Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
Last year in Fargo, AIC gave up four goals in the first to North Dakota in Fargo. The team fought but never got any closer than three as Tobias Fladeby got the only goal of the night, followed by a UND response. Today against a Michigan team with far more top end talent than that very elite North Dakota team, Eric Lang’s group did not flinch. The team fought all night, never found down more than three goals. The final result was 5-3 Michigan. The game represented more than that for AIC.
While Lang rightly praised the Wolverines for their talent, he looked at the end result of this game on far better terms. His group put together a solid adjustment and was able to do things to earn looks against a team that has defeated teams playing for a trip to the Frozen Four like Minnesota Duluth quite handily. The result is not what AIC wanted, but Lang and his conference have done more to shatter the “Atlantic Hockey is a Cinderella only conference” this year than today would show.
As Lang said of the game “I thought we got better as the game went along. The game went along and we talked about we got to just stay in the fight, stay in the fight. At some point we were hoping to make them feel it a little bit. I’m as proud of our group today coming out of this game as any other game we’ve ever had, or we’ve won all season long. We’ve got guys that play with integrity and honor. The part that stinks, the most that hurts the most is I don’t get to coach this group any longer. And that hurts. I love these guys, and I thought it was really important that that I get our three five-year players here. Which in this day and age of the transfer portal, where the grass is greener, these guys hung with us. They probably could have gone and played somewhere else, but they wanted to represent little old AIC in Springfield, Massachusetts. These guys all they’ve done since the first day they walked on campus is win a lot of hockey games. It was important for me to make sure we get all three of these guys here. Chris Dodero doesn’t happen anymore. Chris Dodero was a guy in and out of the lineup as a freshman. Out more than he’s in and he sticks it out and he sticks it through. I’m not quite sure that a lot of guys are wired that way. When it gets hard you just put your name in a portal and you go see if the grass is greener, but not these guys. Not any one of these guys. Luka Maver, one of the most intense players I’ve ever coached. An amazing human, all he does care about his teammates. Everybody’s before Luka, and Justin [Cole] all the same. Big Game Jay. I think it says something about the three of these guys and our program and what we stand for. A little more long winded than I’d like to be, but I wanted to make sure that I touched all three of these guys who mean the world to me.”
Lang talked about his graduate players as they have helped build the expectation of what AIC is. All of them have set the standard for the next step of this program much in the way alumls like Bryant Christian, Ryan Polin, and many more have to get AIC to consistently contending nationally. If this team doesn’t take a penalty at the end of the first today, they go into the second down one goal and riding positive momentum in their game. Q
While it still took Lang’s group a little longer to settle in than can be allowed against this Michigan group, they found their game eons faster than last March. This group developed so much in the year they looked much better against them than a Providence team at the season opener. That team did not make the NCAA tournament. Lang’s did.
For the long term health of the program, Lang’s group again showed that there is no challenge too great. He always says that “the strength of the team is the team.” Tonight while this team played their hearts out, those leaving AIC for their next stop in life have a living legacy of Yellow Jacket Hockey that they are now all a part of. This group has raised the bar for Atlanic Hockey, and now will expect to realistically contend for a top ten Pairwise spot next year because of the legacy of players like Parker Revering, Chris Dodero, and more.
For Lang and his staff, while today will sting for a while, the work to honor this group’s living legacy with a group able to build on what this group has done continues now. Keep in mind that last April is when they got Brian Rigali to agree to play for him this season at AIC. We have every expectation of the staff looking to get this team to the top ten doing something similar this year.
For Lang, AIC and Atlantic Hockey, another year of growth has concluded. The 2022-2023 season begins anew in the morning, with every team having the living legacy of those heading to their next stop in life added to the pillars that build each of their teams.
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