from last year’s team.

Strength: Young talent. Wright feels good about his young players, particularly his freshman. “Obviously we feel good about some of our freshman so we’re hoping they’ll chip in and give us some help,” he said. He also added: "We are pleased with this new recruiting class and we have lofty expectations for them. Our team had a good second semester run last season, and we are confident that this incoming class, along with a strong group of returnees, will build on that success."

Weakness: Inexperience. When you lose 35 goals, starting goaltender and two all-conference players, there are going to be some growing pains the next season and that is what AIC will be dealing with this year. “We lost [Pleskach] and Ceccachi from the all-conference team, he was our power play quarterback,” Wright said. “Adam for all four years was a consistent and stalwart player. Goal scoring is going to be a concern coming in.”

2013-14 Outlook: It's never been easy for AIC. AIC lost just once in their last 11 regular season games last season, so they returning players could use that as momentum going into  this year. There will be some growing pains for sure, but this young Yellow Jackets team could surprise some.

Air Force

Head Coach: Frank Serratore
2012-13 Record: 17-13-7 overall, 15-7-5 AHA, (2nd)

Changes: Air Force will be without some of its top scorers from last season because of graduation in Stephen Carew and Kyle DeLaurell. DeLaurell led the team with 19 goals and 36 assists. The team will return goaltender Jason Torf for his senior season. Torf has been the Falcons’ netminder since his freshman year.

Strength: Goaltending. Torf won 17 games last season with a .918 save percentage. “Jason is a very, very good Atlantic Hockey goaltender, he hasn’t won any league awards because we always have good goalies in our league,” Serratore said. “I think he’s a bit underrated in that respect. He brings consistency. You always know what you’re going to get with Jason. Other goalies maybe get more work and are seen as having a higher talent level but Jason is underrated. Knowing what you’re going to get from a guy every night lets you get a lot more sleep as a coach.”

Weakness: Scoring. The team will be without more than 40 of its goals from last season and will need to be able to replace that. “A lot of guys are capable of chipping in a few more than they did last year, we’re going to have to do it by committee,” Serratore said. “If we can get off to a better start with our goals for to goals against ratio, and not give up as many points as we did early then maybe we can make it up that way.”

2013-14 Outlook: Air Force didn’t make it to Rochester last season after being upset by Canisius at home in the playoffs. It certainly will have that on its mind this season as it looks to get back to its winning ways. Along with Torf in goal, the Falcons will look to get contributions from their defense including Dan Weissenhofer, Adam McKenzie as well as two juniors in Mike McDonald and Alex Halloran.

Army

Head Coach: Brian Riley
2012-13 Record: 7-22-5 (7-15-5 Atlantic Hockey)

Changes: The Black Knights lost leading scorer Andy Starczewski and other players Riley counted on a year ago. Success was minimal for the Black Knights who ended the year on a 16-game winless streak.

The Black Knights' season has already started in turmoil with the Government shutdown potentially costing them games. As of now, their games are on, particularly Friday's opener at Penn State. But that could change.

Strengths: Goaltending may be the biggest positive for Army. Despite losing Ryan Leets from last year's team, junior Rob Tadazak returns. His .907 save percentage on a team routinely outclassed suggests he's more than capable of leading the team to wins if their play improves in other parts of the rink.

Army returns 10 of its top 11 scorers. While none had particularly great numbers, struggling teams get even worse when they have to replace large portions of their lineup. Some consistency many help the Black Knights improve their record.

Weaknesses: Army's greatest weakness each year is ultimately its lack of talent on the ice. Obviously, its players are well conditioned, and their focuses frequently lie elsewhere. Still, their roster just can't match up with Atlantic Hockey's best. The Black Knights succeed in keeping teams from running away with games. However, their inability to generate consistent scoring chances makes it difficult to win close games.

2013-14 Outlook: Tadazak's play in goal is an important barometer of Army's success. If they can find offense from their forwards, their goaltender will keep them in games. That proved quite the difficult task a year ago, however, and it's unlikely that will change this season. Atlantic Hockey grows stronger every year, and it's difficult to see Army making any substantial jumps in the league.

Bentley

Head Coach: Ryan Soderquist
2012-13 Record: 12-20-3 overall, 10-14-3 AHA, (10th)

Changes: There isn’t much change for this year’s squad; the team returns almost everyone, including nine of their top 10 scorers. The team has brought in five freshmen.

Strength: Experience, especially on offense. As mentioned, the team will return nine of its 10 highest scorers from last season, including leading scorer Brett Gensler, who finished the year with 16 goals and 24 assists, while finishing 14th nationally in points per game with 1.14. Alex Grieve and Andrew Gladluk will also return after totaling 31 and 29 points respectively last season.

Weakness: Defense. It was arguably their defense and goaltending that was the biggest issue for the Falcons last year. Senior Branden Komm will return for his senior season and look to improve on his 3.12 GAA from last year. “We’re excited to have him for his senior year,” Soderquist said. “Like any team across the country your team will go the way your goalie goes. I know he had a great summer and we need him to come in and play well.”

2013-14 Outlook: It is an exciting time for Bentley, after being one of the highest scoring teams in the nation during the second half of last season, including a big 6-3 win over Northeastern at Matthews Arena. With all the returning players, especially on offense, it will look to carry the momentum over. The Falcons will take on Nebraska-Omaha to open the year, as well as a November meeting with Merrimack and December game with Boston University.

Canisius

Head Coach: Dave Smith
2012-13 Record: 19-19-5 (12-13-2)

Changes: Canisius returns a majority of the players that sparked the club's unprecedented run to the Atlantic Hockey Championship and NCAA Tournament. The losses, while hardly numerous, were significant for the Golden Griffins. Gone is leader and top-six winger Preston Shupe (16 goals and 13 assists) and reliable defenseman Ben Parker (three goals and nine assists).

For the first time in its program history, Canisius must also deal with expectations. An up-and-down year ended with a loss to Quinnipiac in the NCAA tournament after an eight-game winning streak through the Atlantic Hockey Tournament.

Strengths: CC's success last year came as a result of great play throughout the lineup. The star power of Kyle Gibbons and Tony Capobianco is, however, the key for the Golden Griffins. Gibbons' 21 goals and 22 assists, including five goals and eight assists in the AHA Tournament, made him one of most feared players in the nation at the end of the season. CC needs similar production from the winger to reach its goals in 2013-14.

Capobianco was similarly brilliant during the club's run through the playoffs and into the nation tournament. He ended the year with a .929 save percentage despite facing more shots than anyone in the country.

Two players does not a team make, but starting with a couple of stars in a league as closely contested as Atlantic Hockey bodes well for the Golden Griffins.

Weaknesses: Canisius' success at the close of last season came because of thorough play from all its skaters. Shupe was especially effective in terms of generating offense and shutting down opponents. The same was true for Parker. Losing players is just part of college hockey's reality. It's not as easy for schools like Canisius to replace those players, though. Without them, they'll need greater contributions from new players stepping into those roles.

As great as Capobianco was, CC needs to improve its puck possession. Allowing more than 1,400 shots isn't going to lead to too many wins. Great goaltending can only account for so much.

2013-14 Outlook: If the Golden Griffins can win Atlantic Hockey once, they can most certainly do it again. The league's depth makes the race for byes in the first round of the tournament as contested as any in the nation. In the early stages of the season, CC will need Gibbons and Capobianco to carry a lot of the load as new players settle into new roles and the year. Despite the run a year ago, CC's fate in the league is anything but certain. A top half finish and long postseason is a possibility, but any regression could result in a disappointing season.

Connecticut

Head Coach: Mike Cavanugh
2012-13 Record: 19-14-4 (14-10-3 Atlantic Hockey)

Changes: Welcoming Mike Cavanugh to Storrs in its final year in Atlantic Hockey, UConn is gradually beginning a new era for its hockey program. Cavanaugh will lead the team to Hockey East next season. He brings years of experience as an assistant coach under Boston College legend Jerry York.

On the ice, the Huskies are without a handful of seniors that contributed to last year's 19-win team. Goaltender Garrett Bartus' graduation means Senior Matt Grogan takes over as the full-time No. 1. Replacing Sean Ambroise as a playmaker may also prove a challenge.

Strengths: With major changes under way for UConn, the players on this year's roster are in an interesting position. Cavanugh is already recruiting aggressively ahead of the move to Hockey East. An influx of talent is set to join the team, which will make competing for minutes difficult moving forward. The Huskies will be ready to impress their coach throughout the year. This is exactly the type of atmosphere that can help a team compete.

From a personnel standpoint, UConn loses its top scorer in Ambroise. However, a crop of talented forwards is ready to replace his touch.

Weaknesses: Despite not losing much to graduation, UConn is still a very young team. Atlantic Hockey is a tougher league than ever before. Players and teams that struggle to grow consistently and avoid mental mistakes won't succeed. Even in their final year in the league, UConn won't be immune to those issues.

It's yet to be seen just what Cavanugh has in store for his team. At BC, he favored an aggressive game that began with the speed of his forwards. UConn has a talented roster, but they can't skate like Cavanugh's BC teams did.

2013-14 Outlook: There's some transition starting in Storrs this year. The Huskies are going to be a very different team in seven months than they are now. Those changes should be for the better. Their roster isn't without its holes, and their competition is substantial. Still, UConn is a potentially strong Atlantic Hockey with a new head coach desperate to prove he can run his own program.

Holy Cross

Head Coach: Paul Pearl
2012-13 Record: 20-14-3 overall, 15-9-3 AHA, (3rd)

Changes: Holy Cross saw three of its top four leading scorers graduate in Brandon Nunn, Bob Linsmayer and Kyle Fletcher, who combined to total 70 points last season. The Crusaders have seven freshman on the roster and Pearl feels there is the potential for a few to make an immediate impact.

Strength: Experience in net. The Crusaders will return goaltender Matt Ginn for his junior season. Ginn posted a 2.63 GAA and a .915 save percentage last season. With many of the defensemen with at least a year under their belt, the defense and especially goaltending could be a major strength of the team.

Weakness: Defense. “It’s not on our defense necessarily but we’d like to be stronger defensively,” Pearl said. “Teams that win their leagues are all sub 2.00 GAA and .940 save percentage. Last year we scored a bunch but also allowed almost three goals a game, that doesn’t equate well at the end of the season. We lost to Mercyhurst 1-0 at the end of the season.”

2013-14 Outlook: It will be an interesting season for the Crusaders after finishing third in Atlantic Hockey last year, but losing three of their top four leading scorers. Some players Pearl will lean on this season include: Tommy Dwyer, Mike McNamara and Jake Youso, They will be tested right out of the gates as they will take on Boston University, Northeastern and Quinnipac all within the first month of the season.

Mercyhurst

Head Coach: Rick Gotkin
2012-13 Record: 19-17-5 overall, 12-11-4 Atlantic Hockey, (6th)

Changes: The Lakers lost four seniors, including forward Grant Blakey and goaltender Max Strang, who started in 25 games. Junior Jordan Tibbett, who started in 15 games last season, will replace Strang in net. Mercyhurst found success with underclassmen last year, but this year, the team’s core will consist of juniors and seniors.

“We’ve been a pretty good young team the last two years, and now we’re an older team,” Gotkin said.

Strength: Eight of Mercyhurst’s top 10 scorers return this year, including junior forward Matthew Zay, who became the first Laker to ever finish on top of Atlantic Hockey in scoring with 39 points. Junior forward Ryan Misiak and senior forward Daniel O’Donoghue weren’t too far behind with 38 and 36 points, respectively. The Lakers also return most of their defense, led by senior Nick Jones and junior Tyler Shiplo.

Weakness: While Tibbett played in 18 games last year — and 30 in his career at Mercyhurst — the netminder aims to prove himself this season. Last year, he posted a .925 save percentage and 2.51 goals against average. Gotkin sees promise in the crease.

“We are going to need Jordan to play very well,” Gotkin said. “He showed us last year that he can win games by himself.”

2013-14 Outlook: After falling one game shy of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Canisius in the Atlantic Hockey championship game, the Lakers appear primed for another run at the tournament. They open the season with the Ice Breaker tournament at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. The strength of the forwards and defensemen should give Tibbett some room to grow in net before the meat of the Atlantic Hockey schedule begins in November.

Niagara

Head Coach: David Burkholder
2012-13 Record: 23-10-5 overall, 20-5-2 AHA, (1st)

Changes: The defending Atlantic Hockey champions will be without arguably their best player in goaltender Carsen Chubak as he is now playing professionally with the Adirondack Phantoms in the AHL. The Purple Eagles have brought on two freshman goalies in Adrian Ignani from Toronto St. Michael’s (OHL) and Jackson Teichrob, who has more than 50 career wins in the USHL. The team also lost three defensemen and three forwards due to graduation.

Strength: Scoring. Or at least it was until senior forward Ryan Murphy was suspended until January for his DUI arrest. He had 15 goals and 21 assists last season. “He’s a big strong kid, power forward,” Burkholder said before the news was announced. “We will start three senior forwards as our top line and hopefully again Ryan Murphy will be the guy to get our offense going.”

Weakness: Goaltending. After losing Chubak, a Hobey Baker finalist, the team will need to one of the two freshman they’ve brought on to be able to step in and play well. The Purple Eagles didn’t win a game Chubak didn’t start in last season and he put up impressive numbers including a 1.91 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

2013-14 Outlook: Despite not knowing their starting goaltender, the team still returns a number of players from last year’s conference champion team and that experience will certainly help. They were picked first in the preseason coaches poll despite losing Chubak and having 10 freshmen on the roster. Much of their success will depend of the play they get from their defense and goaltenders, and adapting to Murphy's loss in the first half. Senior Kevin Ryan will also be a player to watch as the defenseman had a great year last year, leading the team with 23 assists.

RIT

Head Coach: Wayne Wilson
2012-13 Record: 15-18-5 overall, 11-12-4 Atlantic Hockey, (8th)

Changes: Only three seniors departed after last season, and RIT returns 19 players for the new campaign. The Tigers will miss last year’s top goal-scorer, Jeff Smith, as well as former team captain Chris Saracino, who tallied 32 points last year as a defenseman. Freshman Dustin Fostvelt will look to help fill that gap on defense.

Strength: With so many players returning, the Tigers’ biggest strength should be experience. Four of last season’s top five scorers will take the ice again this year, including Matt Garbowsky, who led the Tigers with 33 points last year.

“I think we’ve got enough firepower returning that their experience could lead us through difficult games or difficult third periods,” Wilson said. “I think we have a great nucleus of veterans coming back. This is probably the first year where we haven’t had to slot freshmen higher in the lineup than what they probably should be.”

Weakness: The Tigers should find decent production across the board, but they haven’t found a true goal-scorer yet. Of the returning players, none notched more than 11 goals last season. Goaltender Jordan Ruby went on a hot streak at the end of last season, backstopping his way to a .925 save percentage over the final 14 games. But overall, he allowed 3.5 goals per game.

2013-14 Outlook: This experienced Tigers team looks poised to make some noise early, as they face off against Michigan the first Saturday of the season. If Garbowsky and Ruby can step up and lead the way, the Tigers could shoot toward the top of the standings. But if the team continues to be good across the board, but not great at any position, then they might find themselves in the middle of the pack.

Robert Morris

Head Coach: Derek Schooley
2012-13 Record: 20-14-4 overall, 13-11-3 Atlantic Hockey, (5th)

Changes: RMU lost five seniors to graduation, including leaders at each position. Team captain Brendan Jamison, leading scorer Adam Brace and star goaltender Eric Levine all leave the team with big holes to fill. Schooley added six freshmen to the mix, including two new netminders. Freshmen forwards Daniel Leavens and Ben Robillard look to make an impact on offense. Robillard averaged more than a point per game while playing for the Ottawa Jr. Senators of the CCHL over the past two seasons.

Strength: The Colonials’ defense brings back an experienced core of six seniors, including Evan Renwick who blocked 39 shots in 22 games last season. Senior captain Colin South and junior Cody Wydo should provide some leadership for the otherwise young group of forwards. Wydo has 34 goals in his career at RMU, which ranks second nationally among all juniors, behind Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau.

“[Wydo] finds ways to score goals,” Schooley said. “It doesn’t matter who you put him with, he’ll find ways to score goals.”

Weakness: Last year’s squad relied heavily on stellar goaltending from Levine, including a 51-save shutout against Miami in the Three Rivers Classic. But of the three goaltenders on this year’s roster, only sophomore Terry Shafer has seen NCAA action, appearing in just four games last season. Schooley sees promise from the young goaltenders, but he’s still unsure who will be the team’s starter.

“We like our goaltending, it’s just a matter of who steps up and gets the job done,” Schooley said. “That’s our big question going through preseason.”

2013-14 Outlook: Robert Morris faces a tough schedule early in the season, including some Big Ten teams and the defending Atlantic Hockey regular season champion, Niagara. With a young team in a conference that gets tougher each year, the Colonials won’t have much room for error this season. If the freshmen can find their footing quickly, then RMU has a chance to make some noise and perhaps make a run in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. But if the young netminders struggle, then the Colonials could be in for a long year.

Sacred Heart

Head Coach: C.J. Marottolo
2012-13 Record: 2-30-4 (2-21-4 Atlantic Hockey)

Changes: Not much went Sacred Heart's way last year, and losing leading scorer Eric Delong won't help matters either. Fellow seniors Ben Ketchum and Kyle Verbeek are gone for a team that struggled in just about every part of the rink during a two-win season. Senior goaltender Steven Legatto will need replacing as well. However, his 5.22 goals-against average won't exactly be missed. In general, the biggest change for Sacred Heart may just be the clean slate they get after losing 30 games a year ago.

Strengths: Objectively, the Pioneers don't have many strengths. They play hard for Marottolo, but their skill level just isn't where it needs to be to compete as a Division I hockey team. They can score some goals. Even with losing three of their top 10 scorers from last year, SHU should be able to generate some offense.

Weaknesses: The biggest issue for SHU is plainly their talent. Their opponents are almost always bigger, faster and just better than them. The program needs to figure out a way to change that, or else it will always be an uphill climb. Marottolo has proven himself in the past, so perhaps a larger issue is at play. This is especially true with Atlantic Hockey improving rapidly each year.

2013-14 Outlook: The Pioneers players deserve a lot of credit for playing hard even as their seasons offer very little hope of success. Again, though, there isn't much of a chance that SHU will improve on their worst team in the country status. They'll finish in the basement of Atlantic Hockey again.

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