Air Force Recovering From Slow Start
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Writer
At the beginning of the season, Air Force was supposed to be the favorite to win the Atlantic Hockey title. And, as Atlantic Hockey's NCAA tournament representative five of the last six years, that stands to reason.
But things did not get off to a good start for the Falcons, who were 3-7-3 by December.
“We weren’t together as a team in the locker room. We weren’t together as a team on the ice,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “It wasn’t about coaches and it wasn’t about tactics. It was about an attitude.”
But it wasn’t just Serratore who noticed. The seniors, who have won two Atlantic Hockey titles, also noticed something wasn’t right in the locker room.
“Some of the guys weren’t always as excited to come down to the rink and practice,” senior Kyle De Laurell said. “It was just an attitude change more than anything.”
While it wasn’t every player, there were those players had trouble “accepting roles, embracing roles and playing as a team,” according to Serratore.
A players meeting was held before the Falcons trip to Bentley.
“(We) talked about all the things, what we liked about our team, what we didn’t like and what direction we wanted to head,” De Laurell said.
That weekend the Falcons showed signs of life, taking three points from Bentley. But both Serratore and De Laurell knew that the changes weren’t going to immediately turn things around. Following the holiday break, the Falcons went 1-1 at the Mariucci Classic, getting shut out by Minnesota and blowing out Alabama-Huntsville
But since the start of the New Year, things have started to click. The Falcons have gone 5-2-2, vaulting themselves from eighth place to third and right into the thick of a tightly-contested Atlantic Hockey race.
“If you look at what’s happened during our run, we’re getting offensive production from every line, and defensively, our ‘D’ corps is improving,” Serratore said. “Our ‘D’ was not good early in the year. Our ‘D’ corps is playing better now. Our team defense is better.”
Since the calendar turned to 2013, the Falcons have surrendered more than three goals just once, a 4-3 loss at Niagara, which has been pretty unstoppable this season. The defensive crackdown starts in net with Jason Torf.
“He’s not playing any better now than he was earlier, it’s just that we’re a better team in front of him,” Serratore said.
Along with playing better defensively, the Falcons have started to find their scoring touch. The Falcons averaged 3.85 goals a game in January, one goal more than they did during their struggles in October and November.
“It’s never been one guy carrying the team. It’s been a collection of one guy stepping up every night,” De Laurell said. “That’s how we’ve been to consistently win.”
While De Laurell is quick to point out that it’s been a team effort, it’s hard to ignore what he has done for this team. The senior has recorded at least one point in seven of the Falcons nine games in 2013 (seven goals, two assists). Fellow senior Stephen Carew has also turned it on at the right time with points in six of the last nine games (eight assists).
While the Falcons have worked hard to climb back in the standings, there is still a lot more work to be done. Just four points separate Air Force from 10th place RIT.
“We got a lot of hockey left to play,” Serratore said. “We could be back in eighth place in a week if we slip. ... If you take care of the little things and get points every weekend, the standings take care of themselves.”
While the Falcons failed to do that this past weekend against American International, they still have eight games left to make up those points. They’ll have to start this weekend at Mercyhurst, which sits just one point ahead of the the Falcons.
“We know that we still have a long way,” De Laurell said. “We still haven’t played our best hockey yet.”