HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Alabama-Huntsville dominated play from the opening puck drop, kept its tempers in check and made sophomore goaltender Mark Byrne’s Friday evening pretty enjoyable. Byrne’s opposite, Marc Kielkucki, didn’t have nearly as much fun in net for Air Force, which found itself down by three goals early in the second period of a CHA semifinal game and never recovered.
Senior wing Ryan McCormack led that early charge with two goals and sophomore forward Steve Charlebois popped in a shorthanded conversion late in the second, paving the way for a 7-0 thrashing of Air Force before an announced crowd of 1,436 at the Von Braun Center.
Byrne stopped 16 shots in his sixth shutout of the season for UAH (21-11-1), which moves on to face Wayne State (17-14-3) at 7:05 p.m. Eastern on Saturday in the CHA Tournament finals at the VBC. The Warriors posted a 3-2 overtime victory against defending tournament champion Niagara in the other semifinal.
“UAH could have beaten any team in the nation tonight with the way they played in this building,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore, whose team meets Niagara at 4:05 p.m. Saturday in the consolation game.
Senior defenseman Darren Curry also had a pair of goals and freshman Jason Tinwick added a power-play goal for UAH, which also got two assists each from Ian Fletcher and Karlis Zirnis. Byrne’s shutout, the seventh of his career, tied him with Derek Puppa for UAH’s all-time NCAA mark.
“It was real important for us to start fast because we have a lot of offensive power,” UAH coach Doug Ross said. “Byrne made some big saves early and lifted the team and we’ll need him to step up again in the finals.
“We beat Wayne State four times this year, but they’ve got a hot streak going right now and we’re going to need the same kind of intensity in the championship game.”