committment. The time management. The travel. It's hard being
student-athlete. But those demands pale in comparison to being
only one college hockey program in the nation that uses guns
and grenades during dry land training. For Luke Flicek, it
was a perfect fit. Now a sophomore at West Point, the Minnesota
native is at the leading edge of Army's hopeful resurgence,
pacing the Black Knights with eight points and making head
coach Brian Riley crack a smile every now and then.
probably lose $100,000 in tape this year because of him,"
said Riley. "I've never seen anyone tape and re-tape
his stick as often. He'll even re-tape his stick between periods.
And he'll work on his stick for a half-hour before games.
But that's just him. He's one of the most analytical, cerebral
players I've ever coached."
ways have helped him post a team-leading five assists thus
far. They've also helped him survive West Point's off-ice
gauntlet, a test that began with basic training prior to his
was the longest six weeks of my life, no doubt about that,"
said Flicek. "There are some days that you didn't think
it was ever going to end. For a while, you wonder what you
got yourself into but you really don't even have time to think
about that. You don't get much sleep. It's one of those things
that make you appreciate the finer things."
training is just the beginning. As a plebe, or first-year
cadet, you don't speak until spoken to on campus. And you
have certain responsibilities that range from tedious to exhausting
in addition to those you would typically expect on the ice
and in the classroom. Of course, class begins earlier too,
often around 7:25 a.m. And inspection is always looming.
not the same as Anywhere U., but neither is the mission. West
Point builds defenders of the free world, not beer-guzzling
gotten up at 6 a.m. so many times, it isn't a problem any
more," said Flicek.
is brutal. Academically, socially and emotionally, West Point
pushes its cadets to the limits of what they believe can be
accomplished. Then it pushes harder. The strain makes recruiting
athletes a challenge, but it's one that Riley embraces.
school has challenges," he said. "But not every
school has what West Point has to offer. There aren't many
West Point graduates out there struggling to find jobs. And
staying in the Army, with the chance to retire as a colonel
with a full pension at 42, is a good situation."
for bountiful opportunity is part of what swayed Flicek, who
expects to enter the armor or field artillery branch for his
compulsory five-year, post-graduation service stint. But those
weren't the only factors. The campus is stunning, as are the
athletic facilities. One visit makes a major impression.
probably didn't have one player that grew up saying, 'I want
to go to West Point,' but it's all about making them realize
it's an option and a great option at that," said Riley.
"We know that if a player sees West Point first-hand,
there's a really good chance that young man will come here."
just like the academy's unique appeal, Army hockey is also
something special. Only 12 teams have more all-time victories
than the Black Knights, who began play on a frozen pond in
1904. Still, it's been a struggle recently. Army has but one
winning season in its last seven campaigns and was winless
this season when it took the ice Friday to battle Air Force.
considers the Canadian Royal Military College as the Black
Knights' most bitter rival. Flicek says it's the Falcons from
Colorado Springs. There's no team he would rather beat.
kind of a cage match out there," he said.
it was on Friday as the Black Knights dueled with their service
academy rivals for either the 39th or 41st time, depending
on which side you asked. The teams first met in 1969. Army
won 12-4 and 8-0. Air Force claims they were nothing more
than exhibition games.
contest, played on Veterans Day, would count. Not only was
Army seeking its first win of 2005-06, it was also seeking
its first win over Air Force in three games. A sellout crowd
packed Army's Tate Rink and watched a classic as senior goaltender
Brad Roberts blanked the Falcons, 3-0. It marked the first
time Army shut Air Force out since 1996.
The Black Knights completed a series sweep 24 hours later on an overtime goal from Chris Migliaro. Flicek also scored, no doubt reminding Air Force why they competed against Army for his services when he was leading the Texas Tornado in scoring two seasons ago.
It was a magical weekend at West Point, one the Black Knights hope will translate into even better days on the horizon.