One of the more experienced teams in Atlantic Hockey this season is Army. Having lost only three players, only one of whom was in the top five in scoring, and returning a defense that ranked fourth in the MAAC a year ago, it’s no surprise that head coach Rob Riley is optimistic for his club’s future.
— Head coach Rob Riley, on his veteran Army squad
“This is a year where we go in knowing better what we have,” said Riley, entering his 18th season behind the Army bench. “In other years we’ve been traditionally a slow starter. We’ve often been at a place where we have to get to know what we have and get used to playing together. This year that simply can’t be an excuse.”
Army was a strong finishers in MAAC play last season, posting a 12-7-0 record after the holiday break. The Black Knights catapulted to fifth place with the second-half rally but fell to Holy Cross in the MAAC quarterfinals.
With the fact that so much remains the same from last year’s club, so too will the overall objectives. Army preached a defense-first mentality last season that included making serious strides in goals against, save percentage and penalty killing.
“Our penalty kill was last in the league [two years ago] and we rose to second last year,” said Riley. “If we can repeat the defensive effort and [goaltender] Brad [Roberts] plays well, we’ll have a good team.”
As a rookie a season ago, Roberts shared the Goaltender of the Year award in the MAAC with Sacred Heart’s Eddy Ferhi. He’ll be looked upon once again to impact every aspect of the Army defense.
On the other side of the coin, offense and goal scoring wasn’t a strong suit for Army last year and could be this team’s Achilles heel. That’s the one area that Riley knows needs the most improvement.
“As far as being a top offensive team, that’s a stretch for us with the style of hockey we play,” said Riley. “But at the same time, you can’t have just one guy or one line scoring. You need more guns because if your top guys are shut down you’re in trouble.
“We need a little more balanced scoring and a couple of guys to come out of nowhere. You need a guy to go from four goals to 12 or six to 16.”
If Army is able to combine that offensive improvement with an already steady defense, look for it to clinch a top-four playoff spot for the first time.