Since the last time we talked to American International College (AIC) Yellow Jackets Head Coach Eric Lang, well not much has changed for his team on the ice, as they have not played a game. They clinched their third straight Atlantic Hockey Association regular season title due to other results. When they could have played this weekend, they were not able to find another opponent to play this weekend, and as a result, will spend 41 days between their last regular season game on January 30, a 3-0 win over Holy Cross, and March 12, their quarterfinal series opener in the Atlantic Hockey postseason.
To make up for this lack of having external opposition to play, Lang is keeping things internal. In his competitive program, he has seized on this moment to provide more competition for his deep team. Controlled scrimmages are routinely played to keep his team fresh. Lang has the ability to play three lines on each side, and have each team get two goalies. As Lang said of the battle level of these games ” we play for just about everything in anything we do here.” This pause due to the spate of COVID 19 cases across Atlantic Hockey has hit AIC, and they are out of the positive test protocol. Since coming back, Lang first wanted to ensure his team”s legs were back, and now he is working on sharpening all of the other skills a Division One Hockey player needs to have. In addition, he is controlling the scrimmages and practice environment to re-introduce contact in a safe way as well.
As for the postseason, Lang noted the benefit of playing in Atlantic Hockey. Stylistically, they benefited from playing a very physical Army West Point team in 2019 that prepared them mentality wise for the NCAA Tournament. Lang said it best when he said that ” the winner of our conference tournament has earned their way into the tournament.” The opponent this team faces in two weeks will be playing to advance, and to spoil AIC’s at large hopes. Both of those things could happen if Lang’s group is not ready, which is why for resuming play Lang said ” we’ve had a really developed strategy.”
Beyond the moment, AIC is one of the most deep teams in the country. As Lang has noted, the fifth line of his team is good enough to make the staff’s life diffucult in setting up a line chart each weekend. In addition, the work this team does to develop everyone on their roster has paid dividends throughout the regular season. In the postseason, should AIC make the national tournament, Lang notes that the biggest strength of this team is what they do right, which is a little bit of everything. For them to do well they must , as he said ” be able to possess the puck.. and shorten the game.” For this group to make it beyond the first round, they have to play the best game of their season, and make the opponent earn every inch of ice.
Going forward, Lang’s philosophy of finding the best group and building depth matters a lot to him. That depth will grow next year as Lang is open to bringing back any of their seniors. He feels that giving them the more traditional experience over a full season matters, and the staff is open to any senior taking them up on that. For everyone in this group right now, the opportunity that they have in a few weeks to progress to the national tournament is not being taken lightly. Atlantic Hockey’s postseason is tough for all its participants, and Lang’s group will be ready for it.
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