The Army hockey team, an extremely young group led by a small handful of seniors, is off to a much better start this year than last.
Consider: The Black Knights rebounded from a 5-0 loss to Penn State at home on Friday night to knock off Holy Cross, 7-2, in Worcester on Saturday to improve their Atlantic Hockey record to 2-0-1.
Last season, Army picked up its second league win on Jan. 28 and that made its record in the league 2-13-5.
The Black Knights, who are off now until a home series against Niagara on Nov. 9 and 10, finished last season with a 4-23-7 record.
The bulk of the roster at West Point has turned over the past two seasons and coach Brian Riley is calling on mostly sophomore and freshmen -- 13 of the latter are on the roster and all have played -- this time around.
Three seniors -- captain and defenseman Cheyne Rocha (Rye, N.H.), forward and assistant captain Andy Starczewski (Whitesboro, N.Y.) and goalie Ryan Leets -- lead the way.
Aside from the Penn State game, the Black Knights have busted out of the gate offensively. Last year, they averaged just under two goals a game. Through their first six this year, they have scored 3.33 a contest.
Starczewski was the only Army player to hit double figures in goals a year ago with 13 and was at 4-6-10 through the first half dozen games.
“Andy’s a proven goal scorer and he can shoot the puck, I think, as well as anybody in the league,” Riley said. “In the end, it’s a cliché, but we’re not going to rely on one or two guys. We need scoring by committee. We need increased production from our power play and we need every line to contribute.”
The early returns have been good.
Six players -- freshmen Shane Hearn (Auburn, Maine), Joe Kozlak and Thane Heller and sophomores Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.), Zac Zaremba and Josh Richards (Lee, N.H.) -- have scored two goals each.
The power play has converted on seven of 26 chances for a 26.9 percent success rate.
Rocha, who broke his leg in the 10th game last year and missed the rest of the season, is back to anchor the defense.
He and Leets were honored before the start of Friday’s game as Atlantic Hockey Student Athletes of the Year.
Shot blocking is just one of Rocha’s many talents.
“He’s unbelievable at blocking shots,” Riley said. “I think every game he leads the team in blocked shots. He just finds a way. I don’t know if pucks are attracted to him or what, but he finds a way to get in front of pucks. It’s one of the little things that turn out to be a big thing.”
In short, it’s nice to have Rocha back.
“When you have 13 new guys and they’re able to look down the locker room and see a guy like him and know what he’s done at West Pont, on and off the ice, that’s a good thing,” the coach said. “That’s what you hope guys turn out to be like.”
Player of the Week
Carsen Chubak, jr., goalie, Prince Albert, Sask., Niagara
Chubak stopped all 44 Clarkson shots for a 2-0 win and his first career shutout on Friday night. He came on in relief on Saturday and turned aside 23 of the 24 shots he saw in a 4-4 tie against the same team. In six appearances, he has a 2-1-3 record with a .951 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average.
Game of the Week
Holy Cross at Air Force, Friday and Saturday
Things have been tight between the two teams in their regular season series the last couple of years. Last January, they tied the first night in Worcester, 3-3, and Holy Cross followed up with a 4-3 triumph the next. The year before, in Colorado, they tied 1-1 on opening night and Air Force prevailed, 7-6, the next.
1. Holy Cross (3-1-0, 2-1-0) . . . Freshman forward Castan Sommer (Shrewsbury, Mass.) collected his first collegiate goal in 2-1 win over UConn. The Crusaders are off to their best start since going 4-0-0 to open the 2005-06 season.
2. Niagara (2-2-3, 1-0-0) . . . Coming off a 2-0 win and a come-from-behind 4-4 tie against Clarkson, the Purple Eagles take on Connecticut in their first weekend league series.
3. Air Force (1-2-3, 1-0-1) . . . Junior goalie Jason Torf stopped 52 of 54 shots to lead the Falcons to a 1-1 tie at Canisius and 4-1 win at Robert Morris. Air Force was winless in its opening five games for the first time since 1995-96.
4. Bentley (2-2-0, 1-0-0) . . . Junior Justin Breton and freshman Andrew Gladiuk each scored a pair of goals and freshman Derek Bacon added a goal and three assists in a 9-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville. The Falcons are at Robert Morris for a pair this weekend.
5. Army (2-3-1, 2-0-1) . . . Black Knights rebounded nicely from a 5-0 loss at home to Penn State on Friday night for a 7-2 win at Holy Cross on Saturday. Freshman forward Shane Hearn (Auburn, Maine) scored two goals in the win.
6. Robert Morris (2-2-0, 1-1-0) . . . The Colonials earned a couple of ties at RIT last season and picked up their first win in Rochester with a 6-4 decision on Thursday night. They lost to Air Force 4-1 on Saturday.
7. UConn (0-2-1, 0-1-0) . . . Senior goalie Garrett Bartus has moved into the No. 2 spot in Atlantic Hockey history with 2,924 saves. Merychurst’s Ryan Zapolski (2007-11) holds the top spot at 3,360. UConn plays two games at Niagara this weekend.
8. Mercyhurst (0-2-1, 0-1-0) . . . Sophomore forward Ryan Misiak leads the Lakers with two goals and two assists. Mercyhurst, which plays its first home game on Dec. 7, is at Sacred Heart on Friday and Saturday.
9. RIT (1-4-0, 0-1-0) . . . The Tigers are allowing 5.2 goals a game through their first five. RIT lost its first five games in the 2009-10 season and went 28-7-1 the rest of the way and advanced to the NCAA’s Frozen Four.
10. Canisius (1-4-1, 0-1-1) . . . Junior goalie Tony Capobianco made 41 saves in a 1-0 loss at No. 2 Minnesota. He stopped 17 shots in a 1-1 tie with Air Force. Canisius hosts Clarkson for a pair of games on Saturday and Sunday.
11. AIC (2-3-0, 0-1-0) . . . Senior forward Adam Pleskach scored two goals and added an assist in a 4-3 win on Saturday over Alabama-Huntsville as the Yellow Jackets bounced back from an 8-0 loss to Union.
12. Sacred Heart (0-4-1, 0-2-1) . . . Senior forward Eric DeLong had a couple of assists in a 6-3 loss to Penn State and now is at 35-56-91 in 112 games for his career. The Pioneers play host to Mercyhurst on Friday and Saturday.
Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.