Last season for the Army Black Knights was a huge success compared to recent results as for the first time since winning the Atlantic Hockey regular season crown in 2007-08, the Black Knights finished with a winning record (18-14-5). Led by a program changing talent in net, Parker Gahagen, the Black Knights boasted the 3rd best team defense in the country allowing just 2.11 goals per game. Despite putting up a 2.00 goals against average (6th nationally) and a .934 save percentage (2nd nationally) Gahagen was still relegated to 2nd Team All-Conference which shows you the goaltending depth this league had last season.
The challenge this season for Army will be holding onto their place in the league standings, with Robert Morris and RIT set to improve behind them, all while losing a true leader in net. Was Gahagen a product of an excellent system that can translate to a new starter in net or is Army set to tumble down the Atlantic Hockey leader board? This is the biggest question for the Black Knights heading into the new season.
For all the positive attention and accolades that Gahagen brought to the Army program last season, his most positive influence was playing this team to a winning record with so little in the way of offensive production. Army ranked 39th nationally, scoring just 2.70 goals per game, which ranked 7th in the conference. The leading point total for the Black Knights last season was 28 and the power play ranked 48th nationally. Needless to say the Black Knights will need increased production, especially in the early season as they transition to a new goaltender, to help with the loss of Gahagen between the pipes.
Army’s best asset last season was jumping out to a lead, they outscored their opponents 25-17 on the season in the first period, and smothering to a low scoring victory. This was crucial for Army as they were just a 48% Corsi For team with a 47.9% CF-Close. They are returning 91% of their goals scored last season, 2nd most in the conference, but that can only be a plus stat when players continue to develop. If the offense produces similar numbers to last season it is hard to expect Army staying in the top 5 of the conference and earning a bye to the 2nd round of the league playoffs.
Defense is where Army has truly shined over the past two seasons, surrendering less than 2.40 goals per game and being a top 15 team nationally each season in this statistical category. Last season Army was just a middle of the pack team in shot suppression, 28th nationally, allowing 2,081 total shot attempts. Army is an excellent shot blocking team as when you look at Fenwick, which removes shots blocked, they allowed just 1,563 shots (1,122 finding the target on net) which was 22nd nationally. Blake Box was a leader on defense, leading the team with a +15 rating in 37 games played. Also, look for Alex Wilkinson, a rising sophomore, to want to build off a strong first season at West Point.
The biggest roster position on this team that very well could decide the success of this season is in net, replacing a true star. That monumental task likely falls (at least to start the season) on senior Cole Bruns. Bruns appeared in just four games one season ago but was able to post a .949 save percentage and 1.30 goals against average. In his last season with extended starting duties in 2013-14, Brun had a 2.27 GAA and .917 save percentage with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. If Brun struggles the Black Knights will likely turn to one of their incoming freshman goaltenders Jared Dempsey (Wichita Falls-NAHL) or Trevin Kozlowski (Salmon Arm-BCHL).
Player to Watch- While he may not be established with a resume to go on, due to the nature and style of this team the player to watch has to be Brun. He is the most important asset for Army continuing to play above a .500 level.
Breakout Player to Watch- Zach Evancho was the 2nd leading scorer on the team as a freshman last season, so he doesn’t scream having to “breakout”. However, I think Evancho can take his game to another level past the 13-10-23 line of his freshman season. Evancho was a 30 goal scorer in the OJHL and spent parts of three seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. I think Evancho could be a threat to be a 18 goal, 40 point type player which would be a big step forward for the rising sophomore.
Freshman to Watch- The Black Knights welcome a class of nine to West Point this season; three defense, two goaltenders and four forwards. Seeing as we can’t project which, if any, of the freshman goaltenders may see ice this season that leaves us with seven options for this slot. Matthew Berkovitz is a defensemen coming to West Point after three seasons spent in the USHL. Berkovitz was a 2014 5th round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks (a career that is likely altered significantly now with a commitment to Army) and is a strong defensive defensemen. Look for Berkovitz to step in immediately to help transition a new goaltender for the Black Knights.