Granted they started from the lowest position, but no conference has come along farther over the last few years than Atlantic Hockey. Once pretty much a free win in the NCAA Tournament, the Atlantic Hockey champ has done the following in the last 7 NCAA tournaments: lost by 1 to a #1 seed in the first round, reached the final eight, lost by 1 to a #1 seed in the first round, lost by 1 in overtime to the #1 seed in the first round, lost in OT in the final eight, made the Frozen Four, lost in overtime to a #1 seed in the first round.
Rather than being nearly a guaranteed loss, the Atlantic Hockey champ now is guaranteed to make some NCAA tournament noise. Here is how I see this year’s version stacking up:
1. Air Force
Last year’s playoff champs lose leading scorer Jacques Lamoureux, but return 9 of their next 10 highest scorers. They’ll need improved goalie play, as Freshman Jason Torf had just a .909 save percentage last year.
The Tigers lose some great players, but watch for a resurgence from Cam Burt, who had 16 goals and 47 points as a Sophomore but fell to just 6 and 28 last season. Shane Malodora is one of the best goalies in the country.
3. Holy Cross
The Crusaders return 11 of their top 12 scorers from last year’s team, which was 4th in the league in scoring. Kyle Fletcher went from playing only 10 games his Freshman year to scoring 16 goals as a Sophomore.
4. Robert Morris
Bob Mo loses their best two players off last year’s team, but returns a solid supporting cast and will have a veteran laden team, with 9 regular Seniors on the roster. One of those Seniors is Brooks Ostergard, who had a .915 save percentage last year.
UConn loses just 1 of their 9 leading scorers from last year, though that might not be a great thing given they were 7th in scoring last year. 5th would be their highest finish since they were 4th out of 10 teams in 2006-07.
The Purps lose the best two offensive players in the conference, but
perhaps have a high scoring duo to take their place, as Scott Arnold and Ryan Rashid had 16 and 13 goals as Freshmen last year.
They lose 1 of their top 11 scorers, and last year they managed to lead the conference in defense despite getting only a .897 save percentage from their starting goalie. They seem a good bet to lead the league again.
This is a bit of a reach, as Bentley is a perennial bottom feeder in the league. But they had only two Seniors on last year’s squad and will have six who play regularly this year. Not to mention they will have six Sophomores, who will no doubt improve in their second year in D1 hockey.
They lose a ton of scoring (4 of their top 7) as well as goalie Ryan Zapolski.
They lose their top three scorers, but virtually everyone else is back. Watch for Ben Danford, who had 26 points from the blueline as a Freshman.
11. Sacred Heart
I have gone on record as loving Matt Gingera, but there’s not much else about this team to get excited about.
They return their top 4 leading scorers, but had just 8 total wins last year and don’t figure to hit double digits this year either.