2006-07 Atlantic Hockey Preview
Atlantic Hockey has rolled out the welcome
mat for Air Force and Rochester Institute of Technology, its
first two additions since the league took over control from
the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. It’s awfully
strange to have a Colorado-based school referred to as an
“Atlantic” squad, but what the heck.
The power structure of the league does not change.
Holy Cross, Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart finished 1-2-3 last
season and figure to grab the top three spots once again.
Holy Cross played the most steady hockey down the stretch,
and its reward was the regular-season crown. Taking full measure
of home-ice advantage, the Crusaders swept three games at
the Hart Center to claim the playoff title but they weren’t
done quite yet. Holy Cross dismissed Minnesota in the opening
round of the NCAA tournament before losing to North Dakota.
Six of the top 11 point producers in the league
are back in the fold, and the scoring championship figures
to come down to the final weekend once again. The biggest
change comes in goal with Holy Cross, Army, Canisius and Connecticut
looking for new starting netminders.
The new year was not kind to Connecticut. On
Dec. 29, the Huskies were a .500 team. What followed was an
exercise in futility as UConn went on a record-setting 12-game
losing streak, surrendering an average of more than five goals
per game. The Huskies dropped to sixth place, just two points
out of the cellar.
forward Chris Myhro was one of four Huskies skaters to
break double digits in goals last season, potting 13 in
Jump ahead to a magical March. With little to
play for but pride, Connecticut played the role of unfriendly
neighbor with in-state rival Sacred Heart. First, the Huskies
denied the Pioneers a shot at the regular-season title by
posting a 4-3 win. Then the Huskies ousted Shaun Hannah’s
team in the opening round of the tournament, 4-1, before succumbing
to eventual champion Holy Cross in the semifinals.
Yes, the Huskies did lose goalie Brad Smith
to the pro ranks but the rest of the pieces are in place for
a climb in the standings. As one UConn assistant said, “This
is the year we have been building toward.’’ The
senior-ladened Huskies return 11 of their top 12 scorers,
four of whom scored in double-digits: Matt Scherer (15 goals),
Chris Myhro (13), Cole Koidahl (12) and Scott McDougall (10).
Senior goalie Scott Tomes has performed in the past, and he
just might be able to make up for Smith’s departure.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
When Army jumped from College Hockey America
to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Hockey League in
2000, the MAAC coaches picked the Black Knights to finish
fourth but the team never approached the top-half of league
play. That all changed last year as goaltender Brad Roberts
returned to his all-star form and Army’s power play
rose from the ashes of dormancy of a season earlier. Only
a crushing season-ending loss to American International kept
Army out of fourth place and a home playoff berth. Did one
win make a difference? A week later Army dropped the postseason
matchup of fourth and fifth seeds in double overtime at Bentley.
Army lost just four seniors from that squad,
but one of them was Roberts, who saw 97.2 percent of time.
His replacements, sophomores A.J. Drago and Josh Kassell,
played 2 ½ periods out of the entire season. Say what
you want about “rookies” stepping to the fore,
but little is known about the cadet pair and they will be
hard-pressed to live up to Roberts’ .906 career save
percentage and 2.75 goals against average. For an Army team
which has struggled to score goals, that is a dangerous proposition.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
It was quite an honor to have junior defenseman
Jamie Hunt plucked early from the Mercyhurst program by the
NHL’s Washington Capitals, said coach Rick Gotkin, but
it is a void he wasn’t planning on filling for another
year. Gotkin already lost seniors Conrad Martin and Preston
Briggs to graduation so there’s a lot of repair work
to be done. That’s where Jamie Coghlan, Denis Kirstein
and Pat Henk come into play as blue liners who will be expected
to pick up their ice time and their production. Coghlan is
coming off injuries which sidelined him all season. The Lakers
seem to enjoy shootouts, so a 3.3 goals allowed average never
seemed to bother them much last season. Having lost 62 goals
to graduation, though, Mercyhurst may have to shore up the
defense a bit.
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
With Holy Cross’ NCAA playoff win over
Minnesota, the glass ceiling has finally been broken for the
league. While Mercyhurst almost performed the trick a year
earlier with its overtime loss to Boston College, it was Holy
Cross which finally gave Atlantic Hockey its first NCAA tourney
win. Thanks to the Crusaders and Lakers, Atlantic Hockey’s
champs should no longer be taken lightly.
O'Brien led Sacred Heart in scoring last season with 19
goals, 31 assists and 50 points.
Senior Pierre-Luc O’Brien of Sacred Heart
has improved his scoring output each season he has played.
Nearly half of his 51 career goals have come on the special
teams. He has a very accurate shot and is dangerous as a playmaker
and on the breakaway.
Army junior Ken Rowe is new to Atlantic Hockey
but is no stranger to college hockey, having started his career
at Wisconsin. The transfer posted 37 points with the Bozeman
(Mont.) Ice Dogs last season and figures to be a top-unit
center. Rowe played with one of the league’s top freshmen,
Canisius forward Josh Heidinger. The first-team all-star in
the North American Hockey League posted 33 goals and 56 assists
(89 points) for Bozeman. Freshman Cody Collins of Mercyhurst
ranked 14th in scoring in the British Columbia Hockey League,
posting 31 goals and 45 assists for the Penticton Vees. RIT
freshman defenseman Alan Mazur was the top blue-line scorer
in the BCHL, posting 15 goals and 55 assists for the Merritt
James “Bubba” Sixsmith of Holy
Cross has played three fine seasons but in the shadows of
the likes of Jeff Dams, Andrew McKay, last year’s scoring
champ Tyler McGregor and Pierre Napert-Frenette. Sixsmith
is a fine playmaker who made his mark in the post-season tournament,
earning tourney MVP honors with three goals and four assists
in three games. He also had a crucial assist in Holy Cross’
NCAA tourney win over Minnesota.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. How will Holy Cross replace goalies
Tony Quesada and Ben Conway? Holy Cross coach Paul
Pearl is in a worse goalie state than Army’s Brian Riley.
Quesada and Conway saw every minute of action in net and the
lone returnee, Charlie Lockwood, is on the disabled list to
start his sophomore season. That leaves the Crusaders in the
hands of freshmen Tyler Chestnut and Ian Dams, each of whom
won the Central Junior Hockey League’s top goaltender
award in the past three years.
2. How will Air Force and Rochester
Institute of Technology fare? Air Force is a well-established
program which welcomes its new affiliation, especially for
ease in travel. The Falcons have regularly played schools
from Atlantic Hockey, posting a 7-3-1 mark in 2003-04, a 6-1-2
record in 2004-05 and a 2-4-1 ledger last season (against
current league members), so the transition should not be as
tough. RIT is in its second season of Division I play, and
still needs another year or so for a full recruiting cycle.
RIT has a rich hockey tradition, and may continue that in
3. Will Atlantic Hockey receive any
TV time? Likely not. Regional sports networks in
New England and Midwest have jumped at televising the likes
of Hockey East, the CCHA and WCHA. Atlantic Hockey might as
well be located in the Caribbean, given the lack of interest
from national and regional networks – so much for being
in the shadow of New York city, the world’s media center.
It’s a huge shame.
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in Atlantic Hockey this
1. Some coach will grouse about the
travel. Atlantic Hockey has been a bus league since
its inception (as the MAACHL) but there are no short bus trips
to the Air Force Academy. Seven league members are flying
to Colorado – only Holy Cross and Connecticut are spared
this season – and you can be sure that someone will
gripe about having to cross two time zones, especially if
the Falcons post the Western weekend sweep. Mind you, no one
is complaining about having Air Force make seven trips to
the east for league action – I mean, they are training
to be pilots, after all.
2. Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah will
keep the Quebec pipeline alive. Maybe Hannah enjoys
the winter Ice Carnivals in Quebec, or he enjoys trying out
his French. Either way, Sacred Heart has benefited from his
Quebec recruitment, bringing in the likes of Jason Smith,
Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Alexandre Parent. His newest
Quebec native is forward Erik Boisvert.
3. Atlantic Hockey will surpass its
non-conference win total. Last season Atlantic Hockey
members posted 15 wins outside of league play, five of those
wins thanks to Holy Cross, which capped the record total with
its upset win of Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA
tournament. Atlantic Hockey is making strides and closing
the talent gap on the four long-established leagues, and the
addition of two new members should help inch the league forward.
4. RIT fans will be the rowdiest.
Fans of NCAA Division III hockey have known about RIT’s
rowdy fans for some time now, and now the rest of Atlantic
Hockey will learn the same. The fans at Ritter Arena are jacked
up every time the Tigers play.
5. Atlantic Hockey will still fail to
grab a 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA tournament field of 16.
There was much enthusiasm over Holy Cross’ run into
the second round of the NCAA tournament, prompting some league
supporters into the belief that moving up from the 15th or
16th seeds in the NCAA field is possible. Maybe one of the
brainy types from RIT can tell us otherwise, but the mathematics
of the ratings index used by the NCAA and the current non-conference
schedule just won’t allow for any significant move upward.
||The Pioneers should have won the regular-season
title last year before catching a case of the yips down
the stretch, and a first-round tourney ouster still burns.
Sacred Heart returns its top three scorers, seven of nine
defensemen and Devils draftee Jason Smith in net.
||The Lakers have to replace almost
half of its blueline unit and 62 goals, but when you have
snipers in Ben Cottreau and Scott Champagne it makes the
||No returning goalie, no problem. The
Crusaders have signed two top junior netminders, and return
seven of eight defensemen. Holy Cross has managed to reload
the past five seasons, and this season should be no different.
||The Huskies got a taste of league
Final Four action last season, a great lead-in for a team
loaded with plenty of experience with 12 seniors. UConn
will have to step up its defense if it intends to challenge
for a championship.
||The Falcons finally finished in the
first division last season, and figure to do so again.
Bentley’s top three scorers were all freshmen, and
a year of experience can only serve as a good thing. A
strong season by Ray Jean in the nets could make all the
||The Black Knights may sport more experience
than any team in the league, save for the goal position.
If Army gets decent play from its sophomore netminders,
it may be just enough to have this club challenge for
a home-ice playoff berth once again.
||The Falcons are certainly no stranger
to Atlantic Hockey, having played numerous non-conference
contests in recent years (15-8-4 mark in last three seasons
versus current members). The Falcons return their top
eight scorers, and have a veteran lineup with eight seniors
and seven juniors. The question is whether the emigrant
from CHA will underachieve once again.
||No longer an independent, the Tigers
still must find their way in new surroundings. RIT lost
a host of close games last season and need to turn those
||The Golden Griffins lost four of their
top eight scorers and top goalie Dan Giffin. The team
is breaking in eight freshmen this season.
||The Yellow Jackets have a promising
netminder in Tom Fenton and six returning defensemen.
AIC is a young squad with just five seniors.