2007-08 Atlantic Hockey Season Preview

The new kids on the block ruled in Atlantic Hockey last year, with RIT claiming the regular-season title and Air Force winning the playoff crown and representing the league well in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota in the NCAAs.

“We weren’t fortunate enough to make it to Rochester last season,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl, whose Crusaders reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2005. “But the quality of this league is so strong that any of the 10 teams has a legitimate shot at making it back here and representing the league in the NCAA tournament.”

With RIT now eligible for the postseason, the league will be using its fifth different playoff format in its five years of existence.

“We have 10 members eligible for the league championship,” said commissioner Bob DeGregorio. “We’re going to have five first-round best-of-three series at the sites of the top five seeds, with the five winners moving on to Rochester. They’ll be a play-game on Friday (March 7), with semifinals on Saturday and the championship game on Sunday.”

Goaltender Louis Menard returns to the AHA regular-season champion Tigers.

Goaltender Louis Menard returns to the AHA regular-season champion Tigers.

Sunday’s championship game time is yet to be determined as the league is trying to get the game on national television.

“We’re in negotiations to carry the game,” said DeGregorio. “We’re looking for more exposure for the league, to show the kind of hockey that we’re playing, the competitive, exciting brand of hockey that we’re playing.”

The league will have three of its games on national TV this season. CSTV will carry Army at Holy Cross on November 4 and Air Force at Army on January 25. ESPNU will televise Air Force at Army on January 27.

Some additional exposure this season will come in via the B2 network, which has signed an agreement with the league to carry every game via the Internet. All 10 AHA rinks are being wired for high-speed Internet which will carry a video signal as well as audio from broadcasters on site, mostly from existing radio stations carrying the games.

Based on the preseason poll, the coaches expect more of the same in terms of who they expect to finish near the top, but several were quick to say that the league is up for grabs. Last year’s poll had Mercyhurst at the top and RIT in the eighth position. The Lakers finished tied for seventh, while RIT wound up at the top of the standings.

“It’s nice to receive the honor (or being picked first), but our league is so balanced that any team can beat the other on any given night,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We exceeded expectations last year, but now the target is on our back.”

Click on any team name at the top of a section below to view its individual season preview.

2006-07 overall record: 21-11-2
2006-07 AHA record: 20-7-1 (First)
2007-08 predicted finish: First
Outlook: The question going into last season was whether the Tigers, two seasons removed from Division III, could compete. That one was answered with certainty. Now the question is: can they repeat? RIT lost two key players but returns relatively intact. But the Tigers won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

Air Force
2006-07 overall record: 19-16-5
2006-07 AHA record: 13-10-5 (Fifth)
2007-08 predicted finish: Second
Outlook: The Falcons, led by Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn, got hot at the right time and came within a goal of the NCAA quarterfinals. Ehn will be back, along with a good nucleus that should keep Air Force near the top of the standings all season.

2006-07 overall record: 9-20-6
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 9-15-4 (Tied for Seventh)
2007-08 predicted finish: Third
Outlook: The Lakers went from 22 wins in 2005-2006 to just nine last season, losing a boatload of close games. A highly-touted goaltender and a more seasoned defense should supplement the always-potent Mercyhurst offense and return the Lakers to their accustomed place near the top of the standings.

Josh Kassel starred after replacing the departed Brad Roberts last season (photo: Angelo Lisuzzo).

Josh Kassel starred after replacing the departed Brad Roberts last season (photo: Angelo Lisuzzo).

2006-07 overall record: 17-12-5
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 15-8-5 (Third)
2007-08 predicted finish: Fourth
Outlook: The Black Knights had a breakthrough season in 2006-07. Traditionally tough at home, they learned to win on the road and came within a game of the NCAA tournament. If Josh Kassel has another season like last year, Army will challenge for the title again.

Sacred Heart
2006-07 overall record: 21-11-4
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 17-7-4 (Second)
2007-08 predicted finish: Fifth
Outlook: Last season was supposed to belong to the Pioneers, but a pair of newcomers crashed the party and spoiled things. The loss of Pierre-Luc O’Brien and Jason Smith will hurt; how much is yet to be determined.

Holy Cross
2006-07 overall record: 10-20-5
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 9-14-5 (Sixth)
2007-08 predicted finish: Sixth
Outlook: The Crusaders came crashing down to earth last season after a storybook campaign in 2005-06. Going from 27 wins to 10 showed how much the previous senior class was missed, and Holy Cross lost a couple more key cogs last season in John Landry and James Sixsmith. Coach Paul Pearl won’t use the word “rebuilding,” but some construction is definitely underway.

2006-07 overall record: 16-18-2
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 15-11-2 (Fourth)
2007-08 predicted finish: Seventh
Outlook: Speaking of rebuilding, coach Bruce Marshall has 15 freshmen on his roster. How long it takes them to come up to speed will go a long way in determining the Huskies’ fate — that and the play of goaltender Beau Erickson, who came into his own last season.

2006-07 overall record: 12-22-1
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 11-17-0 (Tied for Seventh)
2007-08 predicted finish: Eighth
Outlook: Bentley took a step backwards last season after making the league title game two years ago. Picked to finish ninth by the coaches, I think they’ll do at least one better with almost the entire team returning. The key will be to shore up a defense that was the worst in the league in terms of goals allowed, and improve a power play that only converted 12% of the time.

2006-07 overall record: 9-23-3
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 9-16-3 (Ninth)
2007-08 predicted finish: Ninth
Outlook: The youth movement continues at Canisius, with another 10 players brought in to supplement a huge sophomore class. Coach Dave Smith is going with speed over size, continuing to move away from the traditional Canisius style. If they can outrun and outgun and Andrew Loewen can improve on an excellent freshman campaign, Canisius will finish higher than I’m projecting.

American International
2006-07 overall record: 8-25-1
2006-07 Atlantic Hockey record: 7-20-1 (Tenth)
2007-08 predicted finish: Tenth
Outlook: The good news is that AIC will be better than last season. The bad news is that the teams ahead of the Yellow Jackets probably will be too. Look for Jereme Tendler to have a big senior season, but how much help he gets is yet to be determined.