WEST POINT, N.Y. — All week long the Army coaches told their players to shoot toward the blocker side of goalie Frank Novello.
Trailing 4-3 in the closing seconds of last night’s Atlantic Hockey playoff game with American International College, Chad Mayfield dropped a perfect pass onto the stick of Chris Casey. As everyone stood at Tate Rink in anticipation, Casey glided toward an open lane right up the middle and fired a high slapshot … to Novello’s glove hand.
Novello snatched his 34th save of the evening and Army’s last gasp came up empty. Home-ice advantage proved to be nothing as ninth-seeded AIC held on for victory before 1,030 fans.
“If I had it back I would try to go blocker side,” said Casey, who scored twice for eighth-seeded Army. “He (Novello) was catching everything all night.”
That wasn’t the lone coaching advice not followed. Army’s defensive-zone coverage proved lax once again, continuing a trend which saw Army (12-18-3) lose eight of its last nine games.
Andy Walbert, who assisted on AIC’s first and last goals, said this was the best team effort the Yellow Jackets have put forth this season.
“It was 20 guys going at it, not one guy doing it all,” Walbert said. “Everybody played defense. The key to success was backchecking, covering your points and just getting the chips (passes) off the wall, finishing your checks. That’s why we were successful, we took care of our own end.”
Midway through the second period, AIC’s C.J. McConnell gathered a pass in the left faceoff circle and sent a cross-ice pass to John Levesque for a one-timer past Brad Roberts (21 saves) and a 3-2 AIC lead.
From that point on, AIC played a conservative game, often keeping a third skater back in the defensive zone. The Yellow Jackets stretched the lead on a third-period power-play goal from Guillaume Caron.
Casey’s wrister with 5:39 to play gave Army life, but the Black Knights were unable to convert on a six-on-four advantage in the final 46 seconds.
This is the fourth year in a row that Army has dropped a one-goal decision in its first playoff game.
“I think we’re all severely disappointed,” Army captain Jon Boyle said. “I kind of knew it would be hard ending a career but I am not sure I was ready for this.”
Ken McMillan covers college hockey for the Times Herald-Record of New York.