Air Forces Flies Into Another AH Title Game
CHN Staff Report
ROCHESTER, N.Y. Air Force has gotten so accustomed to winning in Rochester, that head coach Frank Serratore is still able to recycle his best lines.
"I like Colorado Springs," Serratore said, "but no question we're protecting the air space above Rochester." An oldie but goodie.
The Falcons took a while to get going, but finally did, and defeated Bentley, 3-0, to return to the Atlantic Hockey championship game. Air Force is 10-1 all-time in the AHA Tournament and 5-0 all-time in the Blue Cross Arena. The 26 wins are the most in Air Force history, passing the previous mark of 25 set in 1971-72.
Senior Matt Fairchild scored two goals, despite battling the flu, and Andrew Volkening made 26 saves for the win. Now Air Force will play Saturday for a chance to go to its third straight NCAA tournament.
"He was going to go as hard as he could for as long as he could," said linemate Jeff Hajner, who assisted on all three AF goals, of Fairchild.
Fairchild's first goal came at 10:56 of the second period to break the 0-0 tie. He took an outlet pass from Michael Mayra on the left wing, chipped the puck down the boards to himself, raced past defenseman Ryan Kayfes, and fought through his hook before scoring.
"He's definitely the fastest player in the league," Hajner said. "He has professional speed. He does things a lot of players in this league can't do because of his speed."
Bentley, meanwhile, fell to 19-17-2, finishing a nonetheless successful season that saw it finish above .500 for the first time in its Division I existence.
"I thought we had our chances tonight,” said head coach Ryan Soderquist. “We just didn’t get any bounces."
On the other hand, this is where Air Force was supposed to be. After two straight AHA titles, it started the season with 12 straight wins, including one against Colorado College. It threatened to run roughshod through the league, but went through some hiccups in the middle of the league schedule, and pulled out the No. 1 seed on the last day. Then, the Faclons were pushed to three games last weekend by Sacred Heart. But here they are again.
It came despite a slow start. With Air Force’s 20.8 percent power play conversion rate coming into the game, Bentley couldn’t give its opponent too many opportunities. After holding Air Force to an 0-for-4 through the first 37 minutes, Bentley’s fifth penalty of the game with 2:50 left in the second proved to be costly as senior Josh Frider scored.
"It was like a chess match early on, with both teams waiting for someone to make the first mistake," Serratore said.
"I'm not saying, 'Oh, my God, it's 0-0 halfway through the second period. You're sticking with it, sticking with it, sticking with it.
"Competitive patience I call it. Keep coming, keep coming, wait for a bounce."
Kevin Oklobzija contributed to this report.