Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics
Coming into the Atlantic Hockey Association Conference Tournament Championship game tonight, Head Coach Eric Lang’s AIC Yellow Jackets knew that they would get everything the Canisius College Golden Griffins would throw at them. Trevor Large’s Golden Griffins controlled the first ten minutes of the game, and had AIC hemmed in their own end a few times. After that, the game started to open up, and like yesterday, Lang’s group had to battle through adversity, trailing 1-0, and 2-1 to a team that had another night of standout goaltending from Jacob Barczewski, who finished with 31 saves on 34 shots, and was a big reason why it was a one goal game, before AIC added two empty net goals.
The turning point of this game came late in the second period. After a fracas behind the net, no one quite understood why the officials were reviewing the play for a five minute major. It turns out that, Mitchell Martan cross checked Chris Dodero in the back of the head, and he encouraged Lang to challenge the non call and get a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct given.
Despite Canisius limiting the quality looks for AIC on the major power play, they finally cashed in with two seconds left on it with the go-ahead goal as Dodero’s goal into an open net proved to be the difference on the evening.
Lang was proud of his entire group, those both playing and not, and praised the depth and team-first mentality his group has. One example of that came in net, as Stefano Durante earned the start in both games, despite Lang having three goalies who have won games for him to choose from. He did note that had AIC had to play Bentley last week, Jake Kucharski, the freshman draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes probably would have played to give Durante more time to recover from a knee injury. As Lang said, ” if we played two weeks ago, it wouldn’t have been Stef.” With that said, Lang praised his consistent preparation and work to earn the net both nights. He got better in AIC’s scrimmages last weekend, and put up a shutout in the second one. Then Lang sensed that Durante was ready, and Eric Lang ended up having the right sense for his goaltending selection.
Senior AIC Captain Brennan Kapcheck also called Durante a “gamer” who always is ready to go. His consistency in net, combined with AIC’s ability to work to the fine details, they only took one penalty in two games, and none tonight, make them a team that has shown it can compete with anyone in the country. The ability for this team to stay within themselves regardless of the moment is an intangible asset that has taken Lang and his staff time to develop, but it has shown itself in a group that graduated ten seniors and had a lot of holes to fill. The staff of AIC was under pressure this summer to make sure that they had a full roster ready to go, and to prove that their first two years of winning regular season championships were not the limit of this team’s success. This team and North Dakota are the only two number one seeds to win both their regular season and postseason tournament championships.
With that being said Lang, and Large have to some degree or another both advocated for two teams to come from Atlantic Hockey. This tournament experience has shown that this conference has no walkover games at all. Niagara made it to Springfield by defeating one of the most veteran-heavy and skilled teams in the league in Robert Morris. Canisius was able to defeat Army, a feat last done by Lang’s group early in January. AIC played Quinnipiac pretty close at even strength in two games, and forced them to defend in their own end for large swaths of the series finale. The winner of this tournament always competes and represents their conference well in the postseason.
The Atlantic Hockey Tournament experience, combined with this conference’s rigorous schedule, plus the depth that Lang has on this team, will make this group as formidable as any of the past two League Champions that Lang has coached. What comes next? Well, Lang and the rest of us will find out the full bracket tomorrow night on ESPN U at 6 PM Central Time.
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