2014-15 Atlantic Hockey Preview, Part 2: Robert Morris looks to repeat magical season

By DJ Powers
Cody Wydo - Robert Morris University

Photo: Robert Morris University forward Cody Wydo finished the 2013-14 season with the second highest goal total in the NCAA, behind only Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau (courtesy of Brad Rempel/Icon Sportswire)

 

Hockey’s Future took a look at five of the 10 schools in the Atlantic Hockey conference in part one of our 2014-15 NCAA season preview. In part 2, we take a closer look at Robert Morris, Holy Cross, Niagara, RIT and Sacred Heart.

Robert Morris University

The defending Atlantic Hockey Tournament champions will look to successfully defend their crown after opening their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Lake Superior State.

The Colonials are coming off a magical season that saw them make their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. This season, Robert Morris is poised to make another strong push for a return trip with many of the team’s top players returning.

Leading the Colonials’ offensive attack this season is senior captain Cody Wydo. The Southgate, MI native is coming off of a spectacular junior campaign where he led Robert Morris with 54 points (31 goals, 23 assists) in 42 games. His 31 goals were the second-most in the NCAA last season. Wydo is a dynamic winger who can make things happen whenever he’s on the ice and is the motor that drives the Colonials offense.

One returning veteran that could be a more dominant force for Robert Morris this season is junior power forward, Brandon Denham. The Milton, ON native was excellent last season, posting 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 42 games last season. Denham, who attended the Calgary Flames‘ prospect camp over the summer, provides both size (6’4”, 205 lbs.) and some muscle for the Colonials up front. As head coach Derek Schooley explains, Denham’s development has enhanced not only his physical game but his offensive side, as well.

“I think Brendan is a very key part of our team,” said Schooley. “He’s a good skating power forward. He’s strong and physical. When Brendan hits, he hits you hard. His game has developed to where he was able to start producing offense. As he’s gotten stronger, Brendan has been able to sustain the punishment, whether it’s in finishing his checks or going hard to the net. We’re hoping that Brendan can continue the success that he had last year.”

Robert Morris’s defense is shaping up to be very good this season. Junior assistant captain Tyson Wilson anchors the defensive group. The Brockville, ON native led the Colonials in defensive scoring with 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 41 games last season. Wilson has developed into a strong, puck-moving defenseman who also blocks a lot of shots.

One of the Colonials’ strengths this season will be in goal with the returning tandem of junior Terry Shafer and sophomore backup, Dalton Izyk. The two are coming off of terrific performances in 2013-14. Shafer posted a 14-15-5 record that included three shutouts in 35 games before a leg injury ended his season prematurely. Izyk finished with a 5-2-0 record that included one shutout in 11 outings.

In addition to the returning veterans, Robert Morris also welcomes seven newcomers this season. One to watch in 2014-15 is winger Brady Ferguson. The Lewisville, TX native is a 6’0”, 190-pound winger who is noted for his ability to play in any situation.

“I think Brady can be an impact player for us,” Schooley said of Ferguson. “He’s very skilled and very good defensively, but he’s also got a lot of offensive instincts, too. We think that Brady and our other freshman forwards bring depth to our team and they’ll get an opportunity to play in our lineup.”

College of the Holy Cross

The Crusaders opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Merrimack.

A new era dawns at Holy Cross this season as David Berard takes over as the Crusaders new bench boss. Berard succeeds Paul Pearl, who left the program to take an assistant coaching job with Harvard. Berard is no stranger to Atlantic Hockey, having previously served as the interim head coach at UConn in 2012-13.

“I’m extremely excited to come to Holy Cross,” Berard said of taking over the team. “I think we have a program here that allows us to put ourselves in line to win a championship year in and year out. I don’t think we have hit our ceiling yet. I think we can continue to grow and build on the success that Paul (Pearl) had.”

Junior co-captain Matt Vidal returns as the Crusaders’ top scorer this season. The Manorville, NY native is coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign where he led Holy Cross with 18 assists and finished with 23 points in 37 games. Vidal is an outstanding playmaking winger blessed with speed and great vision.

“Matt has got really good speed and he’s not afraid,” Berard said of Vidal. “He’s relentless with pucks when he doesn’t have it and uses his speed to his advantage when he does have it. I think what’s most impressed me about Matt is he gives a tremendous effort every day no matter what he does.”

Of the nine newcomers on the Holy Cross roster this season, six are forwards. One well worth watching is winger Scott Pooley. The Granger, IN native is the son of current Notre Dame associate head coach Paul Pooley, so he has great bloodlines. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, the younger Pooley will certainly provide some size up front for Holy Cross. Berard hopes that Pooley can blossom into an impact player for his program.

“Scott will be one of the freshmen that’ll get the opportunity to contribute this year,” said Berard of Pooley. “He’s a big, smart winger that can score and make plays. We’re hoping that Scott can develop quickly, create offense and be an impact player for us.”

The defense is shaping up to be one of the Crusaders’ strengths this season. Among those patrolling the blueline this season is junior Jake Bolton. The Ellington, CT native is coming off of a strong sophomore campaign where he posted 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 38 games. One area where Bolton really made his mark last season was on the Crusaders’ power play where both of his goals were scored.

The other area where Holy Cross should be very good is in goal with the return of senior co-captain and starter, Matt Ginn. The workhorse from Lindsay, ON is coming off of an solid junior campaign where he posted an 11-21-3 record that included one shutout in 35 games. The 2118:04 minutes that Ginn played last season were second only to Bentley’s Branden Komm in Atlantic Hockey.

Niagara University

The Purple Eagles opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Clarkson.

Niagara was one of Atlantic Hockey’s youngest teams last season and it showed as the Purple Eagles finished sixth in the conference. Now, with a more experienced team and only five players having graduated, the Niagara is poised to be a stronger contender for the Atlantic Hockey crown this season.

Although Niagara wasn’t a high scoring team last season, they did get great contributions throughout their forward lines. And while the losses of Ryan Rashid and Patrick Divjak are significant, the Purple Eagles return an excellent group up front that could be even better this season.

Junior Hugo Turcotte returns after an impressive sophomore campaign where he led Niagara with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists). The Laval, QC native was also one of only two players on the Purple Eagles’ roster last season that played in all 40 games. Turcotte isn’t big (5’9”, 165 lbs.), but he makes up for it with his motor and creativity.

Although Niagara’s defense will be predominantly young again this season, it is also shaping up to be one of their strengths this season. The Purple Eagles will need to fill the roles left by graduates Kevin Ryan and Matt Williams, however.

Among those patrolling Niagara’s blueline this season is sophomore Vince Muto. The Niagara Falls, NY native is coming off of a terrific freshman campaign where he led all Purple Eagles defensemen with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 37 games en route to earning a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team. Muto is a sturdy 6’1”, 200-pound rearguard who plays a simple yet very effective game. He was one of Niagara’s top four defensemen last season, logging upwards of 25 minutes per game playing in all situations, and that’s unlikely to change this season. This summer, Muto attended the Montreal Canadiens‘ prospect camp.

One area where the Purple Eagles should be better this season is in goal. With a year now under their belts, the sophomore tandem of Jackson Teichroeb and Adrian Ignagni return as experienced veterans. While the duo played remarkably well as freshmen last season, they will need to find some consistency to help propel Niagara up the Atlantic Hockey standings this season. Teichroeb, who saw most of the playing time, finished with a 9-14-3 record that included three shutouts in 29 games. Ignagni posted a 6-6-2 record that included one shutout in 17 games.

In addition to their returning veterans, the Purple Eagles will also feature seven newcomers on their roster. One to keep an eye on is center Derian Plouffe. The Shawville, QC native is noted for his tremendous scoring prowess, an attribute that should provide some added offensive depth for Niagara. Plouffe, who is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, is also the youngest player on the Purple Eagles roster this season.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

The Tigers opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus St. Lawrence.

RIT suffered through one of their worst seasons in recent memory in 2013-14 with a disappointing ninth-place finish in Atlantic Hockey. While the Tigers will have some issues to contend with in 2014-15, there is renewed optimism at RIT heading into the season.

One of the most pressing issues for the Tigers this season is replacing the offense that left with graduates Mike Colavecchia, Greg Noyes, Ben Lynch and Nolan Descoteaux. The quartet accounted for a combined 36 percent of the team’s offense last season.

The best news, however, is the return of senior captain Matt Grabowsky. The St. George, ON native missed significant time last season due to injury, with his absence having a tremendous impact on the team. Grabowsky played in only 13 games, finishing with seven points (two goals, five assists). Where Grabowsky’s return will significantly help the Tigers is on draws. Prior to his injury, Grabowsky had been one of RIT’s face-off specialists, winning over 50 percent of his draws.

Of the Tigers’ six freshmen this season, three are forwards. One to keep an eye on is center Mark Golberg. The Ottawa, ON native will be the youngest player on the RIT roster this season and is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. Golberg is noted for his scoring prowess and can help replenish the scoring lost by the aforementioned graduates.

The defense is shaping up to be RIT’s strongest position this season, despite having lost Noyes and Descoteaux, along with Eliot Raibl. Anchoring the Tigers’ defense this season is junior assistant captain Alexander Kuqali. The Pittsburgh, PA native is coming off of an outstanding sophomore campaign where he posted 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 36 games. Kuqali is a rugged, defensive defenseman who also has the ability to chip in goals.

One area where the Tigers will be looking for more consistency this season is in goal. RIT returns all of their goaltenders from last season in sophomore Mike Rotolo, senior Jordan Ruby and junior Ken McLean. Rotolo, who saw the bulk of the work last season, posted a 9-9-3 record that included two shutouts in 22 games. Ruby posted a 3-11-2 record that included one shutout in 17 games. McLean saw time in just one game in relief and did not earn a decision.

Sacred Heart University

The Pioneers opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at Army.

Last season, Sacred Heart made some great strides in their building process in Atlantic Hockey. The Pioneers, who had been Atlantic Hockey’s perennial cellar dwellers in past seasons, finished tenth in 2013-14 and look to be even better this season.

One reason for the expected improvement is the fact that the team will be more experienced in 2014-15. In addition, Sacred Heart returns nearly all of their key players from last season, having lost only six players.

A bright spot for the Pioneers this season is their much-improved offense. While Sacred Heart scored among the fewest goals nationally last season (82 total goals), they generated more offense throughout their lineup. And their offensive numbers should see a greater increase this season.

Leading the Pioneers offensive attack up front is sophomore Justin Danforth. The Oshawa, ON native was one of only two freshmen in Atlantic Hockey to lead his team in scoring last season. Danforth capped his sensational freshman campaign with 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 36 games en route to earning Atlantic Hockey’s Rookie of the Year honor. Danforth is a center who possesses great hands, playmaking ability and can make the players around him better.

Four of Sacred Heart’s five newcomers this season are forwards. One of those freshman worth watching is Alec Butcher. The Anchorage, AK native is noted for his high compete level, and his great offensive prowess should also help give the Pioneers some added scoring depth, as well.

Aside from the loss of graduate Neil Fachini, Sacred Heart returns their defensive corps intact this season, and it’s a position that is shaping up to be one of the team’s strengths this season. Anchoring the Pioneers blueline is senior captain Will Rayner. The Needham, MA native is coming off of an excellent junior campaign where he led Sacred Heart in defensive scoring with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 36 games. He also led the Pioneers with a +1 rating. Rayner is a mobile defenseman who possesses outstanding puck skills. He quarterbacked Sacred Heart’s power play last season, where five of his six goals were scored, and he will resume that role in 2014-15.

Another of the Pioneers’ strengths this season is in goal. Sacred Heart returns their top two netminders this season, including junior starter Alex Vazzano. The Trumbull, CT native was rock solid between the pipes last season, finishing with a 7-18-0 record that included one shutout in 28 appearances. While Vazzano posted a losing record, he actually played quite well, giving his team a chance to win in most games. At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Vazzano has good size and athleticism. This summer, he attended the Ottawa Senators’ prospect camp.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF