The Black Knights got off to a slow start last season at 0-7-1, but were able to get on track thanks to a sweep of archrival Air Force in November. After that, Army chalked up wins over the top teams in the league en route to a fifth-place finish, just a point out of fourth.
“That was a turning point,” said coach Brian Riley, last year’s Coach of the Year in Atlantic Hockey. “It’s not that we hadn’t played well at times up to that point but we had nothing to show for it. That weekend we got some bounces to go our way, and gained some confidence. It helped us build towards a better second half of the season. I think we played our best hockey down the stretch, which is what you want to do.”
The Black Knights hope to continue that trend, but will be without Brad Roberts, a four-year starter in net.
“We have two sophomore goalies (Josh Kressel and A.J. Dargo) who didn’t play much last season for obvious reasons,” said Riley. “Roberts gave us a chance to win every game. We have two unproven guys. Both have the ability to play and will get the opportunity to get some games under their belts.”
Riley will start out by alternating the two netminders, at least at first.
“I’ve always believed in going with the hot hand,” he said. “The goalie that’s playing well will probably stay in there for a while. We’re never a high-scoring team, so goaltending and defense are very important to us. We need to work on scoring more goals, and on the power play.”
Army returns eight of its top ten scorers, including junior Luke Flicek, who led the team in points last season (25) and was second in goals (9). Expected to make an impact is Ken Rowe, who played in the USHL last season, but was at Wisconsin prior to that where he played 23 games for the Badgers in two seasons. Rowe comes into the Military Academy as a plebe (freshman) but has two years of eligibility remaining.
“We have a good group of returning guys who are all familiar with what we are trying to do,” said Riley. “And I expect some of the new players to have an immediate impact.”
Asked if Air Force’s decision to join Atlantic Hockey this season will have any affect on their long-standing rivalry with Army, Riley said, “To be honest, I don’t see (those games) as being any more intense than they already are.
“When these guys play each other, it’s far and above any other level of intensity. There’s mutual respect. Players on these teams are truly special people when you consider what’s going on in the world today. You have to step back and admire what they are willing to do for all of us.
“To see them go as hard as they can at each other and then line up shoulder to shoulder afterwards for their alma maters, you remember that they are all on the same team.”