By Dave Toller
For the second straight year, Air Force has been selected as the preseason favorite to finish first in the Atlantic Hockey Association in a poll of the league’s coaches. The Falcons collected eight first place votes en route to 80 total points. Air Force, which made its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance last March, fell to Vermont in the East Regional Final at the Bridgeport Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., 3-2 in double overtime. The previous night the Falcons upset top-seed Michigan, 2-0 to advance to the regional final.
Mercyhurst, runner-up to the Falcons in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament for a second straight season, was picked second with 70 points with the two remaining first place votes. Rounding out the rest of the top five teams are RIT (67 points), Holy Cross (54) and Canisius (53). The final five places are garnered by Army (40), Bentley (31), Sacred Heart (27), Connecticut (18) and American International (10).
Air Force opens the 2009-10 season with an exhibition game against the University of Calgary, Monday, Oct. 5, at 6:05 p.m. at Cadet Ice Arena. The regular season opens on the road with a two-game series at Bemidji State, Oct. 9-10, in Bemidji, Minn. Last season, Air Force swept the Beavers by a combined score of 12-2 in the season-opening series at the Academy. BSU went on to win the NCAA West Regional and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four last season. The first home series is Oct. 16-17 against Alabama-Huntsville, 7:05 p.m. each night at the Cadet Ice Arena.
“We are very proud to be picked No. 1,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “I’ll take that as a complement from my peers. We’ll take the bull’s eye and run with it and see what we can do. We were picked to finish first last year and it worked out pretty good for us.”
The competive level of the league has increaded with the additions of Robert Morris and Niagara.
“In the years that we have been in the league, the competitive depth has improved every year,” Coach Serratore said. “We were the No. 1 seed in the tournament last season and Sacred Heart took us to three games and could have taken us out.”
“Every night you have to strap it up and play,” he added. “Our league has earned, and I mean earned, a tremendous amount of respect in the collegiate hockey community. We are proud to be the champions, but more importantly, we are proud to be members of Atlantic Hockey.”
The 2009 Tournament will be the same format from a year ago. There will be two First Round contests with the 7th seed hosting the 10th seed and the 8th seed hosting the 9th seed in the single elimination contest on Saturday, March 6. The Quarterfinal Round will take place on the Friday, March 12-Sunday, March 14 and feature four match-ups in a best two-out-of-three format. The four winners will then travel to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. with the highest remaining seed facing the lowest remaining seed in the first semifinal, with the other two remaining seeds facing off in the second semifinal on Friday, March 19. The two semifinal winners will then face-off in the Championship game on Saturday, March 20 with the NCAA automatic berth on the line.