It seems that whatever question you ask American International coach Gary Wright these days, you get the game answer.
What aspect of AIC’s game most needs improvement?
What will it take to get out of the nine through 11 spots and make the playoffs?
Can AIC be effective from the beginning of the season until the end?
Yes: with “goal-scoring.”
And anyone who has followed this AIC team for the past few seasons understands why Wright harps on increasing his club’s offensive output.
— AIC coach Gary Wright
In ’99-’00, AIC mustered only 83 goals. A year later, the Yellow Jackets found the net only 80 times. Last year, that number decreased to a measly 63. So Wright is correct in saying that his team’s scoring ability will dictate their success in the upcoming year. Still, the coach remains realistic about his team’s ability.
“We have to generate more offense and that will aid us psychologically,” said Wright. We are stronger than last year but we’re not among the elite teams in the league.”
An area of brightness for the Yellow Jackets may be between the pipes. Rookies a season ago, both Frank Novello and Chad Davis opened eyes around the league.
“I’d like to thank that goaltending is one of our strengths,” said Wright. “Frank Novello and Chad Davis got quite an indoctrination last year.
“My thoughts about them are predicated by how I saw them as freshmen, but all the signs I saw last year point to that as a team strength.”
Wright hopes, too, that his rookie class will be a shining light. Despite losing only five players, Wright has brought in eight rookies in a class that he believes can be solid contributors.
“With our freshmen, hopefully we have one of the most skilled classes we’ve ever had,” Wright said. “We’ve got a large group of players returning, but we have eight recruits, making this a little bit of a bigger class. We’ve struggled for a few years here, so we’re full of fresh optimism.”
Optimism is exactly what Wright and AIC will need to tackle the schedule. In addition to the tough MAAC billet, AIC will face defending CHA champion Wayne State as well as MSU-Mankato from the WCHA.
“I think last year we didn’t have that diverse a nonleague schedule,” said Wright. “This year, we’ve made a pretty big step.
“Wayne State is the defending CHA champion and Mankato’s made a nice statement in the WCHA. For a couple of years there we had enough challenges in our own league. This year we decided to take a few nonleague games as well.
Regardless, it will all return to an offense that will need to fire early and often if AIC is to return to being a playoff team. Juniors Trent Ulmer and Guillaume Caron, each of whom showed signs of scoring touch last season, will be burdened with the task of carrying the Yellow Jackets. Mike Budjos and Alex Walsh are the senior blueliners, while you can expect Novello and Davis to see equal time between the pipes.