But there was no clear favorite with Mercyhurst, which tied Air Force for second in the rankings, picking up four first-place votes. Defending playoff champion Canisius picked up three top votes but ended up fourth. The Falcons garnered two.
“I went around and talked to some of the other coaches in the past couple weeks and we just laughed chuckled at the preseason poll,” Serratore said. “They picked us (tied for second) based on past performances. Right now I would take third in a heartbeat. I would take fourth.”
“It’s an honor we will try to live up to,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “We are not ordering plaques and trophies.”
The AHA had a memorable 2012-13 season with a league-record two NCAA Tournament berths (Niagara, Canisius).
“Not only did that put Atlantic Hockey in a good spot, it helped raise the profile of college hockey in general,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “Our league gets a little tighter very year and it will be again this year. It’s really anybody’s league.”
Niagara returns three of the Purple Eagles’ top five scorers from last season including top points man Ryan Murphy (36 points, 15 goals), defenseman Kevin Ryan (24, 23 assists) and Patrick Divjak (22, 14 assists). They do need to replace goalie Carsen Chubak (23-7-5, .938 saves), who left for the pros after his junior season.
Mercyhurst returns a strong junior class which includes most of its top offensive players and an experience backup goalie. The top three scorers return in forwards Matthew Zay (39 points, 26 assists) and Ryan Misiak (38, 18 goals) and defenseman Daniel O’Donoghue (36, 24 assists). Forward forwards Daniel Bahntge (28, 14 goals and Chris Bodo (27, 18 goals) are also back. Netminder Jordan Tibbett has 18 starts (.925 saves) to give the Lakers, which received four first-place votes, some experience in net.
Air Force picked up two first-place votes based on the return of senior goalie Jason Torf (17-13-7, .918 saves) and experienced defensemen in Alex Halloran, Mike McDonald, Adam McKenzie, Dan Weissenhofer, who participated in the Chicago Blackhawks development camp this July, and Trevor Waldoch.
Canisius, predicted to finish fourth, returns senior forwards Kyle Gibbons (2012-13 team-high 43, 21 goals) and Patrick Sullivan (22, 14 assists) along with junior wing Mitch McCrank (21, 16 assists) and well-regarded senior goalie Tony Capobianco (18-19-4, .929 saves). Overall, Canisius returns 22 letterwinners, including 10 of the team’s top 12 scorers in addition to the national leader in saves (1,256).
“Kyle had a wonderful season after a tough start and he was one of the top scorers in the nation after Jan. 1,” coach Dave Smith said. “He really grew as a person on and off the ice and we’re looking forward to what he can accomplish this season.”
The Rochester Institute of Technology, a perennial league favorite, was picked to place fifth and did not receive one of the 12 first-place from the league’s coaches.
“We had a tough, tough time picking this year,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “It will be very close down the stretch and whichever team gets hot could win it. There is not a lot separating the pack.”
Atlantic Hockey Association
2013-14 Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Niagara (3) 102
2 (tie). Mercyhurst (4), Air Force (2) 98
4. Canisius (3) 92
5. RIT 81
6. Connecticut 79
7. Robert Morris 66
8. Holy Cross 59
9. Bentley 53
10. Army 28
11. American International 22
12. Sacred Heart 16