Caple Finally Gets Chance to Fly
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter
For three years, Stephen Caple served as the backup goaltender for Air Force. For two of those years, he was stuck behind Andrew Volkening, arguably the best player ever to suit up at Air Force. Last year he lost out to then-freshman Jason Torf for the starting job.
But Caple has finally gotten his break in his final year at the academy.
Torf was penciled in to be the starter this year. But on Oct. 8, Torf left the Falcons’ game against Michigan State with a groin strain. He hasn’t played since and is out indefinitely.
“I look at it as an opportunity to step in and help the team. I didn’t know how long it might be, or how long it will be at this point,” Caple said. “Each day is another opportunity to improve and help the team.”
Torf’s injury has opened the door for Caple. He has gone 5-2-2 since, including a seven-game unbeaten streak that ended with the Falcons’ loss at RIT on Nov 11.
“All those years of hard work and staying on task have paid off,” Caple said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to the team a little more this year.”
He has done more than that already, helping Air Force jump out to an early lead in the Atlantic Hockey standings and keeping the Falcons in games.
“He’s given us 90-plus percent goaltending. That’s all we ask of our goalies is to give us 90-plus percent,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We haven’t asked him to win any games for us yet but he hasn’t lost any games for us yet either."
It doesn’t hurt that the Falcons have one of the best offense in Atlantic Hockey, averaging 2.82 goals per game, second in the league behind Holy Cross.
Even with that offensive support, Caple has held his own. His 1.97 goals against average ranks second in Atlantic Hockey. But Serratore doesn’t believe Caple has one particular skill that has made him successful this season.
“Steve has played solid. He hasn’t had to win any games for us but he hasn’t lost any games. What he’s done is he’s simply gone in and done the job to the best of his abilities,” Serratore said.
In the past three years, Caple played in just 13 games and won four of them. This season, Caple has already started nine games and won five.
“As long as he plays with consistency and gives us 90 percent goaltending, he's going to play,” Serratore said.
Even though there might be some pressure stepping into the starting role, Caple doesn’t mind.
“It’s a welcomed opportunity and a relief that I have a chance to prove myself at a much higher level this time,” Caple said.
But not playing a lot for the past three seasons has taught Caple some things, especially about dealing with difficult situations.
“The main thing is to keep a good attitude and work through all the ups and downs,” Caple said.
And those lessons have proved useful this season. Whenever the Falcons have fallen behind in games, Caple has been there to keep the opponents at bay and give his team a chance to come back. In the five games that the Falcons have let their opponents score first, they have only lost twice.
When, or if, Torf comes back this season, Serratore could have a goalie competition on his hands, which is exactly how he likes it.
“I don’t see it as a bad thing,” Serratore said. “This is Division I hockey. If you don’t dig competition you probably shouldn’t be here.
“There’s nothing wrong with any player knowing that the guy standing in line behind him is a pretty good and competent player.”