Head coach Frank Serratore didn’t expect his Air Force Falcons to set any records for victories last year. After all, his 2003-04 squad saw the turnover of nearly half of its roster from the previous season, and that club recorded just 10 wins.
“Last year we came back and we were kind of dreading the season in some ways,” said Serratore, now in his eighth year with the academy. “We ended up winning 14 Division I games, which tied a school record. We got a lot of miles out of that team last year. This is the second year of our rebuild, and hopefully we can still salvage a good season from it.”
There were plenty of pleasant surprises for the Falcons last season, though. Wins over NCAA tournament participants Miami and Holy Cross were highlights for the club, which posted a respectable 8-8-1 mark outside of the CHA.
“In the history of the program here, the nearly 40 years of Air Force hockey, Air Force had never beaten a team that made the NCAA tournament. We beat two teams last year,” Serratore said.
But it wasn’t just team success that pleased the coach. Several youngsters stepped into the lineup to play prominent roles, and Serratore believes those strong performances should continue during this campaign.
“We have that good freshman line with Andrew Ramsey, Theo Zacour and Brandon Merkowsky,” he said. “That might have been our top offensive line last year as freshmen.”
That evenly-balanced trio (Ramsey and Zacour both recorded 17 points, Merkowsky picked up 16) will form the cornerstone of the Air Force offense, after the losses of Spanky Leonard and Shane Saum — the club’s top two scorers last season — to graduation.
On a more positive note, junior Mike Knaeble returns after finishing third on the team with 20 points (8-12) last season. He’ll be joined by seniors Ryan Wiggins and Seth Pelletier to give the Falcons’ forwards a veteran presence.
Captains Steve Mead and Brooks Turnqvist will fill the same role on the blueline. They’ll be looked to by sophomores Brian Gineo, who collected the team’s top rookie award last year, and linemate Bill Devoney.
“They did a good job,” Serratore said. “We need for them to take the next step.”
Peter Foster took a back seat to senior goaltender Mike Polidor last year, despite posting better numbers in goals against average and save percentage. Foster’s six wins were also just two fewer than Polidor’s total, while he appeared in 12 fewer games.
“Peter’s our guy coming back,” said Serratore, while still cautioning that he’s not a lock to hold down the top spot all season. “We’ve got a freshman in Ian Harper who played in Springfield, Ill., last year. We feel that Ian’s going to push Peter for playing time.”
Serratore has put together a solid core group for the upcoming year, something Air Force has been lacking for the past several seasons. Still, he feels the 2004-05 edition of the Falcons will be just a preview of good things to come.
“Overall we’re going to have a pretty young team. I would be shocked if we don’t have 12 or 13 freshmen and sophomores in the lineup every night,” he said. “We think we’re a year away.”