Picking MVPs, pleasant surprises as Atlantic Hockey picks up again

After a brief look back at the first part of the season, the holiday break is also a time to look ahead as teams play in some New Year’s tournaments and then get into the heart of their conference schedule.

Here’s a team-by-team rundown:

Air Force

Record: 9-4-2, 8-2-1 AHA

Team MVP so far: Junior Kyle De Laurell is seventh nationally and tops in the conference in points per game (1.47).

Pleasant surprise: When go-to goaltender Jason Torf went down early in the season with a groin injury, senior Stephen Caple was called on and has responded well, posting a 2.09 goals against average. Now that Torf is getting healthy, coach Frank Serratore has a problem on his hands, albeit a good one.

He told the media that he was going to stick with Caple for now, starting him this Friday against Colorado College. “We owe it to him,” Serratore said. “He’s been solid. We’ll need to step it up as a team in the second half.”

Outlook: The Falcons are ruling the roost right now, and their battle with local rivals Colorado College and Denver this weekend will be a good tune-up for the rest of their schedule, which is exclusively made up of AHA games after that.

Air Force is off to its second-best start in school history, but has played only four league road games so far, making just two trips east. But the Falcons have five two-game road series left, and those will make or break their quest for the regular season title.

American International

Record: 3-14-2, 2-10 AHA

Team MVP so far: Goaltender Ben Meisner has won just three games this season, but has kept AIC in several contests. He has a .917 save percentage. Two of his three wins have been shutouts.

Pleasant surprise: AIC’s penalty kill is third in the league, stopping opponents 90.6 percent of the time.

Outlook: The Yellow Jackets had a decent start to the season, highlighted by wins over Robert Morris and Brown. But AIC has lost its last six games and is in the midst of a 31-day layoff that won’t see the Yellow Jackets return to play until Jan. 10. AIC needs to shake the rust off quickly and get Meisner more goal support if it wants to turn things around.

Army

Record: 1-8-6, 1-6-4 AHA

Team MVP so far: Junior forward Andy Starczewski leads the team in goals (six) and points (nine).

Pleasant surprise: Rookie goaltender Rob Tadazak, coming off an MVP season in juniors, has adjusted quickly to college hockey, posting a .925 save percentage in six outings.

Outlook: Like several teams in Atlantic Hockey, the Black Knights are having problems scoring goals. The second half of the season will see them playing their remaining 16 conference games, including hosting a two-game series with Air Force and an exhibition with the Canadian Royal Military College after a five-year hiatus. The series dates back over 75 years.

Bentley

Record: 5-8-3, 5-3-2 AHA

Team MVP so far: Sophomore goaltender Branden Komm leads the league in goals against average (1.61).

Pleasant surprise: The Falcons were picked to finish 10th this season but are currently tied for sixth with games in hand on most teams ahead of them. The main reason is their defense, best in the league (2.00 goals allowed per game).

Outlook: Bentley has been able to take at least one point each weekend in league play, and still has 17 conference games to play, tied with Holy Cross for the most points still on the table. The Falcons were expected to struggle to score goals, and, like many AHA teams, haven’t been an offensive juggernaut. But if they keep allowing just two goals a game, they’re going to be in every contest.

Canisius

Record: 4-10-3, 4-5-2 AHA

Team MVP so far: Sophomore Kyle Gibbons leads the team in goals (six) and assists (nine).

Pleasant surprise: Last season Dan Morrison saw the majority of time in net, but this year he’s split duties with sophomore Tony Capobianco and it’s worked out well, with both in the league’s top 10 for goals against average and save percentage.

Outlook: The Golden Griffins were offensively challenged during the first half of the season (sound familiar?) averaging just 1.91 goals per game, tied with Army for last in the conference. Canisius has a trip to Army to open conference play in the second half of the season, but after is home for at least one game each weekend for the remainder of the season.

Connecticut

Record: 5-9-2, 4-6-1 AHA

Team MVP so far: Sophomore Brant Harris has 10 goals, more than twice as any other Huskies player.

Pleasant surprise: Connecticut’s power play is tops in the league, converting a whopping 29.7 percent of the time. The only bad news about that stat is UConn has had the fewest power plays of any team in the conference (just 37 attempts in 11 games).

Outlook: After successive years of improvement, UConn is off to a slightly slower start so far this season. But the Huskies have the talent to move up in the standings in the second half. Last year’s strong rookie class has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, and goaltender Garrett Bartus continues to be one of the best in the league. Only a junior and playing just half of his freshman season, Bartus is just 10 saves away from setting the all-time saves record in UConn’s Division I era.

Holy Cross

Record: 8-7, 6-4 AHA

Team MVP so far: Yet another sophomore MVP, winger Adam Schmidt leads the team with seven goals.

Pleasant surprise: Senior Andrew Cox is on pace to have his best season ever. He’s currently leading the team in scoring with 13 points.

Outlook: The Crusaders are 6-1 at home so far and have eight more conference games to go at the Hart Center, including a big two-game showdown with first-place Air Force the first weekend in January. Rookie Matt Ginn has played the majority of time in net and if he can get his save percentage up a bit, Holy Cross has the offensive tools to get near the top of the standings.

Mercyhurst

Record: 8-8-2, 7-2-2 AHA

Team MVP so far: Senior goalie Max Strang has played in all 18 games this season after making a total of 10 appearances his first three years. He’s tied for second in the league in save percentage (.947).

Pleasant surprise: Rookie Nardo Nagtzaam is second in the league in points per game (0.81) for rookies and leads the Lakers in scoring with 13 points.

Outlook: Picked to finish seventh, the Lakers have ridden Strang, a talented rookie class and a strong power play to a tie for second place at the holiday break. Mercyhurst has a tough road schedule down the stretch, playing just three of its final 14 conference games at home.

Niagara

Record: 5-5-6, 4-2-5 AHA

Team MVP so far: Sophomore (yep, another one) Scott Arnold has seven goals and 12 points, tops on the team in both categories.

Pleasant surprise: After a strong freshman season in which he scored 20 points, junior Marc Zanette saw his production drop to just seven points last season. But he’s back on track in 2011-12 with 10 points in 16 games, tied for second on the team.

Outlook: The Purple Eagles are on a hot streak right now, undefeated in their last six games. If it can turn more ties (six so far, more games than it has won or lost) into wins, Niagara will stay in the top four. After participating in the Mariucci Classic this weekend, the Purple Eagles will be home for 10 of their final 16 games, all in conference play.

Rochester Institute of Technology

Record: 8-6-2, 7-4-2 AHA

Team MVP so far: Senior goalie Shane Madolora is 7-3-1 with a .925 save percentage.

Pleasant surprise: Sophomore Mike Colavecchia had six goals his rookie year but already has five this season and is tied for the team lead in scoring with 12 points so far.

Outlook: The Tigers usually have one of the top offenses in the league but have struggled this season, averaging just 2.31 goals a game. They return from the break with four tough non-conference games (Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Wisconsin twice) before returning to a league schedule that has them on the road for seven of their next nine conference games.

Robert Morris

Record: 9-6-2, 7-2-2 AHA

Team MVP so far: Freshman Cody Wydo leads the team in goals with eight, including three game-winners.

Pleasant surprise: Wydo leads a strong rookie class that is making up for the departure of all-stars Denny Urban and Nathan Longpre. Senior Brooks Ostergard is going out on top, posting the best numbers of his career (2,80 goals against average, .931 save percentage).

Outlook: The Colonials are riding a school-record eight-game unbeaten streak. They have a big game this weekend against Ohio State at the Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh before moving exclusively into conference play after that, culminating in a regular season-ending showdown at home against Air Force.

Sacred Heart

Record: 1-16-1, 0-10-1 AHA

Team MVP so far: Senior forward Matt Gingera leads the Pioneers in goals (eight) and is tied for the lead in points (13).

Pleasant surprise: Rookie Brian Sheehan is off to a good start with five goals and eight assists.

Outlook: The Pioneers are having a decent year offensively in a league that’s struggling in general to score goals. But on the defensive side, the news is bleak. The Pioneers are averaging 5.18 goals allowed per game, almost two full goals a game worse than the next closest team in the league. There’s still plenty of hockey to play and Sacred Heart has shown, once, that it can beat a good team (Yale). More of that needs to happen for the Pioneers to avoid the basement.

Tweet of the week

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/ScottyMoser/statuses/148919348768153601″]

— Canisius captain Scott Moser enjoying his time off. The Griffs are back in action Friday at Colgate.

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