Alabama-Huntsville and Atlantic Hockey 2010-11 season preview

By DJ Powers

In the first installment of Hockey’s Future’s NCAA Season Previews, we take a look at college hockey’s lone independent Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) and the newly-expanded Atlantic Hockey conference. UAH and the 12-member Atlantic Hockey continue to gain much attention from the NHL, despite only one current NHL prospect amongst them. Below is a look at each team. All noted start dates are for non-exhibition, regular season games.

University of Alabama-Huntsville
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The NCAA’s lone independent program will be looking to return to the NCAA Tournament once again, when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 7 hosting Ferris State.

UAH, who won the CHA’s final championship last season, returns a solid team albeit one with some significant holes to fill. And nowhere will be felt more than in goal. Netminder Cam Talbot opted to forego his senior season to sign with the New York Rangers. Talbot backstopped a very good Chargers defense last season, appearing in all 33 games. He finished the 2009-10 season with a 12-18-3 record that included one shutout. His .925 save percentage ranked fifth in the nation and he ranked 16th in the nation with 1957:41 minutes played. The 89 total goals allowed were the fourth fewest in the nation. UAH also lost Talbot’s backup Blake MacNichol to graduation.

With three freshmen battling for the starting job, solidifying their goaltending as quickly as possible will be of the utmost importance to the team’s success.

One area that UAH should see improvement in this season will be up front, despite the losses of top forwards Andrew Coburn and Matti Jarvinen. Both players opted to leave for the pros and will be playing in Europe this season. Junior Cody Campbell, who led the Chargers in scoring last season with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 33 games, is expected to rejoin the team once his non-academic eligibility issues are resolved.

Two forwards to keep an eye on this season are sophomore Sebastien Geoffrion and freshman Brice Geoffrion. The two are the younger siblings of 2010 Hobey Baker Award recipient, Blake Geoffrion (NSH). Sebastien Geoffrion was one of UAH’s most improved players last season. He appeared in 23 contests and posted a pair of goals. While he didn’t do much on the scoresheet, Geoffrion provided both energy and grit to the Chargers lineup last season.

Brice Geoffrion comes to UAH from Motor City (North American Hockey League), where he posted eight points (three goals, five assists) and 71 penalty minutes in 47 contests last season. Like his older brothers, Brice Geoffrion brings some grit to his game. As new head coach Chris Luongo explains, both are similar players including being left wingers.

“They’re both extremely hard workers. I think to an extent, Sebastien’s reputation precedes him. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s a player that improved over the course of last season and became more of an integral part of what we’re trying to do. We’ll be looking for Sebastien to lead the way, not only physically on the defensive side, but also creating things on the offensive side. I think Brice brings a lot of similar abilities. Brice works extremely hard and is willing to get into traffic. Brice is also very coachable. I’m hoping that he develops from a penalty-killing standpoint because I think he has the skills to help us there. So both Brice and Sebastien can really work to impose their will on a game and we’ll definitely be looking to those two guys.”

Rochester Institute of Technology
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

RIT will be looking to successfully defend their Atlantic Hockey crown when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8, taking on St. Cloud State in the Mutual of Omaha Stampede Tournament.

The Tigers were the best story coming out of the NCAA last season. They defeated powerhouses Denver and New Hampshire respectively en route to becoming the first ever Atlantic Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four.

With several key losses, particularly on the defensive side, RIT will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season. All-Atlantic Hockey First Team selections goaltender Jared DeMichel and defenseman Dan Ringwald have both graduated and are now in the AHL systems of the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers respectively. Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year, defenseman Chris Tanev opted to forgo the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Vancouver Canucks.

“We figured that Chris would sign with somebody because he had so much (NHL) interest by the end of the year,” head coach Wayne Wilson said of Tanev’s departure. “We thought that he would be here for another year to mature physically, but that’s what we thought. We knew that Chris would sign with someone, but we didn’t who. Interest in him just exploded after Christmas and when playoff time came around, we just knew that he was probably going to be gone (after the season).”

Last season, DeMichel led the nation with 27 wins and finished tied for second with six shutouts. Ringwald finished third in the nation in defenseman scoring with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) playing in all 41 games. Ringwald’s defensive partner Tanev, finished second in the nation in plus/minus with a plus-33 and ranked tied for 11th in overall rookie scoring with 28 points (ten goals, 18 assists) in 41 appearances.

“I think our forwards are top-notch, our defense is inexperienced and our goaltending is unproven,” Wilson said in assessing his team coming into this season.

Last season, RIT was the only team in the nation that ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively. The Tigers averaged 3.54 goals per game, which ranked them fifth, while giving up an average of 2.20 goals per game, ranking them fourth. While maintaining such strong defensive numbers this season will be difficult, maintaining their offensive numbers shouldn’t be, despite the loss of two of their top four scorers.

One player to watch this season will be Cameron Burt. In his sophomore season he led RIT with 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 40 games last season and in the process gained some NHL interest as well. Burt is versatile in that he can play (and has played) both forward and defense. Burt blends a nice combination of tenacity and quickness with very good hockey sense.

Air Force Academy
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Air Force will be looking to return to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Alaska in the Kendall Hockey Classic tournament in Anchorage.

After two consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and 2008, the Falcons missed the tournament last season. While Air Force returns an outstanding team this season, they will have one significant hole to fill. The Falcons greatest loss came in goal with the graduation of former All-American Andrew Volkening. The Genoa, Ill. native leaves Air Force as one of its most celebrated players. He finished his final year with a 16-15-6 record that included four shutouts. He also ranked in the top 20 nationally both in goals against average (2.44) and save percentage (.918). With Volkening’s departure, solidifying their goaltending position early will be crucial to their success. Junior Stephen Caple, sophomore David Bosner and freshman Jason Torf will have the task of trying to fill the void that Volkening leaves.

The rest of the Air Force roster looks very good, despite graduating top forwards Matt Fairchild and Jeff Hajner.

Two Falcons players to watch this season are senior Jacques Lamoureux and junior defenseman Tim Kirby. Lamoureux led Air Force in scoring for the second consecutive season with 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) playing in all 37 games. Nowhere was Lamoureux more dangerous last season than on the power play. His 13 power play goals ranked tied for third in the nation.

Kirby, who joined Lamoureux on the Atlantic Hockey All-First Team, enjoyed an superb sophomore campaign that included leading all Falcons defensemen in scoring with 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) appearing in all 37 games. The smooth-skating offensive defenseman also showed a knack for scoring timely goals as well. His three game-winners ranked tied for second on the team.

American International University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

AIC will be looking to move up the Atlantic Hockey standings when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 hosting new league rival Robert Morris.

The Yellowjackets quest to move out of the Atlantic Hockey basement continues this season as they once again finished last in the conference in 2009-10. However, AIC do a have a few bright spots on which to build upon this season. One of them was their top forward line, led by sophomore Adam Pleskach. The Beausejour, MB native is arguably one of the best players in Atlantic Hockey that no one outside of the conference has heard of. He possesses size, a terrific shot and sees the ice quite well. Pleskach led the Yellowjackets in many offensive categories including his 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in 33 games. He capped the year with being selected to the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team.

If AIC is to climb out of the Atlantic Hockey cellar, they will need to find more goal scoring. Pleskach was the only player on the team to post ten or more goals and one of only two players with 20 or more points. Pleskach’s linemates, senior Steve McLeod and junior Nielsson Arcibal will among those that will need to pick up the scoring slack.

Another bright spot for AIC was their goaltending. Despite posting only four wins, sophomore Ben Meisner played remarkably well between the pipes. He posted a 3.66 goals against average and a respectable .901 save percentage. This season, Meisner will likely shoulder much of the goaltending load with the departure of partner Dan Ramirez, who has transferred.

Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Army will be battling for Atlantic Hockey supremacy when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 versus Colgate in Cape, Cod, MA.

The Black Knights fought to a sixth place finish in Atlantic Hockey last season and return nearly their entire roster intact this season. Two of the three players that Army graduated however were among their top scorers in Eric Sefchik and Owen Meyer. Sefchik led the Black Knights in scoring with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 36 games. Meyer, who received a lot of NHL interest this past season, finished third on the team with 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 36 appearances.

Army is not known for having lots of scoring depth, so offense will need to come by committee. The team had only three players on the roster that posted ten or more goals last season, including top returning scorer, senior Cody Omilusik. He finished the 2009-10 season second on the team with 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists). The Traverse City, MI native is a player well worth watching. He possesses a nice combination of speed, great hands and finishing ability. Where Omilusik did most of his damage last season was on Army’s power play, where half of his goals were scored.

One area where the Black Knights were excellent last season and could be again this season was on their penalty-killing, which ranked 23rd in the nation with an 82.2 percent efficiency rating. Their nine short-handed goals scored ranked tied for third in the nation.

Bentley University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Bentley will look to move up the Atlantic Hockey standings when they open the 2010-11 season on Oct. 15 at Quinnipiac.

After an impressive showing in the Atlantic Hockey tournament two seasons ago, the Falcons ended their disappointing 2009-10 campaign with an eighth-place finish. One contributing factor to Bentley’s demise last season was injuries. The Falcons had just two players on their roster that played in all 35 games last season.

Staying healthy won’t be the only issue that Bentley will have to contend with this season, they will also need to find some added offense throughout their lineup. The Falcons graduated a number of key players including leading scorer Mark Menzione and top defenseman Bobby Preece. Menzione and Preece were two of Bentley’s tops scorers last season. Menzione finished with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 33 games, while Preece led all Falcons defensemen with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) also in 33 games.

Sophomore Joe Campanelli returns as Bentley’s leading scorer and is a player to keep an eye on. He led all Bentley freshmen in scoring last season with 25 points (ten goals, 15 assists) playing in all 35 games. Campanelli, who is already on the NHL radar after appearing on Central Scouting’s final rankings two years ago, is an outstanding skater with nice hands and playmaking ability.

Canisius College
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Canisius will look to continue to build on a strong 2009-10 campaign when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Western Michigan.

Despite their fifth-place finish in Atlantic Hockey last season, the Golden Griffins made some huge strides that should serve them well heading into this season.

Two areas were on the power play and in their offensive production. Canisius possessed one of the nation’s best power plays last season, ranking fourth with a 22.0 percent efficiency rating. Of the team’s 125 total goals, 45 came on the power play (36 percent). The Golden Griffins also had the nation’s ninth-best offense that averaged 3.38 goals per game.

Two Canisius players to watch are their returning top scorers in seniors Cory Conacher and Vincent Scarsella. The diminutive dynamo Conacher is already on the NHL radar after a sensational junior campaign that garnered him the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year honor. Conacher finished tied for third in the nation in scoring with 53 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 35 games last season. He also finished second in the nation in points per game (1.51) as well. Scarsella, an outstanding playmaker and All-Atlantic Hockey Third Team selection, finished second on the team with 41 points (11 goals, 30 assists) playing in all 37 games.

One key player that Canisius lost was rugged, top-scoring defenseman Carl Hudson. The Smooth Rock Falls, ONT native, who signed with the Florida Panthers this off-season, led all Golden Griffins blueliners with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists).

If Canisius is to win the Atlantic Hockey crown this season, two areas that they will need to improve will be their penalty-killing and cutting down their penalty minutes. As good as the Golden Griffins were on the power play last season; they were equally as bad killing penalties. They finished 47th in the nation with a dismal 79.1 percent efficiency rating. Making matters worse was the fact that Canisius was also one of the most penalized teams in the nation. The team averaged nearly 20 penalty minutes per game, which ranked tied for third.

University of Connecticut
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

UConn will be looking to make a move up in the Atlantic Hockey standings when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 at Maine.

A forgettable 2009-10 campaign, forced the Huskies to make a few changes both over the course of last season and this off-season. The good news for UConn coming into this season is that they lost few key players and have likely found a goaltender they can consistently rely on.

That goaltender is sophomore Garrett Bartus and he is one Husky that is well worth watching this season. Bartus came to UConn at mid-season last year when freshman Jeff Larson unexpectedly left the program and quickly began to establish himself as the Huskies go-to netminder. Bartus possesses good size (6’2/190) and his greatest asset is maybe his ability to handle pressure. He doesn’t get rattled too easily and displayed some remarkable poise for such a young goaltender. Bartus appeared in 20 games, posting a 5-14-1 record that included a respectable .900 save percentage and a 3.26 goals against average.

UConn was also a goal-starved team last season, which contributed greatly to their ninth-place finish. They were the only Atlantic Hockey team that did not have a single player on their roster with ten or more goals. If UConn wants to make a move in the newly-expanded conference, they will need much more scoring throughout their lineup. The Huskies return all of their top scorers this season, led by senior Andrew Olson. He led UConn last season with 19 points (nine goals, ten assists) in 37 games.

College of the Holy Cross
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Holy Cross will be looking to get things back on track when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Notre Dame in the Icebreaker Tournament in St. Louis.

Inconsistency was one issue that plagued the Crusaders last season, particularly in the first half. If Holy Cross expects to make a run at the Atlantic Hockey title this season, they will need a better start to their season. Another area that will need to improve is their offensive production. Holy Cross scored one goal or less in nearly half of their 37 games last season. They also finished 51st in the nation in team offense, averaging just 2.35 goals per game. In addition, the Crusaders lost two of their top four scorers to graduation as well.

The team’s top returning scorer is senior and team captain Everett Sheen. The Lethbridge, AB native, who has already generated NHL interest having attending the Philadelphia Flyers’ prospects camp this summer, finished second on the team last season with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists). Sheen is an outstanding two-way forward that is well worth watching this season.

Holy Cross’ strength this season will be on the back end. Last season, the Crusaders finished 20th in the nation on defense, allowing an average of 2.73 goals per game. They return all of their top defenders as well as excellent top goaltender in sophomore Thomas Tysowsky, who appeared in 34 of 37 games last season. He posted an 11-17-6 record that included two shutouts, along with a .910 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.

Mercyhurst College
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Mercyhurst will be looking to better their fourth-place finish when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 2 at Michigan.

The Lakers possessed a very good team last season that should be even better this season, despite losing eight players in the off-season. One of Mercyhurst’s strengths this season will be in the depth of their forward lines.

The Lakers return their top four scorers last season, including senior Mike Gurtler. The Rochester, NY native led the team with 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 33 games.

Where Gurtler was particularly dangerous was in short-handed situations. He co-led the nation with four shorthanded tallies. On Nov. 20 in the game versus Holy Cross, Gurtler became the just the seventh player in NCAA history to record a shorthanded hat trick. His stellar junior season has also caught the attention of NHL teams. He possesses size, nice hands and a terrific shot.

Another forward to watch this season is redshirted sophomore Phil Ginand. The Milford, MA native opened a few eyes at the Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp this summer. He is coming off a season-ending injury that limited him to just two games in 2009-10. Ginand can best be described as a playmaking power forward.

“He can play,” said head coach Rick Gotkin in speaking about Ginand. “Phil is a big centerman that works incredibly hard. He plays with reckless abandonment and is all over the puck. He’s feeling pretty good now and we’re counting on Phil to do some great things for us this year.”

One area where Ginand’s return will help Mercyhurst will be on special teams. Despite being an outstanding offensive team last season, the Lakers struggled mightily on the power play. The team ranked 51st in the nation, with an anemic 13.4 percent efficiency rating. Mercyhurst didn’t fare much better on the penalty-kill, which finished 41st in the nation (79.8 percent). Interestingly, the Lakers ranked tied for third in the nation with eight shorthanded tallies.

Niagara University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Niagara will be looking to shake things up as one of the newest members of Atlantic Hockey when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 hosting Merrimack.

The Purple Eagles saw their 2009-10 season come to a heartbreaking end last spring when they fell to Alabama-Huntsville in overtime in the final CHA Championship game. Coming into a new conference, will bring new challenges to Niagara this season.

One of those challenges will be in filling the holes left by some key departures. Top scoring forwards Chris Moran and Ryan Olidis, and top scoring defenseman Tyler Gotto have all graduated, while goaltender Adam Avramenko has left the program. Moran, Olidis and Gotto combined for 100 points last season that will need to be replaced. Avramenko split time with junior Chris Noonan last season. Noonan will likely carry much of the goaltending load this season. He appeared in 18 games last season, posting a 7-9-1 record that including a .909 save percentage.

The good news for Niagara heading into this season will be the return of stalwart defenseman Ryan Annesley. The Ajax, ONT native is coming off a 2009-10 campaign that saw him limited to just seven games before suffering a season-ending injury.

One defenseman to watch this season is sophomore Jason Beattie. The rugged, two-way defenseman enjoyed an excellent rookie campaign last season that earned him a spot on the CHA All-Rookie Team. Beattie, who has also attracted NHL interest having attended the Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp this summer, posted five points (two goals, three assists) in 30 games last season.

Another player to watch is senior team captain Bryan Haczyk. He returns as the Purple Eagles’ top scorer after finishing fourth on the team last season with 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) playing in all 36 games. Haczyk, like Beattie, is also on the NHL radar having attended the New Jersey Devils prospects camp this summer. Haczyk is a small, dynamic forward who is simply a speed demon. He also has the ability to make those around him better as well and will be relied upon to lead Niagara’s offensive attack this season.

Robert Morris University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The second newest member of Atlantic Hockey will be looking to make their mark when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 at American International.

The Colonials are coming off of a second-place finish in the CHA last season. Although, the team has several issues to address this season, RMU is shaping to be a better team this season.

The Colonials lost only six players in the off-season. Among them was defensive defenseman Dave Cowan, who signed with Norfolk (AHL) this off-season.

The biggest area that will need to be addressed this season is special teams. RMU ranked 55th and 52nd respectively in the nation on the power play and penalty-killing. The Colonials posted a dismal 12.3 percent efficiency on the man-advantage. Of all current Atlantic Hockey teams, only AIC and UConn had worse power plays last season. The Colonials penalty-killing didn’t fare much better with a 77.0 percent efficiency rating.

One area where RMU should be much better this season is in offensive production. The Colonials return all of their top scorers. Two players to keep an eye on that have garnered some NHL interest are seniors Nathan Longpre and defenseman Denny Urban. Both players earned spots on the All-CHA First Team last season. Longpre led RMU in scoring with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 34 appearances. The Peterborough, ONT native is a versatile forward that has shown a knack for scoring timely goals. One area where Longpre has been invaluable to his team has been on face-offs, winning 46 percent of his draws.

Urban led all RMU blueliners with 24 points (ten goals, 24 assists) playing in 35 games last season. Urban is a small, offensive defenseman with great hands. He has become the cornerstone on the Colonials defense and will be among the leaders on the blue line this season.

Sacred Heart University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1

Sacred Heart will look to build on last season’s success when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Union College.

The Pioneers climbed to a second-place finish in Atlantic Hockey last season and are poised to be formidable contenders for the conference title this season. However, they will have some significant holes to fill, particularly up front.

Sacred Heart was one of the nation’s best offensive teams in 2009-10. The Pioneers averaged nearly three and a half goals per game, which ranked them seventh. Coming into this season, the team will need to replace the 101 points that left with graduated forwards Dave Jarman and second team All-American Nick Johnson. Senior team captain Patrick Knowlton returns as the top scorer. He finished third on the team with 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) playing in all 38 games.

Despite having lost three to graduation, the Pioneers also look to be even better this season on defense. One player not to be missed is freshman R.J. Boyd. Boyd, a seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers (183rd overall) this past June, is the conference’s lone NHL Draft selection this season. A shutdown type of defenseman with size, Boyd is also noted for his tremendous skating ability as well.

R.J. Boyd is a great kid first and foremost,” said Sacred Heart head coach C.J. Marottolo. “He’s a terrific skater and a great defender. He is going to bring an awful lot to our team and we expect a lot from him this year as an impact player.”