For the second season in a row American International finished one spot ahead of Niagara in 2016-17 with a 8-20-8 overall record. Last year was the first under head coach Eric Lang, the first new coach at AIC since 1984-85. AIC has not finished with a winning record since 1993-94 when they operated as an independent, they have never made an NCAA tournament, is most likely the least funded program in the country and last season averaged 418 fans per home game, 2nd worst in the country.
With all of this working against AIC they also play in Springfield, Massachusetts, a talent rich state, but with many bigger competitors in the area. It is not crazy to think that AIC is one of the hardest jobs in the entirety of NCAA D1 hockey. Lang, who played at AIC graduating in 1998, knows about tough jobs as previously he was an assistant at Army.
As a former player and coach here, I don’t think I ever stopped thinking about AIC. I love this place and the memories it created for me. I have always dreamed of being the head coach here,” said Lang. “One thing I know for certain, it would be tough to find anybody who wants to be the leader of this program more than I do.
AIC showed improvement in scoring in the first season under Lang, moving from 54th in the country (2.05 goals per game) to 51 (2.28 goals per game). AIC also saw a 2% jump in their power play percentage which was what Lang was in charge of at Army so it would seem he had an impact here as well. Advanced analytics are even a little more optimistic for the Yellow Jackets are they were 42nd in Corsi For with a 47% Corsi with a jump to 48.6 at even strength. If the Yellow Jackets can improve upon a sub 80% penalty kill and continue to hold their weight in possession at even strength they could see an improvement in their scoring output and perhaps their overall record.
The Yellow Jackets return 89% of their goals scored from last season(!). Of the four seniors who graduated last year only one of them managed to score, though that was the leading goal scorer Austin Orszulak. AIC is a team that had a tendency to start slowly, being outscored 40-17 in the 1st period and for the season held their own much better over the final two periods. Now, with the score effect caveat being in effect here, again if AIC can find improvement here there is a reason for positivity.
The Yellow Jackets graduate 2 defensemen from their roster last season but neither player was a huge contributor, with each garnering just one assist. The Yellow jackets return 21% of their total goals scored (18) on the blueline. Andrew Debrincat, brother of this year’s OHL Most Outstanding Player Alex, will be the veteran presence as the sole senior defender. Of the 18 goals scored by defensemen last season just 4 were on the power play which shows an ability for AIC to get the puck moving low to high and quick out of their zone with active Dmen who can finish when presented the opportunity.
Last season freshman Zackarias Skog took control of the net appearing in 24 games and posting the best GAA and save percentage on the team. Skog basically earned the net after the holiday break and should be the leader heading into this season unless his play causes him to lose the crease. AIC return all three goalies from last season on a team that gave up 3.39 goals per game (50th in the country)
Player to Watch- Blake Christensen stepped in as a 21 year old freshman and ended up leading AIC in points last season with 21 and 8 goals. Christensen, a Coral Springs, FL native, also tallied four power plays showing an ability to stand out for coach Lang on his most important unit. Christensen spent time with the US National Development Program and was rated a 3.5 star prospect by Neutral Zone. I would look for Christensen to have a big year under coach Lang for a 2nd season.
Freshman to Watch- Luka Maver is a 19 year old center from Slovenia who spent his first season in the USHL last year with Lincoln. He is listed as 6’3″ 187 pounds and with his international experience Maver should be ready for Atlantic Hockey and being able to compete.
Breakout Player to Watch- Hugo Reinhardt will be a sophomore who is originally from Sweden. He posted 6 goals and 13 assists in 35 games last season. Reinhardt played for the excellent Frolunda junior team in Sweden and had only spent one season in the USHL getting used to the North American game. I’d look for Reinhardt to take another step forward this season in Springfield.
Previously in Atlantic Hockey Previews: Niagara