Brian Riley, throughout his decades of being a coach, and in his 17 years leading Army West Point knows when to rely on his assistants. Tonight, he gave credit to Associate Coach Zach McKelvie for a tweak in overtime on the power play. He adjusted things to put Eric Butte on the power play unit that scored, and the unit executed things to perfection. Butte, now with three goals in his past two games tipped home the game winner to give the Black Knights another win on their ascent up the Atlantic Hockey standings with a 2-1 overtime victory over Sacred Heart.
Riley succinctly said of the switch, “that’s how he drew it up.” On the goal scorer, he credits Eric for putting himself in that position where McKelvie thought to use him in the extra frame. Butte himself is an example in how a goal scorer will find his way to putting the puck in the back of the net with hard work, as he has put in during his time at the Academy. As Riley said, “he’s been working extremely hard.” When Butte broke out of his scoring drought last night, with a two goal game Riley expected more to come soon. Well, soon meant the next game for Eric Butte, and the Black Knights now have multiple options each night on all of their lines. This is in addition to their stalwart defense that has improved. Their penalty kill is on the ascent, as tonight it was perfect, putting as many shots on net shorthanded as they gave up (one each way).
To open things up, Lincoln Hatten put an off angle shot past Sacred Heart netminder Devin Lush. It was a move that surprised everyone but Hatten as he tucked the puck past Lush who was playing a bit further out in his crease, leaving the tiniest oopening avaialble. Hatten took advantage of it for his fourth goal of the season. The freshman is proving that he has the potential to be a leader for Army West Point Hockey down the road, and for now, he provides a lot of speed in the top scoring group of forwards for Riley, and a nose for the net.
Last night, on potential adjustments, we asked Riley about what his staff would emphasize, and he said the neutral zone play would be top of mind heading into this one. Throughout most of the night the Black Knights stymied one of the faster teams in Atlantic Hockey and forced tougher entries, or outright dump ins, which helped Army better get into their forecheck more often. Finally, Trevin Kozlowski kept things hemmed up in net, stopping 21 of 22 pucks on the evening to make life easier for the forwards in a game that featured a goaltending duel throughout.
Heading into Army’s next series against a physical Bentley group this weekend, Riley’s biggest focus will be on keeping things simple and giving his players some space to recover. They will reconvene for practice Thursday and shift their focus to fighting for six more Atlantic Hockey points against the Falcons of Bentley. As for the team, while they are burnishing their resume for an at-large bid, Riley is focused on earning a first round bye, and building from there towards the national tournament. As he said, “if you keep winning, everything will take care of itself.”
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