COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In a tough defensive battle, the Air Force Falcons edged the Holy Cross Crusaders 3-1, led by the play of their first line of Eric Ehn, Brent Olson and Josh Frider. The trio combined for seven points on the night, accounting for all of the Falcons’ scoring.
“With all due respect to Ehn, I think that Olson carried that line tonight,” said Falcons’ coach Frank Serratore. “I think that Ehn was the beneficiary of Olson and Frider’s hard work tonight.”
Holy Cross, which leads the nation in power play conversion, got on the board first on a power play. Right after Frider was whistled for tripping at 3:09, the Crusaders set up in the offensive zone. Defenseman Frank O’Grady, stationed at the center of the blue line, passed to Ryan Driscoll in the right side faceoff circle, and Driscoll slid a pass through the crease to Brodie Sheahan on the far side, and Sheahan tapped it into the open net.
“Holy Cross’ power play has been scary,” commented Serratore. “Then bang, they get a power play goal right away.”
However, the Falcons started to carry the play as the period progressed, bottling up the Crusaders in their own end with an aggressive forecheck that led to several defensive zone turnovers by the Crusaders.
“I thought our forecheck has been pretty good the last couple of games,” said Serratore. “We get our feet moving down low, we win races to pucks, seal the walls. That’s the strength of our game right now.”
The Falcons tied the game up at 8:04 on a turnover caused by the Falcons forecheck. Brent Olson picked up the puck just outside the blue line and fired it in towards the center of the zone. The puck deflected off the stick of Mark Znutas and Eric Ehn, the Falcons leading scorer, pounced on it, stepping to his left and scooping up the deflected puck, skating in and roofing a great shot past Adam Roy’s outstretched glove.
“I think that was pretty crucial,” said Ehn. “We’re an emotional team; most teams are like that, so to get a swing goal like that was big. We ended up carrying some momentum through the first, so it had a pretty big impact in the end.”
Buoyed by the goal, the Falcons started to press, and the Crusaders had difficulty penetrating their offensive zone. At 14:38 of the period, Ehn picked up the puck on the right side boards in the neutral zone and backhanded a pass between Peter Lorinser and Everett Sheen to Olson, who skated in on the right side boards and fired a wrist shot top corner stick side. It was a soft goal by Roy, who wasn’t screened on the play.
“He’s got a distinct voice from up north in Minnesota,” laughed Ehn afterwards, when asked how he knew Olson was there. “He was pretty easy to pick out coming through, and coach calls his shot a weapon, because it really is a good shot. Anytime he gets space, he’ll put that home.”
Air Force had two excellent chances late in the period to extend the lead. Owen Kelly hit the left post with a low bullet from the right circle, and then Scott Kozlak stepped out to his right from behind the net and tried a wraparound, but the puck slid through the crease before anyone could deflect it in.
“We didn’t focus too much on what they were doing, but more on rounding out the corners of our game,” said Ehn.
As the second period progressed, it turned into largely a defensive battle. Both teams had difficulty generating speed with the puck through the neutral zone and carrying it into the attacking zone. Air Force got the better of the shot chances, but most were from the outside.
“We don’t want to sit back, but we know once we have the lead you have to play good defense to keep it,” said Ehn. “We’re fortunate with the lead in that you can sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake, and they didn’t make too many, but we didn’t make too many on defense either.”
The third period was more even, as the Crusaders pressed to generate more offense. Chris Trovato had an excellent chance on a one-timer from the slot, but shot it wide of Falcons’ goaltender Andrew Volkening.
With just under five minutes to play, the Crusaders caught a break on a marginal slashing call on Matt Charbonneau. While the power play set up well, Volkening made the stops when he had too, and the Falcons’ defense cleared rebounds well from the slot.
“My biggest worry of the game was when they got the power play with four minutes left in the game, because that’s what they needed to have happen,” said Serratore. “Fortunately for us our penalty killers did the job and actually drew a penalty as well.”
Crusaders’ coach Paul Pearl pulled Roy with just under two minutes to go for the extra attacker. The Crusaders kept the puck in the offensive zone and got some good shots from the point, but were unable to find the player on the back door down low for the goal.
Frider added an empty net tally as the buzzer sounded, taking a pass from Ehn at the left side boards inside the blue line and firing it in, and the referees ruled the goal counted.
“We compete hard,” said Serratore. “I like our intensity level, and our even strength play is good. Can you imagine if we can maintain our level of play even strength, and we start out-special teaming people? Maybe this game might be a 4-1 game and they don’t even pull their goalie at the end.”