2007-08 Atlantic Hockey Preview
Atlantic Hockey saw a major transformation
last season, with league newcomers Rochester Institute of
Technology and Air Force ascending to the top and perennial
contenders Holy Cross and Mercyhurst taking a hit. In fact,
only one team – Sacred Heart – managed to finish
in the top four in consecutive seasons.
It doesn’t appear as though RIT nor Air
Force will relent much this season, each sporting veteran
lineups with very few holes to fill. RIT was ineligible for
the conference title and NCAA tourney berth since the program
was only in its second year of NCAA Division I status, so
the Tigers did all that they could do by winning the regular-season
Air Force captured its first playoff title by
beating Sacred Heart in the semifinals and Army in the finals,
then turned in a memorable upset bid against Minnesota in
the NCAA Tournament. The Falcons are still flying high with
Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn back for another season, and
an answer in goal as freshman Andrew Volkening won the job
late last season.
It seems ridiculous to label Mercyhurst, a perennial
top-four team, as a team poised for a breakthrough, but the
Lakers are coming off a very difficult season in which they
won just nine games and got ousted in the first round of playoffs.
Gone are high-scoring forwards Scott Champagne (141 points)
and Kyle Gourgon (91), and every goalie with any experience
in the Lakers’ green-and-blue.
This would be cause enough for Mercyhurst fans
to jump into Lake Erie, but not so fast. Goalie Matt Lundin
returns to college hockey following a year of exile in the
U.S. Hockey League. Lundin played parts of two seasons for
the University of Maine, and if he returns to any bit of his
past form, the Lakers will be transformed into a contender.
Throw in three 30-goal scorers in the recruiting class and
the return of Ben Cottreau – poised to become the league’s
all-time leading scorer – and suddenly the team’s
fortunes aren’t looking so bad after all.
Maybe breakthrough isn't the word for it. It’s
best we call Mercyhurst the bounce-back team.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
offensive losses are significant, and will put additional
pressure on 20-goal scorer Chris Myhro.
There are not many teams that can take a large
graduation hit and still contend for one of the league’s
elite spots. Connecticut’s program was built for success
last season with 10 seniors in the lineup, and the Huskies
responded with a fourth-place finish and berth in the tourney
The Huskies lose players who accounted for 275
games last season, with 57 goals and 91 assists. In their
careers the graduates combined for 1,087 games, 193 goals
and 262 assists.
The cupboard is hardly bare for Connecticut.
Junior Chris Myhro is a 20-goal, 31-point player, junior Sean
Erickson is back on defense, and sophomore Beau Erickson is
back in nets after posting a 10-win season and 2.92 goals-against
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
Rochester Institute of Technology had a great
rookie season in Atlantic Hockey, improving 15 wins over its
lone season as a Division I independent. But the Tigers lost
their top scorer, Steve Pinizzotto, and No. 1 goalie, Jocelyn
Guimond, to the pros. Some teams would fold their tents, but
RIT returns the top freshman netminder in Louis Menard and
seven 20-point scorers, making the Tigers one of the more
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
Until last season Army had been nothing but
a second-division club which played gritty hockey without
the offensive firepower to support all-star goaltending. The
Black Knights took a huge step forward in 2006-07, riding
a previously unknown goalie in Josh Kassel and discovering
an offense. Army had four players post double-digit goals
and five account for 20-plus points.
The Black Knights lost their No. 2 scorer, defenseman
Tim Manthey, to transfer and No. 5 scorer Casey Bickley to
graduation. Manthey’s departure could adversely affect
the Army power play, which took major steps forward. Army
scratched out five one-goal wins and posted a .500 record
on the road, a tough act to duplicate in any year.
an unknown, Eric Ehn enters 2007-08 as a household name
in college hockey.
This was not a hard choice. Eric Ehn, a senior
at Air Force, was the league's player of the year and a finalist
for the Hobey Baker Award last year. Ehn had a season for
the ages, posting 24 goals and setting a league record with
64 points. Hockey fans voted Ehn the top candidate for the
Hobey Baker but Ryan Duncan of North Dakota won the award.
Ehn won 63 percent of his faceoffs, he is lethal on the power
play and he stays out of the penalty box.
Matt Lundin is no stranger to college hockey,
having started his career at the University of Maine. But
the Bears have had a tremendous run of solid goaltenders,
and Lundin returned to the USHL with the goal of catching
on elsewhere. Hello, Mercyhurst.
The Lakers were in serious need for goaltending,
and not only does Mercyhurst receive a top-flight replacement
but a goalie who didn’t sit idle last season. Lundin
posted a 2.55 goals-against average and was the USHL’s
playoff MVP. A step up in goaltending is exactly what Mercyhurst
needs to return to prominence.
Dale Reinhardt has been one of the league's
most consistent players since arriving on the Holy Cross campus
three years ago. The forward found his niche in a high-powered
Crusader offense – never the leading scorer but a person
who always finished in the top five or six. He produced 11
goals as a freshman and sophomore and barely missed the top
of the Crusader scoring list last season, when his 16 goals
were one shy of Tyler McGregor's total. Reinhardt heads into
his senior season eight points shy of 100, making him the
second-leading active scorer in Atlantic Hockey, and if he
can approach last season’s 34 points, he will make a
push to finish among the league’s top 10 scorers of
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in Atlantic Hockey this
1. Ben Cottreau will set the all-time
scoring mark. The Mercyhurst senior has 120 career
points and needs just 39 to surpass Sacred Heart’s Pierre-Luc
O’Brien. Cottreau missed seven games last season and
still managed 35 points. He posted 51 points as a sophomore.
Cottreau needs 23 goals to surpass all-time goal scorer Tyler
McGregor of Holy Cross (70), but that may be asking too much.
2. Signing a deal with the B2 Networks
will have long-term benefits. Atlantic Hockey has
been begging for exposure, and there’s no better way
than providing a video service for fans and recruits. In the
movie Rink of Dreams who can forget the mystical
voice: "Televise it, and they will come." (Okay,
I made that up but if Hollywood wants a script, just drop
me a line).
3. We'll see no first-round playoff
upsets. The league has finally adopted a best-of-three
format for the opening round, thus protecting the higher seeds.
4. Rochester won’t be as lame
a host of the post-season tournament as last year. The
city had plenty of snow but the tourney had no enthusiasm,
no fanfare and no fans. Rochester officials admit they didn’t
promote the event nearly as much as the NCAA regional which
took place a week later. The league deserved better treatment.
5. Expansion is coming. Commissioner
Bob DiGregorio says the topic has been tabled for now, but
the apparent demise of College Hockey America is going to
require a lifeboat to rescue the four survivors. Atlantic
Hockey may be the only answer.
||The hometown Tigers have the firepower
to win the league once again, and fill up the seats at
Blue Cross Arena for the league tourney.
||Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn will
bring a lot of much-deserved attention to the Academy
and Atlantic Hockey as a whole.
||With Owen Meyer, Bryce Hollweg and
Luke Flicek up front and Josh Kassel in goal, the Black
Knights are out to prove last season was no fluke.
||Losing the league’s all-time
top scorer and a No. 1 netminder is tough, but the Pioneers
have the pieces to stay in contention.
||If Matt Lundin lives up to reputation,
the Lakers can reverse some closes losses and return to
the winning ledger.
||The Huskies hope to carry momentum
over but need to discover some new scorers.
||The Crusaders went from an NCAA team
to a struggling outfit. Once Holy Cross settles its novice
goaltending, the Crusaders should surge again.
||The Falcons lost just one senior and
remain the youngest outfit in the league. Maturity alone
should prevent a late seven-game swoon which felled the
Falcons last year.
||Coach Dave Smith heads into his third
season with a sophomore-heavy lineup that started to put
up some good numbers and a freshman class that boasts
four 20-goal scorers in junior hockey.
||The Yellow Jackets have some positives
to build off, returning seven of their top eight scorers
and two junior goalies from a team that posted a playoff