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 two of two (find part one here). 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.
6. Air Force
After back-to-back Atlantic Hockey titles, the Falcons got knocked off in stunning fashion in the second round of last year’s tournament by Niagara.
One of the major themes of Tuesday’s coaches conference call was the parity in the league, and veteran bench boss Frank Serratore was no different in reflecting on last season while looking ahead to this one.
“Our league is on a major uptick,” he said. “When you look at our league from top to bottom, it’s never been better. In the past, back a few years ago when I first got in the league, you could look at some teams and say, ‘We better get four points that weekend.’ There (are) no easy points league (now)…who would have ever predicted that Atlantic Hockey’s last-place team would sweep North Dakota? That’s all I need to say in regards to how strong our league is from top to bottom.”
7. Robert Morris
The Colonials are still riding high off of the momentum that comes from the stunning run they put together in last year’s Atlantic Hockey Tournament; they parlayed a first-round sweep of Holy Cross into a big upset win over second-seeded Bentley before losing to eventual league champion AIC in a one-goal game in the semis that took overtime to decide.
Derek Schooley’s team might be getting overlooked yet again, but he likes what he’s seen so far from this year’s group.
“We think that we’ve had some of our best practices maybe in the last five years at the start of this year,” he said. “I think it shows their competitive nature; they’re hungry, they’re determined and they’re ready to go.”
It was a challenging 2018-19 season for the Black Knights, who finished second from the cellar in Atlantic Hockey with an 8-13-7 in-conference record.
Sixteenth-year head coach Brian Riley is hopeful that things will be different this time around, but only if his core group can produce the way he’s hoping they can.
“They’ve worked extremely hard on the ice and in the weight room, but I know that they’re excited to get going and get these games started up,” he said. “This year’s team, for us, we’re going to rely heavily on our senior class. I think we have a good, talented group of seniors.
“They’ve played a lot of minutes. You talk about guys like (Dominic) Franco, (Zach) Evancho, (Michael) Wilson and (Brendan) Soucie, and of course (Alex) Wilkinson on the back end. But the question for us will be goaltending. If you’re going to be good, you have to have good goaltending, and we have two guys that gained experience last year: Matt Penta, who finished for us coming down the stretch, and then Trevin Kozlowski, who got off to a good start, but was injured and out for 11 weeks and never really quite made it back to where he was at the start…and we have a freshman, Justin Evenson, who’s had a good track record of doing well playing junior hockey and in the North American league. If we’re going to be good, our seniors are going to have to be real good, and we’re going to need to get good goaltending.”
The Erie-based Lakers found themselves on the wrong end of a first-round sweep at the hands of Army in last year’s Atlantic Hockey tournament despite a relatively solid 11-13-4 in-conference record during the regular season.
“We’re excited for the year,” said head coach Rick Gotkin. “We’re going through a rebuild, we lost a lot of guys last year — actually, over the last two years, we’ve lost a number of dominant players — and we have a young, young group But we have five seniors — two of which are goaltenders — three juniors, eight sophomores, and 11 freshmen…last year’s graduating class had 13 guys that left, so we’re obviously a young group and we have a lot of work to do, but we like what we’ve seen to this point.
“They’re enthusiastic, they’re working hard and they’re doing great in the weight room and the film room. In the short time we have on the ice each week, they’ve been excited and upbeat. We’re looking forward to the year and really excited to watch this team grow and continue to get better.”
10. Holy Cross
The Crusaders were swept out of the first round of the Atlantic Hockey Tournament last year and enter this season ranked 10th in the coaches poll. They’ll face a tough task — albeit an out-of-conference one — to open the season with the Providence Friars, but David Bedard is hoping to capitalize on some of the momentum his team had built before getting to the postseason.
“We didn’t have the greatest start to the year,” Bedard said. “We had a big turnover, and (went from having) a big senior class that had played over 130 college hockey games to having eight freshmen in the lineup and playing a lot. We took our lumps early, but what I’m optimistic about is the way we played in the second half. We were 8-7-3 in that second half, and had at least a win in eight out of nine league weekends. We developed that consistency to our preparation and mindset, and really matured quite a bit in the second half. We learned how to win and gained confidence from that. At the end of the year, we were playing our best hockey…we’re looking to build off of the finish we had to the year.”
The Golden Griffins brought up the rear in Atlantic Hockey last season, with an 8-16-4 record putting them 11th in an 11-team conference.
There’s nowhere to go but up for head coach Trevor Large’s group, and that effort — both on and off the ice — to rebound from a down year seems to be the focus heading into this year.
“I think every coach, we’ve all been saying the parity in the league is great, so we’re focused every day on what we’re doing, how are we getting better, and how are we growing as a group,” Large said. “There’s an obvious concentration on culture, and who’s in the room and how are we behaving. All of those things have gone well, not a lot of adversity has hit any of us yet, so that’s our focus, just continuing to grow every day.”
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.