Halfway through the Atlantic Hockey Association’s 2012-2013 season, jaws hit the floor with some of the results. Team historically at the top are at the bottom, and teams historically in the middle are creeping to the top. One team is on a historic run, and all of this will mean absolutely jack squat when the league hits its postseason.
As per the usual for the Atlantic Hockey season, there exists a major jam in the standings; last year, the season came down to the final weekend before determining who would get first round byes, and the sixth place team was within striking distance of second place until the league’s final days. Three teams would end up tied for third, fourth, and fifth, with one team ending up as the odd man out in the race for a first round bye. And the sixth place team ended one point behind them.
This year, it’s much of the same. The league threatened to separate from one another and create a distinct divide between the top and bottom tiers of the standings. At the time, Niagara, Holy Cross, Bentley, and Mercyhurst were entrenched as the top four, with Army lurking behind them. Connecticut couldn’t keep pace, and Canisius was wildly underrated. Air Force was off to its slowest start since joining the conference, and RIT was in an abyss from which they might never recover.
Then Mercyhurst lost to American International and Air Force took three points from Bentley. Canisius won three in a row, including a sweep of UConn. And all of a sudden the standings, which were thinning out, found themselves exactly where they were a year ago – with the teams tied for sixth place within four points of the team in second place. With a healthy mix of western and eastern teams set to play each other a number of times in the second half of the year, it’s going to get very interesting, especially if a team in the basement goes on some sort of run and a team at the top starts to falter. This year is not over by a long shot.
Last year, the Atlantic Hockey Association playoff race came down to the final three weeks of the season due, in no small part, to some creative scheduling and intradivisional matchups. There was no real breakaway, and a whopping six teams entered the final stretch with a chance at a first round bye in the AHA’s postseason. It occurred because teams that weren’t supposed to take points from opponents did, and teams that were supposed to break away never really got the chance to generate that type of momentum.
This year, the first part of the season is proving the opposite. Because some of the conference’s premier programs are starting off extremely slow, the teams that would’ve joined them at the top of the standings have broken away on their own. Where last year featured a complete jam of Niagara, RIT, Air Force, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, and Bentley, this year is featuring distinct drops in Air Force and RIT. Niagara is proving they just got stronger, and because the teams behind them have slid back a little bit, they’ve managed to lead a charge away from the pack.
The season is still extremely young, and if the Purple Eagles cool, the rest of the field has plenty of time to catch them. But because of the fast start, the teams that started slower are finding themselves in a bad position early. RIT, for example, is 1-4-2 with just four points, in sole possession of 10th place. Air Force is a slot in front of them at 2-3-1. It’s unlikely those two programs will remain in the doldrums, but by the time they turn it around, if they turn it around, they’re going to be mathematically way behind, possibly eliminated.
As the first half of the season winds to a close, there exists a strong possibility that this year will feature a stronger race for the middle positions, including coveted first round home matchups and the chance for playoff mismatches as it goes on. Instead of the top six teams clumping together, the top four will feature a breakaway, and the rest of the standings will feature a logjam that will determine who ends up playing where in the first weekend as opposed to who plays at home on the second weekend.
What we know so far:
While the Sweet 16 readies itself in arenas across America, hardwood heroes will be born over the next four days. 25% of the remaining basketball teams will punch tickets to New Orleans, bound for regional glory and a chance to play for the national championship in the Cajun Capital of the World.
But as those teams dribble and dunk their way through the remaining brakcet carnage, the men’s ice hockey championship will open up a Sweet 16 of its own. Sixteen qualifying teams will begin play in four regionals, all trying to head south to Tampa Bay for a chance at their own national glory.
We take a look inside the road to the Frozen Four and how this weekend is going to shake down for some of the competition out there:
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Atlantic Hockey Association playoff race is shaping up to be complete insanity. A whopping eight teams are still in the running for a first round bye, with ten teams in the hunt for a first round home series. Ten points separates first through ninth, and teams in the running for the first place bye can still easily finish on the road for the first weekend of the playoffs.
The Bentley Falcons are right in the middle of it, and while their captain, Jamie Nudy, explicitly stated that the team is only worried about one game at a time (and they are), the rest of us can scoreboard watch and speculate about what exactly is at stake for the Falcons. They’ll head into this weekend for a home-and-home with eighth place UConn, a team still trying to secure home ice for the first round. Three points up on Canisius for that final home slot in the first round, the Huskies are three points back of Holy Cross and Robert Morris for better seeding, four points back of Bentley for fifth, and six points back of Niagara, who plays Canisius in one more game before the weekend series (the Purple Eagles already defeated the Golden Griffins once this week).
What’s at stake this weekend:
Having already looked at the bubble watch for the Hockey East Association, it’s time for us to look at the bubble within the Atlantic Hockey Association.
The AHA is in a peculiar situation as the only “mid-major” conference in Division I. It’s one of the most competitive conferences in the way the teams bunch up with each other, but at the same time, only one team will ever qualify for the tournament because of how weak the league is from an overall standpoint. With a few notable exceptions, AHA teams hardly win games outside of the conference, and there’s a noticeable difference between the lower-tier teams in other conferences and the lower-tier here.
The league has shifted its conference tournament format this year after last year’s pod-based format. For scheduling and travel purposes, the divisions remained intact, with eastern teams playing each other three times and western teams playing each other twice. That creates an interesting scenario where the stronger teams, arguably all in the west, spend four to five weeks cannibalizing each other, while the east teams go head-to-head on their own. Come playoff time, some of the eastern schools will have coasted slightly easier into the playoffs, as opposed to the western teams, who are jockeying for position and can run out of gas down the stretch.
For that, Atlantic Hockey will have the wildest bubble watch and wildest stretch run in all of Division I hockey.
The first round of college teams wrapped up their pre-exam games this past weekend, and our expectations of close, hard-fought games were completely crushed, especially on the east coast. The three eastern conferences featured a couple of shockers, a couple of blowouts, and only selected close games. Some games on the scoreboard were close, but, from reports trickling into the Excalibur email/news desk… not so. Let’s cut the chit-chat and dive right in, shall we?
There was a time, and it wasn’t too long ago, that the Big East Football conference was one of the premier divisions in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There was a time when it boasted national championship contenders, top-ranked teams, and some of the stiffest competition of any conference in America. It used to be able to go head-to-head with the best, and conference rivalries were short of comfort, long on contact. It embodied everything a football conference wanted to be, with glamorous teams, hard-hitting matchups, and a climate that took teams from sweaty, hot double-session summers to snowy, freezing and sub-zero winters. It was, at one time, rumored to even be on the verge of overtaking the Atlantic Coast Conference, directly invading ACC country with three teams designed to go head-to-head with all the nation’s titans.
Those days are long gone, and now, they might be over for good.
For weeks, the Big East has been a venerable punching bag in college football, taking hit after hit. First, Syracuse and Pittsburgh accepted invites to the Atlantic Coast Conference, then Texas Christian decommitted like a football player recruit from their bid to join their regional neighbors in the Big 12. The life support system, which had been used on the Big 12 after Texas A&M turned tail and ran for the SEC and was hooked up with rumors of Missouri and Oklahoma planning on leaving, had been passed into the northeast to UConn, West Virginia, and their conference brethren.
Finally, the Big East has responded, as a New York Times report stated the conference extended invitations to a host of schools, including Boise State University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida, and the United State military institutions of Annapolis (Navy) and Colorado Springs (Air Force). They also reportedly extended an invite to the University of Houston.
The move, while geographically confusing, would bring the Big East to 12 teams and qualify them for a financially lucrative conference championship game, the likes of which are currently in place with the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 conferences. The Big 12 had hosted a conference title game before their departures cost them the 12-team minimum.
The move makes sense for both the Big East and the invited schools. Boise State has been a Bowl Championship Series buster for years,
but they lack an automatic bid. The Big East needs to invite a school with comparable star power to the departing schools and comparable to Texas Christian, who had been heading to the Big East next season before accepting an invite to the Big 12. The move would give the Big East a centerpiece, Top 5 team, while potentially providing Boise with the automatic bid they coveted over the years. In the review of the BCS planned for this year, the two entities need each other; the Big East to ensure they’re not left out of the BCS picture and Boise to ensure they can use their power to get an auto bid.
With Boise’s intended move and TCU’s departure, the Mountain West Conference was essentially on the verge of collapse. As a rumor started to swirl about the Big East inviting Army (located in West Point, New York), Air Force all but stated its intention to accept an invitation in the Denver Post. As a result, the Big East looked to swell its ranks by intending to invite all three academies and their highly lucrative rivalry (the Army-Navy Game is still one of the nation’s most famous rivalries, and the three teams compete for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy), as well their national profiles (there still is a mystique around a service academy). But Army stated it would remain an independent. The academy stated that football monies aren’t its primary intention and stuck to its guns (no pun intended) regarding its commitment to independent football status, its current rivalries, and the mid-major Patriot League, even though Navy is joining as a football-only member.
It’s been no secret that Houston and Southern Methodist fan bases desired a move back to big-time college football. As members of the non-BCS Confernce USA, they had some power in the conference but failed to attain the national glory once held as members of the Southwestern Conference heyday of the 1980s. SMU had fallen especially out of grace since the late 80s, when their football scandal rocked the college football world and ultimately caused the demise of a conference where both the Cougars and Mustangs played alongside Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor (now all members of the Big 12). For SMU, who became the nation’s redemption story with bowl game appearances in the last two seasons for the first time since the 1980s, it represented the culmination of an almost-30 year journey back to big time college football. In turn, Houston, who was part of the SWC and had been part of the collateral damage (along with TCU) of the SWC’s dissolution, is able to return as well to the big time picture.
For Central Florida, the move is about the Big East adding the best available program in college football. A member of C-USA with Houston and SMU, the case was being made after their recent success and the raiding of the Mountain West Conference that they might be able to supplant the Big East as a BCS-AQ (automatic qualifier) conference. Last season, the Big East, which originally raided C-USA for teams such as Louisville and Cincinnati during the mid-2000s
realignment, failed to place a team in the Top 25 in the final rankings and was embarassed on the national stage in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF, meanwhile, went 11-3 and finished the season ranked in the Top 25. With South Florida already in the conference, it allowed the Big East to strengthen media and recruiting ties to the state of Florida. And where ACC controlled both the southern Florida area (with Miami) and the panhandle (with Florida State in Tallahassee), the SEC controlled northeast Florida with the University of Florida in Gainesville. That left the western part of the state around the Gulf region of Tampa and the central region around Orlando largely untouched. The addition of South Florida kept the Big East in the state after losing Miami, and the addition of UCF strengthens the Big East hold on the rich recruiting base and rich college football media markets.
As collateral damage caused by the raid by the Big East and the pending acceptance of the schools’ invitations, C-USA, which would lose three additional teams, and Mountain West, which would lose two, announced plans to merge into a 22-team conference. It is expected that this conference will lose more teams in the impending future, especially if the Big East is raided by the SEC and again by the ACC. Louisville and West Virginia were rumored to be added as the 12th team to the SEC, but Kentucky is trying to block the move to add Louisville and WVU isn’t rumored as of yet to be in those talks. The ACC is content to stay at 14 teams, but UConn has put a full-court press on (no pun intended, again) to move. If the ACC is able to convince Notre Dame to give up its coveted independent football status, UConn may leave, and East Carolina has been equally strong in its overtures to the Big East as UConn has been to the ACC. ECU is part of C-USA.
It’s clear the realignment is still far from over, but at the same time, the Big East made a move, finally, to strengthen its hold on a college football spot. The Big East is still the only school without a BCS bowl tie-in; the Big 12 and Pac 12 are tied to the Rose Bowl, the ACC to the Orange Bowl, the Big 12 to the Fiesta Bowl, and the SEC to the Sugar Bowl. Their champion will automatically qualify but be treated as if they are an at large team. That means they have to make a case to stay as a BCS-AQ conference and bring in enough schools to remain competitive on the national level, something they were unable to do last year with zero ranked teams and losses in their two highest-profile bowl games (#22 West Virginia lost to North Carolina in the Champs Sports Bowl, and UConn got creamed by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl). They also had to make a case for remaining in the BCS after sending an AQ school to the Fiesta Bowl that lost a major public relations battle when they actually lost money on the BCS game (they were unable to sell their allotted tickets and hotel rooms to the area and had to eat the cost as a univeristy to the tune of $3 million). But, for now, they are able to do that, and it looks like the Big East will remain in its tenuous competitive position until, at least, the next round of realignment shakes out.
2010-2011 Record: 19-11-8 overall; 15-5-7 in conference, 1st place
Quarterfinals: Swept AIC, 5-0, 5-1
Semifinals: Defeated UConn, 4-2
Finals: Lost to Air Force, 1-0
It was business as usual in Atlantic Hockey last year with the RIT Tigers winning the regular season crown and an easy cruise to the Atlantic Hockey Association championship game. But the RIT season derailed with a championship game loss to Air Force, preventing the squad from advancing to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year. The season ended one win shy of a third straight 20-win season, and it was truly the first season where RIT played with a full target on their backs after raising a Final Four banner with their surprise 2010 run to the Frozen Four.
On the ice, RIT continued to dominate behind two players with 40-plus points. Senior Andrew Favot posted 30 assists en route to 43 points, and junior Tyler Brenner notched 26 goals en route to 41 points. Behind them, the Tigers posted four additional players with 20 points or more – freshman Ben Lynch (30), junior Cameron Burt (28), sophomore Adam Hartley (25), and sophomore Chris Saraceno (20). So good was the Tiger offense that only three seniors were part of a team that featured15 players with ten points or more.
Compounding the success was the fact that sophomore Shane Madolora posted a .759 win percentage while stopped 94% of all shots faced, including six shutouts. His 17-3-7 record included a 44-save performance against Mercyhurst, a 37-save peroformance against Holy Cross, and a 39-save performance against UConn in the conference semifinals.
At one point during the season, RIT went on a 10-1-5 stretch that featured a three-game sweep of Canisius and a 2-0-1 season win over Mercyhurst. They were so good last year that they beat Cornell at Lynah Rink at one point. All of that proved moot after losing the conference title game, but the season was still dominant.
RIT lost virtually nobody from last year’s team that posted 128 goals and only allowed 99. If not for a power outage in the conference final, this was a team that could’ve made a second consecutive deep run in the playoffs. Favot and Brenner are gone, the latter of which is in the AHL. But they still return Lynch, Burt, Hartler, Michael Colavecchia, Adam Mitchell, and Taylor McReynolds, which is essentially
three lines worth of talent. If every single one of those players develops, 128 goals might look pedestrian.
On the blue line, they didn’t graduate anybody; all six defensemen return – Saracino, Greg Noyes, Chris Haltigin, Trevor Eckenswiller, Nolan Desctoeaux, and Daniel Spivak. Elliot Raibl gave the Tigers 19 games off the bench, which means they have at least seven players coming back to a team that didn’t allow 100 goals. So, offenses will have trouble getting through them once again.
And then in goal Madolora comes back to build upon a season where he only allowed 54 goals and a 1.93 GAA. Behind him is rising sophomore John Watson, who went 0-3 last year but really won’t have to do much if Madolera stays healthy.
Why They’re First:
Well, let’s take a team that scores an inordinate amount of goals and return everyone. Let’s take a team that doesn’t allow goals and return everyone. And let’s return one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the league. Give them one of the best home ice advantages and sprinkle in rumors that could see them land in ECAC when all of this conference shakedown finishes. Now tell 11 teams to go out there and try to beat them. Honestly, it probably won’t happen.
As much as every team returns firepower, they all have significant holes. RIT has no holes. They were one bad offensive game and a Herculean performance by an Air Force defense and goalie from returning to the tournament, and this team has the potential to hang with just about anybody. They’ll play nonleague games against teams like St. Lawrence and Wisconsin, Ferris State and Lake Superior. RIT has the potential to rank nationally before the month of October is over, even though they trailed Air Force in the preseason polls. But Air Force graduated Jacques Lamoureux, and RIT returns one of the most well-balanced attacks in all of hockey. There’s not many reasons why this team won’t a) win the regular season crown, b) return to the conference’s final weekend (which is essentially home games at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester), and c) make a return appearance in the national tournament. It won’t shock anybody if they make the deep run into the national scene again, or at least threaten to qualify for the Frozen Four.
Gentlemen, start your engines. The race to Rochester is on.
First Game: October 8 vs. Niagara
First Home Game: October 8 vs. Niagara
First Conference Game: October 8 vs. Niagara
Notables: 10/15 vs. St. Lawrence, 10/22 vs. Union, 12/29-12/30 vs. Ferris State and Lake Superior (Catamount Cup), 1/6-1/7 at Wisconsin
2010-2011 Record: 17-16-5; 14-8-5 in conference, 3rd place
Quarterfinals: defeated Canisius, two games to one; 6-2, 2-3 (OT), 7-3
Semifinals: Lost to Air Force, 3-2
2010-2011 in Review:
When we previewed the Air Force Falcons, we made mention how they were a .500 club squad until the later part of the season. Holy Cross was in a worse boat last year, going 7-14-3 into the end of January. Then, all of a sudden, the Crusaders got so sizzling hot, they didn’t lose again until Game 2 of the playoff quarterfinals against Canisius. Holy Cross ripped off a string of seven wins in a row, and eight out of ten to close out the season without a single loss after January 21. They were borderline perfect in the last month, and they were rewarded with a trip to Rochester.
Unfortunately, the season came to a resounding halt in the conference semifinals when they played Air Force, falling short of their first tournament berth since the miracle 2006 run that saw them defeat top-seed Minnesota in overtime in the West Regional. Still, Holy Cross put together one of their most memorable seasons, scoring their most wins and first
winning season since that 2005-2006 campaign.
What’s more remarkable is that they pulled together using a ton of underclassmen. Senior Everett Sheen scored 17 goals to least the Crusaders, but sophomore Kyle Fletcher was the team’s leading point-getter, notching 16 goals and 22 assists. His assist total was equaled by fellow sophomore Rob Linsmayer, who added 12 goals. Junior Andrew Cox tallied 10 goals of his own, and Shayne Stocktonand Adam Schmidt both added 20-plus points as freshmen.
As much as we’d like to extol the virtues of the Crusaders’ last season (they did win the eastern pod and gain a first round bye), they did struggle at times. It’s hard to ignore the 10-3 shellacking they absorbed at Ingalls Rink in New Haven to Yale. They lost to lightly-regarded Quinnipiac on the road and even lighter-regarded Providence at home, and they finished as the fourth-place team at both the IceBreaker tournament to open the season (losing to Notre Dame and Wisconsin) and the UConn Hockey Classic (losing to UConn and Bowling Green). They struggled until the last month, when they inexplicably started running roughshod through teams. And they struggled mightily against the western pod, going 3-6-3. Where it became obvious the new scheduling format for Atlantic Hockey would hurt teams in the west (namely Canisius and, to a playoffs extent, Niagara and Robert Morris), the team benefitting the most was clearly Holy Cross, which went 11-2-2 against eastern teams.
Holy Cross returns everyone up front except for Everett Sheen. And since Sheen was only one of 21 goal scorers for the Crusaders, that’s a little bit easier to overlook. He was the leading goal-scorer with only 17, and Fletcher and Linsmayer were right in with him with 16 and 12, respectively. Stockton, Schmidt, Cox, Erik Vos, Brandon Nunn, Matt Gordon, and Jay Silvia all return. That’s essentially three or four lines right there, not even including incoming freshmen or players like Gianni Baldassari, who scored four goals by playing in only 14 games, or Luke Miller, who scored three goals and tallied four assists in 18 games.
Defensively, there are holes to repair. Mark Znutas and Matt Celin graduated, leaving the hands of the defense solely in the lap of Jeffrey Reppucci, who had 16 assists as a freshman. He’s joined by Matt Clune, who is expected to
provide senior leadership along with 15-assist man Mike Daly. Brendan Baker is back after appearing in 31 games, and Matthew Davis and Kyle Atkins will need to take on expanded roles. Evan Zych should also be a name to watch. This was a defensive unit that kept its goalies virtually untouched, so the pressure remains on them to do the same.
The goalie situation was extremely interesting for Holy Cross fans. Adam Roy finished 11-8-3 after losing seven of his first nine starts (meaning he went 10-1-3 the rest of the way). He won seven in a row at one point, including shutouts over UConn and Army. And he backboned Holy Cross throughout the playoffs, barely being peppered (he never faced 25 shots) throughout the postseason. Joining him is Thomas Tysowsky, who collected 31 saves in a win over Army and 33 saves in the loss to Quinnipiac, and Derek Kump, who only appeared in one game for the team last year.
Why They’re 2nd:
This is exactly the same Holy Cross team that finished third a year ago. They finished a hair of a fraction off second place last season, and Air Force graduated a good chunk of their offense by losing Jacques Lamoureux. Therefore, Air Force will be weakened slightly, and that millimeter of door space is enough for Holy Cross to barge in and take second place. Do we think they’ll win the conference? Honestly, no. But they’re going to do some mega damage in the regular season, and they’re going to scare both Air Force and RIT in the postseason. This isn’t their conference yet; the power is still decidedly on the west. But Holy Cross is like the New England Patriots of the mid-to-late-2000s; they play in a terrible division, and they’re one of the creams of the crop. That alone should help them cruise to second place in the conference and a return trip to Rochester.
First Game: 10/12 at Quinnipiac
First Home Game: 10/15 vs. AIC
First Conference Game: 10/15 vs. AIC
Notables: 10/22 at Boston University; 11/11 at Massachusetts; 11/26 vs. Brown; 11/27 vs. Clarkson; 12/30-12/31 at Ledyard Bank Tournament (vs. Dartmouth, vs. Merrimack/St. Lawrence);
2010-2011 Record: 20-12-6; 14-7-6 in conference, 2nd place
Quarterfinals: Swept Sacred Heart, 7-5, 4-0
Semifinals: Defeated Holy Cross, 3-2
Championship: Defeated RIT, 1-0
NCAA East Regional First Round (4th seed): Lost to #1 Yale, 2-1 (OT)
2010-2011 in Review:
Although the official record will show Air Force as a team that piddled in the middle of the standings for part of the season before getting hot at the end of the year to finish second, the Falcons reclaimed the spot they’ve grown accustomed to having since joining Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-2007 season – first. For the third time since leaving College Hockey America for the AHA, Air Force won 20 games. For the fourth time, they won the league championship tournament and went to the NCAA bracket. And once again, they established themselves as one of the premier programs in the nation.
At the halfway point of the year last year, Air Force looked just as vulnerable as they did when they went 16-15-6 the year before. They had losses to Robert Morris, AIC, Mercyhurst, and Sacred Heart. They had only one weekend sweep when they took two one-goal games from Bentley on the road, and even right up through the start of February, they were barely over .500. But after a loss to
RIT that dropped them to 11-10-5, the Falcons caught extreme fire, losing one game until the NCAA tournament. They split a weeknd with Niagara, then swept Mercyhurst and Robert Morris to finish second in the league standings and once again hit the 20-win mark. In the tournament, Sacred Heart upset Army and were rewarded with a 2,000-mile trip west to the Cadet Ice Arena. There, Air Force pummeled the Pioneers with an 11-goal output over the weekend, sweeping them and earning a trip east for the final rounds. The heart attack season continued for the academy, which clinched its fourth league title with one-goal wins over Holy Cross and, most impressively, first-place RIT in what was essentially a Rochester home game. In the NCAA tournament, Air Force pushed #1 overall seed Yale to the limit, taking the Bulldogs to an overtime period before losing by (what else?) one goal.
Overall, Air Force went 12-6 in one goal games, led by senior Jacques Lamoureux‘s 24 goals and 20 assists. Lamoureux, who graduated with 79 goals and 60 assists, closed out a prolific senior year with 13 power play goals and a team-high five game-winners. He was joined by Derrick Burnett, who played the perfect wingman complement with 8 goals and 27 assists of his own. Despite a reputation as a one-goal game type of team, Lamoureux and Burnett helped Air Force amass a league-best 137 goals. Five Falcons had double-digit goal outputs, headlined by Lamoureux but complemented by Kyle De Laurell, John Kruse, Paul Weisgarber, and Jason Fabian. The offense posted multiple six-goal games, including a 12-0 defeat of AIC a night after they lost 5-3 at home. They put four goals on Yale and Colorado College (two teams that went to the NCAA tournament) in back-to-back home games. And they hung seven goals on AIC and Mercyhurst during league play before the seven goal output against Sacred Heart in the playoffs.
But the defense was sorely lacking at times for Air Force. Despite scoring four against Colorado College, the Falcons lost. And despite hanging seven on Holy Corss, it was only a one goal game. They scored five goals twice and tied (against UConn and RIT during the regular season), and it seemed like Air Force relied solely on their offense to outscore teams, preferring to get into track meet shootouts. It’s amazing to think they won two low-scoring games in Rochester to win the league crown, and it’s even more amazing they kept Yale to one goal through regulation in the NCAA tournament.
In goal, freshman Jason Torf assumed the role left behind by the greatest goaltender in recent AHA history, Andrew Volkening. Torf won 16 games for Air Force, posting two hutouts and a 91% save percentage. One of those shutouts was a 40-save performance against RIT in the conference championship game, where he also collected an assist on the game’s only goal. For a team spoiled by goaltending the caliber of Volkening, Torf stepped in admirably save for a couple of poor performances over the course of the season.
Like other teams in AHA, Air Force has the unenviable task of replacing its two best players. Lamoureux and Burnett graduated, with Lamoureux heading for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. In their place, they do return Weisgarber, De Laurell, Fabian, and Kruse, but they’ll still need someone to step up and supplement them to continue the Air Force tradition of (pardon the pun) bombing opposing netminders. Likely candidates include Casey Kleisinger and George Michalke. Ryan Timar, who saw extended action in 28 games, also returns to the fold.
Defensively, the team loses only Brad Sellers from a unit that was more offensive than it was protective of the net. Scott Mathis
and Tim Kirby return for their senior seasons, and Adam McKenzie is back as a sophomore to build in a 14-assist year. Stephen Carew and Mike Walsh round out the returnees of the six regularly-playing blueliners.
Torf is back in net for a sophomore season. If he continues to develop, he might be able to avoid the three or four game letdown he experienced at times last year. Allowing three goals on four shots in less than ten minutes to RIT last year on the road can be attributed to freshman mistakes, especially given that he allowed just one goal in a 36-save performance the night prior and had that 40-save shutout in the playoffs. Backing him up is, according to our notes, senior Stephen Caple.
Why They’re 3rd:
Air Force got hot at the right time last year. They went on a run to end the season, improved from a middle-of-the-road first round team to a conference champion virtually overnight. In the span of three weeks, they became what head coach Frank Serratore knew they were – contenders. But it helped that Lamoureux was around to score on as many power plays as he did, let alone as many goals in general. Air Force can’t have that same letdown midyear and expect to get the wheels cranking and rolling late.
The good news is that they probably won’t have that letdown. On pure talent, they’re the best team in the league. They play the toughest non-conference schedule, and they have the biggest draw. On paper, they can beat anybody, and they were within one game against the best team overall in the nation last year from advancing to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. They essentially lost to Yale in a virtual road game in overtime. Any team that can return as much as this team does and can do that has the potential to win the league.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Air Force ends the season hoisting another AHA championship. But at the same time, that’s the postseason, not the regular season. They’ll have momentary lapses during the regular season, particularly in conference games. That’ll be enough to keep them out of the top slot, but it won’t be enough to keep them out of the running. Pencil this team in for Rochester at the end of the year.
First Game: October 7-8 at North Dakots IceBreaker tournament; 10/7 at North Dakota, 10/8 vs. either Michigan State or Boston College
First Home Game: October 14 vs. Niagara
First Conference Game: October 14 vs. Niagara
Notables: October 21-22 at Alabama-Huntsville, December 30 at Colorado College, December 31 vs. Denver, January 6-7 at Holy Cross, 11/11 at RIT and 12/3-12/4 at home vs. RIT