When Eric Ehn broke his leg on January 19 of last season, many saw the Air Force Falcons’ chances of repeating as Atlantic Hockey champions carried off on a stretcher with him. Ehn had been a Hobey Hat Trick finalist the year before, and was the reigning Player of the Year in the AHA.
The Falcons did indeed go into a funk after, getting swept by arch rival Army and having to settle for a tie against Bentley at home. But after that, Air Force suffered only two losses the rest of the way, winning the AHA playoff title and taking Miami to the limit, falling 3-2 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
What the Falcons were able to accomplish without Ehn, who did play in the loss to Miami, bodes well for this season now that he has graduated.
“No question that what we accomplished without Eric was big for us,” said Falcon coach Frank Serratore. “It showed we weren’t a one-man band.”
Two players that stepped up their game last season and have to be counted on again are senior forward Brett Olson and junior goalie Andrew Volkening. Both were superb down the stretch.
Volkening played in all 39 games last season, posting a 2.08 GAA and a .911 save percentage, both school records. After competing with three other goalies for playing time as a freshman, Volkening got the start in the 2007 Atlantic Hockey final and has rarely left the net since.
“That was the gutsiest decision ever made by this coaching staff,” Serratore recalled. “(Ben) Worker had done the job for us but didn’t look good in the semifinal (a 5-4 overtime win over Sacred Heart). “Andrew had lost the (starting) job and hadn’t played for a month. But he had been working hard and looking good in practice.”
Serratore’s hunch paid off and he expects Volkening to again carry the load.
“He’s an unassuming guy who comes to work every day,” Serratore said. “He leads by example. All our upperclassmen do.”
Olson, who led the team in goals last season (18), is another example. He was bounced off the team for grades his sophomore year, but returned with a vengeance last season, getting results on and off the ice.
“He’s really developed here,” said Serratore. “He’s transformed himself physically and mentally. With Brett it’s all about the work ethic.
“There’s not a bad player in the junior and senior classes. All lead by example. This team definitely belongs to the upperclassmen.”
That group also includes all-conference defenseman Greg Flynn and forwards Jeff Hajney (38 points) and junior Matt Fairchild (29 points). In all, the Falcons return 11 of their top 13 scorers and four defenseman.
“It’s going to be a real battle (to repeat),” said Serratore. “Every team has a good goalie and every team can beat you. We didn’t get a sweep at home all season until the playoffs.
“We need to play our system and bring our new players along. If we do that, we’ll be O.K.”