Army West Point Head Ice Hockey Coach Brian Riley remembers every year he is fortunate to live his dream job as Head Coach of the Black Knights. Last year, amidst a broken stick he continued to use in practice, his group finished the season going unbeaten in their last 13 games before their hard fought battle with Canisius in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals where Riley’s group did everything but win the game. The stick was broken, but Army went on the streak, and Riley is famous in this game for not changing things when his team goes on long winning streaks.
When the season ended, the departing seniors, signed the broken stick. Riley now has it hung in his office as a reminder of the special group that gave everything to Army Hockey over their 47 month time in West Point.
Now he is ready for the season ahead. The full Army West Point schedule should be released soon, but Riley did confirm that the Black Knights will resume the one of the longest international rivalry series with Royal Millitary College which will occur in January of 2022. The Black Knights will be tested, as they always are in the perenially tough Atlantic Hockey Association.
One thing that will be different for his group this year, no more COVID 19 protocols. Why? Riley said that “Im pretty sure that our whole team has been fully vaccinated.” Players that have been vaccinated fully do not have to participate in three times per week tests, nor do they need to quarantine upon close contacts. The team got vaccinated because they wanted to,and those coming back to West Point are excited for the season ahead at Tate Rink.
On to the summer, this week the nine recruits coming to West Point took their first steps as New Cadets reporting for Cadet Basic Training. This rigorous process quickly acclimates incoming first year cadets, or plebes, to the realities of millitary life, and ensures they start their first year ready for the many challenges ahead of them in their 47 month experience on post.
In the first week, the new recruits have had one night at Tate Rink all together, and they will get to, in groups, or all together, get to visit the rink they will be playing on during the rigorous Cadet Basic Training to talk with coaches and get to bond with their new teammates and skate. For the first part of Cadet Basic Training, they will see some familiar faces as leaders, as Daniel Haider, Anthony Firriolo, and Patrick Smyth are part of the leadership group in Cadet Basic Training. Smyth is expected to make a return to the lineup this season, and the power forward will provide some physical depth to the group this year, As Riley said of the his goal for the new cadets during this time, it is ” For me to get them up to the rink its more for them to relax and jump out on the ice.” Every single season, the new cadets bond pretty quickly with one another, despite the fact that many of them have faced each other in the junior hockey ranks. As Riley said “I’m always amazed with how as a group they’ve bonded together off the ice.”
Going forward, the Black Knights return the leading goal scorer from last season nationwide in Colin Bilek. If he reprises anywhere close to his 2020-2021 campaign, he will have plenty of pro interest following the season as an undrafted free agent ready to play in the NHL. The Black Knights have depth in their forward group this season, but will have some questions with their defense group, and in net. The goaltenders jockeying to fill the spot left by the graduation and commissioning of All American Trevin Kozlowski have played a combined three and a half games. Riley is ready to see how each of them compete and help each other get better as a group. As he said of the challenges ahead “this is what makes coaching fun… every year is different.”
He also took the time to praise the work of his coaching staff, and all of those who work to make Army Hockey what it is today, especially its play by play announcer, Nikolai Busko. His deep knowledge of the game and his passionate and respectful style is always fun to listen to, and his voice will always resonate in the lore of Army Hockey as narrating some of its biggest moments.
As Riley said of Nikolai “what a passion he has not only for Army Hockey and Army sports, but for college hockey, and we are very fortunate to have him doing our games.” He also singled out for praise his director of Hockey Operations, Kris Horn, saying that ” he’s one of those guys that never gets accolades but just does so much behind the scenes… he’s on top of things. ”
From welcoming the nine members of his new plebe class, to preparing for the first full season his team will have since 2019-2020, Riley has a lot on his plate, along with his staff. For now, he is anxious for August, and to see his full team back together, ready to make a run at this program’s first NCAA tournament trip, and more beyond that.
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