Army finished last season 4-23-7, including 3-19-5 in Atlantic Hockey, averaging only 1.91 goals a game in the process. This season the Black Knights are off to a much-improved 2-3-1 start, averaging 3.33 goals scored per game.
“It’s early, but it’s encouraging,” said Army coach Brian Riley, who recorded his 100th career victory last Saturday when the Black Knights beat Holy Cross 7-2.
It sent a message to the rest of the league that this is not the same Black Knights squad as last season. It virtually is a different team, with 13 new players on the roster.
“We’re playing a different system where we’re trying to get more pucks to the net,” Riley said. “And the pucks are just going in right now. We’re not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but we’re doing things to be more competitive offensively.”
You don’t have to look much farther than leading scorer Andy Starczewski to see the difference. He has 10 points through six games, 12th best in the nation. Last year, Starczewski also led Army in goals and was second in scoring, but with 24 total points (13 goals, 11 assists) in 34 games.
The Black Knights opened the season with a pair of losses in the Icebreaker tournament but used it as a springboard.
“We did [the tournament] to get 13 freshman out on the ice with two quality teams in Nebraska-Omaha and Maine,” Riley said. “We thought it would prepare us for league play and the college game. It was a great experience for all of our players.”
The only blemish on the Black Knights’ record since then is a 5-0 loss to Penn State, which is making a habit of knocking off Atlantic Hockey teams.
“Some nights we’re not going to have it,” Riley said. “That comes with the territory [of having a young team]. We don’t think we played our best game, but take nothing away from Penn State. They’re a very good team with a very good coach, and they’re playing to their strengths.”
The loss at home last Friday to the Nittany Lions made Saturday’s contest at Holy Cross all the more important for Army, and the Black Knights responded with a 7-2 win, putting up the most goals in a game in three years. Six different players scored for Riley’s squad.
The coach said that one of the benefits of being so young is that his team doesn’t know it’s supposed to be an underdog in games like that.
“We don’t talk about last season,” Riley said. “For half our team, we’re seeing everybody for the first time.”
The Black Knights are off this weekend and won’t play again until Nov. 9 when they host Niagara.
“They have so many weapons,” Riley said of the Purple Eagles. “But this weekend I’m going to put my feet up and watch everybody else play.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey players of the week:
Zach Hervato and Jeff Jones, Robert Morris
Two Colonials share the POTW honors. Hervato had a goal and three assists to lead RMU to a 6-4 win at Rochester Institute of Technology. The senior already has three goals this season to match his total from last year.
Jones had a goal and two assists in the same game and picked up another helper in a 4-1 loss to Air Force.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Carsen Chubak, Niagara
Chubak stopped 70 of 71 shots on the weekend to help the Purple Eagles to a win and a tie against Clarkson. He made 44 saves in a 2-0 win on Friday, a career high.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Andrew Gladiuk, Bentley
The Falcons have added another weapon to their impressive arsenal in Gladiuk. The freshman had two goals and an assist in a 9-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville.
Bentley averaged 577 people last season at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena, affectionately known as “The JAR.” But on Saturday, the Falcons had over 700 fans supporting them for a road game. The school filled 17 busloads of fans for the Falcons’ contest at Harvard.
They went home disappointed after a 5-0 loss in the first-ever meeting between the two Boston-based schools but outcheered the home fans for most of the game.
Bentley won’t be back on home ice until Nov. 17 when it hosts Connecticut.
A better second effort
Air Force and RIT both struggled in their first games of the weekend, with the Tigers blowing a third-period lead in a 6-4 loss to Robert Morris and the Falcons battling to a 1-1 tie on Thursday.
Saturday was a different story, according to both coaches. Air Force posted a convincing 4-1 win at Robert Morris while the Tigers dropped a 6-3 decision at Colgate. Despite the loss, RIT coach Wayne Wilson said it was something to build on.
“Our effort was much better tonight,” Wilson said. “I thought we played a great third period but didn’t get the result we wanted. We got off to a great start and played a strong first period. Colgate was able to get momentum with all of the power plays.
“We have a lot of talent, but have a ways to go with intangibles right now. A lot of guys played well tonight and hopefully we can build off that.”
Air Force coach Frank Serratore had similar thoughts after his Falcons posted their first win of the season.
“We were better tonight,” he said after the game. “We scored the first goal, we out-special teamed them and their goalie was good, but ours was better. We were terrific in the first period. In the third period, they came at us with everything and it was anyone’s ball game. … We went on the road against two strong teams and got three points in two tough buildings. Any way you want to spin, that is a positive.”
Both teams will look for just their second wins of the season this weekend, with RIT traveling to American International and Air Force hosting Holy Cross.
Good news, bad news
The good news for Canisius is that the Golden Griffins have the sixth-best defense in the nation so far, allowing just 1.67 goals per game.
The bad news is that the Griffs have the worst offense in the country, scoring just just five goals in six contests (0.83 goals per game).
Canisius (1-4-1) hosts Clarkson for a pair of afternoon games Saturday and Sunday.
History repeating, so far
Last season was the Year of the Goalie in Atlantic Hockey, with defense dominating. This season it’s been the same way for most teams. Besides Chubak’s goalie of the week performance:
• Air Force junior Jason Torf allowed just two goals last weekend, one each game, in a 1-1 tie with Canisius and 4-1 win at Robert Morris. He made 52 saves.
• Canisius’ Tony Capobianco also allowed just two goals last weekend, one in each game in that tie with Air Force and a 1-0 loss at No. 2 Minnesota. In that game, Capobianco allowed a goal 12 seconds into the contest but stopped the next 41 shots.
• Connecticut’s Garrett Bartus had 73 saves last weekend in a 2-1 loss to Holy Cross and a 2-2 tie with No. 8 Union. He now has 2,924 career saves, second all-time in Atlantic Hockey. Mercyhurst’s Ryan Zapolski finished his career in 2011 with 3,360 stops.
Tweet of the week
No Tweet this week, but instead a quote from Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley (who can be found on Twitter at @derekschooley). On the increase in visibility for his school that comes with hosting the Frozen Four:
“No longer when I call recruits will people say, ‘Mr. Morris, thanks for calling.’”
You can hear the entire interview with Schooley on the latest USCHO Live! podcast.
Want to be eligible for TOTW? Follow me at @chrislerch.
USCHO covers Atlantic Hockey all week long on the Atlantic Hockey Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.