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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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.