2017-18 saw Alabama Huntsville complete their best season since joining the WCHA in 2013-14, which also was the first season for head coach Mike Corbett. The Chargers still only went 9-22-3 last season but did sweep three league series and found a way to go 3-1 against Ferris State who finished last season 5th in the conference and started the season ranked in the top 20. Point being while the win total is still below where Chargers fans want it to be there was progress shown as some stability may be working into the program that has found some semblance of security after being close to eliminated after a few seasons as an independent.
The Chargers missed the league playoffs by just four points last season, and the goal for this year should be to find a way into the league tournament. The Chargers return almost all of their scoring from a season ago and their top goaltender also. With wins over Bemidji State and Ferris State last season the chargers showed they can play with the most consistent programs in the league, now they must find consistency to continue to develop as a program.
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After a long delay due to real life getting in the way, we get back to the team previews by diving into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this week. There will be some double days to help us catch up to still try and preview each team individually by the time October rolls around. Catch up on both Atlantic Hockey and independent Arizona State also before we preview the ten team WCHA.
The Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage had a trying season in 2016-17, finishing with a record of 7-21-6, and a dead last finish in the WCHA. It was a step back for coach Matt Thomas who in his 4th year behind the bench saw the Seawolves slip from eleven wins down to seven. As referenced this summer at ELC when Alaska-Fairbanks lost their head coach to the WHL, it is a tough time to lead a university in Alaska. Budget cuts, program future uncertainty, rigorous travel, and declining money make it tough to attract players north to Alaska. Thomas will enter his fifth season likely safe, seeing as a coaching search is also hard in these times, but the seat could get warm if the Seawolves finish at the bottom of the league once again.
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2016-17 was the second season for Arizona State as a Division I hockey program and while the team took a step forward improving from 5 to 10 wins, the story of this program took some lumps off the ice. The Sun Devils were spurred by the NCHC last season, with the lack of an on campus rink being an issue, and in June they withdrew from consideration to join the WCHA. The Arizona Coyotes backed out of a partnership deal to share a new arena with ASU and while former A.D. Ray Anderson said the goal is still to see the Sun Devils in their own arena by 2019-20 there has been no news to reassure college hockey fans that is a given.
Life as the only independent team in all of college hockey, while also being the lone team from the Pac-12 conference is not an ideal situation. The Sun Devils have found a way to recruit decent classes, and piece together strong schedules through the first few seasons of being a DI program, but there should be a focus on joining a conference. A conference is best for the long term viability of a program as unique as Arizona State, and the team on the ice can help make a conference opportunity viable through being a respected product on the ice.
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We have spent the last 11 days introducing each team from Atlantic Hockey in our first preview series. Atlantic Hockey is a league that last season was built on strong goaltending at the top of the league and has many top scorers returning to their teams this season. Even with the scholarship limit in the league being raised it is still hard to picture Atlantic Hockey being more than a one bid team for the NCAAs, with that team winning the playoffs. The playoffs are a tough thing to predict, especially with single elimination games but we still will predict how we see the regular season standings shaking out in Atlantic Hockey this season. Follow past the jump to have a good laugh and discussion at what will surely be our wildly inaccurate picks.
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We have reached the last team to preview in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, the reigning regular season champion Canisius Griffins. After years of being a bottom of the league to middle of the pack type team, Canisius has found some success since moving into the HARBORCenter as their home, a joint venture gift from the Pegula family and Buffalo Sabres. This commitment to a state of the art facility with the increased scholarship limit in Atlantic Hockey had helped Canisius recruit better under coach Dave Smith.
This reached a peak in 2016-17 with the Griffins winning their first Conference Regular Season Championship in program history. Canisius will have two huge assets to replace in 2016-17 replacing coach Dave Smith (now at RPI) and Hobey Baker Finalist goaltender Charles Williams. This season for Trevor Large, a 1st time head coach, will be a challenge as the Griffins try to match their season of a year ago.
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We begin the preview today with a note from the editor, as I will always be impartial on this here blog but my cousin is a member of the Air Force Falcons. Kyle Haak, who will be a junior forward this season, is my cousin which I am incredibly proud of but also benefits me in writing this preview. Just like MSU has been my lifetime team affording me more knowledge of the Spartans, following Air Force these last two seasons has given me more knowledge than I ever had about Atlantic Hockey.
Last season was an incredibly special season for the Falcons, possibly the best season for an Atlantic Hockey team since RIT made their magical run to the Frozen Four in 2010. The 27 wins for Air Force last year was the best since 2008-09, a year when Air Force also won a 1st round NCAA game against a team from Michigan (UM in 20009, Western Michigan last season). The Falcons, who had a chance to win the regular season title on the last game of the year before losing to Sacred Heart, made a run in the league tournament to secure an NCAA bid. An out of conference win over Boston College and ties against Ohio State and Western Michigan on the road had played the Falcons to the bubble of an at-large berth to the tournament. The Falcons even played Denver to a one goal loss last season.
The Falcons return an incredibly tight and special junior class this season that hit their stride last season. The Falcons will have chances out of conference to pick up key pairwise points against Bemidji State and Denver but like last year will probably need an Atlantic Hockey Playoff Championship to return to the NCAA Tournament. What looked like a clear favorite last April, quickly turned into a foggy future when super goaltender Shane Starrett signed an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers, foregoing his final two years of eligibility. Air Force will still be in the mix for the top of the league but will have more questions to answer to repeat as champions.
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Last season for the Army Black Knights was a huge success compared to recent results as for the first time since winning the Atlantic Hockey regular season crown in 2007-08, the Black Knights finished with a winning record (18-14-5). Led by a program changing talent in net, Parker Gahagen, the Black Knights boasted the 3rd best team defense in the country allowing just 2.11 goals per game. Despite putting up a 2.00 goals against average (6th nationally) and a .934 save percentage (2nd nationally) Gahagen was still relegated to 2nd Team All-Conference which shows you the goaltending depth this league had last season.
The challenge this season for Army will be holding onto their place in the league standings, with Robert Morris and RIT set to improve behind them, all while losing a true leader in net. Was Gahagen a product of an excellent system that can translate to a new starter in net or is Army set to tumble down the Atlantic Hockey leader board? This is the biggest question for the Black Knights heading into the new season.
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