The college hockey season begins in less than a month and the Atlantic Hockey Association will look to continue momentum it has gained over the past several seasons. Let's take a look at the top 12 freshmen for this upcoming winter. Next week we'll rank the recruiting classes and go more in depth on the newcomers for all 11 teams in the league.
Derian Plouffe, Niagara, Forward - A native of Nepean, Ontario, Plouffe could be the most dynamic offensive newcomer to the AHA this season. He's a terrific play maker who put up 15 goals and 30 assists in 29 games with the Kanata Stallions last season before being traded to Smith Falls. As a '95, he'll be one of the youngest freshmen in the league, but he has three years of experience in the CCHL.
Alex Bontje, Robert Morris, Defense - Don't expect to see his name on the score sheet too often, but the Nobleton, Ontario native could be one of the best defensive newcomers to the AHA. He's got good size and mobility and has been a highly sought after prospect since he was a bantam. A former draft pick of the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, Bontje will step right into a team with high expectations to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Cole Bruns, Army, Goaltender - A product of the Team Illinois midget program, he set a USHL record last winter for most consecutive shutout minutes while tending the net for the Omaha Lancers. The Prairie Grove, Ill. native spent the past two seasons in Omaha where he compiled impressive numbers. He'll compete with sophomore Parker Gahagen for time between the pipe at West Point.
Justin Charbonneau, Mercyhurst, Forward - A graduate of Kimball Union Academy, the Quebec-born Charbonneau put up gaudy numbers for the Saint-Jerome Pantheres last season in the QJAAAHL. He's highly skilled, but he also is known as an extremely hard working right wing who is constantly moving his feet.
Scott Pooley, Holy Cross, Forward - The Granges, Indiana native comes to the Crusaders by way of Muskegon in the USHL. The Chicago Mission product tallied 16 goals and added 11 assists for the Lumberjacks last season. A big bulky right wing, Pooley measures in at 6-2/195. He's coming from a higher level of play than his fellow rookies and his game could really take off in Atlantic Hockey.
Zach Todd, Mercyhurst, Defenseman - A veteran of junior hockey, the '93 comes to the Lakers from the Boston Jr. Bruins in the USPHL, but also has experience in the CCHL. A Northwood Prep alum, Todd is a very good mover of the puck and should contribute immediately to the Laker power play unit. Todd isn't overly physical, but he's strong and can win one-on-one battles, according to a junior hockey source.
Jayson Argue, Bentley, Goaltender - The Swan River, Manitoba native will likely be tasked with replacing all-star goaltender and workhorse Braden Komm. The two returning goaltenders have less than 400 career minutes of experience between them. A former draft pick of Spokane in the WHL, the '93 put up impressive numbers in the offensive-oriented BCHL for the Nanaimo Clippers the past two winters.
David Bennett, Canisius, Defenseman - A '95 from Ottawa, Bennett has good size and mobility with the ability to move the puck on the power play and begin the rush up ice in transition. He had 11 goals and 26 assists in 53 games for the Cumberland Grads in the CCHL last season. Bennett and fellow freshman Jack Staner would have been part of an impressive trio of rookie blue liners for head coach Dave Smith, but highly regarded Zack Pittman bolted for the OHL last week.
Kyle Mackey, Air Force, Defenseman - The Derby, NY native comes to Air Force after patrolling the Youngstown Phantoms' blue line the past two winters. A product of the Buffalo Regals and Buffalo Jr. Sabres midget programs, Mackey should help offset the loss of Adam McKenzie who graduated. Mackey has good size and skating ability and has the experience of the USHL, but will be brought in gradually as AFA head coach Frank Serratore often does.
Larry Smith, Niagara, Defenseman - The former Sioux City Musketeer played the past two seasons for the Carleton Place Canadians in the CCHL. He's a big, puck-moving blue liner who has the capability to start the transition as well as distribute the puck on the power play. According to an opposing CCHL coach, he also began to develop more of a physical presence as his career progressed in that league.
Mark Golberg, RIT, Forward - A '95 from Orleans, Ontario, Golberg should add some offensive spark to the Tigers offense as Wayne Wilson's program enters the new era at the school's new Gene Polisseni Center. A speedy and crafty forward, he scored 32 goals and added 32 assists with the Cumberland Grads in the CCHL last winter.
David Parrottino, Canisius, Forward - The West Bloomfield, Mich. native tallied nine goals and added 23 helpers with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL last winter. He's on the smaller side, but is a good set-up guy who can really dish the puck out.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.