Army seemed poised to move up in the standings last season. Teams with 12 seniors on their roster usually get the benefit of the doubt, as you so often see squads with this makeup overachieve.
Instead, the Black Knights won their fewest number of games (four) since the 1950-51 season.
Army averaged fewer than two goals per game on offense and had only one player (then-junior Andy Starczewski) score more than 10 goals.
Coach Brian Riley put the blame squarely on his shoulders.
“I’ll take the blame for that,” he said. “I did not set things up for success. We had a great group of guys. They gave it everything they had and I appreciated the effort. I didn’t do enough to put us in a position to win hockey games.”
Riley said the lack of offense put extra pressure on his goaltenders.
“If you’re struggling to score goals and you give up a bad goal it’s tough to come back from that,” he said. “We didn’t give [then-junior goaltender] Ryan Leets a lot of help and [freshman] Rob Tadazak got hurt and missed a lot of games.
“We obviously need to get these guys some breathing room by scoring more goals.”
Riley said he’ll be making changes not only to shake things up but to help develop the 13 new players he has.
“We’ve got a lot of high-energy-level young guys and they’ll be playing a lot,” he said. “The goal is to get them acclimated as quickly as possible to both the hockey and the military aspect. Fortunately, most are older freshman who have played juniors and been away from home before and have learned to manage their time, which is so important, especially here.”
The small number of veterans will be pressured to contribute early and often. Starczewski is the top returning scorer, along with defenseman Maurice Alvarez (14 points), who looks to take the mantle of top defenseman from his all-star brother Marcel, who graduated at the end of last season.
“They’re cut out of the same cloth,” Riley said. “The guys are more relaxed when there’s a player like that on the ice who can take control and calm things down.”
Leets and Tadazak will platoon for the first part of the season, at least.
“I’m confident of what they can do,” Riley said. “We’ll see if someone takes the job over at some point, but both can play.”
Another challenge for Riley’s young team is dealing with the combat death of Major Tom Kennedy, a former player (class of 2000) and the program’s officer representative the past four seasons.
Kennedy was killed in Afghanistan in August, less than two weeks after being deployed there. He left a wife and two children.
“It’s never a call you want to get,” Riley said. “You’re supposed to be at your players’ weddings, not their funerals. It’s devastating for so many people. He was a great mentor to our players.”
Kennedy’s initials, which were also his nickname, will on the players’ helmets and on the ice this season.
“We’re going to try to honor TK with everything we do as people and as a team,” Riley said. “At the end of the game we want to have played in a way that would have made him proud.”
About the Black Knights
2011-12 overall record: 4-23-7
2011-12 AHA record: 3-19-5 (11th)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): 10th
Key losses: F Mike Hull, D Marcel Alvarez, D Mark Dube
Players to watch: F Andy Starczewski, D Maurice Alvarez, G Ryan Leets
Impact rookie: Thane Heller had 67 points in 44 games last season for the Jr. Bruins of the EJHL.
Why the Black Knights will finish higher than the coaches poll: Rookies will play a big part this season. If they overachieve, so will the Black Knights.
Why the Black Knights will finish lower than the coaches poll: As predicted at this point last season, Army did indeed struggle to score. If Starczewski is again the only player to score more than 10 goals, the Black Knights will see a repeat of last season.