By Warren Kozireski —
Niagara slotted fourth, Army fifth and Canisius tied for ninth in the Atlantic Hockey Coaches Men’s Hockey Poll released earlier this week. RIT has opted out for the season.
The Purple Eagles earned one first place vote and 69 points overall in the poll.
Niagara returns all but one of every forward who scored ten or more points last season led by junior Jack Billings. They will need to replace one-third of their top-six on defense returning only seniors Chris Harpur, Jack Zielinski, Jared Brandt and junior Zac Hermann (Lancaster) from those who started their final game last season. Junior transfer Croix Evingson via UMass-Lowell should help.
Senior Brian Wilson and sophomore Chad Veltri spilt the net last season with the latter the starter down the stretch. Junior Mike Corson arrives from the University of Denver after playing one game in each of the last two seasons.
“Offensively we have identified a few areas we need to get better in,” had coach Jason Lammers said. “Defensively we know the details we need to focus on and we’ll be bigger and faster than last year.
“We hope to be five-to-seven percent better on the power play and specialty teams.”
Army was seeded fifth in the poll after winning just three games over the last month-and-a-half in 2019-20, though with four overtime losses. The Black Knights will need to find more offense after the departure of their top two scorers.
Juniors Colin Bilek and Eric Butte with senior Mason Krueger are the top returners up front. Senior defensemen John Zimmerman and Cody Fleckenstein (Fredonia) anchor the defense along with sophomores Anthony Firriolo and Thomas Farrell in front of senior Trevin Kozlowski in net.
“In any given week we’re hoping we don’t get any positives and then we’re hoping that our opponent doesn’t get any positives and then it’s on to game week,” head coach Brian Riley said about new COVID protocols.
“It’s been a long pre-season, but I’m proud of how our guys have handled it. We need to build from the back end out and hope players up front take a step forward.”
Canisius put together a solid second half of last season after a miserable first half and finished with ten wins overall before losing to Bentley in the first round of the playoffs.
“The past two years are not where we need to be and our plan is to get better,” head coach Trevor Large said. “We graduated some big-time scorers; we’re not young, but not old either which is normal. We are focused on being better defensively and harder to play against.”
Seniors Austin Alger, Grant Meyer and Matt Long along with junior Lee Lapid and Mitchell Martan are the only returners scoring ten or more points last season, so offensive will be at a premium.
There is more experience defensively in seniors Logan Gestro and Blake Wareham with junior Derek Hamelin, but very young behind that trio.
Sophomore Jacob Barczewski should see the bulk of time in net along with junior Matt Ladd (Getzville).
Atlantic Hockey begins their abbreviated 2020-21 schedule Nov. 14 with the league divided into eastern and western pods to reduce travel. The conference semi-finals and finals are scheduled to be played at Buffalo’s LECOM HarborCenter in March.