Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics Communications
AIC Assistant Coach Brendan Riley said it best. “I’d rather not play Army because I don’t want one of us to go home as a loser.” Now the son of Brian, Army Hockey Head Coach Brian did not mean he doesn’t want to face them. He’s tired of facing his dad, as he did for four years as a player at Mercyhurst and for now two on the coaching staff of AIC, not because he doesn’t want to win, but more because a team has to lose. Riley and Head Coach Eric Lang know that when the puck drops for 60 minutes it’s business as usual.
Both teams fight hard to win, and every year, especially at West Point, Army seems to put together one of their best performances against Lang’s group regardless of how many games AIC has on them in the standings.
The rivalry doesn’t have water bottles, or coches getting ejected and walking across the ice. It doesn’t have the panache of some rivalries in this sport for hate-on-hate, but in this sport it has a lot of what Lang and his mentor, Brian Riley have for each other, respect.
That respect can be found in so many ways, in how each man has built their program. When Lang was on Riley’s staff he recruited Trevin Kozlowski to West Point talking about all of the values that are integral to AIC Hockey now. Trevin and so many others who have graduated and now serve our country are exemplars of respect for those they go into battle with, and play the game to lead and get better as leaders every day. Both teams have Rileys facing each other, playing to get to the postseason and earn a trophy that Brendan got to hoist in Utica last March. The Jack Riley Memorial Trophy is named after one of the best coaches in college hockey and best people who raised Brian, and taught Brian what he passed on to Lang. As Riley said “ care about your players as people first.” Both men have that at the center of their programs.
Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
For AIC, Lang exemplifies that central value daily in how he manages his program. He works to ensure his student athletes are cared for first as people and then as hockey players. The ability for him to carry one of if not the biggest rosters in this sport doesn’t come from him wanting every player. It comes from him finding players that, just like those at Army, buy into something bigger than themselves. It’s not fun sitting in the stands for a team that feels like isolates you. Lang’s group does not do that. Even the players not playing on game night work hard during practice not just to earn a spot, but because Lang has built the program the right way. Culture creates winning in the long run. Winning without culture doesn’t last long. Both men, be it learning from Brian Riley, or from Jack Riley , know that and compete with that in mind. This respectful rivalry commences for another round on Friday night in what will be a rocking Tate Arena on the picturesque West Point campus.
Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link.