West: Friday Notebook
by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
Sharing a Playbook
Before the WCHA Final Five championship game against North Dakota last weekend, Minnesota coach Don Lucia quipped that, given the consensus of the media, his Golden Gophers had no chance in the game which they later won 3-2.
Now it seems as if Lucia's old friend and Air Force Academy coach Frank Serratore is taking a page out of the same playbook.
"Break down this Minnesota team for me? Do you want me to break into a sweat right now?" said Serratore when asked by press to break down the Gophers.
Of course, from there Serratore went on to enclose hints of what he's been working on with his Falcons.
"We are focusing on a few things within their game that we have to watch out for; just tendencies on their forecheck, tendencies on their power play. But for the most part, we're just going to have to be good at what we do in our game.
"We have got to be a difficult team to play against on Saturday or else it's going to be a long afternoon."
Experience ... It's all Relative
It's known that in the playoffs, there is no substitute for experience — something the Falcons don't have being the first service academy to ever make the NCAA tournament, and something the team knows.
"I can go over to Wal-Mart and I can buy everything there except for experience," said Serratore. "We're going to have to get that on the run on Saturday."
Despite not having actual NCAA experience, the team isn't necessarily worried.
"We have to take it in stride and just act like we've been there and we've all been in big games before in our careers and I think you approach them the same way you do as other games," said senior captain Andrew Ramsey.
"We already know how to play Denver and CC and Notre Dame and those big hockey programs in the country this year," said senior Billy Devoney, referencing top-tier programs the Falcons have played this year. "We have more than just a shot at taking down Minnesota.
"We've always been the type of team that gets up and plays really well against those upper-echelon teams. We show up for those games."
With a little tweaking by the NCAA, Air Force got to stay at "home" for the tournament to play in the West Regional rather than get sent to Grand Rapidsto play Notre Dame. As a result, the Falcons will get to feel more than a little love from the home crowd.
"The Air Force section is going to be wherever there isn't Minnesota fans because I'll guarantee you the North Dakota fans, the Michigan fans, and of course all the hockey fans that go there that just come off the streets in Colorado, whether they're Air Force fans or not, will be pulling for us," said Serratore.
"It's definitely awesome to be able to play in front of essentially a home crowd and be close enough that most of our fans could make it up to Denver and come to the Pepsi Center and watch us play," agreed Devoney.
... Yet Still Road-Team Underdog
Despite playing a "home" game, the Falcons are still the low-seed in the tournament and therefore, the underdogs in the tournament — a role the players have no problem in embracing.
"I think they better because they have no choice," said Serratore. "It's not even worth discussing because it is what it is.
"Keep in mind, obviously we're not talking Minnesota, but we were the lower seed in two of the three games that we won in the playoffs and I think that's what kind of made what the players were able to accomplish that much more improbable because we were not a high seed and we didn't get the last changes in those two games in Rochester.
"To be honest with you, we're going into the NCAA tournament the way we went into the AHA Final Four; we're going as the low seed and we only have to bring one set of jerseys up to Denver."
Being the first service academy to make the NCAAs, Serratore has been receiving many e-mails from Air Force fans and alumni. However, he's also gotten e-mails from a few other places as a result of the Falcons' feel-good story.
"Another thing that makes you feel good is the amount of hockey fans, the Avalanche fans that have e-mailed me, the CC fans that have e-mailed me, the DU fans that have e-mailed, I mean it's just great to know — everybody's pulling for us," he said.
"I'm sure if CC was in, Scott [Owens] wouldn't be getting letters from DU fans and if DU was in, George [Gwozdecky] wouldn't be getting them from CC fans."
Since his team is playing the Gophers, he's also gotten some e-mails from admitted Gopher-haters — North Dakota fans.
"I got a scouting report from one of them," he said, and he described the end of one particularly salty e-mail as being "and when you win, I'll send you my Holy Cross t-shirt."
Given their performance in Rochester, the Falcons will carry a quiet confidence along with their hockey gear into Pepsi Center this weekend.
"A lot of us went into [Rochester] knowing that we weren't really given the credit, but silently we kind of had that confidence within our team and within all the players that we all had a feeling that we were going to win the tournament," said Devoney.
"I was expecting a lot more nerves in the Army game and that game seriously had more implications than this game does," said Ramsey. "I think it was that visualization of how the game's going to go and what's going to happen that gave us sort of a cool confidence going into the game saying, 'Hey, you know what? I think no matter what happens in the first period of this game, we're going to have the confidence to make sure that we win in the end'."
"You just get a read on the guys and it's almost like a quiet confidence and everybody's really excited," added Devoney. "We're all happy to have the opportunity — our first game like this — to get a shot at the bid dogs, get a shot at Minnesota, the number one team in the country."
"There's no other way to do it."
Pressure? What Pressure?
As a result of that confidence, Ramsey and his teammates go into the West Regional with a light load.
"I don't think there's a lot of pressure — I don't feel that way anways," he said. "I would feel a lot more pressure if I was in Minnesota's spot and going in number one seed again and having the fear of being knocked off by a 15th or 16th ranked team."
"We're definitely going to go out there taking our swings and I think we're all pretty confident that if we do that, really, really good things can happen," said Devoney.
For, if the Falcons do win, Serratore said, "I'd like to think it wouldn't be a miracle."