A look at the preseason INCH predictions is right on the money with Air Force, Mercyhurst, RIT, and Canisius holding down the top four spots. Only Holy Cross’ slow start has spoiled a perfect call on the top seven spots.
It’s hard to say three-time playoff champion Air Force is a surprise, but the Falcons got lumped up pretty good in October with five setbacks in seven games. The team responded well with a 10-game unbeaten streak (6-0-4) and would have held down first place on its own at the break were it not for a 3-1 loss to co-leader Mercyhurst earlier this month. Even in the midst of the turnaround, coach Frank Serratore spoke critically of his team, but how else do you address a squad that has raised the bar considerably?
Scoring is down nearly a goal—not surprising since the Falcons had to replace 406 career points—and the defense is allowing a half-goal more per contest, but most of that came in October. All-star goalie Andrew Volkening (2.59, .911) will be hard-pressed to get his numbers back down to the microscopic stats he posted last season (1.97, .920) but he’s doing his best with nine efforts of two goals or fewer in his last 13 outings. The Air Force penalty kill, which was tops in the league last season, is 33 percentage points better this season.
Army’s Cody Omilusik is quickly building on his numbers posted over his first two seasons. The junior forward is second in the league with 12 goals and third in scoring with 21 points—he has points in all but three contests. He produced a hat trick at Bentley on Nov. 20 and scored twice in the season opener at Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 9. Eric Sefchik has centered his line all season, while all-star partner Owen Meyer has been replaced with promising freshman Andy Starczewski.
Omilusik had nine goals in his freshman season and 13 as a sophomore.
WHAT HAPPENED TO …
Bentley goalie Kyle Rank enjoyed a productive rookie season in 2008-09. He split time with Joe Calvi for much of the season and was given the nod to lead the Falcons into the playoffs. Rank posted a 2.68 goals against average, good for third in the league, and .912 save percentage, the fifth-best mark. He was named the INCH Atlantic Hockey rookie of the year and was named to Atlantic Hockey’s third-team all-star squad and all-rookie team.
His fortunes have soured somewhat in his sophomore campaign. Rank’s numbers have ballooned to a 3.78 GAA (tenth in the league) and his save percentage has dropped to .886. Coach Ryan Soderquist alternated Rank and Calvi (2.77) through the first eight games but Rank has been named the starter in the last eight games, during which Rank has posted a 3-3-2 mark. He headed into the break, however, with a nine-goal clunker at Canisius on Dec. 5.
BEST NEW FACE
It’s not often that freshman skaters at Army make an impact in their rookie season, but forward Andy Starczewski ranks second in goals (six) and fourth in points (12). He has benefitted from a move to the top line with Eric Sefchik and Cody Omilusik, notching a pair of two-goal games in his last three outings and points in four of his last six games.
The league’s rookie class of 2009-10 has shown signs of promise. Eight Atlantic Hockey freshmen have reached double-digits in point scoring, and four netminders are seeing the lion’s share of time for their teams.
The season was barely hours old when Canisius knocked off Ferris State, 1-0, on Oct. 10. Dan Morrison turned aside 48 shots from the Bulldogs for the shutout victory, securing a weekend split for the Golden Griffins. Ferris State actually stumbled to four losses in the opening month (including an exhibition setback) but has yet to lose since then, a current six-game win streak holding up a 10-game unbeaten string. Ferris State is No. 14 in the most recent INCH Power Rankings.
Sacred Heart has the only other win against a current top-20 team. The Pioneers stuck a 6-5 overtime loss on Union on Oct. 24. Sacred Heart squandered a four-goal lead in the final eight minutes of regulation but salvaged the day with Nick Johnson’s OT tally.
In all, Atlantic Hockey is a woeful 4-36-4 in non-league contests.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Connecticut went winless in October and heads into the Christmas break riding a five-game losing skid and eight-game winless streak. The Huskies are 0-11-1 away from Storrs, but home-cooking is coming in the second half with 10 contests at Freitas Ice Forum. However, UConn opens January at Air Force and hosting RIT.
Air Force has to make four more trips to the east, including a Feb. 19-20 showdown at Rochester Institute of Technology. The Falcons open February at No. 5 Colorado College (Feb. 5) and host No. 2 Denver (Feb. 6).
Sacred Heart plays its next eight games at home; however, all of the contests are against teams in the top half of the conference standings (Air Force, Army, Mercyhurst, Canisius). RIT may have the best slate down the finish, with 10 of 16 games against teams in the lower half of the standings. The Tigers have two tough closing series with Air Force (Feb. 19-20) and Canisius (Feb. 26-27), but all four games are at Ritter Arena.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
Holy Cross set itself up for a return to the upper half of the league with all but two skaters returning but the Crusaders needed to get better goaltending. Senior Ian Dams and junior Adam Roy were given their shot but it’s freshman Thomas Tysowsky who has won the job. Starting all but one contest since Oct. 16, the rookie has logged 898-plus minutes, posting a league-leading 2.20 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Tysowsky allowed two goals or fewer in three of his seven losses and three of his four ties.
If the Crusaders can find some more offense, Tysowsky appears ready to backstop the Holy Cross cause. January will be tough for the Crusaders but the schedule is a bit more forgiving in February, which could allow them to build momentum heading into the playoffs.
BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINING
Will RIT finally get over the hump? Prospects are looking good for the Tigers, who went unbeaten in 10 games until last weekend’s 3-2 loss to Niagara. Jared DeMichiel has backstopped a defense that has cut its goals against by almost three-quarters of a goal, and plenty of skaters are contributing to the scoring.
The Tigers lost a pair of one-goal games at Air Force in October. Those games won’t matter when the two clubs meet again on Feb. 19-20 in a prelude to the Atlantic Hockey tournament in Rochester. RIT needs to show well in round two against the Falcons and needs to seize on “home-ice” advantage in the playoffs to reach the finals.
INCH’S FIRST HALF ALL-ATLANTIC HOCKEY TEAM
G–Jared DeMichiel, RIT: The senior ranks second in wins (eight) and leads in winning percentage (.567). His goals against average of 2.21 ranks second in the league and his .916 save percentage ranks third.
D–Dan Ringwald, RIT: The all-star defenseman ranks second among blueliners with five goals and has 14 points overall.
D– Carl Hudson, Canisius: Hudson leads all Atlantic Hockey defensemen with 18 points. Three of his five goals have come on the power play, and he owns a plus-minus rating of +5.
F–Cory Conacher, Canisius: The junior leads the league in goals (13) and points (26) at the break. He has produced three game-winners, scored four times with the man advantage, and has a plus-minus of +5.
F–Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force: The league’s most dynamic scorer is just a shade under his scoring pace of last season, but his 11 goals and 23 points both rank among the conference’s top three. He has six goals on the power play and two game-winners. Lamoureux has points in all but four games, and currently has a six-game point streak.
F–Cody Omilusik, Army: Ranks second in the league with 12 goals and third with 21 points. He has produced points in all but three contests.