2005-06 Atlantic Hockey Preview
be somewhat odd, I suppose, to have an Atlantic Hockey Association
without Quinnipiac. The school and its director of athletics,
Jack McDonald, managed to position itself as a mover and shaker
among the so-called little guys in the college hockey ranks.
Who can forget the Sturm und Drang surrounding the
addition of an automatic NCAA Tournament bid for the then
MAAC, a melodrama that prominently featured the Q?
are gone, off to the tweed sport coat-with-corduroy elbow
patches world of the ECACHL. And while Quinnipiac was a strong
member of Atlantic Hockey and unquestionably an asset to the
league, one must remember the school has made exactly one
NCAA Tournament appearance. Conventional wisdom assumes the
cream of the league has departed, but a look at the league’s
current flock indicates otherwise.
Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart are extremely talented teams.
Canisius, which gained a new bench boss in former Mercyhurst
aide Dave Smith during the summer, somehow recorded a 14-7-3
league mark last season despite finding itself in more trouble
than Sydney Bristow in an average episode of “Alias”.
Of course, Bentley, winners of all of eight games last season,
bounced the Golden Griffins from the league playoffs. Connecticut
returns six of its top seven scorers from last season and
a very good goaltender in sophomore Scott Tomes.
of storylines in the circuit this season, all of which begs
the question, Q who?
Parent and Sacred Heart owned Atlantic Hockey's best conference
record with three weeks left in the regular season, but
ended the year with seven straight losses.
Heart seemed to be on the verge of a big finish last
season. The Pioneers owned a league-best 13-5-1 mark after
beating Army on Feb. 18 (more on the significance of that
date later) but a seven-game losing skid to end the year short
circuited any thoughts of a conference title.
four of the primary components from last year’s squad
are back this time around, including a pair of talented young
Francophones in junior Pierre-Luc O’Brien and sophomore
Alexandre Parent. If the returnees learned anything from the
season-ending swoon – namely, how to avoid it –
and New Jersey draft pick Jason Smith can step in for the
graduated Kevin LaPointe in goal, Sacred Heart should challenge
for the top spot in the conference.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
all the drama surrounding the team a year ago, it’s
a miracle Canisius found time to actually
challenge for the league’s regular season crown. And
while the arrival of new coach Dave Smith likely brings to
an end the off-ice turmoil, the Golden Griffins may be hard
pressed to duplicate last year’s on-ice achievements.
With the top seven point-getters from a year ago returning,
scoring shouldn’t be an issue. Replacing departed all-conference
goaltender Bryan Worosz, however, will prove to be a bit more
difficult. The burden, at least to start, falls on the shoulders
of junior Max Buetow, a 6-foot-6 behemoth who has been a disappointment
in his first two seasons in Buffalo.
18, 2005, Mercyhurst, owners of a 10-15-4 overall record,
looked less like a team en route to postseason and more like
a squad destined for a spring break trip south of the Mason-Dixon
line. Then coach Rich Gotkin replaced veteran goaltender Andy
Franck with backup netminder Mike Ella –
he of the 1-3-1 career record. The seldom-used sophomore turns
into Patrick Roy circa 1986, the Lakers reel off eight straight
wins and capture the league title with a thrilling overtime
win over Quinnipiac before falling to Boston College in the
first round of the NCAA Tournament.
gone, leaving Ella as the team’s only experienced goalie.
And while the Lakers are traditionally one of the most talented
teams in Atlantic Hockey – one is hard pressed to find
a better trio of forwards in the circuit than David Borrelli,
Scott Champagne and Ben Cottreau – the departed Rich
Hansen, T.J. Kemp and David Wrigley will be tough to replace.
That could put the onus on Ella to be stingier than he was
ACT TO FOLLOW
the opening paragraphs of this preview set the stage for the
post-Quinnipiac era in Atlantic Hockey and lightly chided
them for their dearth of league playoff championships, the
Bobcats and Mercyhurst did establish themselves as the class
of Atlantic Hockey on a year-in, year-out basis. With Quinnipiac
making the leap, it’s crucial that one or more teams
in the conference become the type of program that, along with
the Lakers, can annually contend for the league title. As
deep as Atlantic Hockey may be this season, the conference
will take a hit in the long run if it morphs into seven (or
eight or nine) teams chasing Mercyhurst.
Cross forward Pierre Napert-Frenette needs seven points
to reach the century mark for his career.
165 pounds, Holy Cross forward Pierre Napert-Frenette
isn’t one of the college game’s top physical specimens.
But he is the most complete player in Atlantic Hockey, a dangerous
scorer (93 career points, 38 of which came last season) with
a lethal wrist shot and a fine defensive centerman who excels
at winning draws. Coach Paul Pearl insists that he’ll
be pleased if the senior from Bathurst, New Brunswick –
one of the Crusaders’ co-captains and a double major
in economics and math – sets a good example for the
rest of the team on and off the ice. If past results server
as an indicator of future performance, Pearl will be a happy
man this season.
coach Ryan Soderquist must look at his team’s goaltending
situation and figure he’s discovered the hockey equivalent
of living in the Wisteria Lane house between Teri Hatcher
and Eva Longoria. Needing a replacement for the graduated
Simon St. Pierre, the Falcons will likely have a three-way
battle between senior Geordan Murphy, Maine transfer Ray Jean
and freshman Jason Kearney, last season’s
North American Hockey League MVP. After joining the Soo Indians
in November via a trade, the Gibsonia, Pa., native posted
a 24-8-3 record to go along with a 1.82 goals against average,
a .922 save percentage and six shutouts.
were so many storylines at Mercyhurst last season –
David Wrigley’s swan song, the Kurt Warner-esque ascension
of goalie Mike Ella, fabulous freshman Ben Cottreau, T.J.
Kemp’s second-half explosion – that it was easy
to overlook the phenomenal effort of David Borrelli.
The 5-9, 180-pound forward ranked among the league’s
top 10 in points, goals, assists, power-play goals and shorthanded
goals. In fact, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, product was
one of eight players to share the NCAA lead in SHGs. Now that
Wrigley, Kemp and Rich Hansen are gone, a duplicate of last
season will earn Borrelli his due.
Can Holy Cross goalie Tony Quesada find his mojo? Quesada
was stellar as a sophomore, posting a 17-6-2 record, a 2.23
goals against average and .925 save percentage, and the Crusaders
qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Last season, he was 9-9-4
with a 2.70 GAA and a meager .905 save percentage; Holy Cross
was bounced in the conference semifinals. With the firepower
and experience coach Paul Pearl has amassed in Worcester,
Quesada holds the key to the team’s postseason aspirations.
Will American International escape the Atlantic Hockey basement
this season? Not likely, and that’s based solely
on the graduation of overworked, underappreciated goaltender
Frank Novello. Novello played all but 10:08 for the Yellowjackets
last season and somehow managed a .913 save percentage despite
facing nearly 1300 shots, or about 450 more than his side
attempted. The triumvirate in line to replace Novello –
junior Matt Tourville and newcomers Tom Fenton and Coby Robinson
– has 27:29 of NCAA experience. Does new AIC assistant
coach Joe Exter have any eligibility remaining?
How will UConn replace scoring whiz Tim Olsen? Olsen,
who ended his senior campaign with an even 100 career points,
wasn’t always so prolific. He scored just 23 points
in his first two seasons in Storrs. The six Huskies who trailed
Olsen in scoring last season are back this time around; four
are juniors and one is a sophomore. An adequate increase in
point totals from a year ago for that group coupled with Scott
Tomes in goal and coach Bruce Marshall’s charges could
emerge as a darkhorse.
things you can take to the bank in Atlantic Hockey this season
1. Don’t expect a regular season champion to
be crowned prior to the last weekend in February.
Two crucial series loom at the end of the league slate. Holy
Cross makes the journey to Erie, Pa., Feb. 17-18 to face Mercyhurst.
The following weekend, the Crusaders play a home-and-home
set with Sacred Heart.
It carries nowhere near the importance of a conference championship
scramble, but the Atlantic Hockey scoring race promises
to be an entertaining affair. Eight of the league’s
top 12 scorers from last season – a group that was separated
by a mere four points – are back for more.
One league member will record a significant non-conference
upset this season. Connecticut posted the circuit’s
best non-league win last year with an overtime triumph at
Massachusetts. Our prediction: Mercyhurst sweeps Ferris State
in Erie Thanksgiving weekend.
Army has one more year to enjoy its status as owners of the
league’s coolest sweaters. The Black Knights’
road jerseys are terrific, but RIT’s home whites might
be just a tad better. Yes, we really do contemplate such things
here at INCH.
If this winter in the eastern part of the country is anything
like last year’s, Atlantic Hockey teams will
welcome the addition of Air Force to the conference
in 2006-07. January’s average high temperature in Colorado
Springs is a mild 41 degrees. Combine that with the warmth
of the Rocky Mountain sun, which shines roughly 250 days a
year and the breathtaking scenery, and we’ll bet that
a flight two-thirds of the way across the continent will be
much more popular than a mid-winter bus ride to Fairfield,
a good chance the Crusaders could be skating in front
of the hometown fans in late March at the NCAA Northeast
Regional at the Centrum Centre.
about leaving Laker games early to beat the traffic. Of
the team's 38 games last season, 21 of them were decided
by one goal or ended in draws.
there be two teams with the "Pioneer" nickname
in this year's NCAA Tournament field? Junior goalie Jason
Smith, a New Jersey draft pick a couple of years ago,
holds the key.
Mercyhurst assistant Dave Smith takes the Lakers' blueprint
for success and tries to transfer it to a Golden Griffins
program that sorely needs direction.
grass is apparently greener on the other side of the fence
in Storrs. The Huskies' roster boasts players from 11
states and one province. Connecticut isn't one of 'em.
Falcons were 0-1-5 in six overtime games last season.
Orange slices for everybody!
his open letter on former captain Derek Hines' death while
fighting in Afghanistan, coach Brian Riley wrote, "When
you have the chance to watch Army, Air Force, or Navy
play...take a moment and reflect on how special these
young men truly are."
as well find out how you measure up right away. The Yellowjackets'
first four series are home-and-home sets with Quinnipiac,
Holy Cross and Sacred Heart and a pair with Mercyhurst