WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Two home games, two shutout wins, two burgeoning freshmen.
After suffering a 2-1 defeat to Army (2-7-2, 1-4-1 AHA) in West Point on Friday night, American International College (2-6-1, 2-4-1 AHA) returned to the friendly confines of the Olympia Ice Center on Saturday, where they secured a 2-0 victory against the Black Knights.
Goaltender Ben Meisner (35 saves and an assist) and fellow rookie Adam Pleskach (2 points) led the way for the Yellow Jackets, who have yet to give up a goal at home this season.
Despite being outshot 13-9 in the first period, it was AIC who captured the early lead.
With defenseman Rob Blanchette in the penalty box for hooking, Nielsson Arcibal initiated an attack down the right side boards. As he entered the attacking zone, he fed the puck to Pleskach, who slid it under the right pad of Army goalie Jay Clark. Meisner earned the second assist.
The goal, Pleskach’s team-leading seventh of the season, was AIC’s second short-handed tally in as many home games.
“Our penalty kill has actually been fairly good [this season],” AIC coach Mike Field said after the game. “I’ve been fairly happy with our PK.”
AIC stretched its lead to two goals early in the middle stanza.
Just 2:13 into the period, Army forward Mike Santee was whistled for boarding. During the ensuing power play, a rebound kicked free during the AIC attack. Junior Tom Mele, who was sitting on the right post, quickly knocked it home. Pleskach and Richard Leitner were credited with the helpers.
Mele’s goal may have marked the final tally of the night, but that didn’t stifle the opportunities. If anything, from that point forward, the scoring chances increased for both teams.
Shortly after Mele’s marker, winger Cody Omilusik nearly got Army on the board, swatting away from inside the hashmarks.
About five minutes later, Clark turned away back-to-back opportunities from AIC forwards Josh Froese and Mike McMillan. A few minutes after that, as Army crashed the net, Meisner paddled away an Andy Starczewski attempt on the goal line, plus turned away two chances by Danny Colvin.
Army’s best chance of the night came shortly after, when Meisner skated out of his crease to play the puck. Owen Meyer stole the clearing pass, but his shot sailed high over the open net.
“I think we had opportunities, but we’re a little bit snakebit, right now,” said Army Coach Brian Riley. “The longer you go without scoring, the more you can kind of just feel the pressure building. I can’t fault our guys for effort.”
The third period brought more opportunities for both squads, but neither could convert. Army had an encouraging effort with about five minutes left in the third, but was whistled offsides.
Unable to light the lamp, the Black Knights called a timeout with 2:07 left in the game and pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. They unleashed a final attack, including point blank shots by captain Eric Sefchik and Omilusik, but could not slip the puck over the goal line.
“We certainly had opportunities on the power play (0-for-four), but we just didn’t get it done,” said Riley.
With the win, AIC appears to be making small strides, thanks in part to the mature play of their freshmen. Offered Meisner, “They say, ‘Competition is finding your limits and winning is blowing them away.’ So, that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
Next week, both squads will continue their stretch of Atlantic Hockey league games. Army will travel to Bentley for a twin billing, while AIC will welcome Canisius to town for two games of their own.