AIC head coach Gary Wright is a hard-working man. Not only does he coach hockey for the Yellow Jackets, he’s also the school’s golf coach.
So when the Atlantic Hockey coaches’ poll picked his Yellow Jackets to finish last this season, he was a bit humbled.
“I’m just glad I don’t coach three sports,” said Wright, whose golf team was also picked to finished last this year.
Though we can’t speak for AIC’s golf program, it’s easy to say that the coaches’ pick in hockey seems to be on the money.
AIC last year graduated its best player, Frank Novello, who happened to be the club’s goaltender. The fact that Novello was one of the best goaltenders in the league according to any coach, and yes, still managed only four wins, speaks volumes about the play in front of him.
The Yellow Jacket defense last year allowed 3.74 goals per game even with Novello, and the offense chipped in only 2.03 goals per game. Without a recruiting class that includes the next Gretzky and Lemieux, there’s little hope for things to improve much.
“There’s certainly a lot of uncertainty,” said Wright about the season ahead and the fact his team will play two freshmen and possibly upperclassman Matt Tourville, who has a total of three career games played, in net.
Even with inexperience at goaltender, Wright doesn’t think that his team is doomed for the league’s cellar. What’s missing, in his opinion, might simply be the knowledge of how to win.
“There’s nothing like winning hockey games to gain some confidence,” said Wright. “If you get through that threshold, you never know.”
One thing that Wright does believe is that his club has depth and experience. A season ago, the Yellow Jackets played anywhere from eight to 10 freshmen every night. With those players and the rest of the team maturing, and the fact that of last year’s top ten scorers only one was a senior, comes some hope.
“We have a little more internal competition that we’ve had,” Wright said. “We’ve got a couple of guys back who had injuries or illnesses last year, so we’re hoping that’s an added bonus.”
The biggest challenge, as Wright puts it, is “offensive proficiency.” Though many of last year’s losses were close games, Wright said that the ability for his club to believe in itself to score goals is what often puts you over the edge.
“Psychologically it’s important for a team, if it’s down, to know it can come back,” said Wright.
If AIC is to break through offensively, it may be necessary for a player like forward C.J. McConnell to step up his game. Last year, McConnell posted only 14 points in 29 games, but has shown signs that he can produce. As a freshman, McConnell scored 13 points and as a sophomore had his best season, notching 12 goals and eight assists. If McConnell or someone like him could push his production into the 25-30 point range, AIC might catch a little bit of offensive fire.
If not, though, look for this to be a long season in Springfield.