Hockey: Academy preseason favorite to win league

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For the second straight year, the Air Force Academy hockey team has been selected as the preseason favorite to win 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. 

The Falcons, who made their 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 they upset top-seeded 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 to finish second with 70 points, including 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).

The Falcons open the 2009-10 season with an exhibition game against the University of Calgary 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 at 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. 

"This league is tough and getting tougher," he said, "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. 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. 

"Our league has earned, and I mean earned, a tremendous amount of respect in the collegiate hockey community," Coach Serratore said. "Our league will continue to improve, gain more credibility and be more competitive on the national level. We are proud to be the champions, but more importantly, we are proud to be members of Atlantic Hockey."