(Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics)
The Black Knights of Army West Point used their bye week to work on some things, and further refine their own game. The team enjoyed a little time off, but as Head Coach Brian Riley said “all of a sudden you wake up on Sunday and.. its game week.” The team takes on the Pioneers of Sacred Heart University at Tate Rink for a three game series in round two of the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs.
One thing has been constant for Riley during the 11 game unbeaten run that the Black Knights are on, he is not changing his routine at all. He has worn the same suit, not gotten a hair cut, suspended week ending shootouts in practice, and more. That little It turns out he is skating at practice with a broken stick. It partially fractured, but is still in use. However as Riley said “guys know not to pass me any pucks.” When your team has not lost in your past 11 games, there is no reason to change what works, even if it is broken.
Riley thinks his group will be ready for the Pioneers, but notes the challenges his group faces. The Black Knights face one of the faster teams in Atlantic Hockey this weekend and Riley knows it. He said, “Sacred Heart has some of the best forwards in the league.” Despite the speed of the Pioneers, the truth in the weekend comes down to how well Riley’s group stays true to what they do. As Riley said, “you can’t lose sight of what you want to do, and how you want to play.” How the Black Knights keep to their system and use their checking to create looks will be a big factor in this weekend’s games. Part of the reason this team is in the spot it has found itself in is because even its goal scoring leaders like Colin Bilek back check efficiently and force their opponent to play a perfect game to win.
That team first mentality at West Point extends to the goaltending group. Riley praised sophomore Justin Evanson and freshman Gavin Abric for their work with the team this year. Both of them have pushed Trevin Kozlowski to be better and made him compete for his spot. Of his backups Riley said the following, ” I know that Justin and Gav are Trevin’s biggest fans, and they have a great relationship with each other.”
After rightly celebrating his firstie class of eight skaters, Riley took the time to talk about one of his standout first year cadets, in mentioning the high end talent of Mitch Machlitt. He has has been a key contributor playing in the top nine this year for the Black Knights. As Riley said of his growth, “like all of the freshmen it takes a little while” given the rigorous adjustment to West Point life. “We knew very early on” about how high his talent was, and the speed he plays with compliments the forward group quite well. In 19 games this season he has 11 points (four goals, seven assists).
To wrap things up, Riley echoed the sentiment of Canisius Head Coach, and his former assistant, Trevor Large on the strength of Atlantic Hockey this season saying, “if they do take two Atlantic Hockey League teams they certainly won’t be disappointed. and if given the opportunity, our teams will represent well.”
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