Brian Riley, who took the head coaching reins from his brother Rob at Army this summer, is not the only new thing at West Point this year.
No, half the locker room is brand new to the U.S. Military Academy — all freshmen — after Riley cleaned house upon arrival this summer.
Talk about the need for an orientation cookout to get things started.
“A lot of these guys are going to get experience this year,” said Riley matter-of-factly. “There are 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie. We’ll probably reap rewards down the road, but it will be tough going through that from the start.”
The good news, though, is that Riley is bringing back a core of talent, particularly forwards Chris Garceau and Ryan Cruthers, as well as goaltender Brad Roberts.
Roberts, a junior, was an all-league goaltender as a freshman. Last season, he struggled his way through the second half, and that’s something Riley hopes can turn around from the get-go.
“Brad would be the first to tell you he struggled coming down the home stretch last year,” said Riley. “But we are very confident that he’ll have a strong year for us. Defensively we’ll have three veteran players back there and underclassmen to challenge for ice time. But it’s all going to start with Brad.”
Among the players Riley didn’t bring back was potent scorer Chris Casey, meaning he will look to what experience he has up front upon which to build his offense.
“We need guys like Chris Garceau and Seth Beamer to step up offensively,” said Riley. Last year, though Beamer led the team in scoring, he had only 18 points. Garceau scored only 14 points. “They will be a very important factor if we’re going to do well.”
When Riley, who served as an assistant under his brother Rob, looked back at last season, one realization was that at the halfway point, his club was on pace with expectations. That took a turn for the ugly in the second half, resulting in an eighth-place finish and an exit from the playoffs versus American International in the play-in game.
“Traditionally speaking, we always had been able to finish strong,” said Riley. “You want to be playing your best hockey at the end of the year.
“This year with so many young guys, the first part of the year will be a challenge for us. So our goal this year will be to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season.
“We just want to establish ourselves as a hard-working team. Physically and mentally we want to be a tough team and we just want to be a close-knit team. Those are our four pillars that we’re working to build off of right now.”
The task might seem daunting for the younger Riley, but that doesn’t keep him from injecting a little humor.
“I think my brother Rob is a lot smarter than I ever thought he was,” joked Riley, “because he’s leaving the program right when we have 15 guys coming in.”
It may take that light-hearted attitude to get Riley through what could be a long season.