CHA and Atlantic Hockey 2008-09 season preview

By DJ Powers


The CHA (College Hockey America) continues to be shaky ground as the conference lost yet another member this past spring when Wayne State officially folded its men’s program. With four teams remaining, the conference’s all-important automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament was in jeopardy. The NCAA has announced that it will allow the CHA to keep their automatic bid, despite falling below the six-team conference minimum. Here’s a look each remaining member team.

Niagara University
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

The reigning CHA playoff champions enjoyed a stellar 2007-08 campaign that culminated with a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Purple Eagles will look to successfully defending their CHA crown when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 at Western Michigan.

Defense and goaltending will be Niagara’s strongest positions coming into the season. CHA All-First team netminder Juliano Pagliero returns for his senior year after a sensational junior campaign that saw him go 17-7-4 with four shutouts. His .927 save percentage ranked ninth in the nation, while his .927 save percentage ranked eighth.

Despite the loss of Scott Langdon to graduation, the Purple Eagles blueline remains intact. Juniors Tyler Grotto and Ryan Annesley lead an outstanding and experienced group that should make Niagara’s defense even better this season. Grotto, a CHA All-Second team selection, led the Purple Eagles in defenseman scoring last season with 23 points (two goals, 21 assists). Annesley, a CHA All-First Team selection, was one of the best all-around rearguards coming out of the CHA last year. He led Niagara in defenseman goal scoring with seven and finished with 19 points.

Last season, Niagara possessed one of the nation’s most potent offenses. The Purple Eagles ranked fifth in the nation in team offense, averaging 3.46 goals per game. This off-season however, they lost several key players from last year’s squad. Matt Caruana and Cliff Ketchen have both graduated, and Kyle Rogers opted to forego is final year to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the trio may be hard to replace, they have many returning players who can fill the void, most notably outstanding seniors Vince Rocco and Ted Cook. Rocco, another CHA All-First team selection, finished second in the CHA and ninth in the nation in scoring with 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists). Cook led the team with 19 goals and finished third with 31 points.

University of Alabama-Huntsville

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Danton Cole’s first season behind Alabama-Huntsville’s bench was certainly an adjustment for the team and it showed. With the first year of the Cole-era behind them and the loss of few key players this off-season, the Chargers could make a serious push up the CHA standings. It all gets underway on Oct. 10 when they travel to World Arena to face off against host Colorado College.

In looking at the Chargers numbers from a season ago, there are many areas that need help, but none more so than offensive production. Alabama-Huntsville ranked last in the nation in both points per game (1.94) and total goals (60). Returning junior Brandon Rosko was the only defenseman last season to lead his team in points, and he did so without scoring a goal. All of his 17 points came on assists. Senior Matt Sweazey returns as the Chargers top goal scorer with nine. Among the other players that Alabama-Huntsville will look to pick things up offensively are assistant captains senior Josh Murray and junior Tom Train. Murray posted 13 points (eight goals, five assists) last season, while Train posted nine points (five goals, four assists).

The area that looks to be Alabama-Huntsville strength is on defense. With the exception of defenseman Matt Montes, who has graduated, all of the team’s defensemen and goaltenders return. Senior Scott Kalinchuk, who will serve as team captain this season, leads a very good group that should be much improved this season.

Bemidji State University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 1)

After capturing the Peters Cup as the CHA regular season champions, the Bemidji State Beavers fell just short of making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after falling to rival Niagara in the CHA Tournament championship game. They hope to change that when their 2008-09 season gets underway on Oct. 10 at Minnesota State-Mankato.

One big question heading into the season is who will start in goal? Matt Climie (DAL), Bemidji State’s starter last season has graduated. Climie, a CHA All-Second team selection, helped make the Beavers one of the top defensive teams in the nation last season finishing with a 14-8-3 record that included five shutouts. His successor will likely be between fifth-year senior Orlando Alamano and sophomore Matt Dalton. As head coach Tom Serratore explains, sollidifying the position isn’t as critical as making sure that there is some consistency there this year.

“I don’t think that you ever have to solidify it if the goalies that are playing are playing well,” he said.  “If they’re playing well, that’s great. But the bottom line is that you just want to make sure there is some consistency in your goaltending. So the biggest thing is just making sure that somebody is playing well between the pipes. I think play will dictate who starts for us. We feel that we have three good goaltenders. Right now, it’s up for grabs, and hopefully somebody will take control of that position. I’m also not opposed to rotating goalies if two (or all three) of them are playing well.”

Another issue will be up front.  While the Beavers top line of sophomore Matt Read and seniors Tyler Scofield and captain Travis Winter all return, the team will need other players to step up to provide some offensive depth. The top line accounted for one-third of Bemidji State’s total offense last season, posting a combined 77 points. Read, who saw time this summer at the Boston Bruins prospect camp, garnered CHA Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Beavers in scoring with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists).

Once the Beavers find their starting goaltender, the rest of the team defense should take care of itself. Despite losing Dave Deterding and Riley Weselowski to graduation, Bemidji State’s defensive corps remains intact. One defenseman that continues to develop quite nicely is junior Chris Peluso (PIT). The Wadena, MN native began to emerge as a mainstay on the blueline, seeing time in many situations, including penalty killing. He finished the season posting 10 points (one goal, nine assists). Peluso is also the CHA’s lone NHL prospect.

“Chris is one of five veterans coming back that is going to have to elevate his game because the guys that we lost ate up a lot of minutes for us,” Serratore said. “He’s one of those guys that don’t have the experience that the guys we lost had. But hopefully just by being in the program these last couple of years, it’ll rub off of on him and he’ll be able to absorb some of those minutes for us.”

Robert Morris University
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

When the Robert Morris University Colonials open their 2008-09 campaign on Oct. 11 at Merrimack, don’t expect to see the same team that you saw last year. The Colonials will have a vastly different look and with it many questions and some big holes to fill.

“Well obviously when you graduate 14 and have 15 new players, you’re going to be very inexperienced,” said head coach Derek Schooley. “Included in those new players, are three transfers from Wayne State who do have D-I experience, but for the most part we have 12 freshmen. So there’s going to be a lot of teaching and we’ll have a lot of inexperience.”

Along with 13 freshmen (including one redshirt), the Colonials also bring in three veterans from the now-defunct Wayne State program in sophomore forward Chris Krushneriuk, sophomore defenseman Brock Meadows and senior defenseman Matt Krug.

No team will be relying more heavily on their freshman class, as Robert Morris will this year. And that will be very evident at both the forward and goaltending positions. The Colonials were one of the best offensive teams in the nation last season, thanks in large part to graduates Ryan Caruthers and Sean Berkstresser. Senior Chris Margott returns as the team’s top scorer after finishing tied for 15th in the nation with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists).

In goal, standout netminder Christian Boucher has graduated. And the battle to take over the starting job has yet to be decided between senior Wes Russell, sophomore Jim Patterson and rookie Brooks Ostergard.

Two players on the Colonials roster this season to watch are a pair of sophomores in forward Nathan Longpre and defenseman Denny Urban. Longpre led the Colonials in rookie scoring with 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists). Urban was one of the best young defensemen coming out of the CHA last season. He finished second in the CHA in defensemen scoring with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) and finished tenth in the nation in points per game among defensemen (0.70).

“Nathan and Denny that had outstanding freshman seasons for us,” Schooley said. “Denny had the most points as a defenseman in the history of our program. They’re still young hockey players and we expect them to continue to get better.”

Atlantic Hockey

The 2008-09 season is shaping up to be a very exciting year in the Atlantic Hockey that will no doubt feature more than a few surprises. Aside from the post-season conference tournament format and the annual arrival of newcomers, not much has changed with Atlantic Hockey this off-season. Below is a look at each member team.

Air Force Academy

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Last season, the Air Force Falcons became the first team in conference history to win back-to-back tournament titles and with it a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Falcons will look to successfully defend their Atlantic Hockey crown when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 against conference rival Sacred Heart.

“We have a deep nucleus coming back,” said head coach Frank Serratore. “Last year, we lost Eric (Ehn) half way through the year and we went on to win the league without him. So this group of guys has confidence that they can get it done again. We have the majority of our scoring back and we’ve got our goalie back. I think that if there were a question, it would be on defense. We’ve got some young guys that are going to need to step in and help us right from the get-go on defense. “

Even though Air Force lost some key players to graduation, most notably former Hobey Hat Trick finalist Eric Ehn, they will still be the team to beat in the conference coming into the season. They return their top six scorers, and their starting goaltender.

While the Falcons defense should be very solid this year, they’ll also be younger too. Junior Greg Flynn, an Atlantic Hockey All-Second team selection, led the team in defenseman scoring with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) and will be a guiding force on the blueline. Flynn is also one of only three upperclassmen amongst the Falcons defensive corps as well. As Serratore explained, getting the defense to gel as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance.

“We need our three freshmen and sophomore Kevin Wright to mature in a hurry,” he said,  “because we have three experienced veterans back and then we’ve got lesser-experienced returning defensemen back as well.  It’s also going to be up to those experienced veterans to help show the newcomers the way.”

Junior Andrew Volkening continues to prove that he is one of the most reliable netminders in all of college hockey.     He posted a 21-11-6 record last season that included four shutouts. His 2.09 goals against average ranked 10th in the nation as well.

Air Force possessed one of the nation’s top offenses last season, averaging 3.33 goals per game. A big reason behind that was their ability to spread out their offensive production throughout their lineup, and it should be no different this season. Senior Brett Olson and junior Jeff Hajner, both assistant captains this season, lead Air Force’s offensive attack up front.  Both players posted 38 points each last season.

American International College
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

The AIC Yellowjackets’ success is measured in increments. And last season, there were a few things that went right for them. When they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 17 against host Nebraska-Omaha in the Maverick Stampede tournament, they will look to build on that.

Unfortunately, much of what they accomplished, specifically on offense, is once again their most pressing concern. That’s because the Yellowjackets graduated three of their top four point producers and four of their top five goal scorers. However, AIC does return their top scorer in junior Mike Macmillan. The native of Sault Ste. Marie led the team with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). If the Yellowjackets expect to keep up with the offensively strong conference teams such as Air Force and RIT, they’ll need to find some more scoring and it will have to come by committee. One player to watch that may add some scoring punch for AIC this season is newcomer Michael Penny, who led the Olds Grizzlys (AJHL) with 56 points.

Defense was a big problem last season and could potentially be again this season because of the predominantly young defensive corps that AIC will have in place. The Yellowjackets have just three upperclassmen on their blueline this season. Junior assistant captain Frankie DeAngelis leads the Yellowjackets defense.

While there are concerns on the blueline, AIC’s goaltending should help to stabilize the defense. This looks to be the Yellowjackets strongest position coming into the season. All three netminders return, led by senior assistant captain Tom Fenton. Last season, AIC gave up a conference-high 135 goals. If the team can cut those numbers down, they should be able to make a push up the Atlantic Hockey standings.

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

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Sensational goaltending and a stingy defense were the cornerstones to the Army Black Knights success last season. And although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament crown, they hope to do just that when they open their 2008-09 campaign on Oct. 18 hosting Hockey East foe Merrimack at Tate Rink.

While teams such as Miami, North Dakota and Notre Dame featured well-documented great defenses last season, Army was right up there with them. The Black Knights possessed the nation’s third best defense last season, allowing a mere 1.97 goals per game on average. The 73 total goals that they surrendered to their opponents were the fewest in all of D-I.

The man behind those great defensive numbers is back for his final year. Josh Kassel was absolutely magnificent between the pipes for Army. He capped his junior season posting an 18-10-2 record. His five shutouts, and 1.91 goals against average both ranked in the top five nationally. His record-setting performance earned him a spot on the All-America East Second Team. And he was the only player not from one of the top four conferences to have earned such an honor. With Kassel back in goal and much of the blueline remaining intact, Army looks to be pretty well set on defense.

However, offense is a different story.

The Black Knights lost five of their top eight players to graduation, including Luke Flicek and Bryce Hollweg. Flicek and Hollweg were also two of Army’s 30-plus point producers as well. Junior-to-be Owen Meyer, who led Army with 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists), is the third member of Army’s 30-plus point club of last season. The Black Knights averaged 2.73 goals per game last season, which ranked them 30th in the nation. If they are to equal or best that number, they will need to establish some scoring depth by committee.

Bentley College
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Last season, the Bentley Falcons quietly made a big push up the Atlantic Hockey standings thanks to some outstanding freshmen contributions. This season, they’ll look to continue on their quest to win the conference title when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 11 at the TD Banknorth Center to take on host Quinnipiac.

An area that came together quite nicely for Bentley last season was offensive production. And it is also one of the Falcons strengths coming into the season. The team returns all of their top scorers including senior Dain Prewitt and sophomore Erik Peterson. Prewitt led Bentley with 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists). Peterson, the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year, led the Falcons with 16 goals and finished second in the conference in rookie scoring with 27 points. Both players were keys not only in even-strength situations, but also on special teams as well. Of Prewitt’s 15 goals, four came on the power play and two came short-handed. Of Peterson’s 16 goals, five came on the power play and one came short-handed.

Defense continues to be a problem plaguing Bentley. Last season, the Falcons allowed an average 3.44 goals per game, which ranked their team defense 37th in the nation. With Jaye Judd, Joe Cucci and Jay Bletzer having all graduated, the Falcons will be predominantly young on the blueline this season. Casey Russell returns as Bentley’s lone senior and one of just three upperclassmen.

With the defense being a concern coming into the season, the Falcons may have to lean on their goaltenders for some stability. Bentley returns two of their three netminders from last season, including sophomore Joe Calvi. The New Lenox, Ill native provided the Falcons some outstanding goaltending last season. He posted a 9-16-5 record that included two shutouts. Calvi, an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team selection, also posted a .913 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average.

Canisius College
(Number of NHL prospects on 2007-08 roster: 0)

After struggling through the better part of the last two months of the 2007-08 campaign, the Canisius Golden Griffins finished the season sixth in the conference. They hope to better that finish when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 at Ewigleben Arena to face off against host Ferris State in the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Canisius lost few players to graduation this past spring, so experience at all positions won’t be an issue coming into season, but staying out of the penalty box will be.

The Golden Griffs led the nation in both average penalty minutes per game (21.6) and total team penalty minutes (798). Last season, Canisius was also involved in one of the ugliest games in recent college hockey memory. It took place back on Feb. 9 at RIT’s Ritter Arena. The contest saw a combined 251 penalty minutes and five Game Disqualifications handed out.

The Griffs’ balance upfront will be one of, if not the strongest area of the team this season. Canisius returns most of their top scorers, including the exciting sophomore duo of Vincent Scarsella and Cory Conacher. Scarsella, an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team selection, led both Canisius and the conference in rookie scoring last season with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists). Conacher, who was limited to just 20 games due to injury, posted 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists).

Defense, particularly between the pipes, also look quite solid for the Griffs as well. Junior Andrew Loewen returns as the likely starter, after posting a 7-13-5 record that included three shutouts. He also posted a 2.94 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

University of Connecticut
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

Getting through the 2007-08 season was a real struggle for the UConn Huskies. Though they were able to finish sixth in Atlantic Hockey, the team dealt with a myriad of injuries. When the Huskies open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 up at Sullivan Arena taking on host Alaska-Anchorage in the Kendall Hockey Classic tournament, they’ll not only try to move up the conference standings, but hopefully do so with as few injuries as possible.

UConn’s strength coming into the season will be in goal. Junior Beau Erickson, who suffered an ACL injury back in mid-February that forced him out of the lineup for five games, was a big reason behind the Huskies success last season and will be again this season. He posted an 11-17-3 mark that included three shutouts. Sophomores Jon Glant and Brad McInnis also return after seeing spot duty as freshmen.

While the defense returns pretty much intact, one issue that will have to be addressed is giving the goaltenders more support. UConn finished 52nd in the nation team defense last year, giving up an average of 3.41 goals per game. Even worse was the team’s penalty killing with a dismal efficiency rating of 9.7 percent. The ten shorthanded goals that the team surrendered were tied for second most in the nation. Senior co-captains Sean Erickson and Nick Schneider head the defensive corps.

The Huskies also return most of their forward lines intact, but they’ll need to find a way to get more scoring from players other than sophomore Andrew Olson and junior Chris Ochoa. Both were the only players on the UConn roster to register ten or more goals last season. Olson, who was the Huskies best player aside from Beau Erickson last season, led the team with 24 points. Ochoa finished behind Olson with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists).

College of the Holy Cross
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

The Holy Cross Crusaders got off to a strong start to the 2007-08 season that spiraled downward in the second half to a disappointing ninth place conference finish. Holy Cross will be looking to get things back on track when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 17 hosting conference rival Canisius at the Hart Center.

The Crusaders, having graduated ten players last spring, will be a very youthful team this season. And nowhere will the losses be felt more than on their blueline. Of their ten graduates, four were defensemen including stalwarts Frank O’Grady and Matt Burke. In addition, sophomore-to-be Bill Pinel has transferred to D-III Wisconsin-River Falls. Shane McAdam and team co-captain Marty Dams return as the Crusaders’ only upperclassmen.

With such a young defensive corps, Holy Cross will be relying heavily on their goaltending tandem of sophomore Adam Roy and junior Ian Dams. That could potentially be a tall order for the netminders because in addition to supporting the very young defense in front of them, they’ll also have to find a way to help better the team’s defensive numbers, especially on the penalty kill, which had a dismal 74.4 percent efficiency rating that ranked last in their conference.

If Holy Cross’ defense can quickly gel and re-establish itself, the team could make a serious push to the top of the conference standings. While the Crusaders graduated six forwards, including Dale Rheinhardt and Cal St. Denis, they do return seven of their top nine scorers. Junior Brodie Sheahan returns after leading the team with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) last season, while sophomore Everett Sheen returns after leading all Crusaders rookies in scoring with 24 points (15 goals, nine assists).

One incoming freshman that could add some excitement to the Crusaders forward lines is Matt Gordon. The Perth, ON native possesses some really nice hands and great playmaking ability. At Smith Falls (COJHL) last season, he posted a whopping 108 points (40 goals, 68 assists).

Mercyhurst College
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

The Mercyhurst Lakers came oh so close to earning a return trip to the NCAA Tournament last spring, but suffered a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Air Force in one of the best conference finals games of the year. The Lakers will look to remedy that when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 at the National Hockey Center against host St. Cloud State in the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Mercyhurst has a lot to look forward to this season, despite losing top scorer Ben Cottreau to graduation. Upfront, the Lakers return all of their top scorers, except Cottreau. Senior Matt Pierce and sophomore Scott Pitt return as the team’s top scorers. Pierce finished behind Cottreau with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists), while Pitt led all Lakers rookies in scoring with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists). Mercyhurst got even more good news when Ryan Toomey was granted a fifth year of eligibility, after taking a medical redshirt last season.

“We were actually expecting some absolutely great things out of Ryan last year, but unfortunately he had the injury that ended his season,” said head coach Rick Gotkin. “We found out in April that he was going to be back, and he’s the first fifth-year player in the history of our program. So not only do we expect Ryan to re-assume that great leadership role, but also to bring it to another level. He will be our captain this year. In terms of productivity, Ryan is another guy who we think is capable of scoring goals for us and we’re going to need him to do that.”

The Lakers defense also remains pretty well intact, with a very good blend of veterans led by senior Kirk Medernach and junior Matt Fennell with some skilled newcomers such as Patrick Goebel. Medernach, who will serve as one of the assistant captains this season, led Mercyhurst with a plus-12 last season. Fennell led the Lakers in defenseman scoring with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists). The diminutive Goebel, who is the younger sibling of former Ohio State standout Tom Goebel, will bring some added energy and mobility to the Mercyhurst blueline.

One position that will definitely be worth watching this season is in goal. Senior Matt Lundin returns as Mercyhurst’s go-to guy between the pipes. He posted a 13-12-5 record that included one shutout, while battling through a shoulder injury for nearly the entire season.

“Matt was just heroic last year because he played pretty much all year with a totally blown out shoulder,” said Gotkin. “He had surgery in April and went through a lot of rehab. Now he’s doing great and is ready to go. I don’t know how he got though last year. That’s just a credit to him and his physical and mental toughness. He’s healthy now, but missed about 10 or 12 games because of that shoulder. So he’s looking forward to playing in the bulk of the games this year and that’s our plan for him as well.”

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)
(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

The RIT Tigers made a strong push to the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings after a stellar second half. They finished second and were defeated by eventual conference tournament champions Air Force in the semi-finals. When the Tigers open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 traveling to BGSU Ice Arena to take on host Bowling Green, they’ll look to build on last season’s success in hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament.

“This might be the most balanced team that we’ve had since I’ve been here, which is 10 years,” said head coach Wayne Wilson. “I think our team is going to be a little bit more skilled and a little quicker than it has been in the past. We’ve been working hard at trying to do that, and I think we’ve raised the bar on our team as far as that’s concerned. Balance, speed and the skill of our team are the three things that I think we’re going to bring to the table this year.”

The most pressing issue coming into the season for RIT will be getting increased offense from their forward lines. Their top two scorers in Hobey Baker finalist Simon Lambert and Matt Smith, have both graduated. The two accounted for roughly 42 percent of the total points coming from the forwards last season. Junior Matt Crowell returns as the top scoring forward after posting 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists). One newcomer to watch that should help boost the Tigers’ offensive numbers is the outstanding playmaking freshman Scott Knowles. Last season, he posted 92 points (26 goals, 64 assists) for Surrey (BCHL).

The Tigers strongest area may be on their blueline. While they lost Brent Patry, Stephen Burns and Matt Harris to graduation, RIT will still be very good on defense. Junior tri-captain Dan Ringwald finished second in the nation in defenseman scoring last season with 33 points (three goals, 30 assists). His 30 assists also ranked tied for sixth in the nation overall.

Goaltending is also an area where RIT should very solid. All three netminders, led by outstanding senior Louis Menard, return this season. Menard posted an 18-10-5 record with one shutout.

“We’re hoping that Louis continues in how he’s played here since arriving on campus,” said Wilson. “We’re also looking hard at Jared DeMichel and Jan Ropponen can also improve their games to the point where we can give Louie some rest at different times of the season. I think that’s going to be really important for us. I thought at times Louis looked a little tired, playing an awful lot of hockey. So we want to keep him fresh going down the stretch and I think we’ve got other goalies that can come in and play some minutes too.”

Sacred Heart University

(Number of NHL prospects on 2008-09 roster: 0)

For the Sacred Heart Pioneers, the last few seasons have not been about whether they finish in the top half of the Atlantic Hockey standings as much as what they do once the post-season gets going. Sacred Heart has had a tough time in recent years getting beyond the conference semifinals. The Pioneers will be looking to turn their fortunes around when they open their 2008-09 season on Oct. 10 hosting conference rival Air Force at the Milford Ice Pavilion.

Sacred Heart lost only four players to graduation this season. The most significant losses were that of leading scorer Alexandre Parent and top defenseman Scott Marchesi.

While the Pioneers look very good in all areas coming into the season, they’ll be at their strongest upfront. Senior Bear Trapp returns as the team’s top scorer after posting 40 points 13 goals, 27 assists) in 34 games last season. Of the 13 goals he tallied, eight came on the power play. One thing that Sacred Heart did remarkably well last season was spreading out their offense. The Pioneers had six players who had 20 or more points and 11 players with ten or more. And the points weren’t spread out in just even strength situations either. Sacred Heart was also able to spread the wealth on special teams too.

One area where the Pioneers were particularly dangerous was with the man-advantage. Sacred Heart possessed one of the best power plays in the nation with a 23.5 percent proficiency rating, ranking them second in the country. Of the 23 players on their roster last season, 12 tallied at least one power play goal.

If offense is the Pioneers’ greatest strength, then defense might be their weakest. Sacred Heart ranked 42nd in team defense last season, averaging just over three goals against per game. With senior goaltender Stefan Drew and stalwart senior defensemen Dave Grimson and Paul Ferraro all back in the fold this season, the team should be better on the back end. And if the Pioneers defense can tighten things up a bit, then they could potentially win the conference and gained that all-important NCAA Tournament bid that has eluded them in recent years.