2020-21 Atlantic Hockey Power Rankings

2020-21 Atlantic Hockey Power Rankings

With three consecutive regular-season titles and its second conference tournament championship over the past three years —including the canceled 2019-20 season — American International is Atlantic Hockey’s lone representative once again to the NCAA Tournament.

There was hope for multiple reps from Atlantic Hockey after successful seasons for Army West Point and Robert Morris, but the 16-team NCAA National Tournament fills up quickly with automatic bids and notable programs in contention.

Even so, this was a great year for the conference, so let’s dive into the final set of power rankings for the 2020-21 season.

1. American International (Last Ranking: 2)

Record: 11-1 (15-3 overall)

The No. 15-ranked Yellow Jackets are set to take on North Dakota this Friday, March 26, for the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The Yellow Jackets claimed their opening tournament game in 2019, upsetting No.1 overall seed St. Cloud State.

The team has experience, defensive commitment, and an offense that can make up for mistakes. Nationally ranked at No. 2, North Dakota enters the game with a 21-5-1 overall record and brings a similar game to the table with a bit more natural talent to lean on.

2. Army West Point (Last Ranking: 1)

Record: 10-4-1 (15-6-1 overall)

Despite the No. 19 national rank and just one loss in its past 14 games, Army is among the biggest controversial omissions for the 2021 National Tournament. It sparks the occasional talk about the lack of respect Atlantic Hockey receives because Army has been more than a hot streak.

A slow start to the season gave the Black Knights a chance to combat adversity and they have come out victorious with head-turning comebacks, must-watch breakouts, and the expectation of winning. They would have been a fun show on the national stage.

3. Canisius (Last Ranking: 5)

Record: 8-5 (11-6 overall)

A 3-1 end to a crazy, constantly changing season, the Golden Griffins showed their late February slide was about a packed schedule to end the regular season. After a chance to rest and reset, they swept RIT and bested Army for a chance at AIC.

The lopsided 5-2 loss in the final said more about AIC than Canisius. The packed criteria for another year of eligibility in the NCAA — due to COVID-19 — leaves a lot to be questioned, but the Griffins season leaders are solid bets to be back for a revenge season in 2021-22. 

4. Niagara (Last Ranking: 8)

Record: 3-9-3 (7-12-3 overall)

As the surprise team of the tournament, Niagara earned its jump in the final power rankings of 2020-21. The Purple Eagles won when it mattered most and did it against stiff competition.

A surprise win over an up-and-coming Mercyhurst team in the single-elimination first round translated to a comeback over Robert Morris after dropping the first game in the best-of-three quarterfinals. Finally, it took the eventual tournament champ in AIC to send the Eagles in a hard-fought 2-1 game that AIC claimed late.

5. Robert Morris (Last Ranking: 3)

Record: 10-5 (15-9 overall)

The Colonials’ quarterfinals loss to Niagara was difficult to predict; their elite offensive was shuttered with two one-goal losses to a Niagara defense that stifled scoring opportunities.

Still, with the frontrunner for AHA Rookie of the Year and freshman netminder Noah West, and just three seniors *checks eligibility changes* the Colonials are an immediate AHA contender in 2021-22.

6. Mercyhurst (Last Ranking: 7)

Record: 7-8-1 (8-12-1 overall)

You can’t talk about AHA rookies without discussing the Lakers’ trio of Carson Briere, Dante Sheriff, and Austin Heidemann, who combined for 17 goals and 46 points in a 21-game season.

Mercyhurst is on the rise and with three sophomores joining the aforementioned players as the team’s top-six scorers, the offense will be even more dangerous next season.

7. RIT (Last Ranking: 4)

Record: 7-5-1 (9-9-2 overall)

Swept by Canisius in the quarterfinals has dropped the Tigers a few spaces since last rankings and gave them a premature ending to what the program was capable of.

With eight seniors on the roster, which includes three of their top five scorers and two goaltenders, the Tigers could have a much different look in 2021-22 once eligibility requirements are sorted. 

8. Sacred Heart (Last Ranking: 6)

Record: 6-6-1 (6-10-2 overall)

A year after a historic season ending with the pandemic, Sacred Heart endured significant roster turnover. As a result, the Pioneers struggled in 2020-21 after a drop in offense.

Ending a season with a loss is never easy, but ending with a triple-overtime loss with an all-out effort to stave off elimination is a tad easier. Army was the better team and the favorite, and the Pioneers should take comfort in pushing such a tough team to a nearly two-hour-long contest.

9. Bentley (Last Ranking: 10)

Record: 4-11 (5-11 overall)

A lopsided 7-3 win over Air Force in the first round earned Bentley a best-of-three series date with AIC. But a campus COVID outbreak forced the athletic department into the tough decision of withdrawing from the tournament.

As a result, the season was ended as abruptly as it was a year ago. The mix of upper- and underclassmen for the Falcons will see a relatively large returning cast with two years of built-up hunger from pandemic cancellations.

10. Air Force (Last Ranking: 9)

Record: 3-9-1 (3-10-1 overall)

The Falcons turned their first win of the year into a three-game winning streak to close out the regular season and earn a matchup with the same regressing Bentley team that was the first victim of the Falcons' sudden streak.

It meant the single-elimination game would be a fun matchup of equally matched programs and the back-and-forth score proved it. But as the latter half of the game carried on, Bentley would add to the 3-3 scoreboard and finish with a 7-3 win. 

11. Holy Cross (Last Ranking: 11)

Record: 3-9 (4-12 overall)

The Crusaders were forced out of the tournament due to COVID, ending their postseason before it even started and having a trickle-down of giving Sacred Heart a first-round bye.

The Crusaders’ offensive struggles saw the team’s goal leader score just five goals in 13 games and he’s among the ineligible to return next season. Add in two other seniors in the top-six team scorers and goals are likely to be even harder to come by in 2021-22.