There has to be a point at which things get frustrating. Despite constantly improving from year to year, it seems American International and head coach Gary Wright can’t make a move up the standings.
The Yellow Jackets have, over the past three seasons, added solid players at all positions. Unfortunately for AIC, though, the skill level of the MAAC — now Atlantic Hockey — continues to improve as well.
This year, Wright hopes, will be different. Returning eight of his top ten scorers and both of his goaltenders from a year ago, Wright believes that this AIC team might be the one.
Still, to the naked eye, that’s hard to believe.
AIC will almost automatically be placed at the bottom of any AH preseason poll. That doesn’t bother Wright.
“We were 5-5 down the stretch last year so that leaves me hopeful,” said Wright, entering his 20th season behind the AIC bench. “We didn’t have a great start last year. Different areas of our game weren’t as strong early as we needed them to be.
“We’ll discuss that a lot and hopefully get off to a stronger start right away. Early last fall, our goals against average was particularly high.”
Goaltending in general will be a focus for Wright this year. Both Frank Novello and Chad Davis have shown positive signs over their first two seasons in Springfield, Mass. Last year, Wright felt neither of them played particularly well, and that was his team’s Achilles heel.
“Their freshman year, they were it,” said Wright of the fact that when the two arrived at AIC, they did so without an experienced goaltender to learn under. “There was no chance to get seasoning.
“We’d like to think that by this point goaltending is a team strength. We’re expecting them to both show improvement in their game this year so we have high expectations.”
If goaltending falls into place, the next area to focus on will be offense. The AIC power play was nonexistent last season and goalscoring was anything but potent.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on puck possession and players going to the net,” said Wright. “We saw signs last year of that. So if we can cut down our goals against it will help us become more potent offensively.
“Last year, our power play was not productive. We have to improve in that area. Hopefully our players are just that much better from last year and will be a factor. Right from the start we’ll put more emphasis on it. That, combined with the fact we have a lot of players returning on the PP, will be part of the solution.”
Though AIC is the easiest pick for the cellar, don’t be surprised to see them become this year’s Bentley and battle down the stretch for home ice.