NCAA season preview – Atlantic Hockey

By DJ Powers





ATLANTIC HOCKEY

Key departures, a crop of talented and exciting newcomers,
coaching changes galore and the debut of Division I Hockey’s newest member
highlight the start of the 2004-05 NCAA season.

 

This season is sure to have something for just about every
NCAA hockey fan and more than a few surprises in what is shaping up to be
another exciting year in the wonderful world of college hockey. The 2004
National Championship runner-up Maine Black Bears and the Vermont Catamounts
will officially drop the puck on the 2004-05 regular season at the Gutterson
Fieldhouse in Burlington, VT on October 3rd. Five outstanding
tournaments (The Icebreaker, Lefty McFadden, Maverick Stampede, Nye Frontier
Classic and the Q-Cup) as well as the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game are also
featured early in the season.

 

For those keeping score at home, 211 current NHL prospects
representing 41 schools will be playing in the NCAA during the 2004-05 season.
The University of Michigan has the most NHL prospects on their current roster
with 13, followed by Boston University and the University of Wisconsin with 12
each. Of the 30 NHL franchises, the New York Rangers have the most prospects
playing in the NCAA this season with 14, followed by the Atlanta Thrashers,
Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks all with 12 apiece. Amongst the
Canadian-based NHL teams, the Ottawa Senators have the most NCAA prospects
playing this season with nine.

 

In this multi-part season preview, Hockey’s Future will take
a look at all NCAA teams. Part 1 will cover the Atlantic Hockey Conference. The
other parts will take a look at each of the other five conferences (CCHA, CHA,
ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA) individually.

 

 

ATLANTIC HOCKEY

 

College of the Holy Cross

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The reigning Atlantic Hockey Champion Crusaders will open
their 2004-05 regular season on October 15th when they travel to the
Von Braun Ice Center for a weekend series versus non-conference host
Alabama-Huntsville.

 

After a 2002-03 season that saw the untimely deaths of two
of its players, Holy Cross enjoyed perhaps its best season in school history in
2003-04 that saw them earn their first ever trip to the Frozen Four Tournament.
Despite the 3-0 loss to top-seeded WCHA powerhouse North Dakota in the West
Regional Semi-Finals, the Crusaders showed the college hockey community just
how far they’ve come and the bright future that awaits them.

 

The biggest key to Holy Cross’ success last season was the
phenomenal play of junior starting goaltender Tony Quesada. Quesada finished the 2003-04 season ranked tied for
sixth in the nation in save percentage (.925) and tied for 11th in
goals against average (2.23). He also finished the season sixth in the nation
in the category of winning percentage (.720) and helped Holy Cross to become
one of the best defensive teams in the nation last season. Quesada’s
outstanding play combined with a very good group of quality blueliners made for
a relatively stingy defense that allowed an average of 2.47 goals per game
which ranked them 10th in the nation. Quesada and the Crusaders will be tested
this season, as the defense corps will suddenly be a lot younger. Of the eight
defensemen expected to suit up for Holy Cross this season, only senior Tony Coskren and junior Marc Bianchi are upperclassmen.

 

The Crusaders lost a total of five key players due to
graduation. Three ranked amongst their top six scorers from last season in Jeff Dams, Greg Kealey, and Tim Coskren.
Offensive production isn’t likely to be a problem for Holy Cross this season,
despite the losses. Junior Pierre
Napert-Frenette
and senior Andrew
McKay
along with speedy sophomore James
Sixsmith
will lead the Crusaders offensive attack this season.
Napert-Frenette is the top returning scorer. He amassed 33 points (16 goals, 17
assists) last season. His 16 goals also led the team in that category. Sixsmith
was an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team selection last season. He led all Holy
Cross rookies in scoring with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists). In addition, he
ranked ninth in the nation among all rookies in points per game (0.88) last
season. Holy Cross will also get some scoring depth from their large incoming
freshman class. Seven of the Crusaders newcomers are forwards, including Tabor
Academy standout Brian Kolb.

 

American International College

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The
Yellowjackets will open their 2004-05 regular season on October 15th
when they travel to the Northford Ice Pavilion to face off against conference
rival and host Quinnipiac in the annual Q-Cup Tournament. After finishing at
the bottom of the Atlantic Hockey conference last season, AIC will be looking
to have a better go of it this year and to fix the problems that plagued the
team in 2003-04.

 

The most pressing issue for the Yellowjackets coming into
the season is offensive production. Last year, the Yellowjackets’ team offense
averaged a miniscule 2.00 goals per game. Only Princeton and Lake Superior
State had worse numbers in that category. Compounding the problem is the loss
of last season’s top scorer Guillaume
Caron
, due to graduation. To help remedy the offensive woes, AIC will welcome a large incoming freshman class that
brings scoring capability, led by Greg
Genovese
and Mark Fuqua.

Genovese comes to AIC from the Sarnia Blast (WOJHL), where he amassed 55 points
(25 goals, 33 assists). Fuqua comes to AIC from the Pomfret School in
Connecticut, where he amassed 54 points (28 goals, 26 assists). In addition,
the Yellowjackets will return two of their top three goal scorers in juniors Andy Walbert and C. J. McConnell. Walbert finished second on the team in scoring
with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists). McConnell finished third with 20 points
(12 goals, eight assists).

 

Another issue that AIC will have to contend with for another
season is a very young defensive corps. The Yellowjackets graduated Jay Fennessy, their only senior
defenseman last year. Furthermore, Preston
Cicchine
and Chris Pisano are
the only blueline upperclassmen on the roster this season and both are juniors.
With the continued defensive youth movement, AIC will be relying heavily on the
returning goaltending tandem of seniors Frank
Novello
and Chad Davis. Novello,
despite a horrendous 4-12-3 record, put up very good numbers in the save
percentage category (.921) last season.

 

 

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point [Army]

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Black Knights will open their 102nd regular
season on October 16th when they travel to the Milford Ice Pavilion
to take on conference rival and host Sacred Heart. There are two annual matches
of note on the Army schedule that are well worth watching. The first comes on
the weekend of January 14th when the Black Knights travel to Cadet
Ice Arena to take on host Air Force in the annual military grudge match. The
second, on February 5th, will see the Black Knights host their
Canadian military counterparts from the Royal Military College in the 74th
annual and consecutive meeting of the match dubbed the “oldest, continuous
international rivalry in sports”.

 

The biggest change to the team this offseason came behind
the Black Knights bench. After 18 seasons at the helm, head coach Rob Riley has
called it a career. Brian Riley takes over the Army head coaching duties after
having served as his older brother’s assistant coach for the past 14 seasons.
The 2004-05 season will mark the 55th consecutive year that a Riley
has been behind the Army bench. The legendary Jack Riley served as Army head
coach for 36 seasons before his son Rob took over in 1986.

 

Army is coming off of a season that saw them finish a
disappointing eighth place in the Atlantic Hockey conference. One of the main
reasons that could be attributed to such a low finished was the team’s overall
scoring. The Black Knights finished second worst in the nation last year in
total team offense, scoring a mere 64 goals. Senior Chris Casey was the only player who scored ten or more goals last
season. The two top scorers were sophomore Ryan
Cruthers
and the talented junior Seth
Beamer
, who will serve as one of the team’s co-captains, will be relied
upon heavily to pick up the offensive production this season. Both players
finished the season with identical scoring stats (five goals, 13 assists for 18
points). Beamer is one player that is worth watching this season. He’s a player
who combines speed, outstanding offensive skills and good hockey sense.

 

Army will also be looking to improve is their overall
defense. The Black Knights allowed an average of 3.48 goals per game last
season, which ranked them near the bottom nationally. One player that they will
be depending upon to help turn things around is junior goaltender Brad Roberts. Roberts will be looking
to have a better outing this season. Roberts, whose stellar freshman outing in
2002-03 earned him MAAC Rookie of the Year honors, struggled at times last
season. Despite a 7-15-3 record and a 3.29 goals against average, Roberts
posted a very respectable .900 save percentage. Army returns nearly all of
their defensemen from last season, including sophomore Casey Bickley and junior Chris
Migliaro
. Bickley led all Black Knights defensemen in scoring last year
with nine points (one goal, eight assists). Migliaro led the defense in goals
with four.

 

 

Bentley College

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Falcons will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 15th when they travel to the Northford Ice Pavilion in
Hamden, CT. to face off against non-conference rival Air Force in the annual
Q-Cup Tournament.

 

The Falcons came very close to pulling off a stunning upset
of Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey Conference Quarterfinals last season, but
ended up with a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in overtime that ended their run.
Bentley comes into 2004-05 with renewed optimism and to better their seventh
place finish of last season.

 

Two returning
defensive players to watch are a pair of seniors in starting goaltender Simon St. Pierre and top defenseman Seth Vinocur. St. Pierre posted a
7-13-4 record to go along with a 3.07 goals against average and a respectable
.905 save percentage. He had one of his best outings in the regular season
finale versus top-ranked Holy Cross back on March 6th. In that game,
St. Pierre made 34 saves to post his first and only shutout of the season in leading
Bentley to a 1-0 overtime victory. Vinocur led all defensemen in scoring with
15 points. While leading Bentley defensemen in scoring isn’t unusual for the
talented blueliner, what is unusual is that Vinocur did it without scoring a
single goal. The Falcons also inherited Maine transfer Ray Jean. Jean, the third string goaltender for the Black Bears
last season who saw limited playing time, will not be eligible to play for the
Falcons until the fall of 2005.

 

Bentley will be looking to improve in two areas. The first
is a better start to their season. After posting their first win of the season
back on October 11, 2003 versus AIC in the Q-Cup Tournament, the Falcons didn’t
register their next win until December 29th versus Sacred Heart in
the UConn Holiday Classic Tournament. The Falcons also struggled against
non-conference opponents. They were 0-3 versus non-conference opponents last
season and were outscored by a margin of 5-14 in those three games. The second
area to improve is increased offensive production. Bentley scored a mere 79
goals total last season ranking them fifth worst in the nation. Junior Brendan McCartin and sophomore Carmen Posteraro were the only Falcons
last season to post ten or more goals.

 

 

Canisius College

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Golden Griffins will open their 2004-05 regular season
on October 15th when they travel to Sullivan Arena to face off
against host Alaska-Anchorage in the annual Nye Frontier Classic.

 

Canisius had a rollercoaster of a season in 2003-04 that
ended in the Conference Semi-Finals versus top-seeded Holy Cross. The Golden
Griffins were also involved in one of the best post-season games in recent
Atlantic Hockey/MAAC history. Canisius faced Quinnipiac in the conference Quarterfinals
that saw the Golden Griffins hand the third seeded Bobcats a stunning 1-0 upset
in overtime in a game that featured a terrific goaltending battle. Canisius is
hoping to recapture that same magic this season.

 

One area that the Golden Griffins will look to improve is
their team defense and penalty killing. The team allowed an average of 3.17
goals per game, which ranked them near the bottom nationally in that category.
Penalty killing is also a concern, especially since the Golden Griffins were among
the most penalized teams in the nation last season. The Golden Griffins penalty
killing at 78.1 percent ranked last in the Atlantic Hockey Conference and near
the bottom nationally in that category. Senior Bryan Worosz and towering sophomore Max Buetow will both return this season to backstop the Golden
Griffins. Worosz posted an 8-13-7 record that included two shutouts. Buetow, at
6’6 is probably the tallest goaltender in the NCAA, posted a 2-3-1 record as
the backup to Worosz. Goaltending will be crucial in the Golden Griffins’ quest
for the Atlantic Hockey title this season. In addition to both goaltenders,
Canisius return all but two of their blueline corps from last season led by
imposing defenseman, junior Tim Songin.

 

Canisius may not have the most prolific scoring forwards in
the league, but it has some of the biggest. Of the 18 forwards expected to suit
up this season, five are 6’3 or taller and eight are under 6’0 tall. However,
it’s the little guys that are the top scorers. Sophomores Michael Cohen, who led the team in scoring with 25 points and Billy Irish-Baker, who led the team in
goal scoring with 12 last season, both return to lead the Canisius offensive
charge this season. Canisius will also welcome the return of senior Fred Coccimiglio.
Coccimiglio was forced to take a medical redshirt after just four games last
season due to a season ending back injury. He will provide not only some needed
scoring depth for the Golden Griffins this season, but will also serve as team
captain.

 

 

University of Connecticut

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Huskies will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 9th when they travel to the Qwest Center Omaha to face off
against host Nebraska-Omaha in the annual Maverick Stampede Tournament.

 

UConn, one of the nation’s youngest teams last season, had a
total of six upperclassmen on their 2003-04 roster. With the amount of youth on
the team, they played remarkably well and will look to continue to get better
and move up the conference standings this season. Only backup goaltender Jason Casey and defenseman Eric Nielsen were lost to graduation.

 

The Huskies were an outstanding offensive team last season,
finishing the season ranked 11th in the nation in the category of
goals per game (3.29). UConn will return all of its
top scorers from last season including junior Chris Uber and senior Tim
Olsen
, who was named Atlantic Hockey’s Player of the Year. Olsen led UConn
in scoring with 41 points (20 goals, 21 points) playing in 34 of the Huskies 35
games last season. He finished the season tied for ninth in the nation in
points per game (1.21) and was one of the least penalized players on the
Huskies roster. Uber finished third on the roster in scoring with 25 points
(seven goals, 18 assists). His 18 assists led the team in that category.

 

While the offense looks solid coming into this season,
defense will be the biggest concern. The Huskies finished the season ranked
near the bottom nationally in the category of average goals allowed per game
(3.63). UConn allowed five or more goals in ten of their 35 contests last
season. The Huskies will likely see that number come down, with a defense
that’s a year older and more experienced. The Huskies will return top
goaltender Scott Tomes this season.
Tomes, an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team selection, had one of his best
outings of the season back on January 16th in the game versus Brown,
where he went the distance in a 42-save game to preserve a 1-1 tie for the
Huskies. He will likely see the enormous workload again this season that he saw
last season. Tomes started all but two games for UConn last season and he will
be depended upon to be the key to their defense.

 

 

Mercyhurst College

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Lakers will open their 2004-05 regular season on October
15th when they travel to the Kohl Center for a weekend series versus
non-conference opponent and host Wisconsin.

 

Mercyhurst had their string of conference titles snapped
this season by Holy Cross after having won the Atlantic Hockey/MAAC titles the
three seasons prior. The Lakers enjoyed a very good season last year and will
look to reclaim the Atlantic Hockey crown this season.

 

The Lakers possessed one of the nation’s top offenses and
power play units last season. They averaged an astounding 4.05 goals per game
last season, which ranked fourth in the nation. Mercyhurst was the only school
outside of the WCHA that averaged better than four goals per game. The
tremendously effective power play ranked third in the nation (22.1 percent),
behind only offensive powerhouses Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. Despite the
losses of top scorers Mike Carter
and Adam Tackaberry to graduation,
the Lakers are in excellent shape offensively this season. They return two of
their top four scorers in seniors David
Wrigley
and Rich Hansen. Both
players finished last season tied in scoring with 36 points each. Wrigley led
the team last season in goals with 18. The Lakers will get some scoring depth
this season when they welcome a very good group of incoming freshmen forwards.
Most notable is Ben Cottreau.
Cottreau led the Ontario Junior “A” league in scoring in 2003-04 with 95 points
(43 goals, 52 assists) while with the Markham Waxers. He also appeared on the
CSB rankings for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft but was never drafted.

 

The Lakers will also return a good group of defensemen led
by Atlantic Hockey Defenseman of the Year, senior T. J. Kemp. Kemp, who was solid on the blueline for Mercyhurst last
season, led all Lakers defensemen in scoring with 26 points (five goals, 21
assists). Mercyhurst will also return the goaltending tandem of junior Andy Franck and sophomore Jordan Wakefield. Franck, who played
the While both goaltenders racked up some very good numbers they also sported
goals against averages of over three each. If there is one area that the Lakers
could use improvement in this season is lowering the number of goals against.
They allowed 122 goals or 3.39 goals per game last season. Mercyhurst allowed
almost as many goals as they scored (145).

 

 

Quinnipiac University

(Number of drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 0)

 

The Bobcats will open their final regular season in the
Atlantic Hockey Conference on October 15th when they host conference
rival American International in the ninth annual Q-Cup Tournament at the
Northford Ice Pavilion. The Bobcats will begin play in the ECAC Conference in
the fall of 2005.

 

One of the best stories to come out of the Atlantic Hockey
conference last season was the stellar play of senior Jamie Holden. Holden earned Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Year
honors after posting an 11-8-3 record that included two shutouts. He finished
last season ranked fourth in the nation in save percentage (.932) and tied for
16th in the nation in goals against average (2.32). While his
overall numbers were outstanding, it was in Atlantic Hockey play that Holden
really shined. During the regular season, he went 9-4-3 and posted a stingy
1.91 goals against average and a .942 save percentage. Holden and his
counterpart Justin Eddy (WSH) made
up arguably the conference’s best goaltending duo last season. The two were
instrumental in helping to make the Bobcats one of the best defensive teams in
the nation last season. The team allowed an average of 2.49 goals per game,
which ranked tied for 11th in the nation. Remarkable, considering
that the tandem faced an average of just over 34 shots per game last season.
Eddy, an off-season free agent signing of the Washington Capitals, was
magnificent in one of the Bobcats’ best performances of the season back on
January 6th versus Ohio State. Eddy turned away 49 of 50 shots in
leading a solid defensive effort by the Bobcats team in a heartbreaking 1-0
overtime loss in which the winning goal was scored at the 19:59 mark of
overtime.

 

With the exception of graduates, goaltender Justin Eddy
(WSH) and top defenseman Bill Cass,
the Bobcats will return an outstanding defensive unit. Quinnipiac’s defense
ranked tied for 11th in the nation. Leading the defensive corps are juniors
Jesse Van Nostrand and Joe Testa, along with sophomore Reid Cashman. Cashman is a player to watch this season. He is a
talented two-way defenseman, who brings some intensity and toughness to his
game. Cashman, an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team selection last season, had a
stellar freshman campaign leading all Quinnipiac defensemen in scoring with 21
points (two goals, 19 assists).

 

The issue of most concern coming into this season for
Quinnipiac is offensive production. Last season, the Bobcats averaged just
under 2.50 goals per game, which ranked them near the bottom nationally in that
category. To compound the problem, roughly 40 percent of the 87 total goals
scored last season came from the top line combination of Matt Craig, Matt Froehlich
and Ryan Morton. Juniors Craig and
Froehlich will return this season to lead the Bobcats offense. Morton has
graduated. One incoming freshman that should help boost the Bobcats offense is Ben Nelson. Nelson comes to Quinnipiac
from the Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL), where he led the team in scoring last
season with 89 points (48 goals, 41 assists).

 

 

Sacred Heart University

(Number of
drafted NHL prospects on the 2004-05 roster: 1)

 

The Pioneers will open their 2004-05 regular season on
October 8th when they travel to Gutterson Fieldhouse to face off
against non-conference opponent and host Vermont.

 

If cold and hot could describe a team’s season, it would
likely be Sacred Heart’s in 2003-04. The Pioneers had a slow start to their
season. They didn’t register their first win last season until their seventh
game, which came on November 14th in the 4-1 win at Army. The
Pioneers went on to finish fourth in the conference thanks to a late season
surge where they went 10-3-2 in their last 15 games that included post-season
play. Sacred Heart’s torrid late season run ended with a 4-0 loss to top ranked
Holy Cross in the conference title game. This season Sacred Heart hopes to lay
claim to the Atlantic Hockey crown.

 

Offensive production up front isn’t likely to be one of
Sacred Heart’s problems this season. The Pioneers return three of their top
scorers in senior Garret Larson, who
will serve as team captain this season, as well as junior Rocco Molinaro and Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year in talented
sophomore Pierre-Luc O’Brien. Larsen
led the Pioneers in scoring last season with 29 points (19 goals, 10 assists).
O’Brien, who was among the best rookies in the conference last season, finished
the season tied for sixth in the nation among rookies in goals scored with 14.
He amassed 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) playing in all 36 games for the
Pioneers.

 

The two areas that Sacred Heart will look to improve this
season are decreasing the goals against and more scoring from their blueline.
The Pioneers allowed an average of 3.17 goals per game last season, which
ranked near the bottom nationally in that category. Sacred Heart will return
the goaltending tandem of senior Kevin
Lapointe
and sophomore Jason Smith
(NJ). Smith, the lone NHL Draft selection from the Atlantic Hockey conference,
didn’t see much action last season. He only played in five games last season,
posting a 1-4-0 record. Smith had perhaps his best outing of the season in his
first collegiate game back on October 11, 2003 versus Providence. Despite being
sacked with the 7-2 loss he went the distance making a school record 54 saves
in the losing cause.

 

While scoring from their forward lines isn’t likely to be a
problem this season, getting it from their defensemen could be. Last season,
the Pioneers got a total of eight goals out of their blueline corps. Even more
remarkable is that half of those goals came from junior Bernie Chmiel. Among the newcomers that
Sacred Heart will welcome in this season is defenseman Scott Marchesi. Marchesi comes to Sacred Heart from the New
Hampshire Monarchs (EJHL), where he amassed 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists)
last season. He should be able to help boost the Pioneers scoring from the
blueline.

 

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