COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Rival branches of the military faced off Friday night for honor, for glory, and — truth be told — for bragging rights.
Supporters of both Air Force and Army turned out in droves, filling the 2,650-seat Cadet Ice Arena with a sellout crowd of 3,093 — the largest home crowd since a 1991 contest against Colorado College — as Army topped Air Force 5-2.
The crowd certainly got its money’s worth. The first period was packed with excitement, including a full-out line brawl and a stunning shorthanded goal.
At 14:02, four Falcons and three Black Knights — all suffering varying degrees of punishment — were packed into the penalty boxes like sardines after a nasty five minutes of fighting. Army was on the penalty kill due to an extra double minor, but the Black Knights stepped up to the challenge.
After a scuffle in front of the Air Force net, senior center Mike Fairman, with help from linemate Garrett Brougham, backhanded the puck past Falcon goaltender Marc Kielkucki for the shorthanded lamplighter.
Early in the period, the Falcons took advantage of a power-play opportunity to even the score. Junior forward Brian Gornick took the feed from sophomores Andy Berg and Scott Zwiers and fired the puck from the point high over Army netminder Scott Hamilton’s left shoulder to make the score 1-1.
As the period wound down, a Colorado Springs native making his collegiate debut put aside geographic loyalty to put Army ahead, 2-1. At the 17:16 mark, freshman winger Patrick Topping caught a bounce from sophomore Derek Hines and flipped the puck off the backhand into the net for his first career goal.
Just :31 later, though, Air Force tied it up again. Andy Berg picked off a pass in front of his own goal and charged all the way into the Army zone. Berg took his time on the release and popped up Hamilton’s water bottle for the Falcons’ second goal.
The drama continued well into the third stanza. At 7:06, the Black Knights, on the power play, pulled ahead once again. Wingers Garrett Brougham and Nic Serre got the puck over to their center, Mike Fairman, who snapped it high over Kielkucki’s right shoulder for his second goal of the night and the 3-2 lead.
The Black Knights pulled farther ahead at the 11:09 mark when senior K.C. Finnegan picked off the rebound from Derek Hines’ shot to widen the gap to 4-2.
Air Force eventually pulled Kielkucki for the extra man, but the Army defense stonewalled any scoring attempts and sent the puck back into the Air Force zone, where junior Black Knight Nathan Mayfield sent it into the empty net. Junior winger Tim Fisher assisted on the final goal for the 5-2 victory.
“Most of our games against these guys have come down to the wire, and we’ve usually gotten the short end of it,” said Army head coach Rob Riley.
Not so Friday, as the Black Knight squad snapped an eight-game Air Force unbeaten streak, the longest for either team in the 30-game history of the series.
“We had to kill a lot of penalties in the second period, and we came out alive,” said Riley. “We came into the third tied and made it a 20-minute hockey game, which is what we wanted all along.”
In fact, there were 28 total penalties dished out during the game for a total of 64 minutes served by the two teams. That’s more time spent in the box than out on the ice for a 60-minute hockey game.
However, both teams played a strong penalty kill, with Army giving up just one power-play goal in five attempts and Air Force going seven-for-eight on the kill.
The Falcons will have a chance to regain their honor when the teams square off again Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. local time.
“It’s Senior Weekend and the last home game for the Air Force squad,” said Riley. “It’s going to be a very emotional game for them and we have to be ready for that.”