Torf Trying to Make His Own Mark
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Before the question is even asked, Josh Torf has to laugh.
He knows where this is going. He's heard this one before. It is all so predictable — another question about Andrew Volkening.
"His name gets tossed around a lot and so does that game," Torf said Thursday after his team's skate around at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard for the East Regional.
The game Torf is alluding to is Air Force's upset of top-seeded Michigan in the 2009 NCAA Tournament East Regional at Bridgeport. Volkening made 43 saves and helped seal the Falcons' first NCAA tournament win in school history with a 2-0 victory over the Wolverines after two previous attempts.
"[Volkening] is a pretty famous guy at the academy and that game is pretty historic," Torf said.
But the freshman from Hermosa Beach, California is ready for his day — his moment.
That comes Friday against top-seeded Yale.
Torf gets his chance to go all-Volkening, in the same building where his predecessor went to work, at 6:30 p.m. today in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Air Force (20-11-6) defeated RIT in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament final to get back to the tournament for the fourth time in five seasons.
For Torf, it is a journey that nearly didn't happen.
After graduating from Culver Academy in Indiana last spring, Torf was all set to play a year of junior hockey. But something didn't feel right for Air Force coach Frank Serratore. So Serratore delayed Torf's move to juniors.
"[Torf] has been a great surprise for us," Serratore said. "We actually committed him and he was supposed to play another year of junior hockey. But I just wasn't confident with what we had and I thought we needed to have three guys competing for the job. I just didn't feel good about it. So we brought him in a year early and it's a good thing we did."
Serratore isn't kidding. Torf is 16-8 and has a 2.90 goals against average and .908 save percentage to make him the best in Atlantic Hockey among freshman goalies.
"[Torf] has been very good for us but he's not Superman," Serratore said. "He'll play as good as we play in front of him."
Throughout the last four weeks, that level of play has been plenty high. The Falcons have eight games in a row dating back to Feb. 18 and got two shutouts from Torf.
Still, Torf, who is 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, knows the NCAA tournament requires another gear and admits Volkening had the upper hand in that department.
"He had quite a few inches on me and he could use that to his advantage," Torf said. "He played a little deeper in his net and he was able to. He was a big kid that moved quietly."
That is where the two differ.
"I tend to be a little all over the place — I'm just trying to stop the puck out there," Torf said. "[Volkening] had more technique than I did but there are pros and cons to both ways."
Torf's self-described chaotic style will get its biggest test of the year against Yale's top-rated offense. But it's not like the freshman hasn't seen it before. On Nov. 14, Torf made 34 saves and watched his Falcons score four unanswered goals in the third period to beat Yale 4-3 in a dramatic comeback.
Torf has sharpened his own game since that performance. He says he has improved his positioning and his overall patience. But in the rematch, he knows he will need the same kind of support as before.
"Volkening could steal one for you," Serratore said. "This kid is a good goalie but he's human and our guys I hope have learned he will play as good as we play in front of him. And we're obviously going to have to play very good in front of him with all that firepower Yale has."
It is challenge — no matter how daunting — that Torf has waited for all season.
"It would be unbelievable to get a tournament win and maybe with it people would stop comparing [me and Volkening]," Torf said.