2015-16 Atlantic Hockey Preview: RIT looks to repeat, take next step toward national title

By DJ Powers
Alexander Kuqali - Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) - 2015-16 Atlantic Hockey Preview

Photo: Rochester Institute of Technology defenseman Alexander Kuqali and his teammates will attempt a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after winning the 2015 Atlantic Hockey Tournament (courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Atlantic Hockey is the only NCAA conference this season that does not have any prospects. Nevertheless, there are many players, including some that have attended NHL prospect camps this summer, that are well worth watching.

Robert Morris University won the regular season title in 2014-15, but RIT won the 2015 Atlantic Hockey Tournament with a 5-1 win over Mercyhurst. No Atlantic Hockey team advanced to the Frozen Four.

Below is a 2015-16 preview of the schools that make up Atlantic Hockey.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

The defending Atlantic Hockey Tournament champions opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th at Clarkson.

Last season, the Tigers came within one game of making it to their second Frozen Four in their second (D1) NCAA Tournament appearance. With much of the squad returning this season, RIT is again poised to make another run to the NCAA Tournament.

Heading into the season, the most pressing issue for the Tigers is replacing the goal scoring that left with All-American Matt Garbowsky and Brad McGowan. The duo accounted for 40 percent of RIT’s goals last season.

A player that the Tigers will be relying on is senior tri-captain Josh Mitchell. The Osoyoos, BC native led the team with 36 assists and finished second with 52 points in 40 games en route to earning a spot on the All-Atlantic Hockey Second Team. Mitchell has developed into a clutch scorer who is equally at home as a playmaker.

One of RIT’s strengths this season is their defensive corps led by senior tri-captain Alexander Kuqali. The Pittsburgh, PA native led all Tigers defensemen last season with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 40 games. Kuqali, along with sophomore Brady Norrish, comprised one of Atlantic Hockey’s best defensive pairings.

Despite Jordan Ruby having graduated, RIT look to have another strong group in goal. Junior Mike Rotolo returns after a solid sophomore campaign where he posted a 9-6-1 record that included one shutout in 17 appearances. The Rochester, NY native is expected to start this season.

In addition to the returning veterans, the Tigers welcome six newcomers. One to keep an eye on is Liam Kerins. The Caledon, ON native is a center noted for his scoring prowess and hands.

Air Force Academy

The Falcons opened their 2015-16 on Oct. 9th versus Denver.

Air Force tied for sixth in Atlantic Hockey last season. While the Falcons hope to make a strong push up the conference standings, they’ll have to contend with a challenge that was not expected to be there this season.

Goaltending was supposed to be a well-established area for Air Force. That all changed this past spring when the Falcons top two goaltenders, Chris Truehl and Connor Girard, left the program to transfer. Air Force will have three goaltenders this season in senior Chris Dylewski, and freshmen Shane Starrett and Billy Christopoulos. Dylewski did not play last season.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Falcons will be relying heavily on their young but very good defensive corps to solidify things on the back end. Anchoring the Falcons defense is junior Johnny Hrabovsky. The Hummelstown, PA native is the returning point producer among defensemen after posting 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 31 games. Hrabovsky was very solid at both ends of the ice for Air Force despite missing time due to injury last season.

Sophomore A.J. Reid returns as Air Force’s top scorer and leads a very good group up front after posting 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games last season. The Lakeville, MN native was especially dangerous on the Falcons power play where six of his 10 goals were scored.

The Falcons welcome one of the largest incoming classes in the NCAA this season. Of the 12 newcomers, one to keep an eye on is right wing Matt Serratore. The Bemidji, MN native is the nephew of head coach Frank Serratore and the son of Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. The younger Serratore is noted for his hockey sense and strong two-way play.

American International College (AIC)

The Yellow Jackets opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 10th at New Hampshire.

AIC returns many of their top players from last season, but they will have to address some issues to successfully contend for the Atlantic Hockey title.

For the Yellow Jackets, it all begins with getting more consistency and improvement in goal. AIC returns all of their goaltenders in junior Hunter Leisner, and sophomores Alex Murray and Jacob Caffrey. While Leisner could potentially be the starter, Murray and Caffrey will certainly challenge for the job.

While question marks linger in goal, the Yellow Jackets defensive corps could be a different story. The defense is shaping up to be very good, but they will also be younger. Anchoring AIC’s defense this season is junior co-captain Dominic Racobaldo. The Pennsauken, NJ native posted three points (one goal, two assists) in 36 games. Racobaldo is a shutdown defenseman who is also a key component of the Yellow Jackets penalty-killing unit.

While offense will be AIC’s greatest strength this season, the team will also be looking to get added scoring throughout their lineup. Leading the Yellow Jackets offensive attack is junior assistant captain Austin Orszulak. The Springfield, MA native led the team with 22 goals and co-led with 35 points playing in all 36 games. His 22 goals also set a new single-season school record.

AIC welcomes eight newcomers this season. One player well worth a look is towering center Marc Dubeau. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, the St. Lina, AB native will be the biggest player on the Yellow Jackets roster. Dubeau is noted for having some nice hands and his ability to effectively utilize his large frame in offensive situations.

Army

The Black Knights open their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Boston College.

Despite finishing ninth in the conference, Army began to make some great strides last season that should serve them well heading into this season as they make a push up the conference standings.

One notable area was the Black Knights improved offense, which averaged roughly two goals per game. While Army isn’t a prolific scoring team, they did get some great offensive production from their freshmen. The group collectively accounted for nearly half of the team’s scoring and has added some much-needed scoring depth.

Leading the now-sophomores is assistant captain Tyler Pham. The Fort Collins, CO native enjoyed a sensational freshman campaign that culminated with being named the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year. Pham led the Black Knights with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 32 games. What he lacks in size (5’9”, 180 lbs.), Pham makes up for with his great hands and smart play.

Senior co-captain Christian Pomarico anchors the rock solid Black Knights defense this season. The Simsbury, CT native posted a goal and an assist in 31 games last season. Pomarico is a 6’1”, 190-pound defensive defenseman who brings some intensity to his game.

One of Army’s strengths this season will be their goaltending. The Black Knights return their top two netminders, including junior starter Parker Gahagen. The Buffalo, NY native posted a 6-15-3 record that included one shutout in 25 appearances last season. He also posted a respectable .913 save percentage.

Army also welcomes eight other newcomers this season. One to keep an eye on is towering defenseman Ian Murdoch. The Western Springs, IL native has an enormous frame (6’5”, 186 lbs.) that will certainly need to fill out, with Murdoch being noted for his hard shot.

Bentley University

The Falcons opened their 2015-16 season on Oct. 9th versus Mercyhurst.

After tying for third in the conference last season, Bentley is poised to make a strong push for the Atlantic Hockey crown this season. The Falcons return nearly all of their top players.

The biggest loss was that of graduate Steve Weinstein. The Los Angeles, CA native was the team’s top scoring defenseman and a mainstay on the power play.

A player that could fill Weinstein’s role is senior Matt Blomquist. The Blaine, MN native tied for second on the team in defensive scoring last season with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 29 games.

One of the most pleasant surprises on the Falcons roster last year was sophomore goaltender Jayson Argue, who is likely to start the new season. The Swan River, MB native was stellar between the pipes, posting an 8-7-4 record that included one shutout in 20 games en route to earning a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team. His .934 save percentage ranked fourth nationally.

Offense has been Bentley’s greatest strength in recent years, and it is no different this season. The Falcons return nearly all of their top scorers, including senior Andrew Gladiuk. The White Rock, BC native led the team with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 37 games and earned a spot on the All-Atlantic Hockey First Team. Gladiuk, Bentley’s offensive catalyst, was especially dangerous on the power play where seven of his 20 goals were scored.

In addition to the returning veterans, the Falcons welcome nine newcomers. One player to watch is defenseman Andy Chugg. The Mesa, AZ native is a converted forward that will add some size (6’4”, 195 lbs.) and toughness to Bentley’s blueline.

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