Atlantic Hockey is the only conference without any NHL-drafted players this season. Same holds true for the NCAA‘s lone independent member, Alabama-Huntsville. And while these 13 teams may not have any prospects on their rosters, it doesn’t mean that NHL teams aren’t keeping a close watch on them. There are a number of players throughout the conference (as well as from Alabama-Huntsville) that will be well worth a look this season.
University of Alabama-Huntsville
The Chargers will open their 2011-12 season on October 1st hosting Lake Superior State. Alabama-Huntsville is the host school for the 2012 Frozen Four, which takes place on April 5th and 7th at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FLA.
Alabama-Huntsville comes into this season needing to address several areas. The Chargers posted just four wins last season, which tied them for fewest in the nation. However, three of their four wins came against formidable opponents in Ferris State, Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha. Alabama-Huntsville also posted ties versus Michigan State and Cornell.
One of their most pressing needs coming into the 2011-12 campaign is increasing offensive production. The Chargers averaged just 1.91 goals per game last season and their 61 total goals were the fewest in the nation. To make matters worse, Alabama-Huntsville lost two of their three top scorers from last season in Matt Baxter and Keenan Desmet.
Senior Jamie Easton returns as the Chargers’ top scorer this season. The Edmonton, AB native finished second on the team with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) playing in all 32 games last season. Easton is a small (5’8, 170lbs) playmaking center with really nice hands. He excelled on faceoffs last season and is versatile in that he can play at either center or wing.
With an experienced group of blueliners, an area that should see some improvement this season for Alabama-Huntsville is on the defensive side. The Chargers defense struggled mightily last season, giving up an average of 4.03 goals per game. Senior Tom Durnie defenseman and sophomore goaltender Clarke Saunders lead the group that hopes to better the team’s defensive numbers this season.
The biggest issue looming on the horizon for Alabama-Huntsville is the state of the program itself. With the drastically changing college hockey landscape coming in 2013 and no conference to call home, the Chargers program is facing the real possibility of folding. There is currently a massive grassroots effort underway in Huntsville to try and save the program. Since joining the D-I ranks permanently in 1999, Alabama-Huntsville has enjoyed some great success. The Chargers have made two NCAA tournament appearances and have had two players. Jared Ross and Cam Talbot (NYR) sign with NHL teams.
Air Force Academy
The defending Atlantic Hockey Tournament champions will look to make their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2011-12 campaign on October 7th facing off against host North Dakota in the Icebreaker Tournament.
Air Force possessed one of the nation’s most potent offenses last season, averaging 3.61 goals per game, and led all Atlantic Hockey teams with 137 goals. Equally impressive was the Falcons power play, which ranked fifth in the nation at 24 percent. Despite graduating their top two scorers in Jacques Lamoureux and Derrick Burnett, the Falcons will have great offensive depth once again this season. Junior Kyle DeLaurell returns as the team’s top scorer. The Mission Viejo, CA native finished third on the Air Force roster last season with 33 points (ten goals, 23 assists) in 31 games.
An area where the Falcons will need to improve this season is their penalty kill. Air Force had a dismal 77.1 percent efficiency rating in shorthanded situations last season. Interestingly, the Falcons were also the nation’s least penalized team, averaging just 8.9 minutes per game.
The Falcons will also be quite deep on defense this season as well. Senior Scott Mathis leads Air Force’s talented blue line corps. He finished his junior campaign second in conference scoring among defensemen with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 27 conference games. Overall, Mathis finished with 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 38 games and earned a spot on the All-Atlantic Hockey first team. He has become one of Atlantic Hockey’s best and most reliable rearguards. The Crystal Lake, Ill native averages upwards of 20-25 minutes of ice time per game. And that’s not likely to change much this season. Mathis is an excellent puck-moving defenseman with great hands that is equally effective at both ends of the ice.
Sophomore Jason Torf returns as Air Force’s top goaltender. After a slow start last season, Torf really picked up his game and was rock solid in the second half. The Hermosa Beach, CA native posted a 16-9-4 record that included two shutouts en route to earning a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team. One of Torf’s most memorable performances came in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament Championship versus RIT. He stopped 39 shots to guide the Falcons to a 1-0 overtime win in what was one of college hockey’s best post-season games last season.
In addition to their returning players, Air Force welcomes eight newcomers that will be looking to make their marks as well.
American International College
The Yellowjackets open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Michigan Tech.
Despite another year of finishing in the Atlantic Hockey basement, American International did make some significant strides last season.
The two biggest areas where the Yellowjackets improved were in their overall offensive production and their power play. American International averaged 2.58 goals per game, which ranked 36th in the nation, while their power play finished 30th with a 17.7 percent efficiency rating. Those numbers should continue to improve this season with the return of all of their top players. However, the team will need to get more offensive production from players other than junior Adam Pleskach, and seniors Neilsson Arcibal and Michael Penny if they are to make a strong push up the Atlantic Hockey standings. Pleskach, Arcibal and Penny, who made up American International’s outstanding top line last season, accounted for 32 percent of the team’s scoring. All three players also finished the season with 20 or more points.
While the Yellowjackets have improved their offensive numbers, their defensive numbers continue to be a concern. Last season, American International ranked 56th in the nation with a defense that surrendered an average of 4.24 goals per game. They also allowed a conference-high 140 goals as well.
Junior Chris Markiewicz, who will serve as one of the team’s alternate captains this season, leads the predominately experienced Yellowjackets defensive corps that should help better AIC’s defensive numbers. The Calgary, AB native posted 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) playing in all 33 games last season.
Junior goaltender Ben Meisner returns as the main man in the Yellowjackets net. The Halifax, NS native was rock solid and kept his team in games throughout 2010-11, despite a 7-17-1 record in 27 outings. Meisner is small (5’10"/162 lbs.) with very good reflexes and rebound control. In the game versus Minnesota State-Mankato back on Jan. 7, Meisner turned in a sensational 51-save performance in the 0-1 loss. The lone goal he surrendered came on the power play.
In addition to their returning group, AIC also brings in eight newcomers that include power forward Jason Popek. At 6’3"/205 lbs, Popek will add some much-needed size and muscle to the Yellowjackets’ forward lines this season.
U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
The Black Knights open their 2011-12 season on Oct. 8 hosting Union College.
Army has traditionally been a strong, in-your-face type of defensive team and nowhere was that more evident last season than on their penalty kill. The Black Knights sported the nation’s third-best penalty-killing unit with an efficiency rating of 87.2 percent. It should be solid once again this season, especially if they can improve their overall defensive numbers from last season. Army ranked 45th in the nation with a defense that allowed an average of 3.29 goals per game.
The Black Knights return of much of their outstanding defensive corps intact, led by senior Marcel Alvarez. The Cleveland, OH native led Army in defenseman scoring last season with 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) playing in all 35 games. Alvarez was particularly good on the Black Knights power play, where three of his four goals were scored.
While the Black Knights defense looks very good coming into this season, improving their offensive production is their most pressing concern. Army averaged just 2.46 goals per game last season, which ranked 44th in the nation.
The team returns many of their top offensive players, but top goal-scorer and All-Atlantic Hockey Third team selection Cody Omilusik isn’t one of them. The Traverse City, MI native, who has graduated, led Army with 18 goals and co-led the team with 31 points in 35 games last season. He was also the lone player on the team that posted ten or more goals as well.
One returning forward that should help boost the Black Knights’ offensive numbers this season is senior Mike Hull. The Grosse Pointe Woods, MI native finished third on the team last season with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 32 contests. Hull is an outstanding two-way centerman that was also one of Army’s top players on face-offs last season as well.
With Jay Clark having graduated, junior Ryan Leets returns as the Black Knights’ top netminder. The Kentwood, MI native platooned in goal with Clark last season. Leets appeared in 15 games, posting a 4-8-3 record that included a .916 save percentage.
Army welcomes seven newcomers this season, including Mac Lalor. Lalor, the son of former NHLer Mike Lalor, is a 6’0, 180lbs stay-at-home defenseman that will add some good depth to Army’s blue line this season.
The Falcons open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Michigan.
Inconsistency and lack of offensive production played big parts in Bentley’s demise last season. This season, the Falcons will look to change that, but will do so without some key players.
Two of Bentley’s biggest losses were graduates Erik Peterson and Dustin Cloutier. The duo comprised two-thirds of the Falcons’ top line from last season and accounted for 22 percent of the team’s offense. The lone returning member of the top line is sophomore Brett Gensler. The St. Charles, MO native led Bentley with 13 goals and finished with 24 points in 33 games. Gensler is a player that is well worth watching this season. He’s a small (5’9, 169lbs) winger that uses his speed very effectively and has developed a knack for scoring timely goals.
Gensler is also the lone returning player that posted ten or more goals and 20 or more points. And with just 86 total goals scored from last season, boosting their offensive production throughout their lineup will be vital to Bentley’s success this season. Their 86 goals were among the fewest in the conference.
Freshman Alex Grieve, one of Bentley’s six newcomers this season, will be among those that the team will look to for some added offensive production. The 6’1, 195lbs center from Calgary, AB plays well in difficult areas and is very good on draws. Grieve will also bring some much-needed grit and size to the Falcons forward lines as well.
Bentley returns their blue line nearly intact, which should also help boost their sagging defensive numbers of last season. The Falcons gave up an average of 3.44 goals per game, which ranked 49th nationally.
With stalwart Joe Calvi having graduated, Bentley will have three netminders battling for the starting job in returning senior Kyle Rank, sophomore Branden Komm, and newcomer Blake Dougherty. Rank, who split time with Calvi last season, appeared in 13 games, posting a 4-5-2 record. Komm appeared in seven games and posted a 1-5-1 record.
The Falcons special teams play was a tale of two different looking specialty teams last season. Bentley struggled mightily on the power play, which posted a dismal 8.4 percent efficiency rating. The team’s 13 power play tallies were also the fewest in Atlantic Hockey. On the flip side, the Falcons’ penalty killing, which was one of their strengths last season, clicked at 83.1 percent.
The Golden Griffins open their 2011-12 season on October 15th at Quinnipiac.
With a 12-member incoming class, Canisius will be a very young and a very different looking team this season.
Last season, the Golden Griffins featured one of Atlantic Hockey’s most dynamic offensive duos in Cory Conacher and Vincent Scarsella. While the two didn’t play regularly on the same line, both were driving forces behind Canisius’ stellar offense. Conacher and Scarsella finished first and second respectively in scoring. The duo accounted for 26 percent of Canisius’ offensive production last season. Conacher and Scarsella, who have graduated and signed pro contracts this offseason with Norfolk (AHL) and Elmira (ECHL) respectively, leave two very big holes that the Golden Griffins will try to fill this season.
Sophomore rearguard Ben Danford returns as Canisius’ top scorer this season. The Stillwater, MN native led the Golden Griffins in both defenseman and rookie scoring last season with 26 points (two goals, 24 assists). Danford is an offensive defenseman that skates and moves the puck really well.
Junior Scott Moser leads the Golden Griffins offensive attack this season. The Tonawanda, NY native played in all 38 games last season, posting 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). Moser is an excellent defensive forward that’s gritty and excels on the penalty kill. He is also one of Canisius’ top shot-blockers too.
The biggest area that Canisius will need to address this season is their defense. The team ranked 52nd in the nation last season with a defense that allowed an average of 3.55 goals per game. Getting better defensive support for the returning goaltending tandem of senior Dan Morrison and sophomore Tony Campobianco would go a long way to bettering the team’s defensive numbers.
Among the team’s large freshman class, one player to keep an eye on is center Mitch McCrank. Prior to committing to Canisius, McCrank got a lot of recruiting interest from a number of NCAA teams as well as the OHL. He’s small (5’10, 175lbs), slick and has really good hands. A July, 1993-born player, McCrank will also be one of, if not the youngest player in Atlantic Hockey this season as well.
One deficiency from last season that Canisius did remedy with their incoming class was the need for more size, particularly on defense.
University of Connecticut
The Huskies open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Bowling Green.
After a ninth-place finish in the conference standings two seasons ago, UConn made some significant improvements last season that enabled them to finish sixth. This season, the Huskies are hoping to continue their upward trend.
One area where UConn really improved was in their offensive production. The Huskies averaged 3.08 goals per game, which ranked 24th in the nation. While UConn is not an offensively deep team, they did an outstanding job of getting scoring by committee last season.
The Huskies lost several very good forwards to graduation, but do return their top three scorers this season, including sophomore Cole Schneider. The Williamsville, NY native led UConn in scoring last season with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) playing in all 37 games on UConn’s excellent top line alongside returning junior Sean Ambrosie and sophomore Brant Harris. His 32 points set a new school record in the team’s D-I era for points by a freshman. Schneider was the only rookie in the conference to lead his team in scoring. His stellar freshman campaign earned him a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team. Schneider is a forward with good size (6’2, 185lbs) that can make things happen when he’s on the ice. He has the ability to finish plays as well as set them up. Schneider isn’t blazingly fast, but he does possess good speed.
One of the Huskies strengths last season, and looks to be again this season is in goal. Returning junior Garrett Bartus was superb between the pipes. The St. Charles, Ill native posted a 14-15-4 record that included a .906 save percentage last season. While Bartus was able to keep his team in games on many nights, the lack of consistent defensive support didn’t help his cause. This was particularly evident in the team’s 53rd-ranked defensive numbers. UConn gave up an average of 3.59 goals last season.
With a solid defensive nucleus returning and the addition of four promising newcomers, the Huskies defense should be better this season. Redshirted senior Chris Waterstradt leads the group. Although the Tulsa, OK native was limited to just 25 games last season, he was dependable and was sound in his positional play.
One area where UConn will need to improve this season is the number of shorthanded goals allowed. The eight shorthanded tallies that the Huskies allowed last season were the most of any conference team.
College of the Holy Cross
The Crusaders open their 2011-12 season on Oct. 12 at Quinnipiac.
Holy Cross is coming off of a fantastic, third-place finish that saw them go 10-2-3 in their final 15 games last season. One of the keys to the Crusaders’ success last season was their lethal offense. Holy Cross averaged 3.37 goals per game, which ranked tied for 13th in the nation. And where they were especially dangerous was on the power play. The Crusaders sported the nation’s fourth-best power play that clicked at 24.1 percent.
As good as those numbers were last season, they may be even better this season. With the exception of graduated top goal-scorer Everett Sheen, Holy Cross returns nearly all of their top offensive players.
Junior Kyle Fletcher leads the Crusaders offensive attack this season The Kanata, ONT native led the team with 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 37 games last season. Fletcher was also Holy Cross’ top player on faceoffs, winning nearly 60 percent of draws.
With a returning veteran group on the blue line, Holy Cross should see an improvement in their defensive numbers as well. Senior Matt Clune leads the Crusaders defense this season. The Toronto, ONT native appeared in 30 games last season, posting 13 points (six goals, seven assists). His six goals led all defensemen and he also led the team with a plus-18.
The biggest concern for the Crusaders heading into this season is in goal. Last season’s starting netminder Adam Roy has graduated. The two returning goaltenders in junior Thomas Tysowsky and sophomore Derek Kump, who played in a combined 19 games last season will be battling newcomer Matt Ginn for the Crusaders’ starting job.
Ginn is part of a small but stellar incoming class for Holy Cross that is certain to make impact.
"We’re excited about these guys, but they’re going to have fight for playing time" Crusaders head coach Paul Pearl said of his freshmen. "Ginn is a good puck-stopper and moves the puck real well. Defenseman Nilan Nagy is a tough kid back there that can really defend. Mike McNamara is a very skilled wing/centerman that sees the ice really well. Tommy Dwyer is a 6’2 kid that can skate, has surprisingly good hands and hopefully become the prototypical power forward as he fills out and gets stronger. Jake Youso is a high-energy kid that has a good shot and can finish."
The Lakers open their 2011-12 season on October 7th facing off against host Nebraska-Omaha in the Mutual of Omaha Stampede.
The 2010-11 season and the off-season that followed proved to be a tumultuous one for Mercyhurst. Having lost nearly half of last season’s team, the Lakers will have a lot of holes to fill this season.
The Lakers were one of the most prolific offensive teams in all of college hockey last season, averaging 3.54 goals per game. The 137 goals the team scored were second only to Air Force in Atlantic Hockey. Finding that kind of offensive production this season will be one of several areas that Mercyhurst will need to address with eight of the team’s top 11 point producers having departed. Those eight players accounted for a whopping 57 percent of the Lakers scoring last season.
In addition to graduating a number of key players from last season’s squad, Mercyhurst also lost a superb trio of non-graduates in forwards Phil Ginand and Taylor Holstrom, and defenseman Nate Jensen. Ginand opted to forego his final year to sign with the AHL‘s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Holstrom and Jensen have both transferred to Penn State, which makes its D-I debut in the fall of 2013. Holstrom was named Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year and joined Jensen on the conference’s All-Rookie team.
Mercyhurst’s top returning scorer is junior Paul Chiasson. The Toronto, ONT native finished second on the team with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 37 games as a sophomore. Chiasson played right wing on Mercyhurst’s lethal top line that included now-departed players Scott Pitt and Taylor Holstrom. Chiasson isn’t big (5’11, 195lbs), but he has some nice hands and can finish plays.
Goaltending is another area of concern for the Lakers coming into this season. Starter Ryan Zapolski has graduated after appearing in 31 of the team’s 37 games last season. Senior Max Strang, who saw just 185:46 minutes of playing time last season, could be named the starter this season, but he will get competition for the job from two newcomers in Jimmy Sarjeant and Jake Williams.
Defense looks to be Mercyhurst’s strongest position coming into season, despite the losses of Jensen and graduate Jeff Terminesi. Senior Patrick Goebel leads the defensive corps this season. The Independence, OH native posted six points (one goal, five assists) in an injury-shortened season that limited him to 28 games.
The Purple Eagles open their 2011-12 season on October 4th at Michigan.
Last season, Niagara was one of the nation’s top offensive teams. The Purple Eagles averaged 3.54 goals per game, which ranked eighth nationally. Equally impressive was their power play, which ranked 12th at 22.4 percent.
Niagara featured one of the most prolific and dynamic top lines in all of college hockey last season that was comprised of then-senior wingers Paul Zanette and Bryan Haczyk, and sophomore centerman Giancarlo Iuorio. The trio posted a combined 133 points in 2010-11, which ranked fourth in the nation among all forward lines. Zanette, the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year, finished sixth in the nation in scoring with 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 35 games. His 29 goals led Atlantic Hockey and ranked third nationally. Zanette was the lone conference player to be named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and an All-American. At season’s end, he signed with the AHL‘s Rockford Ice Hogs.
With the departure of Zanette and Haczyk, Niagara will be looking to their returning players as well as newcomers to replace their point production this season. One player to watch is sophomore power forward Scott Arnold. The Pointe-Claire, Quebec native is Niagara’s top returning goal-scorer after posting 16 last season. He finished with 22 points in 34 games. Arnold was part of Niagara’s outstanding all-freshman line that also included Patrick Divjak and Ryan Rashid. Head coach Dave Burkholder intends to start the season with the line intact. Arnold, who attended two NHL prospects camps this summer, is already generating quite a bit of buzz in the scouting community.
"We’re hoping that Scott builds off on his offensive numbers from last year," said Burkholder. "He is the prototypical power forward that can really overwhelm goalies with his shot. He’s got a real heavy shot, that’s obviously accurate. Scott went to the New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames summer development camps, which I think is going to go a long way for his development and really just his confidence."
One area where the Purple Eagles should be able to improve this season is their defense. Junior C.J. Chartrain returns as the Purple Eagles top scoring defenseman. He posted 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 34 games last season.
Sophomore Cody Campbell returns as the potential starter in goal this season. The Colorado Springs, CO native came to Niagara in January and gave the Purple Eagles some rock solid goaltending in the second half of 2010-11. He appeared in 12 games, posting a 4-6-1 record.
Robert Morris University
The Colonials open their 2011-12 season on October 7th versus Colgate in the Mutual of Omaha Stampede.
Robert Morris was one of the best defensive teams coming out of Atlantic Hockey last season and it isn’t likely to change much this season. The Colonials allowed an average of 2.77 goals per game. They were particularly stingy in conference play, allowing just 97 total goals.
The key component behind Robert Morris’ stellar defense was goaltender Brooks Ostergard. He appeared in 26 games last season, posting a 14-9-2 record. His .915 save percentage ranked 27th in the nation.
Robert Morris lost stalwart Brock Meadows and one of the nation’s top scoring defenseman in Denny Urban to graduation, but they return an excellent defensive corps that will continue to make the Colonials a dominant defensive team.
One player to watch is Andrew Blazek. He was partnered with Urban for much of last season as part of Robert Morris’ top defensive pairing. The Pittsburgh, PA native posted seven points (two goals, seven assists) in 30 games. This past summer, Blazek attended the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects camp. Head coach Derek Schooley notes that the experience of attending the camp has had a positive effect on his young defenseman.
"Andrew just converted to defense in the middle of his freshman year. He skates really well for a big guy (6’1, 190lbs). He’s got a very good shot and makes good outlet passes. I think one of the things that he’s had learn at this level is when to go and not to go because he skates so well. When he attended the Pittsburgh Penguins camp this summer, he got some extra coaching and some extra reps at a higher level. I think that’s helped him. Andrew came back in better shape and I think he learned a little bit of what it’s like to be a professional hockey player. I’m looking forward to Andrew having a good year and taking another step this season."
The team’s main concern heading into this season will be in replacing the offense that left with graduates Urban and Nathan Longpre. Longpre led RMU with 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 33 games last season. Urban finished third in the nation in defenseman scoring with 40 points (eight goals, 32 assists) playing in all 35 games. His 32 assists led all defensemen nationally.
Leading the Colonials offense this season is senior captain Trevor Lewis. He posted 16 points (ten goals, six assists) in 35 contests last season. "Trevor is going to bring some energy, speed and offensive ability. We’re expecting a lot of guys to take steps forward in their production and Trevor is definitely one of them," said Schooley.
Rochester Institute of Technology
The defending Atlantic Hockey regular season champions will look to defend their crown when they open their 2011-12 season on October 8th hosting Niagara.
Balance, depth and sensational goaltending were keys to RIT’s success in 2010-11. And as good as the Tigers were last season, they could potentially be even better this season.
RIT lost only five players from last season – four to graduation and one to early departure. The latter may be their most significant loss of all. Tyler Brenner was one of, if not the conference’s best power forward last season. He led RIT with 26 goals and finished second on the team with 41 points in 37 games. Brenner opted to forego his final year to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As good as RIT was offensively, they were equally as good defensively. The Tigers allowed an average of 2.61 goals per game, which ranked 19th nationally. The 99 total goals allowed were the second fewest in Atlantic Hockey. The Tigers also ranked 19th nationally on the penalty kill, with an efficiency rating of 83.6 percent.
RIT’s solid defensive numbers can be largely attributed to the stellar goaltending of Shane Madolora. Few netminders were as good (or as hot) as Madolora was last season. The Salinas, CA native finished with a 17-3-7 record that included a nation-tying six shutouts. Madolora also led the nation with a .935 save percentage. All three of his losses came in the final four weeks of the Tigers’ 2010-11 season.
While Madolora could potentially be named the team’s starting netminder this season, he will get some serious competition from highly-touted newcomer Jordan Ruby.
"We’ve always had a very competitive situation in goal here, and I think it’ll be the same this season," said head coach Wayne Wilson. "Jordan is competitive. He’s a very calm goalie that stays very square to the puck. Jordan is kind of a student of the game because he just wants to learn more and more. He looks bigger than his 6’1′" body and fills the net very well. So we’re excited about his potential."
One of RIT’s strengths coming into this season will be their blue line. Among those leading the Tigers defensive corps is junior Chris Saracino. He led RIT in defensemen scoring last season with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) and led Atlantic Hockey with a plus-26.
"Chris is a warrior because he’s very determined and plays with some grit. He just kept getting better and last year he came to the forefront for us. He can help us offensively and defensively. Chris is one of our tri-captains, so we’re really excited about what he is going to bring to the table," said Wilson.
Sacred Heart University
The Pioneers open their 2011-12 season on October 7th at Minnesota.
Sacred Heart is coming off of a 2010-11 campaign that saw them win just six games – the fewest in Atlantic Hockey. To make matters worse, they also lost some of their top players this offseason as well. None were perhaps bigger than that of defenseman R.J. Boyd (FLA). Boyd was the lone NHL prospect playing in Atlantic Hockey last season. He left Sacred Heart midway through the season to return to USHL. He has since opted to transfer to Michigan State and will join the Spartans next fall.
In addition to losing Boyd, the Pioneers also graduated three of their top six point producers in Patrick Knowlton, David Berube and Evan Mladenoff.
The good news for Sacred Heart heading into this season is that they return their top two scorers in sophomore Eric DeLong and senior Matt Gingera. The two co-led the Pioneers with 30 points apiece. DeLong, one of only three players to play in all 37 games last season, led Sacred Heart with 21 assists. Gingera led the team with 21 goals and appeared in 32 games. The two, along with sophomore Torin Snyderman, comprised a very good top line for Sacred Heart last season and are expected to lead the offense this season. Of the three players, the one to keep an eye on is Gingera. The Winnipeg, MB native is very good in traffic and really excels around the net. He’s small, slick (5’10, 175lbs) and moves the puck well.
The two areas of concern for the Pioneers coming into the 2011-12 season are their defense and special teams. Sacred Heart allowed an average of 4.68 goals per game last season and the 173 total goals that they surrendered were the most in the NCAA. Equally as dismal were the Pioneers’ special teams, particularly penalty-killing. Sacred Heart ranked last in the nation with a 70.6 percent efficiency in shorthanded situations. The Pioneers power play didn’t fare much better. The team ranked 52nd in the nation with a 13.4 percent efficiency rating on the man-advantage.
Injuries and a lack of consistent goaltending contributed to Sacred Heart’s poor defensive numbers. But those numbers should improve this season with a healthier team and lots of veterans returning.
In goal, junior Steven Legatto, who played most of the games last season, will be battling sophomore Chris Paliafito and newcomer Andrew Bodnarchuk for the starting job this season. Legatto appeared in 30 games, posting a 3-20-5 record. Paliafito did not play in any games last season. If Sacred Heart expects to battle for conference supremacy, consistent goaltending will be vital.
In addition to their returning defensive corps, the Pioneers also bring in two experienced, transfer defensemen that will bolster their blue line in Will Rayner and Jordan Ciccarello. Rayner is a transfer from UMass-Lowell and Ciccarello is a transfer from Clarkson.