(Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics)
The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) came within one shot of equalizing on a Sunday afternoon against the Bobcats of Quinnipiac. They were swept on the weekend after losing 8-3 last night on the road. Despite that result, combined with today’s 3-2 loss, this program is still set up for success. At even strength, the Yellow Jackets looked right on pace with the always potent Bobcats. As AIC’s Head Coach Eric Lang acknowledged, they took far too many penalties and allowed the Bobcats a long time with the extra skater. That team with the extra skater faced an AIC squad still adjusting their penalty kill with multiple new freshmen on it. They have had to replace some top quality penalty killers from previous AIC teams.
Do not let these two scores warp your perception of Head Coach Eric Lang’s program. This is still the program that is one of the hardest working ones in college hockey, and to Lang’s credit, that statement was true this weekend regardless of the deficit or brief lead AIC had.
For example, look at Aaron Grounds, shortly after a Luka Maver took a major penalty during Saturday’s game, Grounds blocked multiple shots on the five minute penalty kill in rapid succession despite being down by the margin that AIC was, and continued to play his truculent game on the fourth line during both games of this series. That example from Saturday night is emblematic of this program, and something not every player is programmed to do given the massive deficit AIC was facing.
Another example of the resilience of this program can be found in a game Lang and his staff did well to move on from that very same night. After the Yellow Jackets gave up two goals on that major penalty, they went to work and even put a bit of a scare in the home team. Tobias Fladeby (the national scoring leader in goals per game) and Brett Callahan cut the gap to three and the body language on the bench of AIC never wavered. They peppered opposing netminder Keith Petruzzelli with 58 shots over two nights, and were outdone on many high percentage looks by him. That is to say, the looks and chances were there in both of these games, and goalies without the talent of Petruzzelli will not stop as many of them.
One final thing given that Lang’s side has to face the Sharks of Long Island University tomorrow afternoon, is Lang himself. It is rare for us in hearing countless press conferences after the game to have a coach come out and stand up for a goaltender not only in word, but in action. Stefano Durante, as Lang noted, is one of the better goalies in this game, and he would probably like one or two goals conceded on Saturday night back. That said, Lang could have pulled him at any time before Stefano came out after the second period to give him a break before today’s game in which he rebounded in spectacular fashion. He chose to wait for the intermission because Lang feels that pulling the goalie early in that situation, in the middle of a period, has an affect of absolution on the team in front of him. As Durante took no penalties Saturday night, and has a stellar track record to back his coach up, Lang has a strong point.
The arc of this season is long enough to hope for a national tournament and a chance for AIC to come out the victor in another skirmish with these Bobcats come postseason time should one be played. As Lang said, he hopes that” we’ll see them again.” Even in their toughest moments this weekend, AIC showed they are up to that challenge should it arise in the future. Lang and his good humans he brought to Springfield would have it no other way.
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