American International coach Gary Wright is pragmatic.
He assumed his team would be picked to finish last in the Atlantic Hockey preseason coaches’ poll — after all, the Yellow Jackets finished at the bottom of the standings last season.
But Wright says that things are looking up in Springfield.
“We’re obviously worried about where we were the standings,” said Wright. “But I think we’ll be improved this year. I was encouraged by the play of our freshmen and sophomores last season.”
One thing that must improve for AIC to make noise in the league is this season is upgrading an offense that averaged just 2.16 goals per game.
“We’re putting a big emphasis on offense this season,” said Wright, who will look to returning forward Jereme Tendler (26 points last season) and defenseman Jeremy Leroux (17 points) to light the lamp this year.
“Psychologically, you need to think you can score goals when you’re down,” said Wright. “We need to sustain longer attacks and hopefully be more prolific.”
The Yellow Jackets’ power play, which clicked at an anemic 9.4% last season, is an area of emphasis.
“Improving the power play is very important for us,” Wright said. “I wasn’t disappointed in the way we moved the puck, but we didn’t finish. We don’t have maybe as many natural scorers as some other teams, but we work hard and are disciplined. That should pay off with the power play and the penalty kill.”
A bright spot last season was the play of rookie goaltender Tom Fenton, who stepped into the role after the graduation of Frank Novello, the backbone of the team the prior two seasons. Fenton stopped 90.0% of the shots he faced last season, making 875 saves.
“Tom had a strong season for us,” Wright said. “He was impressive down the stretch. We’ll have Cody Robinson, another sophomore, compete for time.
“We feel pretty good about goaltending. We like to think that based on what we saw last year, we’re going to be strong in that aspect of our game.”