Robert Morris and RIT are the teams to beat in Atlantic Hockey.
The Colonials, who won the conference regular season championship and cracked the national Top-20 poll last season, were voted No. 1 in the conference's preseason poll released Wednesday morning. Robert Morris received seven first-place votes.
RIT, which won the conference tournament to claim the league's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, finished second in the coaches' poll with four first-place votes.
Here's the breakdown of how the coaches see Atlantic Hockey this preseason:
- Robert Morris
- Sacred Heart
- Holy Cross
- Air Force
- Army West Point
- American International
It's a slight surprise to see Sacred Heart crack the top five, but the Pioneers have improved and return much of their roster. They also benefit from predicted down years for Air Force and Mercyhurst after graduating big classes and key contributors.
Bentley is a solid pick to finish in the top three. The Falcons are loaded with talent but (there's always a but) they've failed to produce in the playoffs. The last two seasons they were knocked out of the quarterfinals on home ice by Mercyhurst and Canisius.
Speaking of Canisius, the Ice Griffs graduated a big and talented class, but its current crop of sophomores received a ton of experience last year and the program has a deep incoming freshman class. Oh, and that top line of Ralph Cuddemi, Shane Conacher and Ryan Schmelezer returns. Cuddemi is the returning leading goal scorer in Atlantic Hockey, netting 22 last year.
Niagara comes in at No. 9 which may be a disappointment on Monteagle Ridge but after a last-place finish and an implosion of injuries, the Purps have a lot of question marks to go alongside a lot of talent.
Perhaps the biggest question for RIT will be how senior Josh Mitchell responds to playing without linemates Matt Garbowsky and Brad McGowan, both graduated and beginning their pro hockey careers. Mitchell is the league's returning scorer after notching 53 points last season, although more than half of those points were from assists feeding Garbowsky and McGowan.