Air Force Blanks RIT For Another Atlantic Title
by Rebecca Ebert/CHN Reporter
ROCHESTER, N.Y. For the second year in a row, it was goaltender Jason Torf and the Air Force Falcons who came out on top in the Atlantic Hockey championship game with a shutout. The Falcons held the Tigers at bay for the 4-0 win and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs for the fifth time in six years on Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
"Last year in the championship, we had to win a 1-0 game. It all starts with defense. Defense has got to be your foundation," said Falcons coach Frank Serratore. "Next week we're going to go out and play somebody's (that's) No. 1 and if we think we're going to go out and beat them 6-5 or 7-6, it ain't happening."
The Falcons took a one-goal lead over the Tigers with 4:45 left in the first on a wrap-around goal by freshman right-winger Cole Gunner. However, Air Force wasn't done building a lead. Just over a minute later, Air Force netted another on an even-strength backhander by junior forward John Kruse, his 16th goal of the season, who is second in scoring for the Falcons this season.
"We wanted to take out their crowd as early as possible. We knew they were going to be physical and really work hard those first ten minutes to get the first one, so getting that one was huge," said Air Force co-captain and left-winger Paul Weisgarber. "We've been working that back wall play a lot, so I knew someone would be there. It's to the point were you don't have to look all the time, you just trust your teammate is going to be there. Sure enough Gunner was flying and took it around and stuffed it home."
Air Force extended its lead to three goals, on a pass across the front of the RIT net from forward Tony Thomas to fellow sophomore Jason Fabian, netting his eighth goal on the season. Falcons goaltender, Jason Torf, ranked fourth overall in the nation with a 1.83 GAA, recorded his third shutout of the season.
"I struggled last week to get wins, this week that's all it was about to me. I try to play the game like it's always a 0-0 game, whether we're losing or winning, I just have to keep that state of mind," Torf said. "It's a great thing to have, but I can promise you this, it's a lot easier to play with the lead and have guys willing to sit back and just play some strong defense."
As time was ticking down, the Tigers made a last ditch effort by pulling the goaltender for the extra attacker with 1:59 left in the game. However, it was Torf and crew that stopped every shot from RIT to win the game and record back-to-back shutouts in AHA championship games.
RIT hasn't won the AHA title since their win in 2010 when they made it to the NCAA Frozen Four. Goaltender Shane Madolora, who recorded the most shutouts in the nation with seven, is eligible to return to the ice as an RIT Tiger next season, but has made it fairly certain that he will not be returning.
"I've been feeling the whole year like it's time to start moving on with my life. I'm probably one of the oldest players in college hockey, it's getting to that time where it's time to explore other avenues and move forward," said Madolora.
The Falcons, who have been a stubborn first-round opponent for many NCAA teams, including a win over Michigan in 2009, will move on to next weekend, where they will most likely face Boston College, the nation's hottest team.