A new season brings a new lineup for the Atlantic Hockey Association, as the addition of Air Force and RIT brings the total number of teams to ten.
“We’re very pleased to welcome established programs like Air Force and RIT to Atlantic Hockey,” said AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio. “They are great additions to our league and will fit in very well both academically and on the ice.”
Optimism is at an all-time high. After coming close several times in NCAA tournament play, Holy Cross got the conference’s first-ever win in the Big Dance, stunning Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the first round before bowing to North Dakota in the quarterfinals. That win, combined with a steadily improving nonconference record, is helping the league shed its “Division I-AA” reputation.
“We took our league champion and beat the best in the West,” DeGregorio. “That was huge.”
“The one word that jumps out today is pure excitement,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin at the league’s Media Day, held this year at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., site of the league championships for the next three seasons.
“I’m a little bit surprised and humbled by being chosen the preseason favorite,” said Gotkin, after it was announced that his Lakers were again picked as the league’s top team in the coaches’ preseason poll. “I’m sure there are nine great programs here that want to prove the polls wrong.”
College Hockey America’s loss is Atlantic Hockey’s gain, with Air Force moving over. The Falcons were 8-12 in the CHA last season, making a late run that saw them finish fourth.
“We’re really excited to be joining Atlantic Hockey,” said coach Frank Serratore. “It’s a great fit for our program. We’re looking forward to the challenge of competing in a very balanced, competitive league.”
Also joining is former Division III powerhouse RIT, which was just 6-22-2 as in independent in its first year of Division I play. The Tigers were in almost every game, though, losing 16 games by two goals or fewer, and pulling off an upset of St. Lawrence.
“It will be great to be in a league again,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “The excitement level on campus is high. We’re proud to host the playoffs for the next three seasons and hopefully beyond that.”
RIT is not eligible for postseason play yet, so the playoffs will revert to the format used when the league was a nine-team conference in its first two years of existence. Things start with a play-in game between the eighth and ninth place teams, followed by quarterfinals hosted by the top four seeds. The four winners advance to Rochester.
“Our goal is to get the people from Rochester involved and behind this tournament. We hope to make this an event and establish a long-term relationship with this facility,” said DeGregorio.
“We hope and expect to have a full house here for our conference tournament,” Wilson said. “Four teams battling for the opportunity to go to the Big Dance.”
And we all know what can happen there.
Click on any team name at the top of a section below to view its individual season preview.
2005-06 overall record: 22-13-1
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 19-8-1
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Second
2006-07 predicted finish: First
Outlook: The Lakers lost several key players to graduation and the pros, but I like their chances in what should be a dogfight for the top four spots in the standings. Sacred Heart is a close second, but Mercyhurst has more big-game experience.
2005-06 overall record: 21-12-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 18-8-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Third
2006-07 predicted finish: Second
Outlook: The Pioneers are poised for the best season in school history. Everything is in place: experience, offense, defense, and goaltending. Sacred Heart should be in the thick of things all season.
2005-06 overall record: 27-10-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 19-7-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: First
2006-07 predicted finish: Third
Outlook: The second most popular team in Grand Forks will have a target on its back all season. The main question for the Crusaders is in net, where a pair of freshmen will have to come up to speed quickly.
2005-06 overall record: 15-17-5
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 11-12-5
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Fourth
2006-07 predicted finish: Fourth
Outlook: This is a young team that gelled quickly last season and returns virtually intact. If the Falcons can get the same kind of production out of this year’s freshman crop, they’ll be in great shape.
2005-06 overall record: 11-20-1
2006-07 predicted finish: Fifth
Outlook: The other set of Falcons should fit in well in Atlantic Hockey, having played (and beaten) many of these schools while a member of the CHA. Almost the entire offense is back from last season, but goaltending remains an issue.
2005-06 overall record: 11-23-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 9-18-1
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Sixth
2006-07 predicted finish: Sixth
Outlook: Twenty-one players are back from last season’s semifinalist team, but starting goaltender Brad Smith isn’t one of them, having bolted early. The Huskies will have to address that, as well as try to shore up a penalty kill that was worst in the league last season.
2005-06 overall record: 12-18-6
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 10-12-6
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Fifth
2006-07 predicted finish: Seventh
Outlook: The Black Knights are another team trying to fill a void in net. A pair of unproven sophomores will be called on to replace four-year starter Brad Roberts. Army has a large number of upperclassmen to rely on in other key positions.
2005-06 overall record: 6-22-2
2006-07 predicted finish: Eighth
Outlook: The Tigers were in nearly every game they played last season, but wound up 1-10 in one-goal contests. They’re young but will benefit from a second year of D-I recruiting. Not eligible for the playoffs yet, RIT will see every league game as a playoff game this season.
2005-06 overall record: 10-23-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 8-18-2
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Seventh
2006-07 predicted finish: Ninth
Outlook: This is another young team that has significant voids to fill up front and in net. The Griffs will need their freshman to come up to speed quickly, aided by a couple of transfers.
2005-06 overall record: 6-21-5
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey record: 6-17-5
2005-06 Atlantic Hockey finish: Eighth
2006-07 predicted finish: Tenth
Outlook: AIC’s defense and goaltending return intact, but improvement is needed to bring down an NCAA-worst 4.03 GAA, and a power play that was effective less than 10% of the time.