COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — While it may never breed the depths of hatred among fans like the University of Denver/Colorado College rivalry, the CC/Air Force Academy rival is growing in strength now that the Fighting Falcons have a stronger program.
In front of a sellout, standing-room only crowd of 7,750 at the Colorado Springs World Arena, the No. 3 Tigers (17-6, 15-3 WCHA) rode the strength of two power-play goals to defeat the Falcons (12-7-4, 9-6-3 AHA) 2-1 Saturday night.
“The guys know it’s a rivalry,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “We’ve had success for a long, long time but there are always games like this. Last year, we won 2-1 up there and a 2-1 game tonight.”
The Tigers came out flying in the first period, resulting in a CC shooting gallery. They outshot the Falcons 16-4 in the frame. Still, the Tigers only managed one goal in the period. With Eric Ehn in the box for tripping about eight minutes in, Bill Sweatt capitalized on a rebound opportunity and fired the puck past Falcons’ netminder Andrew Volkening (29 saves) to get the first marker of the contest.
“I was very impressed with how CC came out,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “CC came out exactly the opposite of how Denver came out last night, and I think probably for a couple of reasons. Number one, they dodged a bullet last night with Bemidji, dodged a big-time bullet. Also, they saw what we did to a Denver team that didn’t show up in the first period last night.
“They very easily could have put us away, put that game away in the first period. It could have been three, four-nothing after the first period. They expended a tremendous amount of energy going for the knockout punch and fortunately for us, as great goaltenders do, Volkening didn’t allow it to happen. He kept us close.”
The Falcons stayed with the Tigers up through the second period until CC received 1:36 of five-on-three hockey after an arguably fluky high sticking to the head penalty just off a face-off mid-way through the second period.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a contact to the head or a rough off of two guys taking a face-off before and even the players, the way they responded, we thought it was a mis-drop,” said Serratore. “It had to have been a fluky deal.
“When you’re killing a penalty, your center isn’t going to conk someone on the head on purpose and put you down five-on-three.”
With three seconds remaining in the two-man advantage, Stephen Schultz, standing on the door-step, knocked in a rebound past Volkening that the goaltender could not control after the initial shot banked off the boards to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
The Falcons lost star forward and former Hobey Baker candidate Eric Ehn 1:16 into the third period. Sweatt was trying to lift Ehn’s stick while chasing him down into the Tigers’ zone. Sweatt’s shoulder hit the post and Ehn went sliding legs-first into the end boards. Ehn was taken off on a stretcher and has, as of now, been diagnosed with a lower left leg injury and will be x-rayed tonight.
While the loss is arguably a big one to the Falcons squad, Serratore says it’s all part of the game.
“The show must go on; it went on last night. We lost Matt Charbonneau last night, we lost [Josh] Print today before we lost Ehn and it’s a collision sport and people are going to get hurt and you have to move on.”
From that moment on, the Falcons took over the game’s momentum, culminating in a goal around eight minutes later. Scott Kozlak in the low slot took a pass from Blake Page in the corner and wristed it up glove-side over Richard Bachman (25 saves).
Despite a mad flurry of shots in the waning minutes of the game, the Tigers were able to hold on for the victory.
“As a coach, as a former CC player, it’s a game you kinda look forward to, but then you’re really glad when it’s over, to be honest with you, because you’re relieved you didn’t get beat,” said Owens.
The Falcons next travel to Army for a two-game series with the Black Knights while the Tigers travel to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a conference tilt with Michigan Tech.