STORRS, Conn. — Air Force proved to be a dominant force in the Cingular/UConn Classic. The Falcons (9-7-0, 0-4-0 CHA) wore down a smaller Holy Cross (9-6-2, 6-2-2 MAAC) squad to the tune of a 5-1 victory and a tournament championship on Sunday evening. Air Force’s depth, size and speed were a deadly combination, allowing the Falcons to outscore their opponents 11-2 on the weekend.
“I really think that the key for this team is our depth,” said AFA coach Frank Serratore. “We were able to roll four lines tonight that were just as good if not better than Holy Cross’ top couple of lines. That’s certainly a great advantage for a team.”
The second period of the championship was a perfect illustration of the type of hockey the Falcons played. They used their size to win pucks along the boards and create scoring opportunities down low; their speed allowed them to control play in the neutral zone; and their depth kept the team energized through 40 minutes of tough play.
They scored three second-period goals from three different players in a true sign of depth. First, it was Derek Olson on a rebound scramble in front. Then Scott Zwiers was able to lift a loose puck up over the goaltender on the power play. And lastly, Brian Rodgers stole the puck on a tenacious forecheck and deposited the puck in the back of the net.
The physical play seemed to frustrate a Holy Cross team that played very disciplined hockey against Connecticut. They took eight penalties for 16 minutes in the gold medal game, giving one of the most efficient power plays in the nation seven opportunities.
“We were certainly outplayed in the neutral zone and that led to a lot of turnovers at the blue line, and even some penalties that we should not have taken,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl.
“Although we didn’t convert [on the power play] at the same rate we have so far this season, we did try to switch things up a little bit as the game went along. We scored a power-play goal and a lot of man advantages took place late in the third period when the game was under control,” said Serratore.
Pat Rissmiller was a lone bright spot for the Crusaders. The senior assistant captain notched Holy Cross’ goal on a great individual effort, stealing the puck in the crease and roofing a backhand. He was later named to the All-Tournament team for his efforts.
“Pat’s a tremendous player,” said Pearl. “He might not be our leading scorer, but he does a lot of things well. He doesn’t get enough recognition for his two-way play; he might be the best defensive forward in the league. He also leads our power-play unit and is a great shot blocker.”
It was a case of the usual suspects for Air Force. The Falcons got stellar games from Brian Reaney, Brian Rodgers and Zwier. Reaney was named to the All-Tournament team and Rodgers took home MVP honors.
“I was actually surprised that Zwier didn’t get named to the All-Tournament Team. We had strong individual play, but I was most impressed with our team play,” said Serratore. “We are finally starting to concern ourselves with playing good, sound hockey and getting some wins. It feels like we’ve got a team in the locker room.”
Goaltender Mike Polidor was another key figure for AFA. He finished the weekend with a microscopic 1.00 GAA and was nearly perfect, stopping 46 of 48 shots combined. For his efforts, he also was named to the All-Tourney Team.
Derek Cunha made 21 saves in the loss for the Crusaders.
Holy Cross will look to rebound from the disappointing loss when MAAC play resumes, while Air Force hopes to continue its momentum into CHA action.