The Falcons had a wild ride last season, their first in Atlantic Hockey. Coach Frank Serratore’s squad was never able to string together more than two wins in a row until February, playing musical goaltenders to try to the shore up a defense to support the high flying line of Mike Phillipich, Andrew Ramsey and Hobey Baker Finalist Eric Ehn.
But then walk-on goalie Ben Worker put together a nice string of wins late in the season and the Falcons, after a fifth-place regular-season finish, got hot in the postseason, rallying to beat Sacred Heart in the quarterfinals and then dominating rival Army to win the league title. The dream ended with a hard-fought 4-3 loss to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Playing the way we did in that game with Minnesota was good for our confidence, but it wasn’t good enough to win,” said Serratore. “We have to find a way to win those games. We’ve played plenty of good opponents close but haven’t been able to get the win. That’s the next step.”
Last season, the Falcons had one-goal losses to Colorado College and Denver, and a two-goal loss against Notre Dame.
This season, Air Force will host Quinnipiac and Denver, as well as travel to the Dodge Holiday Classic, where the Falcons will play Boston College in the first round and then either league rival RIT or the host Minnesota Gophers. Serratore says he was hoping to draw the Gophers in the tournament’s first round.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “I set this up three years ago and was told it would work that way, I wanted the kids on my roster from Minnesota to play the Gophers at Mariucci. Every kid growing up playing hockey in Minnesota wants that chance.”
Air Force might still get its shot depending on the way things fall out. Good things can always happen when you have one of the best players in college hockey on your roster. Senior Eric Ehn exploded onto the national scene last year, tallying 64 points. He was not only a Hobey Baker finalist; he was one of the “Hobey Hat Trick” and a dark-horse candidate to win the award.
Two-thirds of Ehn’s line stays intact with the return of junior Phillipich (44 points), but Ramsey (48 points) has graduated. Last season, Jeff Hajner spent some time on that line, but Serratore says sophomore Matt Fairchild will step into Ramsey’s spot.
Sophomore Andrew Volkening has won the starting role in net, hoping to alleviate Serratore’s biggest headache last season — inconsistency in goal.
“He’s our guy,” he said. “He’s ready and we have all confidence in the world in him.”
When asked to highlight a couple of his newcomers, Serratore declined.
“We’ll see who rises to the top,” he said. “We’re not expecting a lot from the new players right off the bat. No freshman is going to be higher than the third line or the third set of defensemen. We want to give them time to develop.”
With the many skilled upperclassmen that Serratore has, that sounds like a good plan.