COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Air Force Falcons fought hard, but when Colorado College gets off 42 shots on net, some of them are bound to go in. However, in a game that could have been a blowout for the No. 10 Tigers, the Falcons used a stellar goaltending performance to keep the loss a close one, 4-1.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore, “because you dream of knocking off a team like this.”
Air Force skated out strong, getting off three quick shots on net. However, the Tigers swiftly rallied and got on the board at 8:38. Freshman defenseman Andrew Canzanello fired the puck in from the hash marks, and junior center Alex Kim deflected it over to senior winger Justin Morrison, who was waiting by the back door for the tip-in. By the end of the first period, CC was outshooting its northern neighbors 12-4.
Air Force goaltender Marc Kielkucki turned in a strong second-period performance, stopping 17 Tiger shots, but Kim slipped the puck into the corner to put Colorado College up 2-0 at 17:08 of the second. Senior defenseman Mike Colgan assisted on the goal, his fifth assist of the season.
Play came to a complete stop less than two minutes into the third when Air Force forward Shane Saum slammed CC center Noah Clarke into the boards deep into the Falcon zone. Clarke was injured and left the game, while Saum received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. Clarke did return to the game later in the period and is fine, according to CC head coach Scott Owens.
The Tigers took advantage of their lengthy power play. Junior forward Jesse Heerema received the puck from sophomore center Joe Cullen and senior defenseman Mike Colgan and fired it past Kielkucki for the 3-0 lead at 5:48. However, the Falcons recovered less than two minutes later to get on the board. With only the ninth Falcon shot on net, Air Force winger Kyle Fransdal shot the puck top-shelf over Colorado College netminder Colin Zulianello’s glove for the Falcon lamplighter. Junior defenseman Jace Anders assisted on the goal, his eighth helper for the season.
Colorado College was determined to keep its lead, though. On a delayed penalty, the sixth Tiger skater made an impact as Joe Cullen found the back of the net with assistance from senior defenseman Brent Voorhees and Kim to give CC the 4-1 lead, which held through the end of the game.
“I think over time our skill and speed came through,” said Owens. “Air Force played a good, tight-checking game, though.”
“They played better than I thought they would,” said Cullen, who finished the game with a goal and an assist for the Tigers. “Last year we handled them pretty easily, but they were a lot better tonight.”
“Our third goal that came one the five-minute major was huge for us,” said Owens. “It took the wind out of their sails, took the pressure off us a teeny bit, and allowed us to just play.”
“I thought we got a little bit of a bad call on the five-minute major,” said Serratore. “I thought Noah lost his edge and they both collided into the boards. When you’re playing a team like this, you need to keep it close. With that we lost a goal and five minutes.”
Serratore emphasized that Air Force’s goaltending was a major part of the Falcons’ game tonight.
“We have a fabulous goalie, and he gives us a chance to win every night.” Kielkucki made 38 saves in the loss, but he still was not totally satisfied with his performance.
“I think there were a couple I should have had, but I do the best I can to keep us in the game,” he said.
Both teams face Bemidji State this weekend — Colorado College on Saturday and Air Force in league action on Sunday.
“Bemidji is much better than their record,” said Owens. “Tomorrow night’s game will be a higher-scoring, faster-skating game.”