Expect another unpredictable season for Atlantic Hockey in 2013-14

Canisius earned a spot in the NCAA tournament with a memorable run through the Atlantic Hockey tournament last season (photo: Omar Phillips).

Hockey is a game of anticipation. There are moments that seem frozen in time: the second before the puck drops, the time between the wind up and a blast from the point, the moment when a player finds the puck on his stick and the net open.

Anticipation is always high at this time of the year with a new season laid out before us. For Atlantic Hockey, expectations have risen coming off arguably the best season in league history.

Last season was unprecedentedly unpredictable, with traditional powerhouses finishing in the bottom half of the standings and some usual suspects making early playoff exits. The sixth and seventh seeds played for the title, and Canisius skated away with its first banner in school history.

Canisius and Niagara combined to make history. For the first time, Atlantic Hockey sent two teams to the NCAA tournament, and both represented the league well, holding leads but falling in one-goal decisions in the first round.

Expect more of the same this season.

“I think clearly it’s great, our league is great,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “With what transpired last year, for us to get home ice in playoffs, to get to the final four in Rochester. It was all highlighted by Niagara’s regular season championship and Canisius’ tournament championship, and both teams going to the NCAA tournament and representing our league very well.”

As usual, there are many questions to be answered and subplots to be analyzed as we embark on Atlantic Hockey’s 11th season:

Can Niagara do it again? The Purple Eagles are picked to repeat as regular season champions, but lost a Hobey Baker Award finalist in net as well as some firepower.

Who has the best chance to unseat the Purple Eagles? Mercyhurst returns almost intact, hoping to build on a season that saw the Lakers get better and better. Air Force was arguably the best team in the league on the final weekend of the regular season last year.

Can Bentley finally rise? Selected by many as the dark horse last year, the Falcons ended brutally and finished 10th. With a Walter Brown Award winner, two AHA rookies of the year and a full year under the defense, can Bentley win the east’s first league title since 2006?

Can Canisius put together another amazing run? The Golden Griffins may be even better this season.

Can Connecticut win one for the road? A new coach, a new logo and a new attitude are in Storrs; what’s the Huskies’ ceiling before Hockey East comes calling?

Will the Tigers roar once more in downtown Rochester? Rochester Institute of Technology missed the semifinals and a short bus ride to Blue Cross Arena for the first time since becoming full members of the league in 2006.

Will Robert Morris rebuild or reload? The Colonials had significant losses to graduation but can’t be counted out.

Which team could emerge from the back of the pack? American International emerged as a contender last season. Will the Yellow Jackets be able to keep pace? Or will Army put together a complete season equal to its strong start last year? Will Sacred Heart make some noise?

Here are our picks for the final standings in Atlantic Hockey for the 2013-14 season. Click on each team for a more detailed preview:

1. Mercyhurst

The Lakers seem to have it all: goaltending, defense and an explosive group of forwards. Read more

2. Niagara

The Purple Eagles have unfinished business after a terrific regular season in 2012-13. Read more

3. Air Force

The Falcons’ season ended earlier than it ever has in the AHA last season, but they’re poised for a return visit to Blue Cross Arena. Read more

4. Canisius

The Golden Griffins return most of their AHA championship roster, but it’s tough to repeat (unless you’re Air Force). Read more

5. Bentley

The Falcons had a horrendous finish last year to end up 10th, but their entire roster is back from a team selected fifth before last season. Read more

6. Rochester Institute of Technology

The Tigers didn’t get it going until it was too late last season. A better start will be key to finishing in the top half of the standings. Read more

7. Connecticut

The Huskies have nearly every piece returning, including a top national goalie, before leaving for Hockey East. Keep an eye on how they respond to a new coach and new attitude. Read more

8. Robert Morris

The Colonials will rise or fall based on how their inexperienced goaltending fares. Read more

9. Holy Cross

The Crusaders always reload, not rebuild, but they could be the odd man out of a tightly-packed middle tier. Read more

10. Army

The Black Knights will have a tough defense and stable goalie, but their offense lost its top scoring threat from a team that struggled to score goals. Read more

11. American International

The Yellow Jackets are hoping the loss of their best class ever doesn’t bring them back to earth after a magical ninth-place finish. Read more

12. Sacred Heart

The Pioneers hit rock bottom with only two wins last year despite never quitting in any of their games. Still, there’s a lot of struggle ahead for a rebuilding program. Read more


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