1,000 And Counting
It may have taken what seemed like an eternity, but Army finally reached the 1,000-win plateau last Friday night. And the Black Knights did so in the greatest way imaginable.
Army, which entered the season with 999 wins and entered the weekend winless this season, beat archrival Air Force at home on, of all days, Veteran’s Day to finally hit the millennium mark.
In addition, the victory came at a time when the program is remembering the ultimate Army hockey veteran, Derek Hines, who was killed in the line of duty this past September in Afghanistan.
Needless to say, Friday was one special night in West Point.
“It was a great weekend here,” said head coach Brian Riley. “Even though the games were played earlier [in the season] than usual, the building was packed both nights. It was fitting to have the two teams playing on Veteran’s Day.
“We had talked a lot about Derek Hines all week. Those games [against military academies] are always important, but for us it had a little more of a special feeling.”
Riley’s team followed up Friday’s victory by finishing a weekend sweep on Saturday, winning 4-3 in overtime. It gave his senior class a 5-3-0 record lifetime versus Air Force, making them the first class of cadets to finish their careers at Army with a winning record against the Falcons.
“During the week we talked about the seniors and that they’d have to lead the way,” said Riley. “We wanted them to go out on top over Air Force.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Goaltender Brad Roberts posted a shutout on Friday and then followed up with 19 saves on Saturday to earn his fourth and fifth career wins versus Air Force. Seth Beamer posted three goals and an assist on the weekend. And Chris Migliaro scored the OT game-winner on Saturday.
“Our seniors definitely led the way,” Riley said. “It’s nice to see them go out with a winning record against Air Force.”
As important as win number 1,000 and picking up a victory over Air Force were, just getting a couple of wins for a team that was without any was hyper-critical for the Black Knights.
“To be quite honest, we’d been playing pretty well to this point but had nothing to show for it,” said Riley. “It was important that the cadets were able to taste some success.”
Saturday win, in particular, was important because Army had to overcome adversity and momentum. The Black Knights led, 3-0, midway through the third, only to see Air Force come roaring back to force overtime.
“I hope this is something to give them the confidence in close games,” Riley said. “Instead of playing not to lose, they’ll begin to play to win because of the experience they had with Air Force in here.
“Maybe last year at this stage and maybe the year before, I don’t know if we’d have won that game. Winning is a process and we put ourselves in a tough spot on Saturday night.
“A lot had to do with Air Force and how hard they started to play. They just kept coming and coming, even being down three goals. To lose a three-goal lead late and come back to win certainly is a confidence-builder. To be quite honest, that would’ve been devastating to lose or even to tie that game.”
Playing Air Force is very special, obviously, for both teams. And the thought that Navy could become the third military academy to join the ranks of Division I hockey went through Riley’s mind, with very positive thoughts, throughout the weekend.
“Any time you can add a Division I program is great for the sport,” said Riley. “But certainly the respect I have for all of the service academies, if Navy were to come into the mix, it’s something where you want to beat each other when you play one another, but after the game you realize you’re on the same team.
“To see the players line up shoulder to shoulder during the playing of the alma maters, it’s special.
“Maybe we don’t have the most talent, but I think that both teams play in a way that those who watch us feel good that these are the type of men fighting for our country.”
It’s things like that, the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, and most importantly the pride involved that made getting number 1,000 versus Air Force all the more special.
“I think it’s obviously something that all the players who played in the game will be able to say they were a part of the game,” said Riley of the milestone. “But it’s a lot more than just this team. There are a lot of players and coaches who have contributed to those 1,000 wins.
“From my standpoint, it was very special to have seen so many players grow up when I was a kid. It certainly was a special night but the fact it came against another service academy makes it more special.”
Player of the Week
Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross: If you thought that Tyler McGregor was impressive on Friday night when he scored a hat trick in Holy Cross’ 10-3 win over Mercyhurst, add the fact that he potted two more goals on Saturday and you have a slam dunk for player of the week. McGregor is tied for third in the league in scoring with 12 points.
Rookie of the Week
Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart: As if it’s not enough to have the best hockey name in the country, Sacred Heart’s Bear Trapp also happens to be a heck of a player and proved that last weekend with four points in a weekend sweep of AIC. His two goals on the weekend also happened to be game winners. Not too shabby.
Goaltender of the Week
Brad Roberts, Army: I said before the season that as Brad Roberts goes for Army, so too will his team go. So the fact that Roberts was stellar in two games versus Air Force rightfully translated into a weekend sweep. Roberts’ fourth and fifth career wins versus the Falcons improved his all-time record against service academies to 8-2-0. Talk about getting up for the big game!
“As Big A Win As We’ve Had”
Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin has always been the master of coach-speak. That’s not a knock on the veteran head man at Mercyhurst. He’s great to talk to as a writer, but when you’re on the record with him, what comes out of his mouth is pretty much along standard platform lines for a coach.
“The biggest game is our next one.”
“We don’t think about the playoffs until March.”
“We have all the respect in the world for (insert team name here).”
Those are the expressions you can expect to hear from Gotkin. That is, unless you catch him after an emotionally-charged victory.
Such was the case last Saturday night after the Lakers beat Holy Cross on the road, 4-3.
“That was as big a win as we’ve had,” said Gotkin, completely out of character.
Now, let’s put this in perspective.
One night earlier, Holy Cross hasn’t just beaten the Lakers, the Crusaders annihilated them. A 10-3 victory handed Mercyhurst its worst league loss since becoming a Division I program.
“They beat us. They beat us bad,” said Gotkin, left waving the white flag, particularly as his team was down 7-1 after the first period Friday.
Saturday’s rematch, though, was more the type of game you’d expect from these two clubs — which, by the way, were picked as co-champs in the preseason coaches’ poll. An early goal gave Mercyhurst the lead. Holy Cross countered with two of its own in the second only to see the Lakers even things up before the frame ended, sending a tie game into the third period.
But when Tyler McGregor scored his second goal of the game and fifth of the weekend with only 10:26 remaining, it appeared the trip to Worcester for this series was about to become a lost weekend for Mercyhurst.
But then things changed. And the change came from one of Mercyhurst’s biggest producers in forward Scott Champagne. Champagne, who is riding a 27-game scoring streak dating back to last season, gave Mercyhurst a bounceback goal just 23 seconds after the Crusaders had taken the lead. He then set up Kyle Gourgon for the winning goal exactly four minutes later.
That lost weekend suddenly was about as good as it gets, with Mercyhurst earning two points despite the blowout Friday.
“Our guys responded well,” said Gotkin. “[Friday] was as low as our guys have been.
“But they battled and gutted it out. It shows a lot about the character of the team after a real tough loss.
“They came back and they did it themselves. We didn’t talk much, we didn’t change much, we didn’t do anything different. They just came out and they played.”
What may have come out of the weekend is rookie goaltender Tyler Small emerging from a triumvirate with Mike Ella and Jordan Wakefield. After Ella and Wakefield had posted less-than-stellar performances on Friday, Small responded with a grade-A effort on Saturday
“He gave us a chance to win,” said Gotkin. “We knew he was going to be a good goaltender and he still has a lot of prove, but he’s done a lot for us so far.”
Now Mercyhurst will need to ride its momentum against a team equally as hot this weekend in Sacred Heart. The Pioneers are riding a two-game sweep against American International and are nipping at Mercyhurst’s heels, just a point behind the first-place Lakers in the Atlantic Hockey standings.