WEST POINT, N.Y. — When is a conference game a nonconference game? When you enter the wonderful world of life in Atlantic Hockey. Chris Garceau’s power-play goal early in the second period proved the difference in the Black Knights’ 2-1 non-league victory over American International College at Tate Rink.
The Yellow Jackets played two previous non-conference “conference” games when they challenged Quinnipiac and Bentley as part of the Q-Cup. For Army, the game represented their first regular-season action after taking a pair of exhibition games from Ryerson.
“It’s nice to get a couple of games under our belt. Fortunately for us, we were able to get a home game because nine of our next 11 are on the road,” Army coach Rob Riley said.
“It’s nice to see what you have at home before you have to play on the road, which is always extremely tough. We have a pretty good idea of what our lines and defensive pairings are — and that is what we wanted to do.”
Riley wasn’t too sure what he had at the start of the game as AIC opened the scoring just 47 seconds into the first period when Guillaume Caron converted Jeremy Leroux’s centering pass as he beat goaltender Brad Roberts on the first shot the game.
“Any time you’re in a 2-1 game [and the opponent] scores on the first shot, it certainly puts you back on your heels a little bit. I thought it was a very tough game both ways,” Riley said. “I thought we had a lot of chances, but AIC did a good job. I think Gary Wright has got a little more of an aggressive team than I’ve seen in the past. When some of his younger guys come around, they are going to do some damage.”
AIC’s Wright was pleased with his senior co-captains’ performance last night as he scored his first goal of the season to go along with three assists.
“Guillaume is certainly a go-to guy for us and he is a high energy player, ” Wright stated. “I was very pleased with his play tonight and I think some of our players fed off his work ethic.”
Unfortunately for AIC, there were 19 minutes left to play in the first period because the Yellow Jackets have allowed five first period goals in their first two games. About 10 minutes later, Chad Mayfield made it six goals in three games.
As is often the case, a great save at one end of the ice leads to a goal at the other end. Roberts made a fine save by kicking aside a Todd O’Neill scoring chance. An AIC turnover turned into a breakaway for Mayfield. The junior winger deked goaltender Chad Davis, getting him to open his pads, and Mayfield slipped home the tying goal at 10:34 of the first period.
It was no surprise that the line of Ryan Cruthers, Chris Casey and Mayfield drew the Black Knights even. They wrecked havoc with Ryerson by combining for nine points in the two-game sweep.
Riley was enthusiastic as he spoke about his CCM Line.
“They are a very offensively creative and skilled line and you need that,” he said. “Cruthers is kind of new to college hockey, but he makes great plays and I think he’s a nice fit for those two guys. It enabled us to move [Chris] Garceau around a little bit and now we can come up with a couple of lines that can score.”
Garceau would reward his coach’s confidence in him by scoring the eventual game-winning goal as Army cashed in on the third of five power play chances. The junior winger tipped home Matt Field’s shot from the point at 5:03 of the second period to put the Black Knights ahead for good.
“It feels pretty good [to get the game-winner]. It was a nice shot from the point and I was lucky enough to tip it in. It was a great win and we looked pretty good out there,” Garceau said.
“It’s a key to be able to spread out the scoring. Last game, our third line scored all the goals. It’s great to be able to mix and match players. “I’m happy where I am and I hope everyone else is.”
After Garceau’s goal, it was time for the men in net to shine. Davis was a brick wall as he made 30 saves, some of the acrobatic variety, in order to keep AIC within one goal after two periods.
“I thought for the first half of the game, they outplayed us decidedly, ” Wright admitted. Fortunately for us, Chad Davis kept us in it and gave us a chance to get some momentum going later in the game and he gave us a chance to try and come back and win the game.”
Not to be outdone, Roberts appears ready to avoid any talk of a sophomore jinx — a point that Riley was quick to make.
“Let’s hope not,” Riley said in reference to Roberts not missing a beat in his second season. “We’re going to need to ride him. Brad is a special goalie and he responded and made a couple of saves late in third period that I thought were great saves.”
The Black Knights are not the only team facing a tough start to the 2003-2004 season. The Yellow Jackets must skate through their own gauntlet in the early part of their schedule as they play their first eight games on the road.
Despite the tough start, Wright does see this stretch as a potential positive.
“I think we will really grow during this period. We obviously have an arduous schedule with our first eight games on the road against really good teams and it is going to be important for us to keep getting better and keep our attitude up and hopefully learn from these games,’ he said.
AIC (0-3-0; 0-0-0) faces a quick turnaround as they visit Union for a 3:00 p.m. game on Sunday afternoon and then to Air Force for a pair of games on October 24-25. Army (1-0-0; 0-0-0) returns to action on October 24 when they play their first conference game at Bentley in a 7:30 p.m. start.