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

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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.

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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

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Three Thoughts on UMD-UND: More on history from last night

Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Those who attended the Midwest Regional Final at Scheels Arena last night ended up leaving early this morning in a 3-2 Minnesota Duluth win that took a grueling 142:13 to conclude. Luke Mylymok blocked a Jasper Weatherby shot, then took the puck the other way and got a shot on UND netminder Adam Scheel that went five hole and in. Beyond the immediate joy and despair on full display when the puck went in the net last night, there is more from this game that deserves further noting.

Perspectives on pauses

Minnesota Duluth ended up playing over two games in Fargo this weekend given their first round match against Michigan being declared a no contest. To everyone’s credit the extra rest the Bulldogs had did not in anyway give them an advantage against UND. While it makes you wonder what would have happened should the Bulldogs played Michigan, the reality is you will not ever find that answer out. North Dakota’s first round opponent, AIC, had 49 days between the end of their regular season and the start of their postseason. Despite winning their tournament they had to battle back through similar slumps that they faced against UND that proved insurmountable. Head Eric Lang wished he could have played more games towards the end of the season, and tried to even schedule Clarkson before their season was canceled.

How does this relate to last night’s (this morning’s?) result?

Simply to note that having a pause, whether it be 49 days with AIC, or one extra day with Minnesota Duluth’s case, is not the advantage some could make it out to be. AIC had to battle back in both of their games just to make it to Fargo. North Dakota nearly won the game several times in overtime, with the most notable coming on Jasper Weatherby shooting the puck on to the top of the net, where it sat. The Fighting Hawks looked as fresh as the Bulldogs all night, and outside of an 80 second stretch in the third where the Bulldogs potted the first two goals of the night, UND played arguably their best all around game all year. They only took three penalties on the night, had 154 shot attempts, and played a complete game against a great team in Minnesota Duluth. Sometimes, especially in this sport, you lose those games, where you are the better team on the shot clock.

On Minnesota Duluth

Credit Head Coach Scott Sandelin and his staff for this season. The Bulldogs do not really rebuild under Sandelin, they seem to plug in players to his system and have all of their details refined down to their finest point. This team is one of the most disciplined at keeping to their system in this sport, and last night and this morning it showed. When the Bulldogs looked to have won on an earlier rush that was offsides on the same side of the ice and near the same spot that Mylymok gained the zone, they did not stop. UND threw wave upon wave of chances towards them and the Bulldogs never stopped doing what they did to get them their first lead. They clogged lanes, took away grade a chances, and blocked shots. They had to change goaltenders in the fourth overtime and Ryan Fanti came in relief of Zach Stejskal and while not tested nearly as much as the starter, still had to make a few tough saves to even set up the overtime winner. Scott Sandelin’s system and his attention to detail in every aspect of his program set this historic game up. To beat North Dakota this year, teams had to play their best and make less mistakes than them. The Bulldogs did that.

On North Dakota

For some perspective on this, let’s look at what Army West Point Head Coach Brian Riley said after his group had their season ended in the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals by Canisius in overtime “if this is the worst thing that happens in our lives… then life’s going to be pretty good.” This quote comes from the leader of a service academy school that will not have the extra year of eligibility as an option for any of their players due to the requirements of the service academies.

For the Fighting Hawks, they were the best team in the country for the majority of the season, as St. Cloud State will tell you, that does not always win championships. They will have an elite roster of players signing professional contracts this offseason, and could have some seniors choose to come back as well. This program continuously will have some of the most talented recruits coming through its doors, and while the standard is always high at North Dakota, last night showed why. The Fighting Hawks have a strong program, fan base, and professional legacy of alums playing hockey at the highest levels around the world. None of that changes with the result of last night. Over the coming months, seeing who is coming back for them will go a long way to determining for what next season’s team will look like, as will any transfer portal additions (by the time this season ends, there easily could be over 200 players in the transfer portal). Adam Scheel played the game of his life last night, and showed his improvement from last season, and along the way this year to get to where he is now.

He is ready to sign a professional contract and work his way to the NHL, as are many of the players on this team. Their choice for their next steps is up to them. With all of that said, when you look at things in perspective, last night was a supreme exhibition of skill from both teams, playing in an event we did not get to have last season, where one team had to win and one had to lose. The final score takes away nothing from the effort of the Fighting Hawks, and their efforts in defeat only show how tough of a path the Bulldogs had to travel to win.

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Army West Point Hockey loses to Canisius in AHA Semifinals: Brian Riley provides perspective

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

As he often does, Army West Point Hockey Head Coach Brian Riley summed up his team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Golden Griffins of Canisius College pretty well, thinking in the bigger picture. He said “if this is the worst thing that happens in our lives… then life’s going to be pretty good.” While Riley is of course, incredibly upset that eight of his players, and two cadet-managers have likely participated in their final hockey game as Black Knights, he took the time to talk about this team, and what this year means to him.

First, and most importantly, Riley never loses sight of his own mission, one which he has been a part of for 22 years in some form at Army West Point as either an assistant, or Head Coach, he helps develop leaders to go into the United States Army and lead the sons and daughters of America as members of a team much bigger than what he coaches. He views the lessons learned last night to everyone in his room as invaluable in the long run. As he said. “this is something that will help prepare these guys for their next job.. being officers in the United States Army.”

Keep in mind for the senior class that battled again last night, they do not get the extra year option that all other civilian schools playing Division One Hockey have due to the extra year of eligibility being given due to the structure of the Service Academies. Cadets are on a 47 month journey from civilian to Second Lieutenant. That journey does not pause, or allow for an extra year to play your sport, regardless of circumstances.

Riley has mentioned that this senior class has left the program in a better place than they found it, and regardless of if their last game was played last night, or not, that is true. This class of seniors, combined with emergent rookies put this team on a 13 game unbeaten streak that got them within one bounce in overtime of playing for the Jack Riley Memorial Trophy, given the the Atlantic Hockey Tournament’s victor. The goal of the program every year remains to win the conference and make the NCAA Tournament. They did not win their pod, but they improved to be second behind AIC. This group of seniors lead a rookie class and a program through a pandemic-marred season, finished the regular season and first round of their playoffs on a remarkable run heading into the semifinals, and set everyone else in the program up to rise further, including one day making the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

As a senior class, this group will know that their last memory of hockey at Tate Rink came with a triple overtime win over Sacred Heart in the longest game in their program’s history. The leadership this group showed through the face of adversity will prepare all of them for their service, and may be another building block towards an NCAA selection one day. That is something that no result, no cruel bounce, and no selection process can take away from them.

(Note: This article is focusing on the historic effort put forward by the Black Knights of Army West Point, and the positives in this historic season for Brian Riley’s group… in a year of uncertainty with how the Selection Committee will choose the field of 16 teams for the NCAA Tournament, we will leave any thoughts on the bracket to be put up on this site until after all conference championship games are played.)

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

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AIC works to earn 2-1 AHA semifinal victory: Eric Lang on the game and what comes next

Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics

This afternoon, the Yellow Jackets of American International College had to work incredibly hard for every bit of positive momentum against the upstart Purple Eagles of Niagara. Chad Veltri made 33 saves on 35 shots faced, and the Purple Eagles lead for the majority of the game, despite coming up short to an AIC team that last played on January 30. Head Coach Eric Lang expected a tough game from an underrated opponent, and his group got that for 60 minutes. The pressure was evident, but Lang knew that going in to this semifinal

He said to us before that, “pressure is privilege” , and the Purple Eagles applied plenty of it today. Despite having the majority of things go right for them, his team still had to find two goals in the third period in order to move on to the Atlantic Hockey Final.

With that said, the mesage to the team throughout the time where they were trailing was pretty simple according to Lang. As he said the message was “stay with it, stay with it, stay with it…don’t get impatient and no individual play, [and focus on the] collective whole.”

On the night, Lang was pleased with the attention to detail his team had, as he said “we possessed the puck all night and that’s how we need to play, our attention to detail was beautiful.” That attention to detail is needed as Lang’s group will face off against an opportunistic Canisius group that plays with a consistently high motor.

The experience today against the Purple Eagles was tough, as Lang said, ” they are really tough, well coached, [have] terrific goaltending and they can really skate. They made us uncomfortable with how tenacious they play. They block shots and backcheck hard.” That description, after seeing Canisius more than a few times this year, applies to the Golden Griffins as well.

The goals by Elijah Barriga and Justin Cole came in the third period on hard work and products of cycles and long zone times. AIC had a lot of shifts with similar characteristics to that today, across all 60 minutes. To win the Conference Tournament tomorrow, they will have to have more of the same, and minimize turnovers. Their opponents won in overtime because they made an opportunistic play on a pass out of Army’s own end, and created time and space for a clean look. Minimizing those looks and being able to keep working will be needed.

The other thing that Lang will have is a good perspective on Canisius despite never having played them this year. He credits his Volunteer Hockey Operations Director Mike Finnegan for having his team constantly ready to go. (interview conducted before Canisius won the second semifinal) Lang said “our work on our opponent is already done. Now it be confirming what we see on both teams. We have the best hockey ops guy in the country. He does all the heavy lifting for our program. He’s the only guy I know that can consolidate an entire season of our opponent. You can’t outwork him and he’s always one step ahead of our coaching staff.”

The Yellow Jackets still face pressure and no assurances of an at large bid going into the Championship game. Lang is ready for the challenge. As he said before, and we would posit that the same applies here, “pressure is privilege.”

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

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Army Hockey prepares for Canisius: Things to watch

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

The Hockey Team for Army West Point is ready to face the Golden Griffins of a determined Canisius side lead by Trevor Large. In the Atlantic Hockey Association semifinals tomorrow, 75 percent of its coaches are either Riley, or a coached by one of his former assistants, Trevor Large at Canisius, and Eric Lang at AIC. While Riley and his staff have done a lot of pre-scout work on Large’s group to pick up on tendencies, the main focus of this week for him in practice has been on continual development and refining the smaller details needed to For Riley’s group this week, despite playing a group that has a lot of skill, all around the ice, especially in their forward group, as Riley said , on what stands out with their skill level, ” I think their skill level… their forwards, the plays they can make off the rush, the great goaltending.”

Riley said that ” they have everything” and knows his group will be facing one of the faster teams in this conference that has been playing well since returning from their pandemic-caused shutdowns. The standout forward to watch from the Golden Griffins is Keaton Mastrodonato. He is one of the better forwards at scoring shorthanded in the country based on his rookie season (tied for the lead in the nation with three last year), and is often the faster player on the ice. As Riley said of what he can do killing penalties, “you’ve got to be going in first gear the whole time… or otherwise he can make you pay.”

Given that, and the fact that his group will be facing a goaltender with similar traits to Trevin Kozlowski in Jacob Barczewski, the Black Knights will be facing a team with every ability to end well before any Black Knight wants it to end. Because Riley has not played Large’s group all year given the unbalanced schedule of the Atlantic Hockey Pod system put in place, he views is as an opportunity saying “it allows you to focus on your team.. that’s what we’ve done all year.”

As for Riley himself, today he was given the Atlantic Hockey Award for Coach of the Year in the Eastern Pod, but he views it as anything but his award. He stressed that it was a team award, going so far as to say “that’s a team and a staff award.. im so lucky to be surrounded by a great team and staff.. I’m sharing that with everybody.” He went on to add, “I haven’t won any games.. ive probably lost a couple of games”, and then went on to describe in as humble a manner as possible of how he tries to not let himself get in the way of his players, saying “I just try to stay out of their way.”

That level of humility is common amongst those in this program. With that said, everyone knows they have a challenge coming up with Canisius, but with that challenge comes an acknowledgment of the impact Brian Riley has had on Atlantic Hockey beyond his own school. Two of the programs in this semifinal have former Riley assistants at the helm with Eric Lang at AIC, and Large at Canisius. Riley went on to say “its pretty exciting for me where two of the other three coaches are coaches that i had the opportunity to coach with.”

As to the week, after the group got back on the ice, Riley senses the focus from his group. He said ” this is one of those weeks where you don’t have to say anything.” The seniors in this group know the value of each game, Riley knows what the weekend could be, but he is focusing on the moment and the mountain of a challenge Large’s team presents him. Of what Army will do, regardless of score, Riley said “we’ll just keep battling.” His team has played from a variety of points, down one or two, and up by the same, and as cliched as this may be, it has some truth to it. Riley knows his team has to be the ones controlling the pace to how they like it, and forcing their opponent to read and react as needed to make the play.

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History made: Army West Point earns a 3 OT win to advance to AHA Semifinals

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

Army West Point, once again, had to overcome being scored on first. The Black Knights went down 2-0 to a Sacred Heart team that threw everything they had at them. Despite that, and coming back twice to tie the game, the second game of the Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal round went three overtimes. In the third overtime, Colin Bilek took a feed from Mitch Machlitt and had the puck go in to the top right of the net off his skate. He took great care to not kick it, thus allowing the game winner to stand.. Bilek’s 18th tally proved to be the difference in the gamr toni As Riley said of this routine “our guys have persevered and come back a lot this year.” Of this game he said that, “this is a memory that will last forever.” This win comes in the longest game in Army’s history.

As usual, Riley credited the Pioneers for throwing everything at his group, and standout David Benson who finished on the evening with 64 saves. Riley has been on both sides of tough overtime losses, and mentioned the effort that the Pioneers put forth to his team when he spoke to them after the game.

On some of his seniors, Riley had some thoughts as well.

On Mason Kreuger Riley said, “Krugs has had a great career for us.. comes to the rink everyday with a smile on his face, he’s one of those guys that quietly gets his name on the scoresheet.” He went on to discuss their senior class in general in saying, “for our seniors to be playing some of their best hockey.. that’s what you hope for .. all of our seniors have contributed.” Riley praised the work of senior extra forward Kevin Dineen. Despite not having shift until the third overtime, his speed and energy brought the bench to life, and helped push his team forward to complete the mission.

Starting netminder, Trevin Kozlowski who stopped 39 pucks on the evening, said this regarding his final game at home. He said, ” I love Tate Rink.. I didn’t want to really leave the ice for a minute or two.. just wanted to take some time to myself to soak it all in.” After the Bilek goal, he and Krueger were on the ice for a few minutes, on their own, and used that time to reflect on their experience in that moment before joining the group in the locker room. Next week, depending on what happens tomorrow, Army will play the highest remaining seed from the West Pod in Atlantic Hockey. That means they will see Robert Morris or Canisius should the Colonials falter to Niagara tomorrow afternoon.

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A game of persistence: Army takes game one 4-0

Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics

Ricky Lyle is a freshman cadet who came in playing a bottom six role for Army West Point. His consistent puck pressure and effort have vaulted him into the top six for the Black Knights. Tonight, he was one of their forwards who kept Army West Pont in the game in the first two periods with his effort. He looked to have the first goal of the postseason series against the Pioneers of Sacred Heart University. It ended up being called back in the first period as the Black Knights were offside on the entry. He worked with his line and his team throughout the game to keep it tied going into the third period. On the evening he finished with three shots on net, and personified the effort of Head Coach Brian Riley’s group. He said of Lyle, “that’s the one thing about his game, he gives tremendous effort every night, and he’s an Energizer bunny out there.”

After his disallowed tally, Lyle went back to the bench and said to his coach, as Riley told us “he said hey coach I’m gonna get one tonight.” The Duluth Minnesota native proved himself right, as his marker provided insurance in the middle of a four goal third period for the Black Knights. After Mitch Machlitt fired home the first goal of the game in the third, Lyle, Colin Bilek,and Daniel Haider all put home their own tallies to provide the final margin.

On the night, Riley noted that in the first “once we had the goal disallowed then the momentum kind of shifted a bit.” Trevin Kozlowski came up with another shutout tonight. He stopped 34 shots on the night, and earned the game puck from the group after the game for his efforts in net. He held the team through the third, and gave his big committee of scorers a chance to get going. The game played pretty evenly for the night, with both teams getting good looks for most of the first game of this quarterfinal round.

For tomorrow afternoon Riley expects a battle. As he said, “one of the hardest things to do is end somebody’s season.” Sacred heart played shorthanded and still was in position to win it. Given that, as Riley noted “this thing is a long ways from over.” The Black Knights are now one more win away from advancing to the Atlantic Hockey Tournament semifinals.

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The next mission: Army West Point prepares for Sacred Heart in the postseason

(Photo Credit: Army West Point Athletics)

The Black Knights of Army West Point used their bye week to work on some things, and further refine their own game. The team enjoyed a little time off, but as Head Coach Brian Riley said “all of a sudden you wake up on Sunday and.. its game week.” The team takes on the Pioneers of Sacred Heart University at Tate Rink for a three game series in round two of the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs.

One thing has been constant for Riley during the 11 game unbeaten run that the Black Knights are on, he is not changing his routine at all. He has worn the same suit, not gotten a hair cut, suspended week ending shootouts in practice, and more. That little It turns out he is skating at practice with a broken stick. It partially fractured, but is still in use. However as Riley said “guys know not to pass me any pucks.” When your team has not lost in your past 11 games, there is no reason to change what works, even if it is broken.

Riley thinks his group will be ready for the Pioneers, but notes the challenges his group faces. The Black Knights face one of the faster teams in Atlantic Hockey this weekend and Riley knows it. He said, “Sacred Heart has some of the best forwards in the league.” Despite the speed of the Pioneers, the truth in the weekend comes down to how well Riley’s group stays true to what they do. As Riley said, “you can’t lose sight of what you want to do, and how you want to play.” How the Black Knights keep to their system and use their checking to create looks will be a big factor in this weekend’s games. Part of the reason this team is in the spot it has found itself in is because even its goal scoring leaders like Colin Bilek back check efficiently and force their opponent to play a perfect game to win.

That team first mentality at West Point extends to the goaltending group. Riley praised sophomore Justin Evanson and freshman Gavin Abric for their work with the team this year. Both of them have pushed Trevin Kozlowski to be better and made him compete for his spot. Of his backups Riley said the following, ” I know that Justin and Gav are Trevin’s biggest fans, and they have a great relationship with each other.”

After rightly celebrating his firstie class of eight skaters, Riley took the time to talk about one of his standout first year cadets, in mentioning the high end talent of Mitch Machlitt. He has has been a key contributor playing in the top nine this year for the Black Knights. As Riley said of his growth, “like all of the freshmen it takes a little while” given the rigorous adjustment to West Point life. “We knew very early on” about how high his talent was, and the speed he plays with compliments the forward group quite well. In 19 games this season he has 11 points (four goals, seven assists).

To wrap things up, Riley echoed the sentiment of Canisius Head Coach, and his former assistant, Trevor Large on the strength of Atlantic Hockey this season saying, “if they do take two Atlantic Hockey League teams they certainly won’t be disappointed. and if given the opportunity, our teams will represent well.”

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