For the NCAA Tournament consider Army: Here’s why

The Black Knights of Army West Point earned another victory last night with a 5-1 win against the Falcons of Bentley. This win gave them a sweep on the weekend, their sixth straight win, and tenth straight game of earning at least a point in Atlantic Hockey. In raw points earned, the Black Knights are third behind an AIC and Robert Morris team that both deserve at-large consideration.

Last night’s efforts, given the Selection Committee’s need to use some sort of “eye test”, in our minds moved Head Coach Brian Riley’s team into the at large category, if the season ended today. Riley was proud of his team both nights this weekend, but thought they actually played better in the Friday night overtime victory than last night in a 5-1 game that turned into a blowout pretty quickly. The Black Knights scored four unanswered goals to provide the final margin, featuring on the evening one from Hobey Baker candidate Colin Bilek, and two each from Brett Abdelnour and Thomas Farell.

This Army team is deep, and has a pretty extensive comitee that Riley relies on for goal scoring. Everyone of his lines are capable of taking over the game at times, and all of them have their own strengths. The line lead by Colin Bilek always seems to be on the ice for big moments, and last night was no different.

The most unique thing about this team is their selflessness. Riley personified that through discussing Bilek, in noting that he is the leader of this team, and being recognized for his goals sure, but that Bilek also sacrifices himself for the team at every signle opportunity. Colin Bilek’s ability to transition from a shot block to a goal scoring chance on the same shift is one of the better ones in the country. He inspires the team up front to push forward, and has made the many goal scorers on this team better.

In net, Trevin Kozlowski is a consistent rock for this team. His ability to play a calm and consistent game, along with having a short memory on conceding less than ideal goals is just some of the reason why he is 9-3-1 on the year, and skyrocketing up the Mike Richter Award discussion, as he should be. Riley knows that his team is not in a poistion to fight for an at large bid without Kozlowski in net.

Let’s now look at why Army should be under consideration for an at-large spot. First, this team is complete, on its face, and in how it plays. They are disciplined, and able to compete with most teams in the country. In addition to this, they have been able to win many different types of games as of late, but seem to almost thrive more when the score is close, as the Tournament normally is. This team has shown it can beat the best opponents on its schedule, when it is all you can do in a year of virutally no non conference games. They are the last group to beat an AIC teamm one that should earn an at large bid, in regulation. They are able to play with everyone because of who Riley brings in and how he and his staff develop them. Like his protégé, Eric Lang, Riley has his teams play defense first, and be able to, when playing well, score in waves. Only three skaters of Riley’sgroup do not have at least a point, of those who have played at least one game.

Finally, given the dearth of teams playing in the ECAC, and the likelihood of Quinnipiac winning the tournament, we expect that conference to earn only one bid. If that holds, and the Big 10 earns two spots, there will be more spots to go around. Why not, during this season, given adverse conditions, give the extra spot to a team full of people who, if their trajectory holds will have earned the selection, and a group of people training to lead soldiers in adverse conditions all around the world. Brian Riley’s group has proven its ability to thrive under adverse conditions, what better place to showcase that then at the NCAA Tournament, for the first time in this storied program’s history?

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