Coming off a regular season title in 2008, the Army Black Knights knew they were in for a challenge to repeat with 12 freshmen in the lineup.
All-American Josh Kassel struggled in net, and the young Army squad had to settle for a sixth-place finish last season.
Coach Brian Riley’s team is ready to turn the negatives from last season into positives this year. Those 12 freshmen now have a year of college hockey under their belts and are better acclimated to the rigors of a service academy, and junior Jay Clark stepped in for Kassel and earned the starting spot a year ahead of schedule with a .914 save percentage last season.
— Army coach Brian Riley
“Like last year, I think we are in a good position in net going into the year,” Riley said. “Jay Clark is among the group of top goalies in this league that can give you a legitimate chance to win every night. He’s an unbelievable role model with a great work ethic on and off the ice.
“And with our freshman from last season, I don’t think you see a lot of guys play to their potential until they’re into their sophomore and sometimes junior year. We’re really happy with the progress that they’ve made.”
Providing leadership and most likely plenty of points is senior Owen Meyer, one of the most dangerous players in the league. Meyer needs 20 goals this season to become the most prolific goal scorer in league history.
“He’s probably the best forward in the history of our program,” Riley said. “You’ve seen how he can take over a game by himself. But he’s a laid back guy with a great attitude.”
Riley says team defense and the ability to win on the road are two areas that the Black Knights need to improve upon to get back to the top part of the league.
“We killed penalties well but we’re a team that doesn’t take a lot,” he said. “That’s a plus because you don’t want to give teams like Air Force, Merychurst or RIT those opportunities. But I think we have to do a better job of limiting scoring chances in all situations.
“And it’s key that we get points on the road. We were a young team last year and played in some pretty hostile environments, and I think going through that last year will better prepare us this time.”
Army opens its season at the Icebreaker Tournament in Omaha against the host Mavericks, and then plays either St. Lawrence or Massachusetts-Lowell.
“We start off with some good competition,” Riley said. “I was up at 4:30 this morning. Who can sleep this time of year? Everyone’s excited. Everyone has goals and at this point, all of them can still be achieved.”