This preview originally appeared in the Oct. 11, 2008 edition of Army Football Gameday versus Eastern Michigan.
By Ryan Yanoshak
Last season was among the finest in Army hockey history. A regular season title for the first time, a fourth consecutive trip to the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs, national honors and recognition for Josh Kassel, Chase Podsiad and Luke Flicek and 17 conference wins.
Army hockey head coach Brian Riley will celebrate the successes of last season but has made it very clear that what happened a year ago is indeed in the past.
“Last year was a special year,” said Riley. “This year, with so many new players, we’re going to have to create a new identity. We understand that we’ll be the defending regular season champions and that many teams will want to come after us pretty hard. We’re going to have to be ready to play every night. Last year is last year and this is a new year. We’re going to have to be ready to play every night.”
A graduating class of 11 seniors, plus the exhausted eligibility of another player, means the Black Knights are losing 156 points from last year’s 19-14-4 squad.
Podsiad, who won the national Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award and Flicek, who topped 100 career points and was chosen to participate in the Frozen Four Skills Challenge, are now commissioned second lieutenants. So are Bryce Hollweg, Jeff Fearing, Robb Ross, Aaron Anderson, Chris Blair, Biff McNally, Chris Colvin, Lyle Gal and Ian McDougall. Ken Rowe played at Wisconsin for two seasons before enrolling at West Point and has used his allotted eligibility.
“Anytime you lose the caliber of players that we lost obviously that can present a problem,” said Riley. “The good thing is we feel very confident in the core group of guys, the returning players we have as well as the talent level of the freshman class we have coming in. As hard as it to see those guys leave, we’re confident in the team we’ll be able to put on the ice this year.”
In their place is a young roster Riley will look to mold in a similar fashion to the Class of 2008.
While the graduation losses were heavy, plenty of accomplished players return. Kassel became Army’s first Division I All-American and was named the Atlantic Hockey Association Player and Goalie of the Year. Zach McKelvie, who will serve as team captain, was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year while junior Owen Meyer tied for the team lead in scoring last season and was named to the all-league second team. Flicek was also a first-team all-league choice and Riley earned his third consecutive Coach of the Year honor.
The 2008-09 roster features 13 freshmen who will try to lead the Black Knights back to the conference playoffs.
Sixteen forwards are listed on the roster and will give Riley plenty of options as he retools his lines. Meyer and Flicek led the team in scoring last season with 39 points. Flicek had 12 goals and 27 assists while Hollweg was third with 11 goals and 20 assists for 30 points. Rowe (9-8-17), Fearing (4-12-16), Ross (9-6-15) and Podsiad (2-11-13) were among the top 10 in scoring a year ago.
“Obviously we lost some key offensive players to graduation,” said. Riley. “We’re excited about the returning players we have from an offensive standpoint. The key will be getting some of the younger guys to step up and contribute and some of the returning players who maybe haven’t been called on as much from an offensive standpoint to kind of lend a hand with finding a way to get some offensive production.”
Meyer netted 21 goals and 18 assists last season, scored on the power play on seven occasions and netted four-game winning goals while on a line with Flicek and Hollweg.
Cody Omilusik, who played in all but one game in his freshman campaign, will be counted on to increase his offensive production following a 9-goal, 7-assist season.
Eric Sefchik scored three goals and 10 assists last season, and will also be counted on for more production. Joey Ammon scored eight goals and assisted on a tally in the playoffs and senior alternate captain Will Ryan, who scored three times last season, are also expected to contribute. Drew Pierson totaled seven points in his first season with a pair of goals and senior Bill Leahy is a veteran who has the ability to score goals.
The return of Chris Spracklen will also benefit the Black Knights on the offensive end. Spracklen was forced to sit out a year and eight games after playing major juniors, but is expected to hold a large role when eligible to return.
Among the newcomers at forward are Jack Barnes, Danny Colvin, Jack Day, Mark Dube, Mike Hull, Kyle Maggard, Alex McRae and Bryant Skarda.
McKelvie leads the group of 10 defensemen. In his second season with a letter on his sweater, he will look to continue his success on and off the ice. In addition to being a talented defenseman and skater, McKelvie scored four goals and handed out 13 assists last year.
Fellow senior Matt Hickey, who bounced between forward and defense during his first two seasons, is set as a defenseman after a junior season in which he played 28 games and scored his first career goal, against Air Force on national television.
Pat Copeland played in 16 games in his first collegiate season and should see more ice time, as will senior Mark Tilch, a veteran who will add a scoring punch. Sophomore Andrew Maxwell has learned the collegiate game and will battle for more playing time.
The newcomers on defense include Marcel Alvarez, Bill Day, Jake Hannon, Bret Larson and Scott Warner.
Army has three goalies, all of whom have played very well. Kassel posted a 1.92 goals against average and a .925 save percentage during his junior season that included five shutouts and a pair of 2-1 wins against nationally ranked Air Force.
Joe Spracklen, who similar to his brother Chris, had to sit out a year and a handful of games, appeared in three games last season. He allowed just five goals and had a .924 save percentage.
Jay Clark earned five starts in his first season and responded with a 1.78 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.
Ryan Yanoshak is the Assistant Director for Athletic Communications and Ice Hockey contact at West Point.