AIC head coach Gary Wright needs one thing more than anything: respect for his program. As a coach of 18 years, it’s hard to imagine that, as he, himself, is regarded by his peers as a top coach.
But since the start of the MAAC, it’s been hard for AIC to gain much respect, finishing out of the playoffs for the last two seasons — the only team to do so.
There is, though, a light at the end of the tunnel. Entering the 2001-02 campaign, AIC returns all but two key players: defenseman Aaron Arnett and goaltender Chance Thede. Both of these players were important to AIC’s team defense, but Wright doesn’t believe that is the problem.
“The biggest area where we’re going to have to show some improvement is offensively, particularly our goal-scoring ability,” Wright noted. “Our goals against last year wasn’t that bad, but our lack of offensive production really made it very difficult for us.
“We work on a lot of things offensively in practice. We have a little more depth on forward and we had two players, Guillaume Caron and Trent Ulmer, on the MAAC all-rookie team. So they’ll be a little bit older.”
Besides that, Wright will return 10 of the club’s top 11 scorers, which would seem to make for a good offensive mix.
“Last year we had two lines that could skate with most teams but our third line just wasn’t as strong,” said Wright, “so we’ll need to establish a third line with a little bit of presence. We just need that depth.”
If the offense does come around, it will be up to a young goaltending corps to help maintain AIC’s sound defense. Frank Novello, standing a bit short at five-foot-seven and hailing from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., will be joined by Chad Davis — a stockier goaltender at six-foot-two from Allen Park, Mass. The two may split the work for the first season, but Wright’s tendency has been to use one goaltender for most of the work.
Wright will also hope for his team’s excellent discipline — AIC is typically one of the least-penalized teams in the country — to continue.
All of these factors will need to come together if we’re to see this AIC squad make a run at the playoffs. That may finally give them the respect they certainly deserve.