Eric Lang on how AIC is staying game ready

Since the last time we talked to American International College (AIC) Yellow Jackets Head Coach Eric Lang, well not much has changed for his team on the ice, as they have not played a game. They clinched their third straight Atlantic Hockey Association regular season title due to other results. When they could have played this weekend, they were not able to find another opponent to play this weekend, and as a result, will spend 41 days between their last regular season game on January 30, a 3-0 win over Holy Cross, and March 12, their quarterfinal series opener in the Atlantic Hockey postseason.

To make up for this lack of having external opposition to play, Lang is keeping things internal. In his competitive program, he has seized on this moment to provide more competition for his deep team. Controlled scrimmages are routinely played to keep his team fresh. Lang has the ability to play three lines on each side, and have each team get two goalies. As Lang said of the battle level of these games ” we play for just about everything in anything we do here.” This pause due to the spate of COVID 19 cases across Atlantic Hockey has hit AIC, and they are out of the positive test protocol. Since coming back, Lang first wanted to ensure his team”s legs were back, and now he is working on sharpening all of the other skills a Division One Hockey player needs to have. In addition, he is controlling the scrimmages and practice environment to re-introduce contact in a safe way as well.

As for the postseason, Lang noted the benefit of playing in Atlantic Hockey. Stylistically, they benefited from playing a very physical Army West Point team in 2019 that prepared them mentality wise for the NCAA Tournament. Lang said it best when he said that ” the winner of our conference tournament has earned their way into the tournament.” The opponent this team faces in two weeks will be playing to advance, and to spoil AIC’s at large hopes. Both of those things could happen if Lang’s group is not ready, which is why for resuming play Lang said ” we’ve had a really developed strategy.”

Beyond the moment, AIC is one of the most deep teams in the country. As Lang has noted, the fifth line of his team is good enough to make the staff’s life diffucult in setting up a line chart each weekend. In addition, the work this team does to develop everyone on their roster has paid dividends throughout the regular season. In the postseason, should AIC make the national tournament, Lang notes that the biggest strength of this team is what they do right, which is a little bit of everything. For them to do well they must , as he said ” be able to possess the puck.. and shorten the game.” For this group to make it beyond the first round, they have to play the best game of their season, and make the opponent earn every inch of ice.

Going forward, Lang’s philosophy of finding the best group and building depth matters a lot to him. That depth will grow next year as Lang is open to bringing back any of their seniors. He feels that giving them the more traditional experience over a full season matters, and the staff is open to any senior taking them up on that. For everyone in this group right now, the opportunity that they have in a few weeks to progress to the national tournament is not being taken lightly. Atlantic Hockey’s postseason is tough for all its participants, and Lang’s group will be ready for it.

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For the NCAA Tournament consider Army: Here’s why

The Black Knights of Army West Point earned another victory last night with a 5-1 win against the Falcons of Bentley. This win gave them a sweep on the weekend, their sixth straight win, and tenth straight game of earning at least a point in Atlantic Hockey. In raw points earned, the Black Knights are third behind an AIC and Robert Morris team that both deserve at-large consideration.

Last night’s efforts, given the Selection Committee’s need to use some sort of “eye test”, in our minds moved Head Coach Brian Riley’s team into the at large category, if the season ended today. Riley was proud of his team both nights this weekend, but thought they actually played better in the Friday night overtime victory than last night in a 5-1 game that turned into a blowout pretty quickly. The Black Knights scored four unanswered goals to provide the final margin, featuring on the evening one from Hobey Baker candidate Colin Bilek, and two each from Brett Abdelnour and Thomas Farell.

This Army team is deep, and has a pretty extensive comitee that Riley relies on for goal scoring. Everyone of his lines are capable of taking over the game at times, and all of them have their own strengths. The line lead by Colin Bilek always seems to be on the ice for big moments, and last night was no different.

The most unique thing about this team is their selflessness. Riley personified that through discussing Bilek, in noting that he is the leader of this team, and being recognized for his goals sure, but that Bilek also sacrifices himself for the team at every signle opportunity. Colin Bilek’s ability to transition from a shot block to a goal scoring chance on the same shift is one of the better ones in the country. He inspires the team up front to push forward, and has made the many goal scorers on this team better.

In net, Trevin Kozlowski is a consistent rock for this team. His ability to play a calm and consistent game, along with having a short memory on conceding less than ideal goals is just some of the reason why he is 9-3-1 on the year, and skyrocketing up the Mike Richter Award discussion, as he should be. Riley knows that his team is not in a poistion to fight for an at large bid without Kozlowski in net.

Let’s now look at why Army should be under consideration for an at-large spot. First, this team is complete, on its face, and in how it plays. They are disciplined, and able to compete with most teams in the country. In addition to this, they have been able to win many different types of games as of late, but seem to almost thrive more when the score is close, as the Tournament normally is. This team has shown it can beat the best opponents on its schedule, when it is all you can do in a year of virutally no non conference games. They are the last group to beat an AIC teamm one that should earn an at large bid, in regulation. They are able to play with everyone because of who Riley brings in and how he and his staff develop them. Like his protégé, Eric Lang, Riley has his teams play defense first, and be able to, when playing well, score in waves. Only three skaters of Riley’sgroup do not have at least a point, of those who have played at least one game.

Finally, given the dearth of teams playing in the ECAC, and the likelihood of Quinnipiac winning the tournament, we expect that conference to earn only one bid. If that holds, and the Big 10 earns two spots, there will be more spots to go around. Why not, during this season, given adverse conditions, give the extra spot to a team full of people who, if their trajectory holds will have earned the selection, and a group of people training to lead soldiers in adverse conditions all around the world. Brian Riley’s group has proven its ability to thrive under adverse conditions, what better place to showcase that then at the NCAA Tournament, for the first time in this storied program’s history?

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Bryant Christian: Relationship Builder

Photo Credit: RJB Sports

When picking where to play his college hockey, the pinnacle of his goals in playing the sport he has nearly as a native Minnesotan, Moorhead native Bryant Christian said of his choice to play for American International College (AIC) that, “I wanted to be a part of some type of movement.”  

Christian wanted to be a part of something greater than himself and expand his network beyond hockey. He also said that of AIC when he committed there “no one knew about them.” In hockey and in life, Christian is about building relationships and working with people to make things better, along with unifying people. That was evident in his hockey career that culminated as a captain of AIC, and in his post-hockey career as a Financial Advisor, running his own Edward Jones firm in Moorhead. In addition to his day job, that AIC prepared him for with his major in Accounting, he helps with all levels of hockey in Moorhead up to the middle school level.

When it comes to the impact that Bryant Christian has had on American International College Hockey, we will let his coach for his last two seasons Eric Lang explain how his impact resonates today first.

Lang says the following:

“Bryant Christian playing in his last playoff game on a broken leg had been the foundation poured for our program. He wanted to wear that sweater one more time, immediately instilling a long lost pride that our program so desperately needed. [He is] an inspirational leader who immediately bought into what we trying to accomplish. When I think of our success we have had it would have never been achieved without Bryant”

Lang knew Bryant well before he became his coach in Bryant’s junior year as a Yellow Jacket. During his time as an assistant at Army West Point, he nearly got Bryant to come be a Cadet. One of Bryant’s proudest moment’s as a Yellow Jacket actually came with Lang on the other bench. As a sophomore, he scored an overtime winner to extend AIC’s season in game two of a first round series against the Cadets. It was the first win AIC earned in the postseason since Atlantic Hockey went to a series format across all rounds before the final weekend. As Christian put it regarding Lang that evening, “he should remember that I scored that goal.”

A few weeks later, Lang would take the AIC job, and set the foundation for the program’s success with Christian at its base. Throughout his time at AIC and beyond, Christian has shown that he, like Lang believes strongly in relationship building. He praised Lang’s ability not to just coach hockey, but coach. Of bringing people together, he compares Lang’s abilities in that regard to something like what Vince Lombardi was able to do in unifying a group for a common cause. In addition, he praised Lang’s relationship with alums across the world saying that on program building, his dedication to all AIC Hockey alums around the world is the best thing this program has. Christian is a part of the ever growing AIC Family Lang is building.

Christian also took time to praise Seth Dussault, Coordinator of Athletics Communications. For those not aware, Seth is the lead broadcaster for AIC, and the sole media contact on staff for all of its sports. AIC does not have its story told as well as it does without Seth’s consistent hard work. Of his effort, Christian said that ” “I don’t know if he ever sleeps, and AIC is fortunate to have him.”

The community of AIC, Moorhead, and everywhere else Christian chooses to go with his wife, who he first met in high school, and married in June after his graduation, are all better for having Christian in it. Christian’s wife is an incredibly important member of the Fargo-Moorhead community as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse. Furthermore, Christian’s ability to build relationships is key in the ever-complex world of financial advising, and it allows him to have conversations and further work with people all around the world.

Fundamentally, Bryant Christian’s professional career, and the relationships he has made and continues to foster to this day are all examples of the benefits of the great sport of College Hockey extending far beyond the ice. Christian lived his dream of playing this game, and now he is giving back to up-and-coming players in his hometown while helping his growing base of clients better manage their money to ensure they can all live their dreams as well.

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AIC is grooving: Head Coach Eric Lang explains why

Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) are playing at one of the best clips in the country. They are 26-4 in their last 30 games , and have just one conference loss in twelve conference games played this year. Head Coach Eric Lang is leading a team that has three goaltenders with wins, and rotates five lines of forwards, eight or more defenders, and has had four goalies see the ice.

Coming into the season, Lang, the ever humble person that he is, expected his team to be good, but is impressed by the consistency of this group. They are doing all of this after graduating 610 points of offense, and the goalie who set a lot of program marks at the Division One Level. As Lang said of his team, “we’re grooving pretty good right now.”

One reason that AIC has found their groove is the emergence of its depth in all parts of the lineup. Up front, the only constant player on Lang’s fourth line is Aaron Grounds, who has provided secondary scoring to compliment the physical game he plays. He is not alone for rookies having success on this team. There are plenty that have, like Hurricanes’ draft pick, Jake Kucharski who has filled in admirably for Stefano Durante when needed. Ryan McInchak also had a hand in the sweep over Holy Cross this weekend, playing the final 40 minutes of the opener, and all of the finale. What he was able to do is quite impressive as AIC noted.

As AIC noted ” The rookie goalkeeper, who came on in relief of redshirt freshman Jake Kucharski in the previous night’s win, has stopped all 37 shots he has faced so far in his collegiate career. He is the first goalkeeper to earn a shutout in his first start in the Division I era of program history.”

This depth is in addition to the scorers on this team. AIC soundly defeated Holy Cross without senior forward Tobias Fladeby. He is a scoring forward on AIC’s first line with a sound shot and prolific skating skills. His linemate for most of the year, Elijah Barriga is a junior center that came to AIC from UNLV. A top six forward on a nationally ranked team came from one of the better club hockey programs in the country. Lang noted that Barriga went to UNLV in part to work on his academics for a year before he was able to even play at the Division One level. His staff was undeterred, as Lang said ” we were scouring everywhere”, and because of where Elijah was playing after his time in junior hockey ended, he did not have to sit a year and was eligible right away. Lang wondered where Barriga went to school initially, researching where he went to school. He credits UNLV’s staff for supporting Elijah in his move to the Division One level, and now Barriga is one of this team’s many leaders on the ice, and in the classroom.

Another scoring forward for this team that has come on strong is Julius Janhonen. Lang could not say enough good things about the Finnish forward who is only in his first year in North American hockey. The staff was lucky to even get Julius to campus, as he had some issues getting into the University of Massachusetts to play for the Minutemen, where he originally committed.

As Lang noted, Julius liked the strong European representation in AIC’s recent history, and made the choice to come to AIC. Lang is over the moon about the potential of Janhonen, saying “we got pretty lucky on him” coming to campus, and that ,” he could be an NHL prospect at the end of the day. Janhonen has eight points in 13 games played, and uses his speed to find the open areas of the ice to make plays. Like so many players on this team, he can play anywhere as a forward, in every role Lang needs him to, and has the potential to succeed at each one. There is so much depth to this team, the staff can rotate players in and out to preserve effectiveness, and not have to rush players like Durante or Fladeby back to game action before they are both ready to come back to the lineup.

When making the case for his team Lang harkened back to the series loss at the hands of Quinnipiac in December. While the Bobcats handily won the Friday affair, AIC had more chances at even strength, but could not stay out of the penalty box against one of the most organized power plays in the game. They followed that up with a battle at home on a Saturday and lost 3-2 despite getting a fair amount of good looks. In a year with limited non conference opportunities, Lang took the time to note the history of this program in the NCAA Tournament, their 26-4 record in the last 30 games, and more.

At the end of the day, depth is this team’s biggest advantage over its opponents. As Lang said “This is the deepest team I’ve ever had.” That depth, and competitive drive his players have extends off the ice as well. As Lang took the time to mention, his program is one of the very few, and potentially the only program to have either a valedictorian or salutatorian for the past five years.

When you look to who may be in the postseason in March, AIC, on the strength of their conference record, and consistency throughout the year, combined with past history, is a strong candidate for an at-large bid, according to Lang.

More importantly, his team of good humans is leafing the way on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community of Springfield and beyond. Lang’s team reflects the person who coaches them. They are all competitive, humble, and ready to do more on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community.

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AIC will earn an at large selection or better this postseason: Here’s Why

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) are pretty good this year. So far, they have one loss in their conference play to an Army team that has started to find their game as of late. One of their non conference loses to Quinnipiac was in a tough 3-2 game that showed how well Head Coach Eric Lang’s team can adjust when needed. After losing the previous game on the road, they came to their home rink and stood shoulder to shoulder with one of the better offenses in the country nearly ow

In addition to their 13 wins to this point, the team is fairly strong on offense, and a resilient one, given the talent they lost from their second straight Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Championship. The team, coming into today’s game is ninth with 56 goals scored. The team is doing this not with a top “big” line like some teams do, but with a collection of depth players providing more and more of the scoring and grit for this team. The play of the line that Aaron Grounds is on, that has featured multiple players along side of him has provided the positive physicality that Eric Lang had two years ago when his team shocked everyone but themselves against St. Cloud in the NCAA Tournament.

During the broadcast of their 3-0 win over Holy Cross, broadcaster and Coordinator of Athletic Communications director Seth Dussault called AIC a “buzzsaw” and, well Seth has a point about not just this game, but the Yellow Jackets in this conference. Through watching multiple games this weekend, this AIC team had the most complete weekend of any team we saw. It is hard to find ways to get better from this week, but we expect this team to somehow pull it off, because that is all they have done throughout the year, find ways to develop.

Let’s look at their eye-popping stats from the past week alone, courtesy of AIC Athletics

“AIC outscored Sacred Heart and Holy Cross by a combined 17-2 in the three games.

The Yellow Jackets outshot their opposition 115-55 and did not concede more than 20 shots in any game.

The Yellow Jackets went 5-of-17 on the power play and 8-of-9 on the penalty kill.

[Brennan] Kapcheck had a six-point week with six helpers to go with a +7 rating, while Dodero, Cole, and Janhonen all recorded five points on the week; a total of nine Yellow Jackets notched three or more points between the three contests.”

While some that do not follow this league do not see the implicit value in any of these statistics, we will note that every time we have had the chance to hear Head Coach Eric Lang speak about his team, along with the always evident humility and profound respect for the opposition, he notes things that his team can do more of, and improve upon. He now has a roster with so much depth on it, that three different goalies have wins, and all have shown they can handle the net for long periods of time. Oh, and Lang has multiple quality skaters that are sitting as healthy scratches each night.

That is, this Yellow Jackets team, this buzz saw of a squad that Lang has put together has shown their continued ascent throughout the year. This team, from its top scoring threats of Ellijah Barriga, Chris Theodore, Tobias Fladeby and others, combined with its solid depth of Grounds and Julius Janhonen, to so many others is one that during any other year where the pairwise was being used would most likely be an at large lock at this point. There are very few teams, in any conference, that can have their third or fourth goaltender come in and play at a top level, deal with sustained injuries or absences up front, and come out like these Yellow Jackets. If they do not meet the eye test to the Selection Committee after this week, we do not know what team would.

With all of that said, AIC has so many storylines on this roster, and so many areas Lang wants to get better on, that we think these Yellow Jackets should earn an at large spot, and that the league they play in, Atlantic Hockey, deserves at least two representatives. Look for the Yellow Jackets to focus on continued improvement in their penalty kill over the last few games of their season, and in playing complete games as they did this weekend against Holy Cross. If they finish strong, and nationally ranked, no one will be talking about AIC in this tournament the same way they did in 2019. Look for more on these Yellow Jackets in the weeks ahead.

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AIC Third Period Comeback Comes up Short in 5-3 Loss to Army: Now What

Photo Credit: Kelly Shea- AIC Athletics

Today, the Yellow Jackets of AIC started strong. One of the top goal scorers in the nation, Tobias Fladeby put his side ahead 1-0 against the Black Knights of Army West Point. Soon after that, the lead would disappear and despute a furious comeback attempt, would come up short as the Yellow Jackets suffered their first Atlantic Hockey loss of the season, ceding first place in the conference in terms of point percentage to Robert Morris.

With the basics out of the way, let’s look at some of the good that came out of this game, and potential adjustments to watch for from Head Coach Eric Lang as we highly suspect that he will work to improve his team’s effort shorthanded. Army was able to find open spaces on those goals, often catching the penalty kill out of position, and making Stefano Durante’s life a lot harder in net, despite facing 21 shots in total.

What went well

Well, Tobias Fladeby is slowly playing himself onto a lot of team’s radars as an Undrafted Free Agent candidate. His ability to find space in all times on the ice, combind with playmakers like Ellijah Barriga (injured, did not play today) setting him up is superb to watch. In addition, Fladeby’s speed is consistent, and he uses it to find those hard-to-defend areas that he puts home a lot of his goals from.

Then of course we come to Eric Otto. The cancer survivor put home his first goal of the his career today on some nice work by Eric Lang’s fourth line to make it a one goal game at the time. His goal, along with the consistent play of Lang’s fourth line featuring Aaron Grounds was probably the biggest bright spot of the night for this team.

What to watch for

Lang is a master in getting his team’s schedule as quickly refilled as possible after postponments this year. He has done so this week, as the Yellow Jackets face a Long Island team that they have recently beaten that plays a similar system to Army’s. How AIC can eliminate some of the grade-a looks they gave up on their penalty kills today will go a long way to determing the result.

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AIC Bounces Back Against LIU: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics)

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) came out in their first effort of the new year and earned a well-deserved 2-1 victory over the Sharks of Long Island University (LIU). Chris Theodore and Aaron Grounds provided the AIC response to a Zack Bross shorthanded goal to earn the series opening victory.

This team played with the same effort it did in its series finale loss to Quinnipiac, except they had more to show for it. Stefano Durante was again stellar in net for this team making 19 saves on 20 shots for an evening where he was not facing much. LIU finished the night with a mere 32 shot attempts to 51 for the Yellow Jackets.

In practical terms that indicates the reality of this game. AIC controlled time and space for the vast majority of it, and if not for Garret Metcalf playing a nice game for the Sharks of LIU, combined with the Sharks blocking 12 of those looks, this score could have better reflected the outcome of the game.

A look at the Goal Scorers

Let’s focus some more on Aaron Grounds for a moment. The six feet, three inches tall Jamestown, North Dakota native seems to be a constant in Head Coach Eric Lang’s ever changing bottom six. His power and ability to be the most physical player on the ice is an ever-constant threat for these Yellow Jackets. On his goal, he was the beneficiary of a nice setup from Parker Revering.

He found Julius Janhonen through the neutral zone who saw Grounds. From there, Aaron walked in and picked the far corner against Metcalf. As Grounds told us, he wants to keep improving on his skating and finesse work and, today was a good indication that the extra dedication to his craft he is putting in is paying off. Eric Lang recruited Grounds for his physical game, and ability to chip in on offense, so far, he has been proven right on both counts.

The Yellow Jackets are themselves a very deep team especially at the forward position. On any given night, Lang has multiple quality forwards that would be in a lot of team’s lineups not playing, and Grounds has had to fight for time against all of them. At the pace he is going on, Grounds could find himself moving up the depth chart very soon if he keeps playing his game as he is.

In addition to Grounds, credit Chris Theodore for his consistency and improvement. He finds himself playing with Tobias Fladeby, one of the leading scorers in the country on Lang’s premier scoring line. Theodore is already two points away from equalizing his highest output at AIC which came in his freshman season with 10 points. That took him 34 games to put up those numbers, he has eight points in an equal amount of games already. As defenses look to match up with Fladeby, Theodore will get more scoring chances himself, and looks ready for that responsibility. The two have excellent chemistry playing together, and are part of one of the more unheralded scoring trios in the game with Elijah Barriga centering them.

As for the Yellow Jackets, they travel to take on these same Sharks tomorrow night at 5:00 PM Central Time. On paper, the team of good humans played a one goal game today and won. In reality, the possession numbers and other metrics like the play of Theodore and Grounds showed a team continuing to improve, and always striving to get better.

With all of this in mind, part of the reason why the score was so close, was Long Island itself. The Sharks did not give AIC many rebound looks, and closed down the inside quite well, throughout the game. Lang’s teams do not often get outworked in the areas around the blue paint, but today they did. AIC has to be better physically tomorrow. The Yellow Jackets have to improve their ability to box out and get to the net a bit better, otherwise, the Sharks will find more chances around the net than Lang would like to allow.

As Lang said of AIC’s opponent, “They are extremely well coached, have high buy in, commitment to playing hard, and playing the right way. I anticipate tomorrow will be no different.”

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AIC Just Misses a Split Against Quinnipiac: Beyond the Box Score

(Photo Credit: Kelly Shea-AIC Athletics)

The Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC) came within one shot of equalizing on a Sunday afternoon against the Bobcats of Quinnipiac. They were swept on the weekend after losing 8-3 last night on the road. Despite that result, combined with today’s 3-2 loss, this program is still set up for success. At even strength, the Yellow Jackets looked right on pace with the always potent Bobcats. As AIC’s Head Coach Eric Lang acknowledged, they took far too many penalties and allowed the Bobcats a long time with the extra skater. That team with the extra skater faced an AIC squad still adjusting their penalty kill with multiple new freshmen on it. They have had to replace some top quality penalty killers from previous AIC teams.

Do not let these two scores warp your perception of Head Coach Eric Lang’s program. This is still the program that is one of the hardest working ones in college hockey, and to Lang’s credit, that statement was true this weekend regardless of the deficit or brief lead AIC had.

For example, look at Aaron Grounds, shortly after a Luka Maver took a major penalty during Saturday’s game, Grounds blocked multiple shots on the five minute penalty kill in rapid succession despite being down by the margin that AIC was, and continued to play his truculent game on the fourth line during both games of this series. That example from Saturday night is emblematic of this program, and something not every player is programmed to do given the massive deficit AIC was facing.

Another example of the resilience of this program can be found in a game Lang and his staff did well to move on from that very same night. After the Yellow Jackets gave up two goals on that major penalty, they went to work and even put a bit of a scare in the home team. Tobias Fladeby (the national scoring leader in goals per game) and Brett Callahan cut the gap to three and the body language on the bench of AIC never wavered. They peppered opposing netminder Keith Petruzzelli with 58 shots over two nights, and were outdone on many high percentage looks by him. That is to say, the looks and chances were there in both of these games, and goalies without the talent of Petruzzelli will not stop as many of them.

One final thing given that Lang’s side has to face the Sharks of Long Island University tomorrow afternoon, is Lang himself. It is rare for us in hearing countless press conferences after the game to have a coach come out and stand up for a goaltender not only in word, but in action. Stefano Durante, as Lang noted, is one of the better goalies in this game, and he would probably like one or two goals conceded on Saturday night back. That said, Lang could have pulled him at any time before Stefano came out after the second period to give him a break before today’s game in which he rebounded in spectacular fashion. He chose to wait for the intermission because Lang feels that pulling the goalie early in that situation, in the middle of a period, has an affect of absolution on the team in front of him. As Durante took no penalties Saturday night, and has a stellar track record to back his coach up, Lang has a strong point.

The arc of this season is long enough to hope for a national tournament and a chance for AIC to come out the victor in another skirmish with these Bobcats come postseason time should one be played. As Lang said, he hopes that” we’ll see them again.” Even in their toughest moments this weekend, AIC showed they are up to that challenge should it arise in the future. Lang and his good humans he brought to Springfield would have it no other way.

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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell

Aaron Grounds: Tall and Still Growing for AIC

(Photo Credit: Kelly Shea/AIC Athletics)

Aaron Grounds is a 6 feet 2 inches tall freshman forward for the Yellow Jackets of American International College (AIC). He makes his living in front of the net providing screens to make goalies’ lives difficult, while providing solid help defending in his own end. The Jamestown, North Dakota native compares his style to Ottawa Senators’ forward Austin Watson. Both are physical customers who use their size to contribute both on and off the score sheet. For instance, in AIC’s 3-1 win over Bentley today, he put home his second goal of the season while playing a defensive role on the fourth line. Over time look for Grounds to use more of his frame and add some more skill in his four years in Springfield.

When he filled out forms during his draft year indicating strengths and weaknesses, the physical nature of his game was near the top of his positives. Over his time learning from AIC Head Coach Eric Lang and his staff, Grounds will look to grow his capabilities to use time and space on the rush and get a bit more creative with his options in the offensive zone, especially on breakaways.

With all of that being said, Grounds had an interesting introduction to hockey, his first and really only sport he has played consistently growing up. His mother, Kristy, was a daycare provider when Grounds was younger, and his first experience with hockey gear came when he saw the gear of one of the older girls at daycare when she brought it in that day That was the first experience with anything hockey related he had as neither Kristy, or his father Micheal played hockey.

Ever since then, the mission has been simple for Grounds. As he said, “ever since I was a little kid I’ve had this dream of playing in the NHL and I don’t plan on letting anybody stop me anytime soon.”

Grounds moved to Minnesota when he was 12, and credits the larger availability of ice in Minnesota for his ability to continue training over summers a bit easier, along with having more time to hone his craft.

As for getting to AIC, well, like a lot of America, his introduction to the Yellow Jackets came when they earned a win over number one ranked St. Cloud State in the first round of the 2019 West Regional in Fargo. From there he did his research and had a little bit of help from one of his assistant coaches during his time with the Fargo Force, Eli Rosendahl. He reached out to Lang and his staff, and it was not long before the connection was made. After that momentous win, and weekend for AIC, Eric Lang told the media he had a lot of good conversations with recruits, and opened a lot of people’s eyes. One pair of those eyes now plays for the AIC Family. How Eric Lang runs his program in all facets of it, combined with the culture there are two of the main reasons Grounds is playing for AIC.

All of Lang’s talented staff takes time each day to make sure their players are doing ok in all facets of their lives. Simple things like asking a question about his parents make a big difference to Grounds and show that the AIC Family the program talks about is a lived, not just promoted value. Lang and his staff value the whole person, not just what shows up on the ice or stat sheet.

Finally, regarding the Yellow Jackets this year, Grounds describes the Yellow Jackets’ program quite well as a small budget one, but he notes that “we have something that I value way more, which is our family which is incredibly important, we will outwork anyone on the ice.” To sum things up, his view is one more of college hockey is coming around to regarding AIC. As Grounds said “we’re starting to be a team that people know about and don’t like to play.”

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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Eric Lang-Leading a team of Good Humans at AIC

Eric Lang is the head coach of American International College (AIC) Hockey. A few years ago, barely anyone had heard of this school, much less any professional players making the NHL from it. They play at the home of the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) in Massachusetts, and their initial claim to fame was showing the world what Eric Lang knows. That is, recruiting great humans to come to this school with a chance to be a part of something bigger will yield results. Said great humans helped show the world what this type of hockey can do, as they , the lowest ranked team in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, defeated the number one team, St. Cloud State, before coming within one shot of equalizing a superb Denver side the next night.

One of the great humans on that team was a freshman but integral piece to that team, Brennan Kapcheck. Since his freshman year, he has only gotten better,

Kapcheck has put up 26,25,and 25 points in each of his first three seasons and runs the power play for the Yellow Jackets. He is a puck-moving two-way defender with a strong side of offensive ability to his game, and one of the most coveted undrafted free agents set to graduate in the spring. Lang has had conversations with 15-20 NHL teams about him already, and would not be surprised to see more chat with him as the year moves onward. As Lang said so honestly ” Brennan Kapcheck will be one of the most sought after free agents in college hockey. He’s been the best player in our league for the past 3-4 years. He individually has changed the landscape of AIC hockey. There’s really not a lot he cant do.”

Lang noted that scouts have compared Kapcheck to Troy Stecher, Adam Fox, and Anthony DeAngelo. On the ice, those are apt comparisons, as Kapcheck often is a master distributor on the ice, and makes life easier for both his forwards playing on the ice with him, through precision passing to set up grade-a looks, and for his goaltenders as he is not afraid to win puck battles in front of the net, and clear rebounds as needed.

Brennan is one of the reasons the Yellow Jackets persevered against the Huskies and earned the victory (from that day, AIC Media Relations Director Seth Dussault told us ” if we win don’t call it an upset, so we avoid using that term on this site when referencing that evening as best we can).

Onward to Kapcheck’s main staring goalie behind him, Stefano Durante. He has persevered through a lot over his career, including injuries derailing one of his seasons. Durante at his best plays a calm game, and works to limit grade a rebounds that teams like North Dakota are so good at slamming home for easy goals. According to Lang, Durante is in the position he is to earn a shot somewhere at the next level because “there isn’t a more prepared player that I have coached, “every box in his life is checked to the fullest.” Over the next year or two, expect Lang to be getting some calls about Durante as well. NHL teams sign quality people to their systems every year, and Durante definitely meets that definition.

Finally, in this short interview, we were able to touch on the importance of all of the AIC family relevant to what Lang does, running a college hockey program at a small school at the Division One Level. One person that is at the center of that is Seth Dussault. He not only handles media requests from folks like us, and runs social media for the Yellow Jackets, he does it on some level for all of the sports going on at the school, and to top it off, he usually is the voice of AIC Hockey, and calls games with a flair eerily reminiscent of some of the early work of “Doc” Emerick. That is, he brings you along for the ride, and gives you a bit of history, comedy, facts about hockey, and sometimes other things like Frozen references, all while doing the work of eight or more people. As Eric Lang said best ” Seth is an extension of what I like to say our program embodies. He is selfless. We don’t have a lot of superfans across the country, but Seth does as good a job as anybody in promoting our brand. He is a valuable member of our team and our AIC team.  

This AIC team hopes to play the Bentley Falcons in a home-and-home this weekend in snow-socked Massachusetts. The Yellow Jackets are facing a team with previous (won December 8,2020) Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week in their net, in Nicholas Grabko, in what expects to be another challenging matchup in the often overlooked, but always tough Atlantic Hockey Association.

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: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.