If a year can be dubbed important to the success of a veteran Army program, it is the present one. A club that showed plenty of bright lights a season ago, the Black Knights will have a little extra to play for this upcoming season — home ice in the playoffs.
Though Army has never even hosted a MAAC playoff game, traveling for first-round losses in each of its first two seasons, the school will play host this season to the MAAC final four.
So a pleasant scenario could appear for the Black Knights: win enough games to make the playoffs, win a single-elimination first round playoff matchup and play two home games with a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line in late March.
But before the Black Knights get ahead of themselves, they have to worry about the task at hand — improving on last season’s talent-laden but young squad.
If the Chris tandem of sophomores Garceau and Casey can avoid a sophomore slump, the offense may be in excellent shape. As rookies, those two forwards finished one-two in scoring on an Army club that dumped in 100 goals.
The caveat to Army’s success, though, may lie with team defense. A season ago, Army finished 5-11-6 in games decided by two goals or fewer and, when the defense allowed four or more goals, didn’t record a win until February. So keeping the opposition’s scoring output low will be key for the Black Knights.
The basis for that achievement could be in net. With Army losing senior Scott Hamilton, a goaltender who could steal a victory or two at times, sophomore John Yaros will be the lone duck on the roster with experience in net. A year ago, he carried a solid .910 save percentage and matched that with a 3.04 goals against average. But despite carrying good stats, Yaros’ record was a lackluster 2-8-5, a tally that will need to improve if the Black Knights are to make a move in the standings.
Yaros will be joined by rookie Brad Roberts, who played junior hockey last season for New York Apple Core (EJHL) — the same club that graduated Yaros one year earlier.
The work will be hard, and it likely will be an uphill battle for the boys from West Point. But the potential to play in front of the league’s best attendance base (Army lead the MAAC in attendance last season) in a two-game playoff with a big dance berth on the line seems more than fitting as a reward.