Entering a season in which it must replace a bevy of graduating players, the Robert Morris men's hockey team was picked eighth in the Atlantic Hockey Conference's preseason coaches poll, commissioner Bob DeGregorio announced Tuesday at the league's media day in Rochester, N.Y.
Strangely enough, while the Colonials were targeted for the bottom half of the 12 teams, they managed to receive one first-place vote, which caught coach Derek Schooley by surprise.
"It was weird, actually," he said.
Robert Morris enters the season facing a daunting task of replacing 10 seniors, several of whom were key contributors to a 17-17-5 team last season that lost in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
The team's top three players in points from last season -- forwards Cody Crichton, Trevor Lewis and Nick Chiavetta -- graduated.
Together, the trio accounted for 51 assists and 36 of the team's 102 goals.
On the other hand, Robert Morris will return a wealth of defensive experience.
Defenseman Tyson Wilson had 14 assists and 17 points last season and is joined by fellow veterans Tyler Hinds and Brendan Jamison, who appeared in 36 and 39 of the team's games last season.
There is a burgeoning youth movement on the front lines. Forward Cody Wydo scored a team-high 12 goals as a freshman last season, tying him as the 14th-leading scorer in Atlantic Hockey.
Wydo's sophomore counterpart, Scott Jacklin, also had a noteworthy first year, tallying nine goals and six assists.
"Anytime you graduate 10 seniors, it's very difficult," Schooley said. "But I've been every excited with the youth and enthusiasm from our young guys."
Goaltender would seem to be an area of concern for the Colonials, who must replace departing senior Brooks Ostergard. He appeared in 25 or more games the past three seasons.
But Eric Levine, who started 11 games last season, returns for his senior season after finishing the 2011-12 campaign with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
"We've got a tremendous amount of confidence in Eric Levine," Schooley said of the team's new No. 1 goaltender. "We don't feel that's a major position of concern for us."
The honor of preseason favorite went to Air Force, which collected eight of 12first-place votes.
Last season, the Falcons won both the regular season and conference tournament before getting ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament by eventual national champion Boston College.
"I wish winning the league were as easy as winning the coaches' poll," Air Force coach Frank Serratore quipped. "It isn't."
Niagara, which finished second in the conference last season, received the other three first-place votes and finished in second in the poll.
Mercyhurst, Bentley and the Rochester Institute of Technology rounded out the top five in a conference that Schooley and others heavily lauded for its parity and depth.
"We expect our league to be stronger than ever," DeGregorio said. "We're very excited for the upcoming season."rmusports
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.