By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s been a long time since Matthew Beirnes played against the U.S. Military Academy Black Knights.
It was four years ago, in the first game of the series revival, and it was an inauspicious day for the Royal Military College Paladins. Beirnes shared the goaltending duty as the visitors were schooled like misbehaving plebes, 9-1 at West Point, N.Y.
Beirnes gets an unexpected shot at redemption Saturday, unexpected for the circuitous path that brought him back to the RMC crease, and for the fact that this will be his first game since November.
Beirnes is unconcerned about the layoff.
“I’m sure in the first couple of minutes (may be uncomfortable),” he said, “but once you touch the puck a few times the rust rubs off.
“It’s not as big has having three years away from playing at this level. I think I can handle a couple of minutes.”
The three-year layoff came after Beirnes graduated from RMC in the spring of 2012, not long after he and Andrew Fleming were peppered in the Paladins’ first game with West Point after a five-year hiatus. A combat engineer by trade, and now a captain in the Canadian Forces, Beirnes spent a year in Gagetown, N.B., and two in Petawawa before he was sponsored by the Directorate of Land Requirements to return to the college to pursue a Masters degree in structural engineering.
Beirnes recalled his only previous contact with Army as “not our best game.”
“It was a little overwhelming going to West Point for the first time, seeing everything there, and they’re really good in their own building.
“It’s great,” he said, to have another crack at Army.
“It’s nice that it’s here at home, so the whole school can come. It’s not the same as playing in our own rink. You don’t really get home ice advantage at the K-Rock Centre, but it’s still nice being (in Kingston). It’s always fun to play games in front of big crowds.”
Beirnes is getting the start, RMC coach Richard Lim explained, because as a fifth-year senior, it’s his last chance to face West Point. As a rookie, Matthew Murphy, who has acquitted himself splendidly in the past five games—with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage, with two of those opponents ranked in the top 10—will have other opportunities.
In the time since he left RMC, Beirnes, originally from Barrie, Ont, played on the Petawawa base team in regional and national competitions, “but nothing compares to this level.”
“It’s pretty high quality hockey.”
He expects nothing less from Army on Saturday night.
“We know they’re a fast team, and they work hard. All NCAA teams are fast, they move the puck well, and they’ll be physical, too.
“It’s a pretty intense rivalry. Even though they’re not doing that great in their league, everyone puts it all on the line in this game.”