Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics
This afternoon, the Yellow Jackets of American International College had to work incredibly hard for every bit of positive momentum against the upstart Purple Eagles of Niagara. Chad Veltri made 33 saves on 35 shots faced, and the Purple Eagles lead for the majority of the game, despite coming up short to an AIC team that last played on January 30. Head Coach Eric Lang expected a tough game from an underrated opponent, and his group got that for 60 minutes. The pressure was evident, but Lang knew that going in to this semifinal
He said to us before that, “pressure is privilege” , and the Purple Eagles applied plenty of it today. Despite having the majority of things go right for them, his team still had to find two goals in the third period in order to move on to the Atlantic Hockey Final.
With that said, the mesage to the team throughout the time where they were trailing was pretty simple according to Lang. As he said the message was “stay with it, stay with it, stay with it…don’t get impatient and no individual play, [and focus on the] collective whole.”
On the night, Lang was pleased with the attention to detail his team had, as he said “we possessed the puck all night and that’s how we need to play, our attention to detail was beautiful.” That attention to detail is needed as Lang’s group will face off against an opportunistic Canisius group that plays with a consistently high motor.
The experience today against the Purple Eagles was tough, as Lang said, ” they are really tough, well coached, [have] terrific goaltending and they can really skate. They made us uncomfortable with how tenacious they play. They block shots and backcheck hard.” That description, after seeing Canisius more than a few times this year, applies to the Golden Griffins as well.
The goals by Elijah Barriga and Justin Cole came in the third period on hard work and products of cycles and long zone times. AIC had a lot of shifts with similar characteristics to that today, across all 60 minutes. To win the Conference Tournament tomorrow, they will have to have more of the same, and minimize turnovers. Their opponents won in overtime because they made an opportunistic play on a pass out of Army’s own end, and created time and space for a clean look. Minimizing those looks and being able to keep working will be needed.
The other thing that Lang will have is a good perspective on Canisius despite never having played them this year. He credits his Volunteer Hockey Operations Director Mike Finnegan for having his team constantly ready to go. (interview conducted before Canisius won the second semifinal) Lang said “our work on our opponent is already done. Now it be confirming what we see on both teams. We have the best hockey ops guy in the country. He does all the heavy lifting for our program. He’s the only guy I know that can consolidate an entire season of our opponent. You can’t outwork him and he’s always one step ahead of our coaching staff.”
The Yellow Jackets still face pressure and no assurances of an at large bid going into the Championship game. Lang is ready for the challenge. As he said before, and we would posit that the same applies here, “pressure is privilege.”
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