WEST POINT, N.Y. — Army opened up a four-goal lead and then stood strong in the face of an Air Force comeback bid to take the first game of a two-game nonconference weekend series at Tate Rink, 4-3. It marked the third straight victory in the overall series for the Black Knights and extended their unbeaten streak to four games.
Army (5-7-3) gave the sellout crowd of 2,668 and a national television audience watching on College Sports Television’s “Friday Night Game of the Week” quite a show as four different Black Knights lit the lamp before the Falcons could get on the board. It was the first time that Army defeated Air Force (8-13-2) at home since February 1996.
“This win is a big boost for our team,” Army coach Rob Riley told a CSTV audience after the game. “This was the game we really needed. There is nothing like winning to gain some confidence.”
Confidence came in the form of a Casey Bickley power play goal midway through the first period to open the scoring. It was the freshman defenseman’s first collegiate goal and came on Army’s first shot with the man advantage.
Almost three minutes later, Chris Casey displayed some nifty stick work standing all alone in the slot area and slid the puck into an open net after getting Air Force goalie Mike Polidor going the wrong way. That tally chased Polidor, who made just three saves on five shots. Freshman Peter Foster replaced the senior netminder and took the loss for the Falcons, making 22 saves in the process and allowing two goals.
Chris Migliaro made it 3-0 early in the second period when he banged home a loose puck one minute in. Then Ryan Cruthers gave the hosts an insurmountable 4-0 lead at 3:47 of the period, scoring what would prove to be the game-winner.
Air Force, however, would not go away. Brooks Turnquist scored two goals 55 seconds apart to cut the lead in half and the second period ended with Army ahead, 4-2.
In the third, senior Spanky Leonard drew Air Force within one with 3:05 left in the game. That is when Army turned its fate over to sophomore Brad Roberts between the pipes. Roberts denied the Falcons’ last-minute pressure to pick up his third straight win in goal against Army’s bitter rivals.
Roberts made a season-high 40 saves, including 30 in the last two periods combined. Junior forward Chris Garceau equaled a career high with three assists on the evening. Cruthers added an assist to his game-winning marker for a two-point night as well.
“It was important for us to score the first goal. Not only did they get the first goal, they got the first four goals,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
“Army is a team that always comes out strong and they are proactive. They scored the first four goals and it looked like a blowout, but our guys have great character and they never quit. Mike Polidor just wasn’t very sharp tonight. He has had some great games for us, but he is just not on his game right now.”
“I wanted to kick our guys in the tail and pat them on the back at the same time,” Serratore said. “We dug ourselves a hole, but the guys never quit, they didn’t buckle and we kept fighting. We have a heckuva rivalry on our hands. We need to answer the bell.”
Army and Air Force will go at it again Saturday night at Tate Rink. The Black Knights will look to extend its winning streak in the series to an all-time high four games, attempting to sweep a series from the Falcons at home for the first time since 1996. Game time is set for 7 p.m.