Atlantic Hockey 2007-08 season preview

By DJ Powers

Last season was a very good year for Atlantic Hockey as many teams in the conference, notably Air Force and RIT, made tremendous strides in their growth as up and coming programs on the national scene. While there are no current NHL prospects playing in Atlantic Hockey this season, a number of NHL teams are paying close attention to this conference – and for good reason. The quality of the overall talent has continually grown and this season is no exception.

Air Force Academy

The Air Force Falcons became one of the best stories coming out of college hockey last season. The team earned their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament after capturing the Atlantic Hockey Tournament Championship. They went on to the West Regional and made WCHA powerhouse Minnesota work for their 4-3 win.

"We are a very hard-working, difficult team to play against. Now people have taken note of us and know that when they play us, they better be ready, because we’re never going to quit. The thing that many people may not realize is that we’re deep and can compete at this level pretty well. I think we showed that last year," said head coach Frank Serratore.

This season, Air Force will look make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2007-08 campaign on Oct. 19 hosting non-conference foe Quinnipiac.

When people spoke of the Falcons last season, the first name that virtually always came up first was that of immensely gifted senior Eric Ehn. The Hobey Hat Trick Finalist and All-American led the nation in scoring for much of the season. He ended up finishing second both in scoring (24 goals, 40 assists for 64 points) and points per game (1.60). The Dexter, MI native was also one of the nation’s most consistent point producers, tallying in 31 of the 40 games he appeared in.

Despite the fact that his top player did not win the Hobey Baker award, Serratore explains that there was a lot of good that came out of Ehn being named a Hat Trick finalist.

"When Eric made the final three, people started to really learn about who he is and what he’s all about. I think there were a lot of people that were disappointed that he didn’t get it. It wasn’t that Ryan Duncan was not a worthy candidate because he certainly was, but it’s not often that we’ll see a service academy hockey player as a Hobey Baker finalist. And unless Eric repeats, we may never see it again. Actually, having Eric be a finalist also educated a lot of people on who Hobey Baker was. To have a player like that who is qualified is fabulous. Hopefully Eric will have another shot at it but it would’ve been a great story and great thing happen to a very worthy young man."

Ehn, along with junior team captain Mike Phillipich and the now-departed Andrew Ramsey, gave the Falcons one of the nation’s most lethal and exciting line combinations last season. All three players finished the season among the top 25 in scoring nationally. With Ramsey having graduated, Air Force must now find a replacement that can fit well with Ehn and Phillipich on their top line. The likely candidate could be speedy sophomore Matt Fairchild. The Ashburn, VA native is coming off of a very strong freshman season that saw him post 11 points (five goals, six assists).

Another returning sophomore to emerge last season was Jeff Hajner. The Las Vegas, NV native is quickly establishing himself as a top-flight player on the Air Force roster. Hajner led the team in rookie scoring with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists).

Of the losses that the Falcons suffered in the offseason, the most significant (aside from Ramsey) came on the blueline. Stalwarts Billy Devoney and Brian Gineo have graduated. While the departures will be missed, Air Force returns a rock solid defensive squad that nicely blends youth with experience, led by senior co-assistant captains Frank Schiavone and Matt Charbonneau.

The Air Force goaltending carousel that was in place last season doesn’t appear to be back this season, thanks to returning sophomore Andrew Volkening. Though he only appeared in ten games last season, it was his stellar postseason performance that grabbed everyone’s attention. In his two post-season appearances, Volkening stopped a combined 56 of 61 shots, including 33 by Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament. He also posted an impressive .918 save percentage during that stretch.

American International College

The 2006-07 season saw American International make a bit progress in their growth as a program. While the Yellowjackets still have plenty of work ahead of them, they hope to build on last year’s progress when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 19 at conference rival UConn.

One area that AIC showed improvement, albeit a slight one, last season was in their offensive production and balance. After posting just 69 total goals in 2005-06, the Yellowjackets inched that total up to 74 this past season. Even more encouraging is the fact that the increased goal scoring came from someone other than returning top scoring senior Jereme Tendler. The number of players posting double-digit point totals has also increased from eight in 2005-06 to 11 last season. Senior Mark Pavli was one of the players that showed an increase in his offensive production. As a junior, Pavli finished second on the team with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) and nearly doubled his goal scoring as well.

Because AIC lacks prolific scorers, scoring has to be done by committee. This also includes getting the defensemen involved and some immediate production from their incoming freshmen.

Goaltending looks to once again be AIC’s strongest area coming into the season. Despite his save percentage (.876) and goals against average (3.75) numbers suffering, sophomore Tom Fenton actually posted a better record last season, going 8-16-1 with one shutout. While the Yellowjackets had three goaltenders see action last season, Fenton posted all of the team’s wins and ties.

An area where AIC was very good last year was on their penalty kill. Clicking at a strong efficiency rating of 82.4 percent, it ranked third in Atlantic Hockey in all games and 31st in the nation. In addition, the Yellowjackets tallied five shorthanded goals as well, three more than what they posted the season before.

Despite the fact that AIC’s goaltending has progressed nicely, overall defense continues to be an area that plagues the team. The Yellowjackets gave up an average of just under four goals per game last season – the most of any D-I team. Compounding the problem this season is the fact that the team lost two key defensemen. The reliable Jeremy Leroux has graduated and promising young blueliner Jay Holladay left the team to turn pro. He is currently with the ECHL‘s Trenton Devils. If AIC expects to contend for Atlantic Hockey supremacy, they’ll need to find a way to mend their defensive woes as quickly as possible.

U. S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)

Army is moving on up and there’s a lot to look forward to this year at West Point. The 2006-07 season was a very successful one for the Black Knights that culminated with reaching the Atlantic Hockey Tournament Championship game. Army went 5-2-1 in their final eight games to finish third in the conference before falling to service academy rival Air Force in the championship game. This season, the Black Knights will look to capture the Atlantic Hockey Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid when they open their 2007-08 campaign on Oct. 12 at Bemidji State.

Where Army really made their mark last season was on the defensive side. One of the main reasons could be attributed to the sensational goaltending of junior Josh Kassel. The Greensburg, PA native quickly established himself as the Black Knights main man between the pipes. He finished his sophomore season with a 17-11-4 record that included three shutouts. His sparkling 2.38 goals against average was the lowest in Atlantic Hockey and ranked 23rd in the nation. He also posted an equally impressive .912 save percentage. Kassel’s stellar season also earned him a selection to the All-Atlantic Hockey Second Team.

In terms of overall team defense, Army allowed an average of 2.56 goals per game and 87 total goals – both were conference bests. As good as they were defensively last season, the Black Knights should be as good as, if not better this season. In addition to their goaltending, Army will be quite strong on the blueline as well. However, the team did lose two of their top six defensemen. Last year’s captain Casey Bickley has graduated, while top-scoring blueliner Tim Manthey has transferred to Wisconsin-Stevens Point (D-III). Nevertheless, Army will have plenty of experience in their defensive corps, led by outstanding senior co-captain Chase Podsiad and junior assistant captain Zach McKelvie.

Another area that Army continues to make progress in is offensive production. The overall team goal scoring increased from 80 two years ago to 94 last season. That number should continue to rise as the three of the Black Knights five top scorers return. Army’s top scoring line of seniors Luke Flicek and Bryce Hollweg and sophomore Owen Meyer return intact. For the second consecutive season, Flicek led the Black Knights in scoring with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists). Hollweg, the brother of current New York Ranger Ryan Hollweg, finished tied for third on the team with 27 points (ten goals, 17 assists).

But the offensive story for Army last season was the emergence of Owen Meyer. The Littleton, CO native led Army in rookie scoring with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists). As good as Meyer was in the regular season, he was even better in the post-season. He notched four points (one goal, three assists) in Army’s three post-season games. His stellar season earned him a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team as well as the team’s John Heinmiller Award as the top freshman.

If Army had a weakness last season, it was their power play. The Black Knights scored only 40 power play goals last season. Only AIC, Bentley and UConn scored fewer in Atlantic Hockey. Complicating their improvement efforts this season is the fact that one quarter of those man-advantage tallies left with the departures of Manthey and Bickley. Manthey led Army with eight power play goals, while Bickley accounted for three.

Bentley College

Last season, the Bentley College Falcons were a predominantly young, inexperienced group – and it showed. After a relatively strong first half, the Falcons struggled mightily in the second half, posting just five wins. The Falcons eventually finished the season seventh in Atlantic Hockey. While the team will have another year under their belts, the coming season will present some unique challenges to face. Bentley will drop the puck on their 2007-08 season on Oct. 9 at RPI.

The most daunting task for Bentley coming into the season is replacing the loss of top-flight goaltender Ray Jean, who has graduated. While Jean’s 9-15-1 record may not reflect it, he was truly the backbone and stabilizing presence for the Falcons. Jean’s heir apparent is returning junior Jason Kearney. The Gibsonia, PA native appeared in only ten games last season, going 2-6-1. Overall in his career thus far, Kearney has appeared in 18 games with varied success. If Kearney can give the team the stability that Jean did before him, it’ll go a long way towards fixing the Falcons defensive woes of last season.

The more experienced returning defensive corps will really have to step things up this season. Bentley had the second worst defense in the nation last season, giving up an average of nearly four goals per game. The 136 goals that they surrendered were the most in Atlantic Hockey. Leading the team defense this season is senior and team captain Jaye Judd. The Brandon, MB native led all Falcons defensemen in scoring last season with 12 points (two goals, ten assists). He is also one of three returning seniors on the blueline.

One of the problems that plagued Bentley last season was their lack of discipline. While the Falcons thrive in playing a very aggressive style, they need to find a way to balance that with playing smartly and responsibly. The Falcons 22.6 penalty minutes per game led Atlantic Hockey and was the third highest in the nation. Their 790 total penalty minutes were also the highest in Atlantic Hockey. Judd led the team and the conference with 119 penalty minutes, which was amongst the highest individual total in the nation.

Offense looks to be Bentley’s area of strength coming into the season. Five of the Falcons top six scorers return. A pair of outstanding juniors in Jeff Gumaer and Anthony Canzoneri lead what is shaping up to be a better group upfront. Gumaer and Canzoneri were paired together for a good portion of the season, giving Bentley a very solid one-two punch on offense. Gumaer, an All-Atlantic Hockey Third Team selection, led the Falcons with 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists). Assistant captain Canzoneri has grown into one of Bentley’s most invaluable cogs. The Homer Glen, Ill. native can easily adapt to any situation and is arguably Bentley’s best playmaker. He finished third on the team in scoring with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists).

While the Falcons have a good amount of firepower to start the season, they’ll need to try and get increased and more balanced scoring throughout their lineup. Only two players – Gumaer and fellow junior Dain Prewitt, notched 10 or more goals last season. Bentley’s 90 total goals were among the fewest in the conference as well. If the Falcons find a way to generate much more offense, they could make the Atlantic Hockey race even tighter this season.

Canisius College

When head coach Dave Smith took over the bench boss duties two years, he had his work cut out for him. The process of re-establishing the program has had its share of growing pains, but the good news is the team has taken some positive steps in their development, albeit small ones. Nevertheless, it’s something positive for the Golden Griffins to build on. Canisius is coming off of a disappointing ninth place finish last season and will be looking to move up in the Atlantic Hockey standings when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at St. Cloud State.

The position that Canisius looks very solid coming into the season is in goal. The tandem of sophomore Andrew Loewen and senior Bryce Luker return. Loewen saw the lion’s share of work last season and despite a 9-12-3 record, he posted a respectable 2.87 goals against average and an outstanding .912 save percentage. Luker, the Michigan Tech transfer, struggled through his winless 11 appearances. If Loewen can continue to build on his success and Luker can regain his form, the poor defensive numbers from last season should greatly improve.

How Canisius fares this season will depend a lot on how well their defensive corps plays. While Loewen was solid between the pipes, he’s also had to carry the team on many nights. Both Loewen and Luker were also very busy, with the opposition averaging roughly 33 shots per game. The Canisius defense ranked 54th in the nation last season, giving up an average of just over 3.70 goals per game. In addition, the team allowed ten shorthanded goals – the most in Atlantic Hockey.

Among the returning blueliners who’ll be relied upon to step things up are senior Kyle Bushee and sophomore Carl Hudson. Bushee, a Western Michigan transfer, has become arguably Canisius’ best all-around defenseman. He has made his impact felt at both ends of the rink. The offensive-minded Hudson enjoyed a very good rookie season, leading all Golden Griffins defensemen in scoring with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists). He also led the team with 93 penalty minutes. The big concern with Hudson is getting him to be more disciplined and to play more consistently sound defense this season.

One area that the Golden Griffins will look to significantly boost this season is their offensive production. Their 86 total goals were the second fewest in Atlantic Hockey. Only AIC scored few goals last season. To make matters worse, the Golden Griffins will have to contend with the loss of graduate Michael Cohen. Nowhere will his presence be most more than on special teams. The Williamsville, NY native became a key contributor in virtually every situation. He finished the season tied for third in scoring with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists).

Returning sophomore Josh Heidinger became the story coming out of Canisius last season. He led the Golden Griffins in scoring last season with 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists). Where Heidinger did much of his damage was on the power play. Of his 34 points, 24 came on the power play. His stellar rookie campaign also earned him a spot on the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team.

Joining the returning players upfront are six newcomers. One player to watch is diminutive scoring dynamo Cory Conacher. The Burlington, ON native come from a good hockey lineage, which may partially explain his superb offensive capabilities and fiercely competitive nature. With a late ’89 birthdate, he is also the youngest member on the Canisius roster.

University of Connecticut

With Atlantic Hockey’s largest incoming group of 15, UConn will certainly have a very different look this season. They will also be extremely young, as the team will feature only eight upperclassmen. With so many fresh faces comes the test of trying to re-establish the team’s chemistry and identity as quickly as possible. UConn is coming off of a very good season that saw them finish fourth in Atlantic Hockey. The new look Huskies will try to build on that when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 19 hosting conference foe American International.

One area that will be crucial to UConn’s success this season is goaltending. While the Huskies lost Scott Tomes and Jon Anderson, they return impressive sophomore Beau Erickson. The Hinton, IA native got lit up by the Michigan Wolverines in his debut last October but firmly established himself in the second half of the season. Erickson was particularly good in his final nine games, going 6-2-1 in that stretch. With the sweeping personnel changes that have occurred in the off-season, Erickson will be relied upon to help bring some early stability to the team as well.

UConn’s blueline should also be a strong area this season. Senior co-captain Sean Erickson leads a bigger, more mobile defensive corps. Erickson was one of only four Huskies that appeared in all 36 games last season. He finished fifth on the team in scoring with 19 points (one goal, 18 assists).

The Huskies will also welcome five new additions to their blueline as well. All except junior Jordan Behler, a transfer from C.W. Post, are rookies. One player to watch is the versatile Steve Bergin. He is a very fluid skater that can play both the defense and forward positions. The Lawrence Academy product is also the youngest member of UConn’s recruiting class this season.

The changes on the blueline pale in comparison to the predominantly youthful forward lines. Five upperclassmen, including junior sniper Chris Myhro, will lead UConn this season. The Eden Prairie, MN native returns as the team’s top scorer. He finished his stellar sophomore campaign with 31 points (20 goals, 11 assists). Myhro is also the only 30-plus point producer and10-plus goal scorer returning as well.

One of the greatest challenges facing UConn this season is in finding players, particularly amongst their vast freshman class and aside from Myhro, to replace the 102 points that left with graduates Matt Scherer, Cole Koidahl and Trevor Stewart. The trio alone accounted for 36 percent of the Huskies total points, including 44 goals. The graduates also helped give UConn a very good offensive team that averaged three goals per game last season. Compounding matters even further is the fact that those three players also accounted for half of the team’s goals on the Huskies anemic power play.

Two newcomers that bring some terrific offensive capabilities that could certainly help fix the Huskies offensive woes are Andrew Olson and Matt Turner. The towering Olson comes to UConn from the Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL), where he racked up 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists). Colorado Springs native Matt Turner notched 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) last season as a member of the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters.

College of the Holy Cross

A year removed from pulling off the most monumental upset in college hockey history, Holy Cross struggled to a sixth place finish that saw them win just three games in the second half of the season. With the dawning of a new year come renewed optimism but also new challenges. The Crusaders will be looking to regroup in hopes of making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2007-08 season hosting CHA foe Niagara on Oct. 13.

One of the contributing factors to the team’s struggles last season was the vast number of key players lost from the 2005-06 campaign. While this season’s losses aren’t quite as big they’re no less significant.

The greatest loss was that of James "Bubba" Sixsmith (NSH), the heart and soul of the Crusaders team last season. Sixsmith, who has graduated, brought many great attributes to Holy Cross in his collegiate career, not the least of which were his creative offensive abilities and wonderful leadership. The Alexandria, VA native led the Crusaders in scoring last season with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists). His 47 points were also the second highest in Atlantic Hockey. Sixsmith’s 152 career points set a new school record that was previous held by former Crusader Patrick Rissmiller, who is currently with the San Jose Sharks.

With the departure of Sixsmith, Holy Cross will come into the season having lost not only their captain, but two of their top three scorers as well. The other key loss was top scoring defenseman Jon Landry (CBJ). The All-Atlantic Hockey First Team selection was third on the team with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists). Where the losses of Sixsmith and Landry will be particularly felt will be on the Crusaders power play. Holy Cross had the nation’s 17th best power play last season and of their 45 goals scored on the man-advantage, Sixsmith and Landry combined for 16 of them. The good news is that Holy Cross has been able to get power play scoring from many different players, but this season it will be crucial for the veterans and incoming freshmen alike to pick up the slack.

The top scoring returning player is senior captain Dale Rheinhardt. Rheinhardt, who will serve as an assistant captain this season, finished second on the team with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists). He is also the only returning player that posted 20 or more points last season.

Despite the loss of Landry, the Crusaders blueline looks to be their most experienced position. While the defense is not particularly big in stature, they can skate. In recent years, Holy Cross has been blessed with terrific puck moving, mobile defensemen. While this year’s team lacks a Landry-caliber type of player, they’ll have a number of defensemen that can step up to fill any offensive voids. Among them are senior and team captain Matt Burke. Burke was perhaps Holy Cross’ best two-way defenseman last season. He finished second in defenseman scoring with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists).

One area that needs to improve this season if the Crusaders expect to reclaim the Atlantic Hockey Championship crown is goaltending. The trio of Ian Dams, Tyler Chestnut and Charlie Lockwood struggled mightily to find any consistency last season and that became painfully obvious in the second half. Chestnut has since left the program. Holy Cross is hoping that the experience and lessons learned from last season will translate into more consistent and solid efforts by the sophomore Dams and junior Lockwood.

Mercyhurst College

Lots of changes and new faces will dot Mercyhurst’s roster when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 against Ohio State at the Lefty McFadden Tournament in Dayton, OH. The Lakers are coming off of a disappointing 9-20-6 season that saw them failing to advance beyond the conference quarterfinals for the first time since becoming a D-I program.

With 11 newcomers, Mercyhurst will certainly be a lot younger this season. The team will feature just nine upperclassmen – four seniors and five juniors.

The most obvious change on the Lakers team this season will be in goal. All three goaltenders from last season are gone. Mike Ella and Jordan Wakefield both graduated, while Tyler Small left the team due to personal reasons. This season, Mercyhurst will be carrying only two goaltenders. One is incoming freshman Ryan Zapolski and the other is University of Maine transfer junior Matt Lundin. Head coach Rick Gotkin says Lundin will definitely be their guy between the pipes.

"If you don’t have great goaltending, it’s tough to win every night, let alone any night. Clearly, Matt Lundin is our guy. We brought him in and he’s going to play in 99.9 percent of the games. We’re expecting him to make an impact back there. Matt had some other schools that had some interest in him, but I think he liked Mercyhurst because we desperately needed a goaltender to be our number one guy and we made that clear to Matt. He is definitely our guy, there’s no goalie controversy here. So, we’re excited really excited to have Matt."

Lundin’s arrival couldn’t have come soon enough for Mercyhurst. The team struggled mightily both on defense and the penalty kill. The Lakers gave up an average of 3.83 goals a game last season, which ranked 56th in the nation. The 134 total goals surrendered were the second most in Atlantic Hockey. Only Bentley College gave up more. The team’s penalty killing was equally as bad, sputtering along at a 79.7 percent efficiency. That ranked the Lakers 53rd in the nation. With the talent, stability and vast experience that Lundin will bring to Mercyhurst’s goaltending position, the team’s defense should vastly improve as the season goes along.

In addition to the revamped goaltending position, Mercyhurst will also see a significantly bigger and more youthful defensive corps as well. Stalwarts Pat Henk and Denis Kirstein have graduated. Senior Jamie Coghlan, who fought through an injury-riddled season, will be leading the defensive corps.

On offense, four of the team’s top six scorers return, including leading scorer Ben Cottreau, who led the Lakers with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) playing in an injury-shortened season. In addition, six outstanding freshmen forwards join the Lakers and the one player to keep an eye on is centerman Scott Pitt. The Ottawa, ON native appeared on the NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings for this summer’s NHL Draft, but was not selected. As Gotkin explains, timing (and a little luck) was everything in landing the immensely skilled Pitt.

"Scott was one of the top draft pick of the Ottawa 67s (OHL) and on the night that he was suppose to sign his OHL contract, decided that he didn’t want to do that and wanted to go to college. We were kind of Johnny-on-the-spot when that whole thing happened. It created some big controversy up there in Ottawa because they couldn’t believe that not only was Scott Pitt going to turn down the Ottawa 67s but was also going to go to a school that not a lot of people had heard of. Scott is a terrific talent. He’s got great hands and has great finishing ability. He’s a great playmaker and skates really well. We think that he’s going to step right in and make an immediate impact."

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

With the prospect of finally being eligible for the post-season and the NCAA Tournament, things are getting pretty exciting up in Rochester, NY. RIT’s meteoric rise in Atlantic Hockey continued last season when they laid claim to the Atlantic Hockey regular season title. As head coach Wayne Wilson explains, this year it’s all about getting to the big dance.

"We’ve been pretty lucky because we’ve had some internal motivation each year. The first year just hoping to prove that we could play at the D-I level. Last year, it was with the goal of obtaining a league championship. That was the only thing that we could set for ourselves and we were able to accomplish that. Now that this our third year, we’ve got something else that is obtainable and that’s out there that we would like to get that we haven’t been able to do and that’s moving on to the NCAA Tournament."

RIT will open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 13 at Colgate.

As great as the Tigers were last season, they may be even better this season with the tremendous balance and depth that they return. RIT also lost the fewest players of any Atlantic Hockey team in the off-season. All but one of the five players that left the program were forwards. The most notable of which was leading scorer Steve Pinizzotto, who opted to forego his final two years of eligibility to sign with the Washington Capitals. The Mississauga, ON native led the team in points (44), assists (31) and penalty minutes (76).

RIT possessed one of the nation’s most explosive and balanced offensive attacks last season. The Tigers offense ranked second in the nation, averaging a whopping 3.88 goals per game. Only Michigan averaged more. RIT’s 132 total goals ranked tied for 13th in the nation. The Tigers also did an excellent job of spreading the offensive wealth. Eight players on the roster posted 20 or more points – by far the most in Atlantic Hockey.

Leading RIT this season will be a pair of seniors in forward Simon Lambert and defenseman Brent Patry. Lambert, who will serve as team captain, is the returning top scorer with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists). The St. Therese, QB native was particularly dangerous was on the Tigers special teams. Of his 17 goals, 10 came on the power play and three came shorthanded. Patry, who will serve as one of the assistant captains, finished second in defensemen scoring with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists).

Adding to the already deep and excellent mix of skaters is a quintet of newcomers. One player to watch upfront is diminutive spark plug Andrew Favot.

"Andrew is a small player who is very quick and very feisty. We may have to turn that down a little bit," a smiling Wilson said of Favot. "We really like the energy and enthusiasm that he brings to the game. I think when he learns what he can and cannot do from a physical standpoint, that’s when he’s going to be most effective. Andrew really likes to skate and get his nose dirty. He should be a fun player to watch."

RIT’s only loss on the defensive side was that of goaltender Jocelyn Guimond. Though he had graduated, Guimond still had one year of eligibility left. He opted instead to leave due to primarily to financial reasons. While it’s difficult losing such a great netminder like Guimond, it certainly helps when you have an equally talented one ready to step right in. Such is the case with sophomore Louis Menard. The Chicoutimi, QC native split time with Guimond last season and gave RIT arguably the best goaltending tandem in Atlantic Hockey. Menard went 11-3-0 that included one shutout. His .786 winning percentage ranked third in the nation. Menard was one of the three Tigers that were named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team.

Sacred Heart University

Last season, Sacred Heart got off to an uneven start but finished very strong. The Pioneers went 6-2-0 in their final eight games of the season. The team finished second in the Atlantic Hockey regular season final standings and gained the top seed going into the postseason due to RIT’s ineligibility for postseason play. While there is plenty of anticipation, the new year brings new challenges to the Sacred Heart program. But you can bet that the Pioneers will once again be in the thick of the Atlantic Hockey race when they open their 2007-08 season on Oct. 12 at non-conference foe Colgate.

One of the biggest losses that Sacred Heart suffered in the off-season came in goal when All-Atlantic Hockey First Team selection Jason Smith (NJ) graduated. The Pioneers starter this season will be junior Stefan Drew. While he has posted some excellent career numbers, he his experience coming into this season is also limited. Drew has seen action in only 14 games since arriving at Sacred Heart. So, the question isn’t whether or not he can handle the starting job as much as how will he fare with the lion’s share of the load this season? In the eight appearances Drew made in his sophomore year, he posted a 5-2-1 record that included one shutout. His goals against average (2.47) and save percentage (9.19) were also very good.

Another area where Sacred Heart lost a key player was upfront with the graduation of top scorer Pierre Luc O’Brien. The good news for the Pioneers coming into the season is the fact that they return six of their top seven scorers. O’Brien, an All-Atlantic Hockey First Team selection, led Sacred Heart with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists). Two attributes that he brought to the team that will sorely be missed are his superb playmaking ability and leadership.

This season, the leadership torch passes to returning senior Alexandre Parent, who will serve as team captain. The Boisbriand, QC native was third on the team in scoring last season with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists). Where Parent really excelled last season was on special teams. Of his 15 goals, seven came on the power play and one came short-handed. Sacred Heart also returns the best name in college hockey in Bear Trapp. The junior from Balcarres, SK finished second on the team in scoring with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists). His 17 goals also led the team.

One player who could help fill part of the void up the middle that’s been left by O’Brien is sophomore Dave Jarman. The Toronto, ON native displayed some outstanding playmaking ability and terrific passing skills as a freshman last season. While Jarman can and will score goals, it is his ability to get the puck to his linemates that may be his most valuable asset to the team. Jarman led all Sacred Heart rookies in scoring with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists).

The Pioneers blueline will be slightly younger this season with the losses of Kalen Wright and Todd Spencer to graduation. A pair of outstanding offensive-minded defensemen in junior Dave Grimson and senior Scott Marchesi leads a very solid returning group on the back end. Grimson and Marchesi finished as the team’s top two scoring defensemen, recording 25 and 18 points respectively.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.