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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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.)

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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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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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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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