COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — On a night raising banners celebrating their Atlantic Hockey Association championship and their NCAA tournament appearance from last year, the Air Force Academy Falcons accomplished one thing they were never able to do last year — beat a ranked opponent.
In their season opener Friday night, the Falcons beat the No. 14 Quinnipiac Bobcats 4-1 at Cadet Ice Arena.
“We won a championship last year, but we did something in our first game we couldn’t accomplish all last year and that was beat a ranked team,” said Falcons head coach Frank Serratore. “You’ve got to do a lot of things right to beat a team like that because they’ve got some skill and they’re opportunistic.”
While the first period was fairly even with each team exchanging goals — Greg Flynn for the Falcons and Ben Nelson for the Bobcats — Air Force junior Mike Phillipich put the Falcons back in the lead with the only goal in an otherwise quiet second period.
Teammate Eric Ehn won a face-off just outside the Bobcats zone against Nelson back to Michael Mayra. Mayra passed the puck across the neutral zone to Matt Charbonneau, who dished it off to Phillipich just inside the zone. Phillipich skated to the top of the right circle where he wristed a shot past Bobcat goaltender Bud Fisher just inside the far post.
“Feels nice to come out and start the season off on the right foot,” said Phillipich, who had two goals in the contest. “Real nice to see that [Josh] Frider is picking up right where [former forward Andrew] Ramsey left off with me and Ehn.”
The Bobcats had a lot of chances — particularly on the power play — and outshot the Falcons (27-26), something that doesn’t happen often. However, the Bobcats couldn’t solve Air Force netminder Andrew Volkening for most of the night (26 saves).
“I’ve got some pretty high-end players that played pretty poorly tonight,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “But at the same time, you’ve got to give Air Force a lot of credit. I thought they played great, they played hard, they won every puck and when you win every puck, you win hockey games.”
The Falcons added two more tallies in the third to seal the victory. Brett Nylander put the Falcons up by two with a quirky play one minute into the final frame. Josh Schaffer lost his stick in the corner to the left of Fisher and kicked the puck to Nylander, who put the puck five-hole past Fisher.
Halfway through the period, Phillipich and Ehn connected on a passing play for the final tally, sealing the victory for the Falcons — Serratore’s 150th with the program.
The two teams play again Saturday night at 7 p.m. MST at Cadet Ice Arena.