The Erie Community College hockey team (10-2-1) took the top spot in the first 2016-17 National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA) Poll released Dec. 1. The reigning National Champion runner-up Kats edged out Dakota College at Bottineau (7-1-1) by a point, 15-14.
The Lumberjacks are atop Region XIII and are the current defending NJCAA National Champions after beating Erie, 4-3, in last year's title game at SUNY Broome, Feb. 28. It was Dakota College's sixth national title with five coming in the last decade.
The early poll suggests that perhaps this year's title game could be a rematch, although both teams appear to be complete opposites in their roster origins. While the Kats are mainly comprised of local players from the Western New York area, there are only a half-dozen Lumberjacks from North Dakota. The bulk of their roster reads like a geography lesson with players coming from eight different states and five different Canadian provinces. In addition, their roster includes two European players from Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Through their first half-dozen region games, the Kats have remained unbeaten at 5-0-1. Erie's offense has been explosive with more than twice as many goals as the next-closest region opponent. That was evident this past weekend when the Kats registered a collective 23 goals in a pair of wins over SUNY Broome and Elmira College's junior varsity squad.
The Kats look to clinch another region title as competition within Region III intensifies during January and February 2017. With four games in January, three of those will be region contests. The Kats will also play three of their five February games against region foes before playoffs begin.