Atlantic Hockey 2006-07 season preview

By DJ Powers

Things get a little more crowded in the Atlantic Hockey conference this season as Air Force joins the league and RIT makes its debut as an official member of the conference. While RIT will play the customary number of conference games, they will not be eligible for postseason play due to the NCAA’s mandatory two-year waiting period for teams moving up from Division III.

College of the Holy Cross

For the reigning Atlantic Hockey Champion Holy Cross Crusaders, 2005-06 was a season that will be remembered for a long time, if not forever. Pulling off the monumental upset of Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional earned the Crusaders a lot more attention and a whole new legion of fans. Holy Cross will look to build on last season’s success when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 14 at Niagara.

Goaltending will be the main concern for the Crusaders coming into the season. Tony Quesada (MIN) and Ben Conway have both graduated. To compound matters, sophomore Charlie Lockwood is not expected to be in the lineup until around Thanksgiving due to recovering from hip surgery. So the goaltending duties will fall to a pair of freshman in Ian Dams and Tyler Chestnut.

With the inexperience in goal to start the season, the performance of the defensive corps will be crucial in providing stability to the team. That’s not likely to be much of a problem as the Holy Cross defense will have lots of experience, led by seniors Rob Godfrey and Jon Landry. In addition, the Crusaders will also welcome back junior Frank O’Grady, who was medically redshirted in 2005-06.

The Crusaders also lost three of their top five scorers in Tyler McGregor, Pierre Napert-Frenette and Blair Bartlett also to graduation. The trio accounted for 137 (37 percent) of the Crusaders’ 370 points last season. Replacing that much offense maybe difficult but it won’t be impossible. Outstanding playmaking senior and team captain James Sixsmith along with energetic junior Dale Rheinhardt, both of whom posted 35 or more points last season, lead a superb group of returning players up front.

Of the three key forwards lost, Bartlett may be the most difficult to replace. Bartlett, the Atlantic Hockey Defensive Forward of the Year, was arguably the Crusaders best penalty killer last season in addition to being a great scorer. Finding someone to fill his role is essential to the team’s success this season.

“I think the one kid that we’re going to have to work to replace is Blair Bartlett,” said head coach Paul Pearl. “Not only did Blair put up 38 points but he was also a fantastic penalty killer. We’re going to need some guys like Tanner Fogarty and Chris Trovato to try and step in and fill the role that Blair played so well or us.”

Air Force Academy

After a record-setting final season in the CHA, Atlantic Hockey’s newest member Air Force will look to shake things up this year when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 6 hosting cross-town rival Colorado College. The Falcons finished their 2005-06 campaign with eight CHA wins, the most in the program’s history.

One player on the Air Force roster to watch this season is junior Eric Ehn. The CHA All-Conference Second Team selection led the Falcons in scoring last season with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists). The shifty and skillful Ehn has become one of Air Force’s most reliable and dangerous offensive threats in his first two seasons and that’s not likely to change this season.

Despite the loss of Brooks Turnquist to graduation, the Falcons blueline remains intact. This season, the Air Force defense features a nice blend of leadership, youth and outstanding offensive ability by led senior Brian Gineo and sophomore Mike Mayra. Gineo led all Falcons defensemen in scoring last season with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists). Mayra enjoyed a superb rookie season despite missing seven games due to injury. He finished second on the team in scoring among defensemen with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists). Mayra was one of two Falcons named to the CHA All-Conference Second Team and was also named to CHA All-Rookie Team.

One notable defensive newcomer well worth keeping an eye is Chris Hepp. The Burnsville, MN native is a highly regarded defenseman who played for the Omaha Lancers (USHL) last season. Hepp will bring top-flight skill in addition to some toughness to the Air Force lineup this season.

Goaltending looks to be one of, if not Air Force’s strength this season. Senior Peter Foster and junior Ian Harper provide a solid tandem in goal for the Falcons. Foster posted a 9-14-0 record in 23 starts last year, while Harper posted a 2-6-1 record in 12 starts. If the duo can boost their numbers, especially their respective save percentages, they’ll go a long way in helping the Falcons fight their way through (and up) the conference standings in their inaugural Atlantic Hockey season.

American International College

For Atlantic Hockey’s perennial cellar dwellers optimism is looming in the air. The Yellowjackets are hoping for bigger and better things this year and will look to make the climb out of the Atlantic Hockey basement when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 13 at Army.

Since the establishment of Atlantic Hockey, the Yellowjackets have struggled with establishing consistency and generating offensive production throughout their lineup. The good news is most of last year’s team returns intact. AIC is hoping that the lessons learned from last season will lead to a better, more successful team this season.

One of the best players to emerge from last year’s Yellowjackets squad was sophomore goaltender Tom Fenton. The Sarnia, ONT native gave the deficient AIC team some stability last season. While Fenton’s 6-16-5 record was less than stellar, he did put up respectable numbers in save percentage (.900) and goals against average (3.51). If the Yellowjackets expect to make a move up the Atlantic Hockey standings, Fenton must continue to give them solid goaltending and to try and lower his goal against average.

The lack of offensive production was a big problem for AIC last season and an issue that will be vital in the team’s success this season. The Yellowjackets finished tied for 53rd in the nation in scoring last season, averaging a mere 2.16 goals per game. AIC had just one player on last year’s squad that posted ten or more goals and just two players who posted ten or more points. Junior and assistant captain Jereme Tendler led all AIC players in scoring last season with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists). His 15 goals accounted for nearly one-quarter of the team’s entire goal-scoring last season. Senior and team captain Jeremy Leroux finished with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists). Leroux’s 12 assists also led the team. Because AIC does not attract the elite talent that schools in conferences such as the WCHA and Hockey East do, their offensive production must be by committee. If the Yellowjackets can achieve that consistently, it can only lead to more positive things for the team.

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

The Army Black Knights are coming off of a successful 2005-06 season that saw them finish in fifth place, the highest that they have finished since joining the Atlantic Hockey conference. This year, the Black Knights look to better that when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 13 hosting American International.

The biggest concern for Army coming into the season will be goaltending. Record-setting netminder Brad Roberts has graduated, taking with him 13 school records and the dependability he provided for four years. With Roberts’ departure, the goaltending duties will fall to two seldom-played sophomores in A.J. Drago and Josh Kassell.

With the inexperience in goal this season, the Black Knights will be relying heavily on their superb group of defensemen led by stalwart senior and team captain Casey Bickley. The Army defense, which has long had a reputation of being tough and very difficult to play against, will also need to provide some stability to help build the confidence of the goaltenders this season.

While Army returns a very good group of forwards, they’ll need to find a way to generate more scoring. The Black Knights only had one player on their entire roster that posted ten or more goals in the now-graduated Seth Beamer. Among the returning players that will be relied to pick up the offensive production are last season’s top line combination of juniors Luke Flicek, Chase Podsiad and Bryce Hollweg. Flicek led the Black Knights in scoring with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists), while Podsiad and Hollweg finished fourth and sixth respectively in scoring.

Among the newcomers who can help boost scoring is junior Ken Rowe. Rowe, a transfer from the University of Wisconsin, was played sparingly during his two years as a Badger. This year, Army expects Rowe to be an immediate offensive contributor.

Bentley College

The Bentley College Falcons enjoyed a season to remember last year, coming oh so close to a trip to the NCAA Tournament. After handing Mercyhurst a devastating double overtime loss in the conference semi-final, the Falcons fell to Holy Cross in the conference final. This year, Bentley looks to try and capture the Atlantic Hockey crown once again when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 15 at Colgate.

Youth was served in a big way last season for the Falcons. Nowhere was that more evident than on the scoresheet. Of Bentley’s top six scorers last season, four were freshmen. Sophomores Anthony Canzoneri and Jeff Gumaer finished as the team’s top two scorers. Canzoneri led the Falcons in both points (31) and assists (23), while Gumaer led in goals (16) and finished second in points with 24. Both players were named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team as well. The duo along with fellow sophomore Dain Prewitt and Swiss-born senior Marc Zwicky all return to provide ample scoring for Bentley this season.

Adding some potential scoring depth as well as some previous collegiate experience to the Falcons forward lines this season is Boston University transfer Pat Percella. The sophomore from Bayonne, NJ saw playing time in just four games for the Terriers in 2004-05, posting a goal and an assist.

The Falcons success this season will depend largely on how well senior Ray Jean plays. The former Maine Black Bear was excellent in goal and was one of the main reasons why Bentley got all the way to the Atlantic Hockey Championship game last season. Jean posted a 12-13-4 record that included one shutout. His sparkling .916 save percentage ranked 23rd in the nation last year.

Canisius College

The Canisius Golden Griffs struggled through a tumultuous season last year, which ended with a disappointing seventh place finish in Atlantic Hockey. Then in the offseason, Canisius went through a plethora of personnel changes. The new look Golden Griffs will try to turn things around when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 7 hosting Robert Morris.

The good news for Canisius coming into this season is the return of their top three players. Senior Mike Cohen led the Golden Griffs in scoring last season with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists). Senior and assistant captain Joey Coccimiglio and junior Joel Kitchen both finished with 20 points each. They, along with redshirted senior Jaymie Harrington will be relied upon to help increase Canisius’ offensive production this season. The return of junior David Kasch and freshman Ryan Klusendorf should also help. The two players were lost very early last year due to season-ending injuries.

While the forward lines look solid coming in this season, the same can’t quite be said about the defense. The reliable Brandon Irish-Baker and Tim Songin have both graduated. The two logged a ton of ice time for the Golden Griffs last season, so filling their ice time and roles will be an area that Canisius will need to address immediately. One newcomer who may be able to do just that is junior Kyle Bushee. The Western Michigan transfer brings some much-needed experience and leadership to Canisius.

Goaltending is a position that poses some interesting questions. The most obvious is who will start this year. Dan Giffin, the stellar freshman that played in most of Canisius’ games last season opted to leave early and turn pro. Behemoth senior Max Buetow returns as the likely starter, having played in 14 games last season. A newcomer who brings some collegiate experience is junior Bryce Luker, who will challenge Buetow for playing time. The Michigan Tech transfer played in 12 games for the Huskies back in 2004-05.

University of Connecticut

UConn is another team looking to make a move up the Atlantic Hockey standings this season. The Huskies had a very strong finish to an otherwise streaky 2005-06 season. UConn handed Sacred Heart a stunning loss in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals before falling to Holy Cross in the conference semi-finals. This year, the Huskies look to build on their strong finish when they open their 2006-07 campaign on Oct. 13 at Bowling Green.

UConn returns most of last year’s squad intact. Perhaps the most significant loss was that of standout goaltender Brad Smith, who opted to leave early and turn pro. Smith played in 18 games last season, posting a 7-7-2 record that included one shutout. With Smith’s departure the starting job will likely fall to sophomore Jon Anderson, who split time with Smith last season. The Vadnais Heights, MN native posted a 3-9-0 record in 14 appearances. Senior Scott Tomes and newcomer Beau Erickson will also be battling for playing time.

Seniors Cole Koidahl and Matt Scherer lead a stellar but small (size-wise) group upfront for UConn. Koidahl led the Huskies in scoring last season with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists). Scherer, who will serve as team captain this season, led the team in goal scoring with 15 and finished with 20 points.

One player to watch this season is exciting sophomore Chris Myhro. The Eden Prairie, MN native was stellar last season, particularly in the early going. He led all Huskies rookies with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). This season, Myrho is poised to have a very strong sophomore campaign.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Huskies defensive corps will be relied on to provide stability and leadership. With a good mix of veterans and newcomers led by senior B.J. Crum and sophomore Sean Erickson that shouldn’t be much of a problem. The stalwart Crum finished with 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and was second on the team in penalty minutes (62). Erickson, an Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team selection, led all Huskies defensemen in scoring last season with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists). Four of Erickson’s five goals came on the power play.

Mercyhurst College

The Mercyhurst Lakers enjoyed an excellent 2005-06 campaign that was cut short by Bentley in double overtime in the Atlantic Hockey semi-final. This year, Mercyhurst will be looking to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 13 at Ferris State.

Last season, Mercyhurst possessed one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Lakers’ 4.17 goals per game average were the best in the nation. In addition, the Mercyhurst power play also thrived with a 22.5 percent efficiency rating, ranking them second in the nation in that category.

Despite the losses of forward Dave Borrelli and defenseman Jamie Hunt (WSH), the Lakers should have little trouble getting the kind of scoring they got last season. The offensively skilled duo of junior Ben Cottreau and senior Scott Champagne are expected to provide a significant amount of the team’s offensive production again this season. Both players, along with Borelli gave Mercyhurst three 50-plus points producers last season. Cottreau returns as the team’s top scorer from last year’s squad. The Atlantic Hockey All-Conference Second Team selection finished with 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists). Champagne finished behind Cottreau with 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists). Nearly half of Champagne’s goals last season came on the power play (7).

Another area that the Lakers look very solid is in goal. Mercyhurst returns all three of their netminders from last season in towering sophomore Tyler Small and seniors Mike Ella and Jordan Wakefield. Small played in the bulk of the games last season and has been tabbed as the starter this season. The Kincardine, ONT native posted a 14-6-1 record in 22 appearances.

Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin stresses that getting great goaltending from Small will be vital to the Lakers run towards another NCAA Tournament appearance this year.

“For us to get to where we want to be, we are going to have to get great goaltending, not good goaltending,” said Gotkin. “Right now, our starter will be Tyler Small. We brought Tyler in here last year to become an impact kind of goaltender and we think he started to show some signs of that last year and we need him to make an impact this year.”

Discipline will be one of Merychurst’s main concerns coming into the season. The Lakers were the most penalized team in the nation last season, averaging 27.33 minutes of penalties per game. Their 984 total penalty minutes ranked second only to North Dakota’s 1,054. Interestingly enough, Mercyhurst also led the nation with 14 short-handed goals and possessed the 20th best penalty killing team in the country.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

The newest member of Division I hockey, RIT begins its first season as an official member of Atlantic Hockey, although they won’t be eligible for post-season play until next season. Nevertheless, the Tigers have quite a bit to look forward to when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 6 at St. Lawrence.

The RIT player that had just about everyone talking last season was junior netminder Jocelyn Guimond. After being ruled ineligible for his freshman season due to a very brief stint in the QMJHL, Guimond came to RIT as a sophomore last season. Despite a 4-20-2 D-I record, the Quebec City native posted a very respectable 3.32 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. Back on Oct. 28, 2005 Guimond tied an NCAA record with a 66-save performance in the Tigers 3-2 non-overtime win over St. Lawrence. This season, Guimond looks poised to be even better.

RIT also returns three of their top four scorers from last season in juniors Simon Lambert, Matt Smith and Darrell Draper. Lambert, one of the Tigers’ tri-captains this season, led RIT in scoring last season with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists). Smith finished third with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists). Draper, another of the Tigers’ tri-captains finished behind Smith with 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists). It is important to note here that the three players’ stats came from play against both D-I and D-III opponents.

RIT’s specialty teams were a contradiction in terms last season. The Tigers thrived on the penalty kill but struggled mightily on the power play. RIT’s penalty killing had an 83.9 percent efficiency rating last season, ranking them 22nd in the nation. Conversely, the Tigers power play was an anemic 31-for-218 (14.2 percent efficiency) and ranked 50th in the nation. If the Tigers can get their power play together and maintain their outstanding penalty killing this season, it could go a long way towards moving up in the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Sacred Heart University

Despite a third place finish in the Atlantic Hockey conference last season, Sacred Heart has quite a bit to feel about good about coming into the new season. The Pioneers will return much of last season’s team intact and will look to make a serious push for the conference crown this year when they open their 2006-07 season on Oct. 13 at UMass.

The Pioneers’ strength begins in goal with senior Jason Smith (NJ). The Atlantic Hockey conference’s lone current NHL prospect was brilliant between the pipes last season. Smith posted an 18-11-1 record that included one shutout. His 18 wins set a new school single-season record. This year, Sacred Heart head coach Shaun Hannah expects Smith to be even better.

“Jason is technically very sound and the mental side of his game is very good,” said Hannah. “We expect him to be our guy in net this year. What we’re looking for him to do is to continue what he has done for us, do it consistently night in and night out and continue to play to his strengths”.

Where the Pioneers look particularly strong is up front. Senior Pierre-Luc O’Brien, who will serve as team captain this season, returns as Sacred Heart’s top scorer. He finished the last season with 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) in 35 appearances. Junior Alexandre Parent, who will serve as one of the team’s assistant captains finished third in team scoring with 38 points (11 goals, 28 assists).

One of the best stories (and best names) to come out of Atlantic Hockey last season was Bear Trapp. The dynamic sophomore from Regina, SK led all conference rookies in scoring with 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) and earned the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year honor. Trapp’s 1.26 points per game average ranked second among all rookies in the nation last season.

Despite the loss of Bernie Chmiel to graduation, Sacred Heart returns a predominantly sizable and experienced defensive corps led by junior Scott Marchesi. The South Portland, ME native finished last season as the Pioneers second leading scorer among defensemen with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and was one of the team’s top penalty killers.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.