The 2006-07 Atlantic Hockey season produced
much upheaval, dropping usual title contenders Holy Cross
and Mercyhurst into the second division and promoting the
rise of a new power.
Rochester Institute of Technology rolled to
its first regular-season title, and has to be considered
the early favorite for next season as the Tigers return
all but three players. However, RIT was ineligible for the
playoffs as a second-year member of NCAA Division I.
Sacred Heart held its own as a league contender
and heads into the playoffs as the the top seed. Once Army
found a solution to its goaltending void, the Black Knights
successfully built off last season’s surge in the
standings and grabbed the second playoff seed.
Connecticut has the most experienced lineup
in the league and used the senior leadership to move into
the top half of the league for the first time since 2000.
Like RIT, Air Force made a good showing in its inaugural
season in Atlantic Hockey and will host a playoff game this
There promises to be more changes next season
with the graduation of nine of the top 25 scorers in the
league, notably James Sixsmith of Holy Cross, Andrew Ramsey
of Air Force, Pierre-Luc O’Brien of Sacred Heart and
Matt Scherer of Connecticut. Sacred Heart, Mercyhurst and
Bentley will be looking for new netminders in 2007-08.
This is the season coach Shaun Hannah has
been building toward. Sacred Heart has the scoring depth
— five double-digit goal scorers and 13 players with
at least 10 points — and a solid goaltender in New
Jersey Devils draft choice Jason Smith.
Of the remaining playoff teams, the Pioneers
rank first in offense (3.24 goals per game), third in defense
(2.76 goals per game), third in power play success rate
(16.5 percent), fifth in penalty killing (81.2 percent),
and tops in combined special teams. Sacred Heart is the
best third-period team in the league. The playoff brackets
shape up nicely with Sacred Heart avoiding troublesome Army
and Connecticut until the final round. With RIT becoming
playoff-eligible next season and Pierre-Luc O’Brien
headed for the pros, this is the year the Pioneers have
to make their run to the NCAA tournament.
THE GATE CRASHER
Hockey Quarterfinal Matchups
No. 9 American
International at No. 1 Sacred Heart
AIC: 7-20-1 (8-24-1 overall)
SHU: 17-7-4 (20-10-4 overall)
Season Series: SHU leads series, 2-0.
Yellow Jacket Fact: AIC earned its second
playoff win, beating Canisius last Saturday. AIC has
won the play-in game twice in the past four years.
Pioneer Facts: Sacred Heart has lost its
season finale three years in a row, and followed with
first-round playoff ousters in 2005 and 2006.
How AIC Wins: The Yellow Jackets tend to
play better in the playoffs. Jereme Tendler is the
top scoring threat. AIC has to play disciplined defense
and excel in the special teams. How Sacred Heart Wins: Forget about
past failures and don’t look ahead. The Pioneers
have a formidable offense, averaging 4.6 goals during
a recent five-game win streak. However, they have
to do a better job on the penalty kill.
7 Bentley at No. 2 Army
BENT: 11-17-0 (12-21-1 overall)
Army: 15-8-5 (15-11-5 overall)
Season Series: Army leads, 3-1
Falcon Facts: Bentley is the only Atlantic
Hockey team with two quarterfinal upsets to its credit,
winning as a five seed in 2003 and a seven seed in
Black Knight Facts: The only other time Army
has played as a No. 2 seed was 1964 when the Cadets
lost to St. Lawrence in the ECAC playoffs.
How Bentley Wins: By not looking for the
perfect play and just put pucks on the net —
the offense struggled more often than not, scoring
two or fewer goals 17 times. Coach Ryan Soderquist
expects struggling goalie Ray Jean to “play
like a senior.’’
How Army Wins: With puck control and keeping
Bentley’s swift skaters from getting out in
transition. The Knights’ special teams are playing
well of late: the team has scored two power play goals
in each of its last three games, and the penalty kill
is has been successful in 17 of its last 21 shorthanded
No. 6 Mercyhurst
at No. 3 Connecticut
MC: 9-15-4 (9-19-6 overall) UConn: 15-11-2 (15-17-2 overall Season Series: Teams split two games. Laker Facts: Mercyhurst has never
lost its playoff opener in seven seasons in the MAAC
and Atlantic Hockey Husky Facts: UConn is the hottest
team in league, posting a 6-1-1 mark since Feb. 2. How Mercyhurst Wins: The Lakers travel
well, with road points in four of its last five away
contests. Mercyhurst is averaging four goals per game
in its last nine games, despite usual snipers Ben
Cottreau and Scott Champagne slumping. How UConn Wins: Hot goalies at playoff
time are a godsend. Beau Erickson won five February
games with a goals against of less than 2.00. It would
help if Matt Scherer can maintain his pace —
he had seven goals in February.
5 Holy Cross at No. 4 Air Force HC: 9-14-5 (10-19-5 overall) AFA: 13-10-5 (16-15-5 overall) Season Series: Teams tied twice. Crusader Facts: Holy Cross has won
its playoff opener for four consecutive years. Falcon Facts: The Falcons squandered
a 3-0 lead and lost to Robert Morris, 4-3, in the
CHA quarterfinals last year How Holy Cross Wins: Rely on a bevy
of playoff experience. The team's seniors have eight
playoff wins to their credit over three seasons. How Air Force Wins: The Falcons are
probably the best team in the league in getting the
puck to the net. That is vital against a Crusader
defense which has been shaky of late.
Army may have the league’s best goaltender
in Josh Kassel, and has been the league’s most consistent
team, not dropping two in a row since mid-November. The
impressive thing about Army is the team responded to just
about every position challenge in the standings, holding
on to the league lead for 59 days at the start of the season
and succumbing only to RIT and Sacred Heart. The Black Knights
have split season series with top playoff seeds Sacred Heart
(1-1-2) and Air Force (1-1) and was unbeaten against Connecticut
INCH'S ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
G – Josh Kassel, Army:
The league’s busiest netminder was also its stingiest.
Kassel played 350 minutes more than any goaltender in the
conference, posting a league-leading 2.32 goals against
average, three shutouts, and a .913 save percentage. He
allowed more than three goals just seven times..
D - Jon Landry, Holy Cross: Landry
was a stalwart on the Crusaders until an injury sidelined
him for the final month of the season. When Landry went
down he was leading the league’s blueliners in scoring
(9-18—27) and he still ranks second in the nation
among defensemen in points per game (1.0). Landry’s
worth may be best illustrated in his absence, as Holy Cross
limped to the finish with a 1-5-1 mark.
D - Tim Manthey, Army: Manthey
was a catalyst on the league’s top defensive unit.
The rugged blueliner produced seven goals and 17 assists,
ranking second on the Black Knights in scoring. Directing
the power play, Manthey scored four man-up goals.
F - Eric Ehn, Air Force: Ehn
developed his pedigree in College Hockey America and got
even better in Atlantic Hockey. The junior set a league
record with 60 points, ranks fifth in goals (24), and is
tied for the league mark in assists (36). In the national
rankings, Ehn leads the country in points, is tied for sixth
in goals, and second in assists.
F - Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred
Heart: O’Brien was a marked man this season
and still ranks fifth in the conference with 16-27—43,
just seven points off his junior season numbers. His 155
career points is the best among the conference's active
players, and he established new scoring marks for the Pioneers.
F - James Sixsmith, Holy Cross: The
senior is second in league scoring (17-30—47) and
will go down as one of the top playmakers in conference
history. He has 152 career points, second among active players,
and he broke a handful of Division I scoring marks for the
COACH OF THE YEAR
Wayne Wilson, RIT. No team in the nation fashioned
a better turnaround than Wilson’s Tigers. He has taken
RIT from the Division III ranks in 2004-05 to a 6-22-2 start
as a Division I independent to a 21-11-2 mark in its first
season of play in Atlantic Hockey.
Wilson replaced six seniors, broke in nine
freshmen and still won the regular-season title —
he loses just three players for next season. The emergence
of RIT and its strong Canadian recruiting pipeline surely
has the rest of the league worried. The Tigers have 12 players
from Ontario, four from British Columbia, three from Quebec,
and one each from Alberta and Manitoba.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Eric Ehn, Air Force. O’Brien may be
the most skilled player, and Kassel’s worth to Army
cannot be underestimated, but it is hard to ignore the top
scorer in the land. Ehn leads the nation with 60 points
and he has done his damage outside of league play, producing
eight goals and seven assists in eight non-conference games.
Ehn also owns a plus-minus ratings of plus-26.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Al Mazur, RIT: The British Columbia native
made a huge impact in his rookie season, helping the Tigers
to the regular-season title. Mazur leads all defensemen
with 29 points, thanks to 23 helpers. Three of his six goals
came on the power play, and his plus-18 rating ranked tops
among blue-liners and third overall.
Josh Kassel, Army. Kassel played just one
period — one — during his freshman
season, so it’s no wonder there was much trepidation
heading into this season, what with the graduation of all-star
Kassel, a sophomore, not only won the starting
job right away, but went on to post better statistics than
Roberts ever did. He has not dropped consecutive games since
mid-November, and led Army to its highest league finish
since 1964. Kassel ranks 20th in the nation in goals against
and 25th in save percentage.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached