According to preseason poll of Atlantic Hockey coaches, Canisius College is expected to pose the greatest challenge to American International University's bid for a fourth consecutive conference championship.
The AIC Yellow Jackets received nine of a possible nine first-place votes in the poll of 10 coaches released Tuesday. Canisius received the other first-place vote (coaches were not able to vote for their own team).
AIC had 90 points. Canisius tallied 72, followed by Army (69), RIT (64), Sacred Heart (63), Niagara (50), Mercyhurst (50), Bentley (35), Air Force (29) and Holy Cross (19).
Only AIC and RIT (2008-2011) have won three straight titles, but the Yellow Jackets are the only team to win three straight outright. RIT shared the 2008-09 title with Air Force.
Army senior forward Colin Bilek is the coaches’ choice as the Atlantic Hockey Preseason Player of the Year.
Niagara goaltender Jake Sibell is the AHA Preseason Rookie of the Year. The Isanti, Minn., native joins the Purple Eagles from the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL, where he posted a 43-2-1 record with a 1.19 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Canisius forward Randy Hernandez and junior goalie Jacob Barczewski were Preseason All-Atlantic first-team selections. Hernandez was the Rookie of the Year in AHA last season. Barczewski led the AHA with an .925 save percentage to go with a 2.30 GAA and a 7-3 overall record.
Canisius forward Keaton Mastrodonato received votes for AHA Player of the Year and first team. Niagara forward Jay Ahearn also received Rookie of the Year votes, while Niagara senior Chris Harpur received votes for the Preseason All-AHA.
Canisius was 11-6 overall and 8-5 in conference play last season, losing to AIC 5-2 in the championship game of the playoffs. Niagara was 7-12-3 overall and 3-9-3-1 in conference play. The Purple Eagles upset Robert Morris in three games of the best-of-three AHA quarterfinal playoff series before falling to AIC 2-1 in a semifinal in Springfield, Mass.
Both Canisius and Niagara will open their seasons with nonconference road games Oct. 8-9. Canisius will play at Penn State. Niagara will visit North Dakota.