Redemption For Air Force in Winning 6th Atlantic Hockey Title
by Andy Lipari/CHN Reporter
ROCHESTER, N.Y. Air Force had been the powerhouse of Atlantic Hockey from 2007-2012, winning five of six titles. But the last four years haven’t been kind to the Falcons, with their season coming to an end in the quarterfinals three straight years, before dropping to RIT in the semifinals last year.
That changed Saturday. With the score tied, 1-1, Jordan Himley scored the go-ahead goal with 31 seconds left in the second period, as No. 2 Air Force was able to cap off a season back to their championship ways with a 2-1 win over No. 4 Robert Morris at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Just a few weeks ago, Air Force was smarting over allowing a late goal to Sacred Heart then losing in overtime on the last day of the regular season, costing itself the title. But in the postseason, the Falcons redeemed themselves.
Air Force head coach Frank Serratore gave a message to his team comparing Robert Morris to his Air Force team a year ago.
“Robert Morris is a good team, they’re like where we were last year and their day is going to come,” Serratore said. “But I told our guys this is not their time, this is our time. They are us last year, this is our time.
“To be honest, we knew this was going to happen, but it wasn’t going to happen until next year. We were thin in our upperclassmen. College hockey is a men’s league and it’s hard to win with young teams.”
The western New York air must fit the Falcons well, moving to 12-2 all time at Blue Cross Arena, and 6-0 in championship games.
Air Force (26-9-5) earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament despite only having 14 shots on goal. However, it was able to ride the No. 5-ranked defense in the nation (2.18 goals per game) and held the Colonials (21-12-4) to 25 shots, with only three coming in the first period.
Falcons goaltender Shane Starrett made 24 saves, a night after making 29 saves to shutout No. 3 Army in the semifinals.
“With him in our net, he makes us a great team,” Serratore said “He gives us a chance to win every night. This is his team.”
Starrett said he and the defense feed off the other to play with confidence.
“I think we both have confidence in each other that when they’re not there, I’ll be there for them,” said Starrett. “At the same time, they’re going to be there to bail me out when I can’t get there at times. I can play with confidence knowing they’re going to block to grade-A chances and be there for me when I need them.”
The ultimate challenge for the Falcons came with seven minutes to go when they had to rely on the No. 1 penalty-killing unit in the country, against a Robert Morris power play that is ranked seventh in the country.
Starrett and the Falcons stood tall and kept the Colonials out of the net.
“The power plays didn’t do much but the penalty kill came through and it had to come through,” said Serratore. “To be honest with you, our penalty kill has been so darn good we feel more comfortable with that than a 5-on-6 situation or something like that.”
Erik Baskin scored first for Air Force 1:15 into the game to give the Falcons an early lead.
Ben Robillard got Robert Morris on the board with his six goal of the year with 3:58 left in the second period, jamming in a rebound to tie it 1-1.
While Air Force celebrates, Robert Morris is left think, what if.
Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley wiped away tears throughout his press conference because he thought his team played enough to win.
“Last year when we were in the same position I didn’t think we gave a championship performance; I thought tonight we gave a championship performance,” Schooley said. “I thought we were outstanding. We had some first period jitters but there isn’t much I can fault about our game. The chances were few and far between, both ways.”
“We deserved better. Last year we didn’t deserve it. Last year, RIT deserved it, but we deserved better. This has been my most fun year coaching, and I thought we deserved better.”
Schooley made clear the Falcons also played a great game and earned their championship, and not saying Air Force didn’t deserve their title.
As a result of winning the title, Air Force not only got the autobid to the NCAAs, but will be a 3 seed, finishing 12th overall in the Pairwise.
“We’ve beaten good teams and there’s nobody we’re going to play that’s going to intimidate us,” said Serratore. “We schedule those games for a reason. We play those games to prepare ourselves for this moment. We know we’re going to be playing a (darn) good hockey team next Friday or Saturday, but with that, we also know we can compete with the best in the country.”