LEWISTON, N.Y. — Air Force knocked off homestanding Niagara in the quarterfinals of the College Hockey America postseason tournament on Thursday by the score of 5-3.
The Falcons will face regular-season champion Wayne State, while the Eagles have ended their season and are left to watch the tournament to unfold in their home facility, the Dwyer Arena.
Falcons senior forward Derek Olson opened scoring, putting in a power-play goal low on the glove side past Niagara sophomore goaltender Rob Bonk after an obstruction-tripping penalty against junior left winger Chris Sebastian. Assists on the goal went to junior forward Andy Berg and sophomore forward Spanky Leonard at 10:44 of the first.
Sebastian atoned for his mistake by answering, going five-hole on Falcons sophomore netminder Mike Polidor at 13:06 of the first. Assists on the goal went to sophomore left winger Nick Kormanyos and freshman center Barret Ehgoetz. After the first period, Niagara had a slight edge in shots on goal, 8-7, as the teams seemed more concerned with hitting than scoring.
Air Force came out with a flurry in the second that Niagara never seemed to recover from. As in the earlier quarterfinal, the lower-seeded team scored a quick goal past a stifled goalie. Senior forward Brian Rodgers sent home a low shot glove side past Bonk, who had moved near side and let his skates get too close together to make a sudden move. Rodgers’s goal came at :22 of the second period, and had assists marked for junior forwards Scott Zwiers and Kyle Fransdal.
Berg followed up on Rodgers’ goal just 45 seconds later, putting in a rebound that bounced out to the middle of the Falcons’ offensive zone past Bonk’s glove. Berg was assisted by sophomore forward Shane Saum. Ehgoetz responded for Niagara 9:36 into the period with a shot that went high stick side on Polidor. Ehgoetz was assisted by Kormanyos and sophomore right winger Chris Welch.
Falcon junior defenseman Brian Reaney closed out second-period scoring with a game-winning wrister that went low at 14:57. Reaney was assisted by Olson on the goal.
Shots on goal in the second went 13-12 Air Force, leaving the homestanding Eagles down by a 4-2 score.
Each team netted a goal in the third. Berg again was assisted by Saum on a goal, another wrister past Bonk’s glove with 11:23 gone in the third. Niagara sophomore right winger Joe Tallari tallied the final goal on a redirect from sophomore center Hannu Karru with 3:55 remaining in the game.
The Eagles played the final 1:10 with Bonk out of the net and an extra skater on the ice, but to no avail, as the Falcons celebrated a 5-3 win, dishing out a first-round loss to the CHA host for the first time ever.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore said, “I’m just doing my best right now to stay out of the way. These guys have some karma going on out there right now … we may give them things to look at, tendencies on this team or that team, but right now I know enough to stay out of their way, becuase they’re doing what it takes to win.”
Serratore felt that the keys to the game were “faceoff goals and our shotblocking. We outplayed Niagara on special teams, and that won us the game.” Falcon players blocked 16 shots on the night, and Rodgers’ goal came just after a faceoff.
“Our idea all along has been to stay close with teams all game and try to win in the third period. They [Wayne State] are waiting for us, and they’ve had an extra day to relax and adjust to the surroundings. We have to hope to get into a close game with them, because we’re not going to blow them out by five or six goals.”