October 11, 2012

Atlantic Hockey 2012-13 season preview

By Allen Lessels

New England Hockey Journal takes a look at who's gone, who's back and what lies ahead for each of the 12 teams in Atlantic Hockey.

AIR FORCE FALCONS

The Falcons doubled up in 2011-12, winning an extremely tight race for the Atlantic Hockey regular-season championship and then rolling through the league tournament to their fifth title in six years. Air Force then gave eventual national champion Boston College its best game of the NCAA tournament before falling, 2-0, in a regional semifinal game.

Last season: 21-11-7 (15-6-6 Atlantic Hockey, first), lost to Boston College in NCAA regional semifinals

Who’s gone: Tim Kirby, D; Scott Mathis, D; Stephen Caple, G

Who’s back: Jason Torf, jr., G; Kyle De Laurell, sr., F; John Kruse, sr. F

Who’s new: Ben Carey, fr., F; Jesse Ramsey, fr., D; Trevor Waldoch, fr., D

Keep an eye on … Adam McKenzie. The junior defenseman has had a couple of consistent years of offensive production (19 points as a freshman, 18 last season) and will have a chance to bump up those numbers with Kirby and Mathis gone.

Outlook: Torf led the team to league tournament titles in his first two tries, and he and the Falcons will try to do it again. De Laurell, who had 15 goals and 23 assists last season, and Kruse (16 goals, 14 assists) pace the offense. Part of the challenge will be to replace Kirby and Mathis, who had an outstanding four-year run while teamed on the blue line.

AIC YELLOW JACKETS

The Yellow Jackets, mired in last place in the league for several years, worked their way out last season and finished 10th, four points in front of Army and Sacred Heart, who were tied for last place in the league. They then gave Robert Morris a scare in the league tournament, taking the Colonials to a decisive third game before bowing out.

Last season: 8-26-3 (6-18-3 Atlantic Hockey, 10th)

Who’s gone: Nielsson Arcibal, F; Michael Penny, F; Rob Blanchette (South Boston, Mass.), D

Who’s back: Adam Pleshack, sr., F; Steve Mele, sr., F; Ben Meisner, sr., G; Jeff Ceccacci, sr., D

Who’s new: David Gandara, fr., F; Derek Henderson (Smithfield, R.I.), fr., D; Brandon Lubin, fr., D

Keep an eye on … Jeff Ceccacci. Ceccacci doubled his career goals total last season with 4-14-18 totals, and seven of his points came in AIC’s quarterfinal series against Robert Morris.

Outlook: Pleskach has led or shared the AIC scoring lead in each of his first three years and is back for one more go-round with career totals of 44-38-82 in 103 games. Meisner is a senior, too, and he and a defense featuring four blueliners who played at least 28 games last season will try to lower again a goals-against average that went from 4.24 to 3.70.

ARMY BLACK KNIGHTS

The Black Knights had a tough finish to a tough season. After posting their only consecutive wins of the campaign with road triumphs at Bentley on Jan. 28 and UConn on Feb. 7, they lost their last eight games and slipped into a tie for last place in the league with Sacred Heart. Army scored 1.91 goals a game and gave up 3.53 per game.

Last season: 4-23-7 (3-19-5 Atlantic Hockey, tied for 11th)

Who’s gone: Mike Hull, F; Marcel Alvarez, D; Mark Dube (Billerica, Mass.), F

Who’s back: Andy Starczewski, sr., F; Marcel Alvarez, so., D; Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.), so., D

Who’s new: Christian Pomarico (Simsbury, Conn.), fr., D; Andrew O’Leary (Norwich, Vt.), fr., F; Michael St. Denis (Auburn, Maine), fr., F

Keep an eye on … Mac Lalor. Lalor scored four goals and had six assists for the Black Knights and was honored as the team’s top freshman.

Outlook: Starczewski, the only Black Knight who hit double figures in goals at 13-11-24, needs some help on the offensive end. Army scored more than three goals in a game just once, in that 4-1 win at UConn. Goalie Ryan Leets and the defense will try to bring the goals allowed number down. He had an .889 save percentage and 3.50 goals-against average as a junior.

BENTLEY FALCONS

Brett Gensler had a nice freshman year and was even better as a sophomore to lead the potent and resurgent Falcons. Gensler, at 23-27-50, led the league in scoring and was second in goals. Bentley jumped several spots in the standings and finished sixth, three points behind champion Air Force. The Falcons were two points out of second and one out of a three-way tie for third.

Last season: 16-16-8 (13-7-7 Atlantic Hockey, sixth)

Who’s gone: Mike Switzer, D; Aaron Stonacek, F; Trent Bonnett, D

Who’s back: Brett Gensler, jr., F; Alex Grieve, so, F; Branden Komm, jr., G

Who’s new: Mark Meads (Middletown, Mass.), fr., F; Kyle O’Brien (Tewksbury Mass.), fr., D; Michael Reardon (Norwood, Mass.), fr., D

Keep an eye on … Matt Maher. The sophomore defenseman (Avon, Conn.) had 2-10-12 totals last season with both goals coming on the power play, an area of the game the Falcons are looking to beef up.  

Outlook: Branden Komm, who had a 2.41 goals-against average and .923 save percentage last season as a sophomore, will try to help the Falcons keep moving up. One obvious place for improvement is the power play: Bentley scored on 11.4 percent of its man-advantage chances last season, a number that should increase given the firepower the Falcons possess.

CANISIUS GOLDEN GRIFFINS

The Golden Griffins finished under .500 overall and in the league for the second consecutive season and again finished in the bottom half of the standings. Their goal-scoring numbers have fallen off in the last few years, slipping from 3.38 to 2.89 to a league low 1.83 the past three. The goals against have come down over the same span, but not nearly as dramatically.

Last season: 10-22-4 (10-14-3 Atlantic Hockey, ninth)

Who’s gone: Dan Morrison, G; Scott Moser, F

Who’s back: Kyle Gibbons, so., F; Taylor Law, so., F; Ben Danford, jr. D

Who’s new: Stephen Miller (Boxboro, Mass.), fr., F; Adam Harris, fr., G; Ralph Cuddemi, fr., F  

Keep an eye on … Tony Capobianco. The junior goalie’s number slipped a bit last season and he’ll be looking to at least get back to the 2.79 goals-against average and .913 save percentage he put up as a freshman.

Outlook: The nucleus should be in place to boost the scoring numbers. Gibbons and Law put up matching 11-15-26 seasons and the top four scorers a year ago were all sophomores. Junior defenseman Ben Danford and senior forward Preston Shupe will be shooting to add more to the offense, too, after their numbers fell off from previous seasons.

CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

The Huskies started off well and ended with a nice run, but a bit of a lag during the middle of the season cost them some spots in the league standings. The end included taking Air Force — in Colorado — to three games in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals. The Huskies led late in the second period of Game 3 but were not quite able to hold on for the upset.

Last season: 16-19-4 (12-12-3 Atlantic Hockey, eighth)

Who’s gone: Cole Schneider, F; Brad Cooper, D; Marcello Ranallo, F

Who’s back: Brant Harris, jr. F Billy Latta, jr. F; Garrett Bartus, sr., G

Who’s new: Tyler Bouchard (Glastonbury, Conn.), jr., F; Tyler Cooke (Warwick, R.I.), D; Joe Schmitz, D

Keep an eye on … Brant Harris. Harris scored 18 goals as a sophomore, 10 of them on UConn’s best-in-league power play.

Outlook: Losing Schneider and his 78 points in 75 games to the pros after his sophomore year is a blow, but he had some talented forwards around him, including Harris, Latta, senior Sean Ambrosie and Jordan Sims. Bartus, who had a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage last season, is back for his senior season, UConn’s next to last in the league before it joins Hockey East.

HOLY CROSS CRUSADERS

The Crusaders had yet another strong finish to a season and rode this one into a three-way tie for third place. They were a point out of second and two points behind regular-season champion Air Force. They were edged out in the tiebreaker with RIT and Mercyhurst, though, and had to go to Mercyhurst for the league quarterfinal series and fell in three games.

Last season: 20-15-4 (15-8-4 Atlantic Hockey, tied for third)

Who’s gone: Andrew Cox, F; Mike Daly (South Burlington, Vt.), D; Matt Clune, D

Who’s back: Adam Schmidt, jr. F; Erik Vos, sr. F; Matt Ginn, so., G 

Who’s new: Tim Driscoll (Hingham, Mass.), fr., F; Matt Vidal, fr., F; Joe McNamara (Chestnut Hill, Mass.), fr., D

Keep an eye on … Jeffrey Reppucci. The junior defenseman (Newburyport, Mass.) will be one of the veterans on a blue line that lost players to graduation. 

Outlook: It will be incumbent on folks such as Reppucci and senior Evan Zych to hold the fort while coach Paul Pearl (Winthrop, Mass.) and his staff work in several new defensemen. Up front, Schmidt (18-19-37) leads a group that includes five of last season’s eight top scorers. The Crusaders led the league with 3.08 goals a game, but their power-play production fell off a bit from 24 percent the year before to 19.6.

MERCYHURST LAKERS

The Lakers finished in a three-way tie for third in the league standings and earned the No. 4 seed and home ice for the league quarterfinals through a tiebreaker. They eliminated Holy Cross, which also tied for third, in three games to advance to Rochester and the championship round, where they lost to Air Force, 5-2, in the semifinals.

Last season: 20-16-4 (15-8-4 Atlantic Hockey, tied for third)

Who’s gone: Max Strang, G; Derek Elliott, F; Kevin Noble, D

Who’s back: Jordan Tibbett, jr., G; Grant Blakey, sr., F; Paul Chiasson, sr., F

Who’s new: Alex Shields, fr, F; Justin Stevens, fr., D; Kyle Cook, fr., F

Keep an eye on … Nick Jones. The junior defenseman helps make the Lakers’ power play run: he had six power-play goals last season, two more than anyone else.

Outlook: The Lakers appear primed for another run at a championship with 12 of their 13 top scorers back. Three of the top four were freshmen: Daniel Bahntge (10-21-31), Nardo Nagtzaam (11-19-30) and Chris Bodo (11-14-25). The early challenge: Mercyhurst plays its first 11 games on the road, but at the end it plays eight of its last 11 at home.

NIAGARA PURPLE EAGLES

The Purple Eagles squeezed into second place in the regular season, just a point behind regular-season champion Air Force and likewise a point in front of RIT, Holy Cross and Mercyhurst. Niagara took RIT to overtime in the semifinals in Rochester but fell, 2-1. Twelve of the team’s top 14 scorers return.

Last season: 17-11-9 (14-6-7 Atlantic Hockey, second)

Who’s gone: Chris Noonan, G; Scott Arnold, F; Robert Martin, D

Who’s back: Giancarlo Iuorio, sr., F; Patrick Divjak, jr., F; Kevin Ryan, jr., D

Who’s new: Ricky Gruttadauria, fr., F; Matt Dineen, fr., D; Dan Kolenda, fr., F

Keep an eye on … Chris Lochner. Lochner was seventh in scoring for the Purple Eagles last season as a freshman and was first in goals with 13, eight on the power play.

Outlook: The big question for the Purple Eagles is in goal. Chris Noonan grabbed the top job as a senior last year and ran with it to an outstanding season. Junior Cody Campbell played in nine games last season, sophomore Colby Drost in six and Carsen Chubak one. At least one of them will need to step to take Niagara back to last season’s heights.

ROBERT MORRIS COLONIALS

A veteran group of Colonials finished four games over .500 in league play, but in the tight race that was Atlantic Hockey, that record left them in seventh place in the standings. Robert Morris survived a three-game, first-round series against AIC, but only after going to overtime in the finale. Niagara swept the Colonials out of the tournament in the quarterfinals.

Last season: 17-17-5 (13-9-5 Atlantic Hockey, seventh)

Who’s gone: Trevor Lewis, F; Brooks Ostergard, G; Cody Crichton, F

Who’s back: Adam Brace, sr., Cody Wydo, so., F; Eric Levine, sr., G

Who’s new: Terry Shafer, fr., G; Zac Lynch, fr., F; Jay Llewelyn, fr., F

Keep an eye on … Cody Wydo. Wydo was fifth on the team in scoring and second in goals at 13-7-20 as a freshman.

Outlook: The Colonials need the likes of Brace and Wydo to step up and fill holes created by the loss of their top two scorers and 10 seniors overall. The Colonials and their fans have a couple of events in particular to look forward to this season: The Pittsburgh College Hockey Invitational is set for late December, and the NCAA’s Frozen Four is coming to Pittsburgh in April.

RIT TIGERS

Goalie Shane Madolora’s superb senior season (1.93 goals-against average, .931 save percentage) led the Tigers to their sixth consecutive season of at least 19 wins and back to the Atlantic Hockey tournament title game. RIT lost the championship game to Air Force for the second consecutive season. Looking ahead, RIT is scheduled to break ground on its new arena Oct. 19.

Last season: 20-13-6 (14-7-6 Atlantic, tied for third)

Who’s gone: Shane Madolora, G; Cameron Burt, F; Chris Haltigin, D

Who’s back: Michael Colavecchia, jr., F; Matt Garbowsky, so, F; Greg Noyes, jr., D

Who’s new: Dan Schuler, fr., F; Josh Mitchell, fr., F; Rajan Sidhu, fr., D

Keep an eye on … Chris Saracino. Injuries limited Saracino, now a senior, to 14 games last season, and his return should be a major boost to the Tigers.

Outlook: The Tigers have featured a long line of successful goalies, and sophomore Jordan Ruby and junior Josh Watson get the call now to step into the big skates of Madolora. Like Saracino, junior forward Bryan Potts hopes to bounce back from a tough season. He had four goals and an assist in seven games before being injured.

SACRED HEART PIONEERS

The Pioneers rallied after a brutal start to the season but still ended up in a last-place tie with Army in the league standings. Sacred Heart lost its first 11 games and was 1-22-1 at one point in the season. The Pioneers will try to build off a 4-4-2 run to end the season. They took Bentley to three games in the first round of the league tournament.

Last season: 6-28-3 (4-20-3 Atlantic Hockey, tied for 11th)

Who’s gone: Matt Gingera, F; Anthony Yelovitch, F; Ryan Miniaci, D

Who’s back: Brian Sheehan, so., F; Steven Legatto, sr., G; Andrew Bodnarchuk, so., G

Who’s new: Josh Phillips, fr., D; Fredrik Melander, fr., G; Beau Walker fr., F

Keep an eye on … Drew George. Last season as a freshman, George was second on the team with 14 goals, a team-high four came on the power play.

Outlook: The Pioneers will look to shore things up at both ends of the ice. They allowed 4.68 goals a game and scored 2.21 last year. Legatto (4.63 goals-against average and .889 save percentage) and Bodnarchuk (4.21 GAA and .878) are joined on the roster by two other goalies, Melander and junior Chris Paliafito. Sheehan was at 10-12-22.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal

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