Atlantic Hockey Non Conference Showcase Games:AIC

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

This season, the Atlantic Hockey Association is going forward with 10 members, due to the choice of the administration of Robert Morris to not sponsor their men’s team. That decision has since changed, pending results of fundraising outcomes relative to the team, but the 10 remaining members of the conference decided to move forward themselves, and add some extra non conference games for each member school this year. We hope Robert Morris Hockey comes back, and this article is written in the present of the Colonials not being a part of Atlantic Hockey. If or when that changes, we will revise this content plan as needed to account for that.

With that in mind, here is one game or series per team against one opponent that creates the best chance for that member to put themselves, and this often overlooked conference on the map. We have nine more articles to write for the other members of this superb conference.

American International College

UMASS Amherst

Well, this home and home series is a battle of champions. The reigning Atlantic Hockey Champions take on the National Champions in a fierce October home and home fracas. What Eric Lang’s team has going for him is the benefit of veterans returning. The Yellow Jackets return most of their roster, and bring in high end transfers, Chris Van-Os Shaw, and Brian Rigali to make up for some of the scoring lost by the departure of Tobias Fladeby.

In terms of what this series means to AIC, it sets the tone for their season. If Lang’s group can learn from their season opener against Providence, and win their homecoming game against the National Champions, they set themselves up well for the future. What stood out about Lang’s group that finished the season was their remarkable consistency. In a very short time, Lang has taken a school that not enough people knew about and put them on the map of college hockey, and gotten them known internationally, for the efforts of his group. If you look at this group, there only two loses in the second half of the last campaign to Army West Point, a team one bounce away from facing the Yellow Jacket

How has he done that? By building the right culture, of good people, and of a team that buys in to one another. That has lead to players recruiting players, like how Julius Janhonen heard more about AIC. In addition, that culture, this team, allows them to overcome adversity, and embrace opportunity well. They will be facing the National Champions, and one of their biggest rivals with a chance to put their group up in the Pairwise, put the rest of this sport on notice to their potential, and do all of this with a veteran roster.

Eric Lang and his staff embrace a challenge. Outside of their conference, the Minutemen are their biggest impediment to earning an at large bid. His group will be ready to face the champs, full of a roster of newer players, and talent in bunches. The puck drops in the middle of October on this momentous series. Lang will have his group of good humans ready to compete.

Look for nine more of these articles highlighting the value of nine more non conference series.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Opinion: Men’s College Hockey needs more conferences-Here’s Why

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

To put it nicely, to grow the game with consistency, the Men’s College hockey game at the Division One level needs more conferences. While it is true that Atlantic Hockey is entertaining expansion pitches this month, the truth of all of the growth of this sport is simple.

Atlantic Hockey cannot, nor should not be asked to shoulder the sole burden of adding new members to the game.

For this sport to grow, in the long run, we need more schools willing to form conferences with new members.

Why?

Well, as more members come in from different parts of the country, especially in the south and pacific northwest, travel costs for the incumbents in this sport will skyrocket. In addition, fans in this sport often are rivals with schools closest to them, regardless of conference, if they are at the same level.

In addition, take a look at the rebirth of the CCHA under its current iteration. That conference formed in part because its members wanted to consolidate their footprint, and keep costs down to some level. We would argue that Atlantic Hockey has some of that cost containment at its core, and as the league gets more members wanting to join, over time the members of a conference that grows beyond 12 conferences could be served to bring back another conference, College Hockey America.

Why?

Well, that conference with six or seven members could work in concert with Atlantic Hockey to do a couple of things. First, they could create a scheduling alliance to occupy some non conference games every year, and ensure robust competition, giving both members of the new conference more opportunities to boost their pairwise standing than they have now ( eight to ten non conference games in total, compared to a maximum of six non exempt games now).

In addition, bringing back the CHA would drive down costs for members of Atlantic Hockey who may not want to take longer bus trips, or plane trips any more. If we posited that Navy (the Midshipmen have been in talks to join the Division One game for years) would join this conference with the Army and Air Force, that gives us three schools with a rich history. Now, add in Lindenwood, who is planning to join the Division One scene in two years, and we find ourselves at four with a conference already starting with a strong foundation. You could then add in Alabama Huntsville for five, and, should their feasibility study go well, and the school back it, Tennessee State could join to make a six team conference. You could also extend invites to Liberty, who has a win over a Division One program, an ESPN deal, and a beautiful facility already, Long Island as well, given that the Sharks are expanding their Division One footprint rapidly and gaining notoriety for how well they support the growth of opportunities for their student athletes. This would allow other members in Atlantic Hockey more cost control over their own budget, and provide room for that conference, should more teams want to join it, a seventh conference with an automatic bid to guarantee at least two schools Air Force Academy Hockey Head Coach Frank Serratore referred to as ” have nots” to join as well. In addition, the success of the reborn CHA could spark the ideas of forming other new conferences throughout the game.

Take the west coast. If we know that Arizona State would be a part of any Pac-12 conference (we do), we could then look to Las Vegas. UNLV produced the first line center for the three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season champs (AIC) in Elijah Barriga, and has a big foot print in the area already. That gives us two schools, and an impasse once again. If this Pac 12 worked with the Kraken and Golden Knights to form programs in their areas (UNLV, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State) and work with ones already in their areas (Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage) then you get another strong conference with regional viability pretty fast. Now, if you look at what we have already, there are always opportunities for schools to move around, where it makes sense for both new school and conference alike. The dynamic of forming new conferences like these two would create a framework for members looking to join, and for ones like Augustana who have announced intentions, more options to join a conference best for them, compared to one that will have them. It gives more power and viability to new programs to compete right away, and a lasting infrastructure that will support them, and do the thing we all want to do, grow the game, while hopefully providing administrators with the money and encouragement to do so.

Remember, there are about eight or nine teams of players in the transfer portal right now, and a lot more uncommitted players about to age out of junior hockey with Division One talent, but no home. For a sport that has a myriad of junior hockey lockers, and interest in the game, it is incumbent on those looking to grow the game to continue to search for new ways to do that both inside and outside of the framework they currently have. It cannot be on one conference or school to figure things out, it is on all members of this great game, and on all of us to continue to support schools looking to get into this game that is one of the best parts of sport in North America, not just at the college level.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Atlantic Hockey: What could come next

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

The Atlantic Hockey Association is in an interesting situation. Because of the terribly short sighted descision of Robert Morris’s two leaders, their president and head of the board, one of the legacy members of the conference, as of today, will not play ice hockey at the division one level. As such, the conference’s remaining teams have a lot to discuss at their ongoing director’s meetings taking place over the month .

From this past March, Comissioner Bob Degregorio said of expanding from 11 teams, “We’ll see what progress will be made. The directors have to look at a lot of things. We know that we want to get back to 12 teams, but what’s the right number? Is it 12? Is it 13? Or is it 14? How big do we want to be? Do we want to stay at 12? They have a lot to talk about in regards to expansion. Nothing has been pre-determined. ”

Right now, if all three pitches of Alabama Huntsville, Long Island, and the other team the Comissioner discussed came to pass, the conference would then have 13 teams, in the realm of possibility.

Since the University of Conneticut Huskies left to Hockey East, there are more than a few quotes from the comissioner on getting the conference back to 12 teams at least. At one point, the Chargers pitched Atlantic Hockey before aceptnce into the WCHA in their last round of potential expansion.

With all of the shifting dynamics of this conference, let’s go through options facing the 10 teams left.

Stay at 10

Every publicly available comment from the comissioner shows that the members of Atlantic Hockey value being at least a 12 team league. In addition, because of how late Dr. Chris Howard decided to go ahead with his descision to elminate one of the most sucessful teams in the history of the confernence, the remaining ten members could find themselves in a bind. In a league where money is always part of the discussion, to give some teams extra conference games without travel compensation would not seem fair. For example, if Air Force was traveling to Robert Morris for two games, where do you then send them? Take another school like AIC, should they have to travel to another school in Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst, for a weekend and have two less home games (if the Colonials were coming to Springfield). Cash flow is a vital part of keepng all of these programs healthy, and staying at 10 members, with a schedule bound to harm the bottom line of every school losing a home series against the Colonials, does not seem ideal in the short run.

In addition, you cannot have teams add non conference games uniformly, as many members already have their non conference schedules decided, and many members of the other five conferences don’t have games available to be played. So, you are left with a choice of stasis which does not help anyone in the conference. Had the Colonials made their fateful announcement a few months ago, perhaps teams outside of Atlantic Hockey could have more easily filled the void for this year on the non conference side, and the league could have seen how ten looked for a year. Now, it is not clear if that result produces the best outcome.

Option Two: Replace, and add

Alabama Huntsville can play this year, based on info from sources in or around the hockey program, if granted admission into a conference, the puck is on the stick of Atlantic Hockey Athletic Directors in that regard. The Chargers could be handed the schedule to be given to the Colonials, and play it. The league could even make the Chargers travel for more games in the first year, or perhaps propose a higher subsidy than what Huntsville is offering (25000 dollars per series to all visiting AHA teams in the regular season, and in the postseason as well). Any counter offer could be for one year to help offset the financial loss of the Colonials to the other 10 members in the conference. In subsequent years, the initial parameters of the pitch could hold form, or the directors could propose something else.

As for adding, in two years, if the league wanted to get to 12 teams (we say two years because every indication given, and the reason the Chargers suspended their efforts for the 2021-22 campaign was due to AHA not looking to expand from 11 at all). The Sharks are a program on the rise, with strong financial backing, a demonstrated season of tough competition as an independent, and lead by Brett Riley. He knows how to compete, build programs, and has a strong pipeline of players coming to Long Island. As the Sharks have most of their games figured out for this season, canceling a bunch of games for conference admission this year does not seem prudent. In future years, they could join the conference, and expand the reach of the conference with a like minded institution looking to grow its presence.

Option Three: Replace and add two more

If three teams are on the expansion docket for Atlantic Hockey this summer, well the league could play an unbalanced schedule at 13 in 2-3 years with a school like Navy as the third team. That grows the game of college hockey, and if done right could grow the financial budget of each participating school. Having Navy be the southernmost school would give Mercyhurst, Huntsville, and everyone else in the conference another good place to play, an instant service academy rivalry in another field, and national eyes on the sport.

Regardless of the choice, it is clear that the Athletic Directors in this great league have a lot to consider. Consider one final quote from the Commissioner (while keeping in mind that he is not the decision maker on allowing any of these teams in to the league) on Huntsville’s last pitch to the league before they got into the WCHA (work credit to Chris Lerch of USCHO) (he thought that the WCHA was a good fit for them at the time) ” It’s important to college hockey that this program continue.” Well, now we get to see that quote put to its test this month, and see what expansion chances bring the other schools in need of a conference home, from programs formed, and yet to be formed.

Brian Rigali: Hungry to win and grow with AIC

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

To play for Eric Lang and his AIC Yellow Jackets, you have to have some common traits. First and foremost, you have to be a good human. Brian Rigali is an elite human according to Lang and his staff. Even when Rigali chose to head to the University of Connecticut, that did not deter Lang and his staff from recruiting him for his transfer year. As Lang said ” When he told me he was going to go to UCONN.. I remember the exchanges were very professional, we left it off in great terms.. because we left it off so well we were able to reunite.” That alone stuck with Lang for four years, knowing the value of maintaining relationships with those in the ever growing world of college hockey. Impressions and honesty matter to him, and that honesty and openness made the second recruiting process for Rigali’s extra year a short one. When Lang and his staff offered him a spot, there was not much further need for discussion from Rigali. The choice for him was clear to become a Yellow Jacket, after being a Husky for four years.

To play for Lang, you also have to be a high energy player with a lot of skill and even more effort obvious with every second you put on tape. Rigali has all of those qualities. As Lang said “he’s the perfect AIC hockey player in terms of what we value.” In terms of the high motor he brings, Lang called him a right handed Chris Dodero, which seems apt, given that the two are from the same area in the greater Chicago area and train together. Rigali and Lang both expect Brian’s offensive game to take the next step in his final year of college hockey. As Lang said ” he’s got a lot more production in him.” Rigali is learning more from Dodero as Chris runs a hockey skills training company called Prodero Hockey. Both are high motor players that could easily end up on a line together this season, and both can make each other better.

As to why he picked AIC, Rigali spoke highly of how Lang and his staff handled his choice to play at Uconn. As he said, “I’m really familiar with the program and the success they had.” Rigali has played Sacred Heart, Army West Point, and other Atlantic Hockey schools, and knows the style of play that Atlantic Hockey has, high energy and physical play to combine with top end skill, is perfect for the game he plays.

As Lang summarized “he’s the perfect AIC hockey player in terms of what we value. ” In addition, he said ” we are going to absolutely love him. Rigali is already communicating with the team, as several Yellow Jackets reached out to him upon his choice to head to Springfield next season. Brian is already inspiring Lang through sending him motivational quotes and videos, while Lang is always excited to lead his team, Rigali’s motivation has taken that up even higher. As Lang said, ” he has been getting me excited about our season.” Like Lang, Rigali knows how good this group will be this season ahead, saying that “we are going to have a lot of depth this year. ”

Watching his game, Lang knows another thing Rigali adds, is a high energy aspect to the team that makes everyone better. Brian models the effort he plays with after high energy wunderkinds that made a name for themselves in the NHL like Andrew Shaw, among many more. Lang loves the second and third effort on all shifts that Rigali brings, and knows that will mesh well with the group of good humans he has assembled in Springfield. As for the rest of the offseason, Lang and his staff are being very deliberate with their options in the transfer portal, as they have one more spot they aim to fill this offseason.

They are looking for one more player that checks as many of the boxes of potential Yellow Jacket that Rigali has checked, which is always a tough task to find, but even more so compounded as hundreds of players still remain in the portal, thus making marginal comparisons take longer, comparing the package that hundreds could bring to your group. Lang and his staff are in a best player available mentality to find one more future Yellow Jacket in the portal, position is not the deciding factor, what that person brings to the group is. Rigali will be working on his MBA at AIC, looking to give himself as many options as possible for when his on ice career is done.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Growing College Hockey: Why all fans should care

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

First, this article is not in any way critical of any conference for choosing to accept or not accept any member looking for a home. While Alabama Huntsville may still get into Atlantic Hockey for a future season, the reality is that it was too late in the game for them to get into the conference for the upcoming season. This article kind of includes the story of one of Huntsville’s natives, Nic Dowd. The former Husky watched the Chargers play on many weekends growing up and has had them to look towards as a kid. Perhaps without the Chargers, and the youth hockey structure of college hockey towns that relies on partnerships with college teams, Dowd might not have even seen what college hockey is, and the first Alabama native to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs might not have done so.

In the short run, to get Huntsville a membership this season, you would be asking schools to completely re-do schedules that have been in the works for a while, and in college athletics, schedules are assembled often one or more seasons ahead of . They have a strong pitch to be considered, and one that could see the Chargers come back in a couple of seasons, if Atlantic Hockey gets seven Athletic Directors to approve their application. The reality of that pitch is a small net positive cash flow to make a trip to Huntsville for many schools in the conference.

This conversation is about more than the Chargers, it is about what we want Division One College Hockey to look like in the next decade, for both men and women. We go back to our chat with Frank Serratore, long time leader of Air Force Hockey.. While he is not an athletic director, or one with the power to wave a magic wand, he has been on the right side of things in this sport in terms of advocating for the good of the game. He noted the value of a universal three-on-three system the year before the NCAA implemented it, and standardized it for the pairwise, has developed many a leader both in this game and in the Air Force, and more.

From our previous chat with him, we wrote around what he said

“From a development standpoint he said “there’s more good players than there are lockers out there.” Finally, he added, “we don’t want to have less opportunities, and there’s more kids that can play” at the Division One level than there are spots available for them to do so right now. ”

As is often the case in this game, Serratore is right.

Look at the transfer portal right now.

You could easily put together 9-10 teams of competitive division one talent that would make the haves in this sport sweat. While not as many transfers are in the women’s transfer portal, that truth still abides. American college hockey is the growing supplier of top NHL talent, the development engine for a growing majority of professional players around the world, and home to some of the best atmospheres anywhere in college sports.

Who does not want more of that, combined with players getting degrees and going on to lead in whatever field they choose post hockey?

To grow the game requires time, effort, energy, and a lot of money. College Hockey Inc. is full of people who bring the first three, and helps connect those with money who want to see the game grow in other places.

Who else can help?

Fans

Yes, fans can push for advocacy and the ability to improve this great sport. Even if you do not have millions of dollars somewhere in an account, you have a reason to support this game growing, especially if you are fan of a small school.

On a competitive level, the way this sport is, it is one where smaller schools can make the biggest impact. It is one where public schools, like Huntsville, can have a Division Two program in everything else, but have one sport that catapults their department to the national conversation? Why does this matter?

Well, look at schools like Lake Superior State, and Bemidji State, these two schools are underdogs compared to those around them in terms of notoriety, but when they win games to get into the NCAA Tournament, their school, their team, and their town gets time in the national spotlight.

That spotlight, as has been shown in studies of post Men’s Basketball Tournament trends, leads to more applications, and that keeps universities thriving.

Look at AIC

In just five short years, Eric Lang took a school a lot of people did not take the time to care about, or acknowledge the existence of, and turned them into a national powerhouse. They are three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Champions, and have two NCAA Tournament trips in that time, beating the number one overall seed the first time. The passion that fans have for that program is undeniable. He got the support and buy in from his administration to remake the program, and do the things needed to grow the game at AIC. Grow the game is more than a buzz word, it is real work done by people like Lang across the country to build their programs, start new ones, and save current ones.

Are there groups elsewhere that have that passion?

Yes, of course there are.

Look at the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage. This is a program working to build a sustainable funding model to play as an independent in two seasons, and they are getting closer every single day. Division One Hockey means a lot to Anchorage, to the point that they even have the Seattle Kraken helping them raise funds and visibility for them.

If you are a fan of this game, we implore you not to pony up the six figure amount one needs to fund a team, but rather to simply amplify the efforts of those working to add teams, and those like Sheldon Wolitski, Taso Sofikitis, and the wonderful folks working to Save Seawolves Hockey. All of these programs are needed, more programs are needed, and more teams are needed to meet the growing talent coming from all leagues that feed the college hockey system.

Fundamentally, there is nothing quite like Division One College Hockey, and for those that want to see this game grow, while we are not asking all of you to fund a team, or give a school a new conference home, we are asking for the frame of discussion to be moved. Figuring out how to preserve programs, empower local funding, and grow this game should be on the minds of everyone involved in the sport. This game means so much to so many, and the ability to frame discussions on funding and saving, and also building new programs, is the way for this sport to grow. At a conference level, more conferences than just Atlantic Hockey have to shoulder some of the load as well, and hopefully more conferences are formed as more teams join. As more schools look to join, public support for those efforts is key to reinforcing the ideas of administrators at those schools, public support draws notoriety which draws donors, and funding for a better future for this game.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Chris Van Os-Shaw: Looking for a fresh start at AIC

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Chris Van Os-Shaw plays a physical game that he models after Jonathan Toews. That game that he plays meshes well with what Eric Lang’s group can do when it is humming, as it has done a lot during the past three seasons, earning three Atlantic Hockey Championships, two Jack Riley Trophies, and two NCAA Tournament bids. All of those teams have had players on them with the ability to score, and contribute defensively. Van Os-Shaw does all of those things. Despite knowing that AIC is nicknamed the Yellowjackets and that they are on the east coast, Chris did not know a lot about the school despite being recruited a little bit by them coming from the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints. He comes to AIC with two seasons of eligibility left, and brings a lot to the group. On departing from Minnesota State, he said simply, “at the end of the day I needed a fresh start.” Chris was nothing but complimentary of the staff of Minnesota State in helping him out once he went into the transfer portal. Of joining AIC, he said that it ” is the right fit for me.” Furthermore, he added that, “right off the hop it seemed like they cared the most.” He praised the effort of Assistant Coach Cory Schneider in leading his recruitment this spring. He complimented the recruiting process, and now gets to play with former and future teammate Zach Galambos, and one of his friends, Justin Young.

Head Coach Eric Lang offered his thoughts, adding ” We recruited Chris out of junior. He has every tool to be a great player. His elevated role in our program is exactly what he was looking for in our team. He could score 15 to 20 goals for us. We are lucky to have him. Outside of his terrific hockey skills we are getting an elite human.”

Academically, Van Os-Shaw will continue to pursue his degree in business. He wants to become a salesperson when his hockey career is complete. He enjoys something common among many in this game, building relationships with others. During the pandemic-marred season, he played videogames like Fortnite to keep in touch with his friends.

On playing the game in general, the Canadian forward said, “there’s nothing like it.. especially coming from Canada, seeing how passionate people are about their team is kind of cool.” Now, he gets to be a part of a program on the rise in its national profile, while taking on a bigger role than he would have at Minnesota State. The ever-improving player looks to slot in to the top six spot vacated by Tobias Fladeby. Both have strong scoring sense, and both know how to bring some physical aspects to their game.

This offseason, Van Os-Shaw will finish his Covid 19 vaccination course, continue working on his game on his own, and get ready to head to Springfield in August. In him, AIC is getting a good human, and a strong player in all three zones with a top flight shot. With AIC, Van Os-Shaw is getting all he wants at the end of the day, a “fresh start.”

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

AIC Hockey Head Coach Eric Lang on the one-time transfer rule: “Adapt or get run over”

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Eric Lang, Head Coach of American International College (AIC) Hockey, took some time to discuss the implications of the soon to be passed transfer rule authorizing a one time transfer in all sports without sitting out for a year as one was previously required to do in men’s hockey. Lang is not for or against the rule as written, and was quite honest about what it means for his staff.

As he said rather succinctly:

“Adapt or get run over in this business. Although I am not a proponent of players leaving for greener pasture. I believe just like anything in life their are great instances for how this should and could work. A player who is not playing, a coaching change, a drastic change to an institutional financial  commitment are all common sense measures for why a player should leave. Our concern at AIC is the family advisor back channeling to get a better situation for a player is very dangerous for us. I believe was not the intent or spirit of the rule.”

One thing not addressed in the proposed rule that Lang is concerned about is third-party back channeling via a player advisor.

He explains clearly:

“Our concern at AIC is the family advisor back channeling to get a better situation for a player is very dangerous for us. I believe was not the intent or spirit of the rule.” That is a situation that merits further examiniation by relevant authorities in the NCAA to promote open transperancy if causal links could be found. For instance, if an advisor is steering a lot of their players to a top NCHC school from any Atlantic Hockey school, those conference members would probably want to work with the NCAA to search for a causal link, and improper relationships.

Throughout our many conversations with Lang, it is clear that he is a strong proponent of player development, as of today, AIC has one player in the portal, while it has gotten commits from two fourth or fifth year transfers. Brian Rigali of the University of Conneticut played four years for the Huskies, and Chris Van Os Shaw played three for Minnesota State, in a more limited role than Rugali. For fifth year players, more considerations than on ice time come into play. Not every school wil provide funding for fifth year scholarships to players at an equal measure, and perhaps Rigali’s program was not available for a fifth year either.

As for development, Lang pointed out a pertinent example on his own team of the value of working to grow in this game he has given his life to bettering.

“We have really taken the process and development of a player away. Sometimes in life it is a beautiful thing when you have the sticktuitivness to see something through and come out on the other side. Chris Dodero couldn’t play for us as a freshman as a senior he’s one of the best players in our conference and we play him in every situation.  He didn’t pack his bags and leave. He reinvented and developed himself and is a better player and person because of it.”

That is the balance all staffs will have to strike, while emphasizing the need for further development. While working to keep third parties from influencing decisions, the value of the rule is in helping the player. For example, Matthew Jennings is getting to play two hours away from his home at Alabama Huntsville in a more prominent role than he would have seen at Ohio State. Van Os Shaw comes to AIC with a chance to show the skill that made him highly recruited out of the AJHL. You do not put up 97 points in that league without a lot of skill that he has. Development takes everyone a little different amount of time at this level, and through battling injuries at Minnesota State, he has not had arguably the chance to show what he can do consistently at Minnesota State.

Although Lang guarantees no playing time for anyone on his team, Van Os Shaw will get a closer look at AIC, and every outlet that covers this league will have some reason to list him as a potential breakout player for AIC. For that to happen, he has to earn his shot at AIC through his day to day development, enough to earn a spot in the lineup, then replicate that each game, practice, and day. He is up to the challenge, and Lang is ready for the future of college hockey with the one time rule.

As Lang said in closing ” I come back to we will adapt to this modern day recruiting. I feel it could be dangerous to build an entire team this way.  At AIC we have made a living on being where nobody else is. So it could be an opportunity while everybody has their eyes on the portal we could be somewhere else.”

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Frank Serratore on Air Force Hockey, Atlantic Hockey Expansion, and more

Photo Credit: Air Force Academy Athletics

“Any time you have do deal with adversity.. what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.” That mantra sums up the experience of the 2019-2020 Air Force Academy Falcons Hockey Team. A team that finished the year with only two juniors had its best weekend of the season in its final one, a series sweep of the Golden Griffins of Canisius at home where Frank’s group took it to one of the better teams in Atlantic Hockey this season, in their only regular season home series played at their rink in 2021. Of those two juniors, Serratore expects to see one playing regular minutes as a senior next season, starting goaltender Alex Schilling. For many nights, he was the best Falcon on the ice for Serratore’s group this season. In the season ahead, he will be their leader Frank often says ” you can buy everything at Walmart but experience.” The group this season earned theirs, and while the team still will have a lot of young players in key roles, the returners have earned a lot of experience playing in a tough season unlike any other. The Falcons only had a few true home games this season because of teams being in and out of Covid-19 protocols.

Hopefully, for Air Force Academy, their own need to deal with Covid-19 protocols because of tier one personnel testing positive is coming to an end. Cadet-athletes who are able to get their vaccines have been doing so. As a result, the team had to deal with long pauses this year which altered their preparation somewhat. Some days there would not be on ice practices, and others were made different by Serratore’s assistants. As he said ” we took some time off” he went on to praise the work of Associate Head Coach Joe Doyle and Assistant Coach Andy Berg Andy Berg as Frank said of the pauses ” you can almost practice too much .. coaches did a great job with keeping players involved.”

Going forward, the coaching staff has been vaccinated, and those unable to get their vaccines yet due to recently having Covid-19 itself should be able to do so over the summer months. Next season, the Falcons will venture out of the state of Colorado for one non-conference series, against Michigan State on the road. Serratore also scheduled games against local rivals Denver and Colorado College in part to minimize the amount of flights they need to take elsewhere during the season.

As for the conference Frank coaches in, he gave us his opinion on its potential future. While noting that this is Frank’s own opinion and being clear that decisions will be made by administrators of the conference, he went on to provide a road map for the future of Atlantic Hockey. Frank was honest about where the conference is, given that it has had only one representative in every national tournament since 2004 (the first year of Atlantic Hockey) all but one time, when Niagara and Canisius earned a trip to the postseason. That 2012-2013 Purple Eagles team is the only group in the history of Atlantic Hockey to earn an at large bid. Serratore noted his opinion, saying “I’m not so sure its great to be a part of a large one bid conference”. He suggested splitting in into two seperate leagues to guarantee all of its members two automatic qualifier spots as opposed to one.

Frank further suggested admitting teams like Alabama Huntsville and Long Island to make the split work, along with the potential third team that could be on the discussion agenda for this summer. In a general sense, of all independent programs currently in the game Frank said “to me it would make sense to take those schools, as many as possible and make two conferences out of them.” Later he noted that the ideal size for a league in this game is seven or eight schools. At either measure, it provides opportunities for a balanced in conference schedule, while allowing for more non conference opportunities for Atlantic Hockey teams, which currently can only play six non exempt games outside of their own league.

Frank was honest about where his league currently is, and gave his own opinion. On the logistics he said, “I think that would be a very wise business decision” in creating two conferences. He went on to discuss the two leagues creating a scheduling alliance going forward to provide non conference opportunities for each team each year. While we did not discuss what that would look like, he noted the value of having, as he said “two Cinderellas” and said that “Im sure the big schools wouldn’t be too happy about that.”

For the smaller programs in this game, Frank said, “For the have nots in college hockey I think it would be real beneficial.” Of Huntsville’s path, he said, “the people in Huntsville want to continue hockey… we sure cant afford to lose members.” In general of programs in this game he said the following ” we cant afford to have these programs dying on the vine.” He went on to echo the sentiments of other coaches we have talked to in this conference, saying ” Its important to keep all these programs alive.” From a development standpoint he said “there’s more good players than there are lockers out there.” Finally, he added, “we don’t want to have less opportunities, and there’s more kids that can play” at the Division One level than there are spots available for them to do so right now. Of the work that needs to be done, Frank ended this part of the interview on the saying simply, “we need to find a way.”

The Transfer Portal has enough student athletes in it to start 10-13 talented programs right now. The long term effect of this extra year of eligibility, while not experienced by Serratore’s Falcons, or Brian Riley’s Black Knights at Army West Point, effects every other team, as any player who was on a roster this year is allowed an extra year of eligibility. The program at service academies creates second lieutenants and builds leaders within 47 months. That does not change. Thus Riley and his staff are dealing with replacing eight skaters with freshmen, no transfers for his group or Frank’s.

While Serratore is excited about the depth and potential of his recruiting class coming in, he was honest about the process at Colorado Springs. When asked about seeing how good this group of commits coming from all around the country will be, while emphasizing developing them this summer, and over their first two years, he said ” ask me in two years.” Schilling and Willie Riem will be the on-ice leaders for the group next year, and both will play key roles in getting the Falcons back to their perch atop Atlantic Hockey that they lived at for the two seasons prior to AIC knocking them off it. The goal for Serratore every year is consistent, to have his team at their best going into the postseason. As he put it, “we will be the team come playoff time that no body wants to draw.” As for only having one senior Frank said “the bad news for us is we’ve only got one senior on our team .. the good news is that its Alex Schilling.”

On Serratore’s extensive coaching tree, like Brian Riley, he gets to coach against his former assistants. In this case, both of them happen to be behind the bench of Robert Morris. As he said of Derek Schooley and Mike Corbett, now behind the bench at Robert Morris, before proceeding to list the countless other former players of his that have become coaches,and other assistants that have gone on to lead programs, “I’m so very proud of both of them.”

As Corbett told us, Serratore cares about the game and is a passionate advocate for it. When Corbett came to Frank’s Denver team in 1992, Serratore looked beyond what presented itself, and saw Corbett as the whole person that he is. Coming to Denver in 1992, Corbett was a young father and husband and felt that Frank took a chance on giving him a scholarship and supporting Corbett’s young family. Frank disagreed, noting that, “to me, it was an easy decision.. when we were able to bring Mike and his wife up to the university of Denver … he just had a very mature air and a very mature perspective.. that was an immediate benefit even before he established himself as a player in our line up.” This story from Corbett and Serratore’s perspective on it shows that Serratore takes Jack Riley’s advice on coaching as serious as Brian does. As Jack said ” make sure show your players that you care for them more as people than as hockey players.”

It is clear from his decades of experience in this game, the stories of former players and assistants like Corbett’s, his love for growing the game of college hockey, and his ability to have perspective on his team’s work through a pandemic-marred season, combined with his hopes for next year, that Frank is living up to Jack’s advice, and inspiring future leaders in the Air Force to do the same with the airmen that they will lead upon graduation. In addition, he and Riley have inspired countless leaders to get involved in the game with coaching with that same mindset, and this sport is better off for having them in it.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Army West Point Associate Head Coach Zach McKelvie: Part of something special

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

Army West Point Hockey Associate Head Coach Zach McKelvie has a distinguished career as one of the most complete defenders to play at Army West Point, a leader off the ice during his time as a cadet athlete, and as an elite human, of the type that Brian Riley and his staff go out of their way to bring on campus. That campus visit is how he was sold on the idea of coming to West Point. As he said, “at the time I was playing for the Bozeman Ice Dogs in the North American Hockey League, then Coach Riley and his staff had called me and invited me for a visit.. as soon as I came on campus I was sold.” He values service to others and being a person that plays for those around him, rather than playing with them. Head Coach Brian Riley has talked about this value before, and it is one that is at the center of Army Hockey culture, and arguably part of what West Point tries to teach the value of to the thousands of future leaders that go on to lead the American Soldier on a yearly basis.

He also is forever thankful to the Boston Bruins for waiting for him for two years. Jim Benning and Peter Chiarelli trekked to Brian Riley’s office and noted their delight in McKelvie as a person and a player. He ended up playing for a short time as a professional, finishing on the ice as he is off it, a champion. He won the Kelly cup with the Alaska Aces in 2014. McKelvie credits the Bruins, and the numerous supporters he had, as he said, “for them to stick with me while i was taking time off from hockey… was something special”, and “It means a tremendous amount to me that they stuck with me.”

One thing McKelvie, and Riley drive home continuously to all professional teams, and recruits is that their cadet athletes can play professionally upon graduation. Thanks to a recent policy change, Army has its previous captain, Dominic Franco playing at the AHL level for the Rochester Americans. Zack hopes to see Trevin Kozlowski benefit from that. The All American goaltender has offers from multiple teams, and is continuously honing his skills in net at Tate Rink before he graduates. Should Kozlowski return, he will be a graduate assistant for the team next year. Like a very famous West Point Graduate, Mike Krzyzewski, Trevin has jokingly taken to being called Coach K. Both possess an uncanny ability to lead others, and mentor the team, and regardless of where Trevin ends up, the mark he left on Army Hockey is an indelible one that will inspire many who come to West Point after Trevin graduates in May. As McKelvie said of what Trevin brings to any group off the ice “he’s going to make any organization’s culture better.”

As for McKelvie, he is the lead recruiter for Riley’s group, and takes pride in what he does. He finished his career on the ice as a champion, and likes recruiting players with winning backgrounds. Two commits to Army West Point that could be there this fall won the Dineen Cup with the Jersey Hitmen playing for their NCDC team in the USPHL. Two integral players in turning around Army West Point as a program, Tyler Pham and Mike Preston, finished their time as Clark Cup Champions with the Indiana Ice. There are numerous examples of the value of winning in building a group. As Zach said, “I don’t think skill can replace guys that know how to win.” He noted the influence of his former colleague and current AIC Head Coach Eric Lang in saying “he taught me how to connect with players… he’s definitely shaped my recruiting philosophy, and I think his influence is still felt here.”

That same philosophy of finding good humans and people, combined with the natural restrictions Army West Point has, helped McKelvie and his twin brother (and former assistant, and now head coach at Bethel University at the Division three level) Chris find Colin Bilek, the second best goal scorer in the country this past season. As Zach noted, Chris said to him upon first seeing him play with the Northeast Generals, “‘ “we are not going to lose games with this kid.” Zach praised the honesty of Bryan Erikson and Matt Dibble of the Generals, and positively talked about Erikson noting the value Bilek brings, ” nobody was recruiting Colin, and I give Bryan a ton of credit for pushing us to keep watching him.” His relationship with the Generals is common across the league, especially in the East Division. He praised the North American Hockey League, calling it an “honest league” that develops its players well for their next step in life, both on and off the ice.

As for the decision McKelvie made to come back and be a coach at Army West Point “It took me less than a day to decide that I want to be a part of the program and it was a perfect decision to go back to West Point.” The lead recruiter for this team shares a passion for the success of everyone, and embodies the culture that the Riley family has worked for many decades to build.

To sum up what McKelvie thinks of the entire group that took the Black Knights program to new heights this season, he said of the team success this year, “everybody played an equal part.” Expect McKelvie to tell incoming recruits of all of the success that this senior class had, and further build the tradition at Army West Point. With the recruiting dead period projected to end potentially as early as June, he will be back recruiting players around the country, especially in the NAHL, where the Black Nights find a lot of quality players, like Bilek, that often can be overlooked by other schools. The team will soon gather for their year end awards banquet where the senior captains from this historic group will announce the leaders for next season.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Opinion: Expand the NCAA Tournament to 20 teams

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Fans of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey team will remember the old WCHA, the fanbase waxes poetically about it often then moving on to needle the attendance and postseason problems that the members of the current Big 10 Hockey Conference have (these problems have some grounding in truth are sometimes exaggerated). One thing in that Final Five is the chance for a team to win three games in three days to make the NCAA Tournament. If you won your first round series, and had either of the worst two remaining regular season records, you had to play an extra game to advance. Teams that were able to win those three games then got the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their regular season success, or lack thereof. No one questioned the win of the five seed on the few times it did happen.

This past, pairwise free (it existed, but was not used as we know it due to a lack of significant interconference play) hockey and subjective selection proceedings have left fans of many eastern hockey teams, and a few western powerhouses like Denver, feeling left out.

Now, none of the teams left out did enough to make the 16 team tournament.

With that argument noted, what we are proposing is this.

In future years, when the next cycle of regionals are awarded, standardize the starting dates, and expand the tournament by four teams.

On Friday, you have opening round games between the four and five seed in each regional with the winner earning the right to face one of the four best teams in the country.

On Saturday, you have the first round staggered across the country (for maximum TV ratings of course) play out and make an already great day even better. Instead of six games (two finals, four first round games) we would have eight games take place on one day, and then play the championships on Sunday.

Why?

Well we have a few reasons.

First, for this game to grow, and get more programs in it, expanding the tournament by four teams makes attaining it slightly more reasonable, without having to dilute the value of the regular season. If the tournament expands, more fans and schools can get involved in the greatest part of this game, its postseason.

Second, after hearing arguments about top seeds getting rested enough or not, we would like to note the value of the top seed playing a team that had played the previous day. The coaching staff gets to watch that team play in person, and that team could very well be tired, and in theory should give the top seed an easier path to the regional final.

Third, it adds value to the full season for everyone. Now, teams play to move up or down in the pairwise (all of this is being written for a normal non pandemic-marred season), but the reality is, the top 12 or 13 teams are usually safe every year, while the last two or three worry about conference tournament champions stealing their spot.

This eliminates some of that concern.

If teams 1-13 are locks, the proposal ensures that teams 14-16 all will make it. It would require five teams outside of the top 20 to win their conference championship to hurt the top 16, and ensure that the bottom eight teams would all have to play in the first game. This provides more meaning to what teams 10-12 are doing as the season ends, and ensures every game has more of an impact. If you are playing to get an opening round bye, that adds stakes to your late season play.

Use 2012-2013 as an example, when Niagara finished at the number 10 spot in the pairwise, and Canisius won their postseason tournament, that meant Atlantic Hockey would earn two bids to the tournament. What it also meant was that a 19 win Western Michigan team would miss the tournament. In this system, the only team that would have missed the tournament is number 20 ranked Brown. Atlantic Hockey would have had three teams representing it, and three more programs would have had the chance to compete for a national championship.

We understand that this change would have to wait until the next round of regionals are awarded, and there needs to be buy-ins from coaches, hosts, athletics departments and more all around the country.

Our argument comes down to this.

If this sport is to add more programs over time, something we all want to see, expanding the tournament by four teams now is a way to encourage more schools to potentially join. In addition, for all of those teams just wishing they could have made the tournament this year, this would have let them in. In the future, it will also allow Atlantic Hockey to get at least two deserving representatives into the tournament without harming another team’s chances. Finally, it ensures that the top seeds in each region get to play an opponent who could be tired. If the game is to grow, its tournament needs to do so as well.

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 about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.