The Friars are meticulously spending a three-week, no-game gap physically retooling and strategically fostering in preparation for an excursion to the illustrious Great Lakes Invitational at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, the site where Army captained the Friars to their last of two Frozen Four appearances.
Though not one to divert too far from the task at hand, the coach admitted that this holiday treat means cracking open a class-of-its-own memory album.
“This will be an enjoyable trip for a lot of reasons,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “It does bring back some good memories for me as a player and a coach.”
Army proceeded to briefly recall his senior year as a PC puckster, when he personally bagged the inaugural Hockey East scoring title and successively piloted the Friars to Motown, where they fell short in the title tilt to RPI, 2-1. Additionally, Army has had some momentous brushes with the Red Wings, having been a sidekick skipper for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997 and the Cinderella Washington Capitals of 1998.
“That was a really great time for our franchise,” he said of both experiences, one wherein the Ducks won their first ever playoff round and the other when the Caps trekked to their first Stanley Cup Final before submitting to the dynastic pupils of Scotty Bowman.
Swooping back to the present, Army hopes to use the college game’s most popularly acclaimed holiday tournament to similarly advance the Friar Hockey tag.
“(Previous head coach) Paul Pooley had already received a commitment (to the GLI),” he recalls. “So when I took over in 2005 and was given the schedule, this was on the horizon. It’s obviously very exciting.”
But the short, simple truth of the matter is it won’t be easy. As of Monday's polls, all three GLI staples –Michigan, Michigan State, and Michigan Tech- are all in the spotlight. While Providence earned its first honorable mention of the year, receiving a cumulative 7 votes from the USCHO panel after its overriding home impressions against Brown and Union, Michigan Tech leads the unranked reckonables with 58 votes.
Meantime, the Wolverines, lined up with the Friars for Day 1 of the tournament, only recently usurped the top slot in the nation from CCHA rival Miami-Ohio. The defending national champion Spartans are rigidly clutching the #5 position.
Come what may, the third-year PC coach declared that he has finally adjusted comfortably to the college game’s customary December deceleration, which has been backed nicely by his team’s 3-0 transcript and 17-2 goal differential between Thanksgiving and exams.
Now, Army says, the forthcoming agenda –informal skates, a hefty helping of gym activity, a four-to-five-day home respite, “an intense practice” on Boxing Day, and a subsequent skate in Detroit- should effectively preserve the recent magic and warm up his squad to the unchartered, vibrant western pool.
“We’ll utilize our time effectively,” he said. “I feel really good with how we’re using our time.
“All three teams in that tournament are having great years, they’re very deep,” he observed. “Whoever you play is gonna be very good, and it’s a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity for our program to try and improve on a game-to-game basis.
“We will have had four formal practices (between now and then), but I think it will be a good break for us. It came at a really good time.”
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press