This Week in Atlantic Hockey: The almighty transfer portal and rise of the super-senior – College Hockey

Daniel DiGrande played at RPI from 2018 to 2021 before transferring to Canisius for the current 2021-22 season (photo: Michael P. Majewski).

Depending on who you talk to, the new NCAA rules around player movement, the ability to transfer and play immediately plus the extra year of eligibility players have been given due to the pandemic, are making things better…or in some cases, worse for college hockey.

Players now have more choice and control over their college careers. But these changes may shift the balance between teams able to take advantage, and teams that can’t.

Ivy League schools don’t grant a fifth year of eligibility, which is why you saw so many Ivy players in the transfer portal this offseason. And in Atlantic Hockey, the service academies are also prohibited from offering an additional year.

“Collegiate athletics is now part of the free agent society with the grad transfers, the one-time transfers, the fifth-year seniors,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore at the league’s media day on September 22. “We can’t get involved in the transfer game and we’re not allowed to carry fifth-year seniors.”

Serratore, whose team split with Michigan State to open the season, says he’s spending his time on what he can control.

“We focus our energy on where we are and what we have,” he said. “We’ve got to do it the old fashioned way. We’ve got to recruit freshmen and develop our own players. We’re the youngest team in the country with one experienced senior. It’s a bad year to be a very young team, because collegiate hockey got very old.”

Army West Point coach Brian Riley echoed those thoughts.

“College hockey’s changed, but not for us,” he said. “We’re going to have to rebuild and not reload.”

A total of 29 players transferred into the league for this season, while three transferred out. Another 11 players took advantage of the extra year, including four at Rochester Institute of Technology and three at Bentley.

Leading the way in incoming transfers are Canisius (seven), Sacred Heart (seven), Bentley (six) and American International (five).

Coaches emphasized that every transfer was carefully considered. In some cases, these players had originally been recruited.

“We’re making sure we’re bringing in the right people,” said AIC coach Eric Lang. “At one point there were 250-300 in the portal, so we could be super selective.”

“We need guys to fit in to what we’re doing here. We had a familiarity, (some) past relationships. Our best recruiters are current players, to say, ‘Hey, I played with (this guy) and I think he would be a great fit.’”

“(Transfers) came here based on who they are as people,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “In many cases, we’ve recruited them in the past.”

Canisius coach Trevor Large says his new players have quickly adapted.

“They’re no longer transfers, they’re Canisius hockey players,” he said. “We make sure they understand as soon as possible what it means to wear this (Golden Griffins) crest on your jersey.”

Looking ahead

The good news is that AHA teams were 3-1 against the Big Ten last Friday, ending an 0-21-1 streak. The bad news is that Atlantic Hockey is 3-16 out of conference so far this season, with some tough games on the horizon, including this weekend’s series between AIC and No. 9 Massachusetts, and a pair of games between Air Force and No. 11 Denver.

We’ve just started but the conference needs some early nonconference wins if it hopes to see some teams in the upper echelon of the PairWise come March. The (hopefully temporarily) suspension of Robert Morris’ program added two additional non-conference games to each team’s schedule, bringing the total for most schools to eight.

This weekend will also bring just the second conference series of the season, featuring Holy Cross traveling to Mercyhurst, with both teams looking for their first wins of the season.