Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
American International College Hockey Head Coach Eric Lang had a change in his expected roster. A few months ago he was expecting to add one more transfer at most after the commitments of Chris Vanos-Shaw, and Brian Rigali. He went on to add three more transfers, all with the aim of making the Yellow Jackets better. As he said , “It’s solely my job to always make sure we are trying to put the best team on the ice that we can.” Lang acknowledges that his roster is big, at 32 players, with four of them being goaltenders, he knows that players will have to earn playing time. Unlike other teams, while of course being heavily involved in practice planning early on, he lets his assistants run more things early on so Lang can sit and evaluate things more. He is paid to put the best team possible on the ice, and likes to observe things in a different way more early on.
Lang said that his team plays more small area games than most, and he has the roster to do it. His practices are high energy, and he routinely lays out what players not in the lineup need to do in practice to earn a spot. Throughout his time at AIC, he has prided himself on transparency and honesty, and being honest with each player on where they are, the positive, and negative has been a big part of that. Given that his side has won the last three Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championships, it’s hard to argue with that result. He credits his institution and staff for helping him find the financial backing to add the additional transfers .
As for his additonal transfers, he had some things to say. On Brian Kramer he went on say that, “Brian Kramer may be one of the top defensemen in our league. On, Santeri Hartikainen he noted that his former and future teammate Jake Stella said of him a version of what Aaron Grounds said about Brian Kramer, a former junior hockey teamate. Stella said it best to Lang when he asked for feedback on Hartikainenen saying ” you’ve gotta go get him.”
As for Alec Calvaruso, Lang praised his big game resume. The newest AIC netminder brings veteran experience, two junior hockey championships, and needed insurance in net. With Stefano Durante turning pro, Lang wanted another goaltender he could turn to when in need of quality minutes. He praised all of his netminding group from last year that is returning, and praised Durante’s career at AIC. Lang did not want to let the season head south due to lack of goaltending depth, so he added a player with a solid background to a group of good humans who can all provide an answer for AIC in net.
As for the team , Lang also noted that all but one of his players is fully vaccinated, and before the puck drops in October, he expects all of them to be . As he said, “our guys are serious about the season, we want to play with as little hiccups as possible.. they’ re guys that have always put others ahead of themselves and I think thats part of the deal this season. “
As for one of the leaders of this group, he talked about Chris Dodero. Not many senior or graduate leaders on a college hockey team own their own hockey consulting business. AIC is lucky to have Dodero who also runs a business called Prodero Hockey. His business is helping players train and having fun on the ice while doing so, watching any of the group’s facebook videos shows players from different leagues working to get better consistently, just like Dodero. He took the honest feedback from Lang as a freshman and used that to help grow his game into a lineup regular, and along the way started helping others improve as well. As Lang said of Dodero ” he is one of the greatest stories in college hockey, and everything he does has a purposed.” When Dodero’s pro career is done, Lang was confident in saying, “he will be an NHL Skills coach.”
On the rest of his group, Lang mentioned a number of players poised to surprise people. One player he singled out is Hurricanes prospect Jake Kucharski who played 40 stellar minutes of hockey in net against a North Dakota team that was a favorite to win the national championship. Lang said of Kucharski “he has best goalie in our league potential and top goalie in our country potential.” Kucharski and AIC open the season against Providence College, the team Kucharski transferred from to play for Lang.
Looking at the bigger picture, Lang took the time to praise his conference. With the movement in the transfer portal, he said ” our league got exponentially better” this summer. He expects Canisius to be competitive again, and expects Sacred Heart to compete for the title as well, and thinks every team in the league is competitive. With eight non conference games on the docket for each team he said “I think this could be a good year for Atlantic Hockey to get two teams in (to the NCAA Tournament).”
Lang also mentioned the relationships he still has with his mentor and former boss, Brian Riley. After Riley’s Army West Point group opens their season against Providence, Lang noted that he may, as he often does, chat about the game and a common opponent with his mentor. Lang also took the time to praise the pro potential of Army’s star, Colin Bilek, saying of the need to crowd him on the ice “he has to feel crowded.. if youre not a stick length away from him or less the puck is going off your crossbar and in your net.” He also praised the multidimensional game of Bilek as his complete game makes his goal scoring tougher to defend against. Given his skill he expects the pro ranks to notice him this season.
Back to his group, Lang said bluntly “they pay me here to make sure I put the best team on the ice possible.” He always noted that should a way to make another addition work , as we have seen, he would consider it over the semester break as an example of the continuous work he and his staff do to make that goal a reality. AIC is setup well to compete against an ever tough Atlantic Hockey Association, and, has two extra non conference games to show the rest of the college hockey world what they can do, just like the rest of this conference does.
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