The Black Knights of Army West Point had everything to play for yesterday. They were facing a Long Island University Sharks team playing the final game of its first season in Division One. It was senior night, as the Black Knights have eight senior players and two senior student managers in their group. One of its leaders is goaltender Trevin Kozlowski. He finished the night with 20 saves on 23 shots to help his group to a 6-3 win.
On senior night, Army Head Coach Brian Riley noted “I think this is one of those special moments that really hits home.” Before the game, Army West Point did a fabulous job honoring all of the seniors partaking in their last regular season home affair at Tate Rink. These videos all included a personal shoutout from a relative or someone close to the senior. They were all nicely done, and put together with the utmost professionalism and honor for the 47 month journey every one of the ten cadets will have taken when they graduate this May.
To the game, early on, it looked like the Sharks would make Army work for their luck, and early on they did just that. The Sharks struck first in the first period, and took the 1-0 lead into the intermission. Then, the power play of the Black Knights went to work in the second period. They struck for four goals in a row on the power play, including Colin Bilek potting his 16th goal of the season. The Hobey Baker Award candidate is now second in the country in goals with 16, and first on the power play with 8 markers.
Another standout for the Black Knights was Anthony Firriolo. The sophomore defender added a hat trick on the night, and helped chip in on defense to preserve the win. The Black Knights, as a unit, where able to come from behind once again with their system. In a repetitive scene many times over this 11 game unbeaten streak, Riley’s team stuck with what they do well, consistent pursuit of the puck, and forcing the opponent to out skill you to beat them. When the Sharks made a mistake, the Black Knights often made them pay last night. For a team that lost to this same group after a series opening win back in January, this effort was needed to send them to the Atlantic Hockey playoffs in two weeks on the right foot, and to bolster their surging at-large resume for the NCAA Tournament.
What comes next
Brian Riley is not typically a superstitious person. However, on this 11 game unbeaten streak he has not gotten a hair cut or worn a different suit behind the bench. As Riley said of this superstition, ”I guess when you get on a streak it brings out the worst.” One way to ensure that Riley keeps having to wear the same suit and avoid getting a haircut for the Black Knights is in not taking unforced errors. Multiple times last night, the team negated some of their earned power play time with taking penalties shortly after they went on the power play. Riley hopes that ends now, as any margin for error is gone, as one of those mistakes could end Army’s season prematurely. As Riley put it succinctly, :If we do that in the playoffs that’s going to cost us, [and] we need to have learned our lesson on that now”
Next week for the team will be a chance for them to work on special situations and get better as a team before they play a firsr round winner hungry to spoil all of the streaks this team is on and end their at-large hopes the following weekend. The postseason begins in two weeks, but for Riley and his staff, the work of developing these leaders to be at their best on the ice is an ongoing mission.