West Point, NY- In the 2021-22 season Army is the only unit to shutout American International College. On October 22nd, the Black Knights scored an early first period goal then leaned on a brilliant goaltending performance by sophomore Gavin Abric. On Saturday night, Army welcomed AIC back to Tate Rink and mirrored their October performance.
Senior Captain Eric Butte provided the tally on a power play following an Evan Stella cross-checking minor. The Belmont, MA, native found an open spot in front of AIC’s net and scored his 10th goal of the season 8:46 into the game, tying him for the third most goals among AHA players this season behind only Mercyhurst’s Carson Briere and Air Force’s Will Gavin.
From there, the game’s already established physical tone and high pacecranked up even higher. AIC outshot Army 14-13 for the frame and had a few golden chances to score but were denied by Abric in net.
Army outshot their guests 10-7 in the second but committed four penalties for 27 minutes of penalty time. The biggest offenders were Brett Abdelnour, who was tossed from the game for a five minute contact to the head major, and Colin Bilek, who served a ten minute unsportsmanlike conduct infraction. Despite the seven minutes of power play time, the Jackets failed to score in the frame.
With a chance to claim the AHA Regular Season Championship, the Yellow Jackets pounded the Army net with their best period of the night, outshooting their hosts 18-7. Despite this push, Hayward, WI, native Gavin Abric held strong, stopping all 18 shots for a game total of 39 saves in his fourth shutout of the season.
AIC drops to 16-11-2 and 15-6-1 in AHA play, still 11 points clear of second placed Canisius College. This is only the second time all season the Jackets have been shutout. Both times have been by Army and Gavin Abric.
The Black Knights shut out AIC for the second time this season and pick up three HUGE @Atlantic_Hockey points in the process
“Right up until the buzzer, I felt like we were getting that thing tied…” mused AIC Head Coach Eric Lang. “We even had a good chance at the buzzer.”
Jake Kucharski stopped 29 shots in the AIC net.
The Yellow Jackets travel to Erie, PA, next weekend to face the Mercyhurst Lakers. One more win secures the third straight AHA Regular Season crown for AIC. Puck drops at the Mercyhurst Ice Center at 7:05 PM on Friday night and 3:05 pm on Saturday afternoon.
Army improves to 12-14-3 and 10-10-2 in AHA play, just two points ahead of RIT for fourth place and a home quarterfinal playoff series in the Conference Tournament.
“That was a good one…” said Abric. “We needed those three points… the guys battled through some adversity. It was great to be back out there tonight.”
Tate Rink hosted a loud crowd of 1589, including General James C. McConville, the Army’s Chief of Staff.
“Everyone remembers last year, you didn’t have those big crowds and you missed it,” observed Eric Butte. “Anytime you can take that crowd and get it on your side and get them on your side it really helps you.”
General McConville spoke to the Army players after the game, informing them that “We play to win here and you made Army proud with your effort tonight.”
Michael Sacco and Daniel Haider recorded the assists on Butte’s goal, their second and eleventh respectively.
“I don’t know why we keep doing it in these two game series; we come out and put ourselves in a tough spot but the guys have always bounced back, been a very resilient group,” commented Army Head Coach Brian Riley. “I never would have thought when we were up 1-0 that that would be the only goal of the game. But Gavin was so calm and cool in goal. I think that goes a long way to calming the guys and making them feel confident.”
Army hits the road next weekend to face the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. Puck drops at 7 PM at the Hart Recreation Center on Thursday and Friday for Army’s final two game road series of the 21-22 regular season. The Black Knights return home to close the regular season on Senior night against the Sacred Heart Pioneers on February 26th.