COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It took all season for the Air Force Academy Fighting Falcons to get a sweep in conference, but it finally happened. Air Force beat the Bentley College Falcons, 3-1, to sweep the best-of-three series between the two teams and earn a date at the Atlantic Hockey Association Final Five in Rochester, N.Y., next weekend.
“If you’re only going to get one [sweep], this is the time to do it,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
“We didn’t want to leave it up going to a game three because when you get into situations like that, it doesn’t matter whether you’re home or away; anything could happen,” said Air Force forward Jeff Hajner. “You just don’t want to leave it up to something like that.”
Bentley started off the game strong, getting the first few shots on net, but it was the Air Force power play that started off the scoring.
AFA struck first on a five-on-three power play off a nice passing play. Greg Flynn on the point took a pass from Michael Mayra, sent it down to Matt Fairchild on the right side of the net who tossed it to Brent Olson in the slot who shot it stick-side on Bentley netminder Joe Calvi (43 saves).
36 seconds later, Air Force went up 2-0 on another power-play goal. Jeff Hajner walked the puck out of the far corner and around the circle and fired a pass across the ice to Flynn, who one-timed the puck over Calvi’s left pad.
“I thought that in that first period, we played a good solid game and it seemed as if we were going to be ready to go and they scored a couple power-play goals,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “Five-on-five we were fine.”
Air Force made it 3-0 off a Hajner power-play goal four minutes into the second period. Hajner took a pass from Derrick Burnett and wristed a shot from just above the left face-off dot past a screened Calvi.
“[The power play's] been on fire for us lately; five power-play goals this weekend,” said Hajner. “Power plays are going to help your game, especially in the play-offs.”
“Our special teams and goaltending was better than theirs,” said Serratore. “Our penalty killing got it done, we scored some power-play goals and our goaltending was good when it had to be.”
A rare penalty shot, Air Force’s first of the season, was called with 5:35 left in the second as Burnett, fresh out of the penalty box, drew a hooking call on a breakaway. However, he miffed on the shot.
“I have a move I use in practice and I was going to try it then I just decided not to try anything I guess,” said Burnett. “I don’t know. I have no words for that.”
The game started to get chippy in the second period, particularly in the last 5:35 of the frame; 12 of the period’s 16 penalties were called in that span, including six coincidental calls.
“I think they knew that it was almost like the game was starting to get a little bit out of hand and when series get like that, some chippy stuff starts happening,” said Hajner. “I think the refs did a really good job keeping their composure and making sure we kept ours.”
Both teams had near misses in the third period, Bentley with a two-on-one in front of the crease that Air Force goalie Andrew Volkening got and Air Force with a shot that was knocked out of mid-air by Bobby Preece, but it looked like it would remain 3-0.
However, Bentley, who has not been shut out in 33 games, got on the board with 4:48 left in the third period. Dustin Cloutier and Dain Prewitt came down on a two-on-one, Cloutier got Mayra to commit and slid the puck over to Prewitt who slammed it home past Volkening (21 saves).
“To end the season scoring the last goal meant a lot to me, to see the guys not give up,” said Soderquist. “The seniors went out with a great last period, won their last period of play and they didn’t allow what had transpired last night to happen here tonight and I think that meant a lot to the senior class.”
Bentley had a chance at the end when Josh Schaffer went off on a checking from behind penalty, but Air Force stood strong.
“We didn’t really give them a sniff,” said Serratore. “We got it deep, we created turnovers in the neutral zone and I thought we did a very good job on that penalty kill.
“Our best player was Volkening, and that’s the guy you want being your best player going into that tournament.”
Air Force moves on in the playoffs, next playing the Rochester Institute of Technology Saturday, March 15, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester at 7:35 p.m. Eastern.
“The hottest team in the country is Army by a country mile, but we’re bringing a pretty good team to Rochester as well,” said Serratore. “We’re playing our best hockey right now.”