Photo Credit: Providence College Athletics
Tonight, the Black Knights played the Providence College Friars. A team that came in looking for a replacement for Trevin Kozlowski had Justin Evenson start its opener against a Providence group with eight NHL draft picks, and one set to challenge for a Hockey East Title.
Despite the score, there are some things to take away for Coach Brian Riley from the night. First off, there was a theme to this game, getting players experience, either rookies like Michael Sacco who had not played a game since before the pandemic started (he attended the US Military Academy Prep School last year), or players like his line mates who did not play at all last year.
First, in net, Riley appriciated the effort from Evenson all night. He had to make a lot of saves in the third period, and to his credit, he battled throughout the evening. As Army West Point is looking for a netminder, he added positives to his ledger not for his final accounting of saves, but for how he battled on a night where he faced an inordinate amount of grade-a looks. The staff knows he is a competitor, and Evenson, despite playing different than Kozlowski, has learned a lot from him over their time together about competing as a Division One starter and how to bounce back, traits that will serve him well this season. As Riley said of his night ” I hope this experience will make him a better goalie,” also ” he competed.”
Each of the three periods tonight, Army gave up a goal in the first two minutes. Riley rightly called this a recipe for disaster, and those early goals obscured the effort his team put forward. They all competed throughout the evening, yet any positive progress they made did not show on the score sheet. While there will be things the staff will want to adress, like improving puck side support throughout the night, and limiting high danger chances, the team did compete. Many times Army seemed to be on the cusp of breaking through, but then a post was hit, a shot went wide, or Jaxson Stauber made a wonderful save.
Riley and the staff will be dissecting as much of the game film as they can. In the short term, this group opens their Atlantic Hockey ledger against an offensively strong RIT team next weekend, and the staff will be looking at different options up and down the lineup as needed. In the long run, Riley rightly noted that of tonight ” this is game one”, and this season is, a ” marathon”. That means that Army and all teams will learn from their early season results and you expect more development from everyone in each program, where coaches have routine schedules less variable than they were last year. Many great teams in this sport haven’t truly hit their stride until Christmas. Riley of course wants that to come sooner, but in a loss like this, that is one game in a long year, that sees Army open with a tough October ledger, this fact of development taking time is reality. Riley has said often to his team, being honest as he is that ” winning is hard.” Today proved that.
What comes next against the Tigers is up to the Black Knights, and how the future leaders of American Soldiers handle adversity. Riley often refers to Army West Point Hockey as a leadership lab, and tonight, everyone in that room got dealt their biggest margin of defeat in the program’s time in the past few years at least. Now the college hockey world gets to see this team play in front of its loud fans at Tate Rink for the first time since the pandemic started, next weekend.
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