Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
While Head Coach Eric Lang was not happy about his team giving up a lead against Air Force in the series opener to earn a tie, he has a lot to like from his AIC Yellow Jackets in the past week. The team took eight of nine points in Atlantic Hockey play on the week and flipped the script on their early season troubles holding leads. They did so against a veteran Air Force team that looks to challenge the AIC dynasty in the postseason once more, and against a Holy Cross team that soundly beat them by four goals earlier in the season.
AIC has done so with the help of many characters, familiar and new. Lang often says “the strength of the team is the team” and these past three games have shown that.
It starts in the net, Jarrett Fiske ( nickname Cheese) has looked like a different goalie this past week. Lang said of his play the past week “Cheese earned 3 starts in a row and he got us 8/9 points in this stretch. He was big and calm in there. Made some huge saves. His presence was incredible.”
Up front, one player we have watched mature from a truculent freshman to a junior has started to find the scoresheet in bunches. Aaron Grounds was the breakout star of the weekend for the Yellow Jackets with three points on Sunday and nearly coming up with a hat trick.
Lang said of Grounds “That was an urgent impactful Aaron Grounds and he was the best player on the ice. He has that in him. I love Groundsy and his response was incredible. He can be that good.” AIC needs Grounds to keep to the standard he has set. The reality of their schedule is that they face a lot of teams designed to wear the best skilled players down with depth and truculence of their own. The biggest difference between AIC’s near sweep of Air Force and them being swept by a deep RIT side is the play of guys like Grounds.
As Grounds finds a regular spot in the lineup, the staff may find a place for him in higher leverage moments more often. His physical play and ability to find the net in big moments will earn him a spot in the lineup in the long run. Grounds has the potential to finish his career like UND stalwart forward Cole Smith. He came to the Fighting Hawks unheralded but physically gifted. Smith, like Grounds, developed his skill over time and Smith has played NHL games. Grounds hopes to get there.
Grounds had a lot to say about the direction of the program and some of his mentors along the way. “Sunday’s win was a prime example of what AIC hockey is. I believe in this program and I think guys are starting to realize when everyone buys into what makes us great, we are not fun to play against. Sunday was a step in the direction we want to go and consistently bringing that game for the remainder of the season will get us where we want to be. Blake Bennett and Brett Callahan have been great mentors to me on and off the ice. Many conversations about the details of my game from these guys have helped me in my recent success. I have always believed in myself and I refuse to doubt myself and this team. Believing in this team and helping each other along the way is why we are so dangerous to play against. Something special is in the making.”
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