Niagara picked to finish No. 1 in Atlantic Hockey preseason poll

Niagara has been picked to repeat as Atlantic Hockey regular-season champions by the league’s coaches in the 2013-14 preseason poll released Tuesday.

The Purple Eagles edged out Mercyhurst and Air Force as the top pick in a tightly-packed ranking. The Lakers and Falcons tied for second place.

Mercyhurst garnered the most first-place votes with four, followed by Niagara (three), playoff champions Canisius (three) and Air Force (two).

“It’s an honor to be chosen as the preseason pick,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We’re not ordering plaques or trophies at this point, but Atlantic Hockey is a great league and being picked first is an honor.”

The lack of a clear frontrunner is recognition of last year’s standings and playoffs, which saw all but first and last place in play in the final regular-season weekend, and the sixth and seventh place teams advancing to the championship game.

“I talked to several coaches and we were chuckling about the poll,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “I kept re-doing mine. I would think, ‘how can I have this team in ninth place,’ or ‘Wait, what about this team?’ We’re picked third and I’d take that right now. I’d take fourth right now. Because if you fall behind early in the season, you’ll never get to the top four. There are just too many good teams.”

Rochester Institute of Technology coach Wayne Wilson echoed Serratore’s comments.

“We had a tough time with [filling out] the poll,” he said. “Not just picking the top half, but the bottom half as well. Niagara got three first-place votes, but the fourth place team [Canisius] also got three first-place votes. That’s how close we think things will be.”

Team (First-Place Votes)Total Points
1. Niagara (3)102
2 (tie). Mercyhurst (4)98
2 (tie). Air Force (2)98
4. Canisius (3)92
5. Rochester Institute of Technology81
6. Connecticut79
7. Robert Morris66
8. Holy Cross59
9. Bentley53
10. Army28
11. American International22
12. Sacred Heart16