Air Force Dancing Again
Falcons Return to the National Stage
by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
By now, you have probably heard of Air Force's magical run to the NCAA tournament last year. It was the first service academy to make the NCAAs.
You remember the story of an inconsistent team who put it together when it mattered, who, along with their Hobey Hat Trick candidate, was Cinderella, coming within five minutes of upsetting Minnesota in front of a home crowd in Colorado.
After perhaps being swept up amidst the fervor, did you keep track of them this year, as it — along with every other team in Atlantic Hockey — struggled to get on a successful streak, gaining anywhere from one to three points in a weekend — nothing more, nothing less?
Or maybe you did, but bid adieu to the Fighting Falcons when they lost said Hobey candidate, Eric Ehn, to a broken leg in early January in a game against the Colorado College Tigers.
"Let's face it, there were a lot of people thinking that Air Force's plane just got shot down when we lost Eric Ehn," said head coach Frank Serratore. "We struggled for a few games. When you lose a guy like Eric Ehn, the culture of your team changes — it just does; the culture changes and your go-to-guy, the guy that goes over the boards first on the power plays, to take face-offs — he's no longer there. Okay, now what do we do?"
The Falcons lost that CC game, 2-1, and then continued to lose by continual 2-1 margins to rival Army.
If by this point you had officially given up, you should sieve yourself, since the best was yet to come.
"We went to Mercyhurst shortly after that and lost 2-1; 3-1 with an empty net and it was like, are we ever going to score again?" said Serratore.
"Then we beat Mercyhurst 7-0. We scored seven goals without Eric Ehn and from there, the team just seemed to get their legs under them and we went on quite a roll. We went on a better roll than we have when we had Eric Ehn, going 9-1-2 in our last 12 and unbeaten in our last nine."
Still without Ehn and rolling, the Falcons went into Rochester for the Atlantic Hockey tournament and won it all, earning themselves another ticket into the national dance.
"I think that legitimized our team," said Serratore. "Not only are we not a one-hit wonder, we're not a one-man band, either and it takes a good team; it takes a successful team to win championships and I think what we've accomplished again validated that we've got some other pretty good players in our line-up other than Eric Ehn."
The victories in Rochester against RIT and Mercyhurst also helped, in Serratore's eyes, validate last year's league title.
"Last year, obviously, RIT won the regular season and weren't allowed to play in the post-season," he said. "So, there was a little bit of a question on whether Air Force would have made it to the national tournament. Basically, they had their same team back [this year].
"Just to go in and take care of them 5-0, that really validated our championship of the league last year."
Now, ticket punched and validated, Serratore's Falcons are ready and eager to dance again — even if they're not playing quite so close to home.
"It would have been nice being here in the Springs and it would have been fun playing the Tigers," he said. "It's fun for us to be able to take a run at the big dog — in which we are with Miami and [it would have] been the same thing with CC. We're in the situation of the underdog where we've got everything to gain and not a whole lot to lose."
Rather, thanks to the narrow 4-3 loss to the Golden Gophers last year, Air Force it can do more than just be happy with their participant ribbon.
"I don't think our experience playing Minnesota is going to help us against Miami," Serratore acknowledged. "Now, with that, I have to say playing Minnesota last year, playing Goliath last year and giving them more than just a run for their money, I think that that is helping us right now saying, "you know what? Miami, they've won 30-plus games playing in a big-time league but you know what? They ain't any better than Minnesota was last year".
"We can put ourselves back in that same position that we were last year," he continued. "[The team] is believers that it can happen, but it's going to be a different team, a different game against a different opponent and let me tell you, if Minnesota took us for granted last year — which I don't think they did, but Miami? No way."
Knowing the odds, Air Force is once again Cinderella, hoping for midnight to come a little bit later and for the dance to last a little bit longer.