FloHockey continues to preview the 2019-20 college hockey season with a look at our newest exclusive partner, the Atlantic Hockey Association. This is part one of two. Check back tomorrow for the second half of our season preview, and make sure to visit the events page to see the full college hockey calendar for the year.
American International College – more lovingly known as “AIC” in Atlantic Hockey circles – was the belle of the ball last year, turning in a stunning first-round upset of No. 1 overall seed St. Cloud State in the NCAA Tournament.
But for those who saw their 18-9-1 in-conference record and wins over Army, Robert Morris, and Niagara at the Buffalo-based Atlantic Hockey tournament, perhaps it wasn’t that surprising after all. Now, however, the pressure is now firmly on the Yellow Jackets to not only turn in a repeat of last year’s season, but to somehow improve on it.
“We’re kind of building off of some of this momentum our program has right now, not only on the ice, but in our community as well,” head coach Eric Lang said on Tuesday’s media day conference call.
“But, in terms of the hockey, we’ve got a concentrated effort here to get off to a better start to our season — I think at one point last year, we were at 3-4-1 in the league — along with a focus on being better out of conference. Bottom line, we let our league down out of conference last season, and we hope to make the correction there. Lots of work to do, but we’re excited for October 11 against Quinnipiac.”
The Purple Eagles almost erased the taste from a disappointing regular season from their mouths with a magical run in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, where they made it to the final before coming up one goal short to AIC in the title game.
The feeling around Niagara seems to be that they’re a program on the rise, which would seem to explain their second-place standing in the preseason coaches poll despite a sixth-place conference finish last year with a record (11-12-5) that was under .500.
“We’re excited to have another year,” said head coach Jason Lammers. “We’ve got some real good continuity with our staff — everybody’s back on staff — and we’re looking forward to the future here.”
A first-round bye turned into an unexpected second-round bye-bye for Ryan Soderquist’s group last year, a team that was bounced by Robert Morris in overtime, 4-3, to put a damper on what had been a largely successful season.
The Falcons went 15-9-4 in-conference to earn the tournament’s second seed, and were one of the favorites thanks to a solid stretch of play down the stretch.
“I thought we had a really strong second half of the year, and we’re looking to build upon that and get going here at the start of this season,” Soderquist said. “The parity in this league is amazing, so we know that we have to be ready to go every single night. That’s the one thing I’m excited about, with our returning group, is I think we have a really strong culture in our room this year and a great group of returning seniors who have a tremendous work ethic and ability to go out there and prepare and be ready for battle…we may have had more talented teams in past years, but the work ethic this group has, I’m extremely excited to see what they can do.”
T-3. Sacred Heart
The Pioneers gave up the second-fewest goals in conference play (73) last season, but still fell to RIT in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey Tournament to prematurely put an end to a solid season for head coach C.J. Marottolo’s squad.
This year, Sacred Heart seems to have a real opportunity to make the jump into the true top tier in the conference and take a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.
“It’s been a long summer, wondering what happened last year and why we couldn’t push through in the playoffs,” Marottolo said. “It was hard to watch our league playoffs at times, thinking ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ with how our team finished and the way we were playing. But the reality was that we weren’t playing and the other teams were. That has given this returning group a lot of motivation. Our guys have a lot of pride, and that playoff series loss to RIT really hurt. That hurt has really turned to the fuel that we need to take another step as a group.”
Perhaps it seems like just yesterday that the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers hockey team went on their Cinderella run all the way to the Frozen Four. In reality, it’s already been nine years since Jared DeMichiel was between the pipes for that incredible story.
The bar was set by that team, and even after Atlantic Hockey Tournament triumphs in 2015 and 2016, nothing has ever quite recaptured that magic.
Wayne Wilson has been there for all of it, and he’s optimistic that perhaps this is the year that could change.
“I think our strength is going to be with our four senior defensemen and our goaltender, (Logan) Drackett being back,” Wilson said. “We’re going to have to replace our top line, but I think we’ve got really good depth up there, and they’re excited for new opportunities.”
-More Atlantic Hockey reading: Seven sophomores to watch in ‘19-20
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.