By Joe Paisley
Last year, Air Force coach Frank Serratore wasn’t certain games would be played.
Now, he’s not sure what to expect from his opponents with so many undergoing roster overhauls before what everyone hopes will be a more conventional schedule..
“We’re just excited for the chance to play a complete season,” Serratore said during Tuesday’s Atlantic Hockey media conference call. “Hopefully we’ll have a real season. I have been in college athletics for decades and I cannot remember knowing less than I do about our opponents than when I went into the pros (in 1994).”
The Falcons went 3-10-1 last season which “didn’t give us a chance to see everyone,” Serratore said. “Now with all the transfers, college athletes have entered the free agent market. But for us, the transfer portal is just a spectator sport.”
Service academies cannot accept undergraduate or graduate transfers or keep fifth-year seniors. The ongoing pandemic resulted in the NCAA loosening up its transfer and retention rules with dozens taking advantage.
Three-time defending regular season champion American International College returns 23 players and added five transfers in what coach Eric Lang said is his deepest team yet.
AIC was the unanimous pick to repeat and Air Force was ninth in the 10-team league’s preseason coaches poll. Robert Morris is idle this season.
Without the ability to add experienced and proven talent, the Falcons will rebuild, not reload.
“There is no quick fix for us,” Serratore said. “We are going to be very, very young and this is a bad year for that because the rest of the NCAA is going to be very experienced.”
Army was picked third behind AIC and Canisius, but Black Knights coach Brian Riley echoed Serratore’s sentiments, especially the need to retain current players with the advent of the transfer portal.
“Fortunately at West Point, you learn how to adapt,” he said. “College hockey has changed.”
Air Force has one experienced senior — goalie and captain Alex Schilling — back. The other senior is forward Billy Duma, who spent his first two seasons as a student manager and played two games (no points) as a junior.
Serratore said it is the first time he has had a goalie named as captain.
The Falcons will rely on eight juniors, eight sophomores and nine freshmen after graduating eight players this spring.
“Usually we have one team that morphs into the next, but there really is a changing of the guard with so many sophomores and freshmen,” Serratore said. “It is a new-look Air Force Falcons, but we are going to play Air Force hockey.”
AFA originally had 12 first-year players, but three left the program in the past month, including the only rookie to receive league preseason honors, forward Jack Conroy.
“He’s a great young man,” Serratore said. “It just didn’t work out.”
With so many question marks and low expectations outside the program, the Falcons have a lot of work ahead.
“We need to keep getting better as the year goes on and become the team no one wants to face in the playoffs,” he said.
2021-22 Atlantic Hockey Preseason Coaches’ Poll
Rk. Team (1st Votes) Points
1. AIC (9) 90
2. Canisius (1) 72
3. Army West Point 69
4. RIT 64
5. Sacred Heart 63
6t. Niagara 50
6t. Mercyhurst 50
8. Bentley 35
9. Air Force 28
10. Holy Cross 19
Coaches could not vote for their own teams. Based on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 scale.
Atlantic Hockey Coaches’ Preseason Player of the Year (Votes)
Colin Bilek, Sr., F, Army West Point (7)
Others Receiving Votes: Will Calverley, Sr., F, RIT; Chris Theodore, R-Jr., F, AIC
Atlantic Hockey Coaches’ Preseason Rookie of the Year (Votes)
Jake Sibell, G, Niagara (3)
Others Receiving Votes: Jack Conroy, F, Air Force; Lucas Lindner, D, AIC; Reggie Millette, F, AIC; Evan Stella, D, AIC; Cooper Connell, F, Bentley; Jay Ahearn, F, Niagara; Connor Hutchison, D, Sacred Heart
Coaches’ Preseason All-Atlantic Hockey Team (Votes)
Pos. Name, Class, School
F Colin Bilek, Sr., Army West Point (8)
F Will Calverley, Sr., RIT (8)
F Randy Hernandez, So., Canisius (7)
D Dan Willett, Sr., RIT (7)
D Drew Bavaro, So., Bentley (3)
D (tie) Joseph Maziarz, Jr., Mercyhurst (3)
G Jacob Barczewski, Jr., Canisius (7)
Others Receiving Votes
Forwards- Chris Theodore, R-Jr., AIC; Lincoln Hatten, So., Army West Point; Keaton Mastrodonato, Jr., Canisius; Carson Briere, So., Mercyhurst; Jake Hamacher, Sr., RIT; Braeden Tuck, So., Sacred Heart.
Defensemen- Zac Galambos, R-Jr., AIC; Brian Kramer, So., AIC; Parker Revering, Sr., AIC; Thomas Farrell, Jr., Army West Point; Anthony Firriolo, Sr., Army West Point; Chris Harpur, Sr., Niagara.
Goaltenders- Jake Kucharski, R-So., AIC