Top line fuels American International’s drive to climb from basement

For the second straight season, it looked like the American International Yellow Jackets were going to finish out of the Atlantic Hockey basement. But in the end, Gary Wright’s team couldn’t get over the hump.

“The last two years, we dropped into last on the last day of the season,” he said. “That wasn’t an indication of the improvement that I’ve seen. We were more potent offensively and improved our penalty killing.”

This season, the Yellow Jackets return their top four scorers, four of their six starting defensemen and goaltenders Ben Meisner (27 games) and Ryan Kerpan (nine games).

“We’ve got a pretty good group of returnees,” said Wright. “On paper, this is the strongest group of players we’ve had in some time.”

AIC’s top line of junior Adam Pleskach and seniors Nielsson Arcibal and Michael Penny, which combined for 75 points last season, returns intact. If the Yellow Jackets can get the same production from that line and get more input from their other forwards, they’ll get that chance to move out of the basement.

In net, Meisner turned in some amazing performances last season, including 51 saves in a 1-0 loss to Minnesota State. Some other shaky outings resulted in a 3.70 GAA.

“Ben had a really strong year and should improve even more,” said Wright. “Ryan [Kerpan] had a good second semester. [In terms of a starter] Ben played the majority of games last year and has the edge in that respect.

“We’re hoping that the returnees mixed with the new players we have will make for a better season.”

And get the Yellow Jackets out of the basement.

About the Yellow Jackets

2010-11 overall record: 8-24-1

2010-11 AHA record: 7-19-1 (12th)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 12th

Key losses: Tom Mele (F)

Players to watch: Adam Pleskach (jr., F), Ben Meisner (jr., G), Nielsson Arcibal (sr., F)

Impact rookie:Jason Popek had 65 points in 40 games for Burlington (OJHL).

Why the Yellow Jackets will finish higher than the coaches poll: Their first line compares with any team in the league.

Why the Yellow Jackets will finish lower than the coaches poll: AIC will stay in the basement if it keeps averaging over four goals a game allowed.