COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Despite outplaying heavily-favored and No. 11 Maine for most of the contest, Air Force committed two major penalties, resulting in three unanswered goals by its opponent, as the Black Bears knocked off the Falcons 3-1 in the first game of the Ice Breaker Invitational on Friday night.
With his team nursing a 1-0 lead midway through the third period, Air Force’s Frank Schiavone knocked Maine’s Josh Soares headfirst into the boards, drawing the attention of referee Todd Anderson. Anderson gave the Black Bears a five-minute power play and issued a game misconduct to the stunned Schiavone.
Air Force (0-1-0, 0-0-0 CHA) head coach Frank Serratore vented after the game.
“The player was not even knocked down,” he said. “That five-minute major is turning point in this game. I never make excuses for my team, ever, but the referee decided the outcome of this game. I’ll accept that as a two-minute call. But it’s even a bad two-minute call, in my opinion.”
Maine (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) took advantage of the major by scoring twice. After taking the penalty-inducing hit, Soares roofed a shot from the right circle to knot the score at 1-1 at 13:54 of the third. Jon Jankus then gave Maine its first lead of the night less than two minutes later after batting a rebound past Air Force netminder Peter Foster from a sharp angle.
“We had been having trouble on the power play all game,” said Jankus. “We decided to just get the puck to the net. I said to myself, ‘If I get a shot, I’m going to put it on net.’”
Later in the period, as Air Force attempted to mount a comeback, referee Anderson whistled another Falcon for a major penalty for checking from behind. This time it was team captain Matt Bader who was forced to leave the ice.
“Those were not five-minute majors,” continued Serratore. “If those were five-minute majors, then our game’s in trouble. If those are five-minute majors, we’ll have players suspended into the season. By the end of the year there will be players that won’t be able to play anymore because of the compounded majors.”
Maine’s Derek Damon scored his team’s final goal with just two seconds remaining in the game. For Black Bear head coach Tim Whitehead, his squad’s 3-1 victory was a bit of a blessing.
“We were very fortunate,” he said. “It doesn’t take an NHL analyst to tell us that. We almost lost the game on our penalties, and we ended up winning because of theirs.”
“I was very impressed with Air Force,” he added. “They played their hearts out, and they probably deserved a better fate tonight.”
Air Force utilized a conservative game plan that bottled up Maine for most of the contest. At 4:32 of the third period, the Falcons took advantage of sloppy play by Maine in its own zone when Eric Ehn sent a long snap shot through traffic and past Black Bear netminder Matt Lundin.
Meanwhile, Maine struggled to find its rhythm throughout the first two periods. It took the third-period power plays to awaken the favorites.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” said Jankus of his team’s early lull. “We had been waiting since last March for this game and training hard. Maybe we underestimated them. But the first goal by Soares was huge, and finally got us rolling.”
For Serratore, the reason why his team lost was as black and white.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys,” he said. “I feel so bad for those kids, to have an opportunity to knock off a ranked team only to have it taken away by an official. They deserve the game, and it was taken away from them.”
Each team will return to action Saturday for day two of the Ice Breaker Invitational. Air Force will take on Union in the early contest, while Maine will face tournament host Colorado College in the nightcap.