COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Coming into this weekend, the No. 20 Air Force Falcons had struggled, going only 2-6-1 since early December after starting the year 13-0. Things had gotten so bad for the Falcons that they were swept at home last weekend.
If anything could jump start the Falcons, it was a series with their service academy rival Army, and the Falcons took steps to get back to their winning ways, sweeping the Black Knights with a 3-2 win Saturday before a standing room only crowd of 2,873 at the Cadet Ice Arena.
“If you don’t have your legs against the other service academy, who are you going to have them against,” said Falcons’ coach Frank Serratore after the game, about Army bring out the best of his team. “In the grand scheme of things, these are much bigger games around here than CC or Denver. I think we established a good foundation on which to build.”
The Falcons didn’t start as well as they might have liked. The Black Knights got on the board first at 3:52 with a power-play goal. Mike Hull collected the puck along the left side boards near the hashmarks and fed Zach McKelvie at the left point. McKelvie fired a quick shot that beat Falcons’ goalie Andrew Volkening five-hole.
Before the goal could even be announced, the Falcons tied it up. Derrick Burnett took the puck up along the left side boards and fired a wrist shot that beat Black Knights’ goalie Josh Kassel high glove side at the 4:00 mark.
“That’s definitely huge,” said Burnett. “We knew we had to get the first goal. Unfortunately they got that one pretty quick and we just rebounded real well and took a little life out of them there.”
“Obviously we talk about how the first shift after a goal is really important, and we didn’t respond very well,” said Black Knights’ coach Brian Riley. “There was still a lot of hockey to be played.”
Serratore believes that getting the goal back so quickly was crucial for his struggling club.
“When you struggle like we struggle, you have a fragile psyche,” said Serratore. “They score last night, we come back right away. They score, before the goal is announced ‘Burnie’ fires a bomb and we’re back in it. So important, especially at this point in time because our psyche is fragile. We didn’t have time to go, ‘Here we go again.’ There’s no question that was huge.”
After killing off a series of penalties late in the first, Burnett stepped up again. Carrying the puck along the right side boards, Burnett rifled a slap shot from just inside the blue line that beat Kassel high stick side at 18:51.
“I hadn’t taken a slap shot in three years and I just put my head down and found a hole and shot I guess,” laughed Burnett.
“We took some silly, silly penalties,” said Serratore. “We had a high sticking penalty, an interference penalty and a too many men on the ice penalty. We did our best to shoot ourselves in the foot, and then we come out of all that and ‘Burnie’ scores with another bomb.”
Buoyed by the late goal, the Falcons came out flying in the second and quickly took a two-goal lead. Greg Flynn fired a shot from the left circle that handcuffed Kassel. The puck hit Kassel’s glove and bounced up in the air, and Blake Page, driving hard to the net, picked it out of the air and knocked it home.
From there, the Falcons tightened up defensively, preventing the Black Knights from generating any speed coming through the neutral zone.
“It did seem like we couldn’t get much speed going,” said Riley. “I think they did a good job in the neutral zone, a good job with back pressure, guys coming back hard. They’re a good team in all three areas of the ice.”
It looked like the Falcons would simply ride the lead to a win, but the Black Knights made things interesting late. With Kassel off for an extra skater, Marcel Alvarez fed a pass to Scott Warner at the left point, and Warner fired a wrist shot low that beat a screened Volkening stick side at 19:17.
“They were doing a good job having a guy in front of me and taking my eyes away and I didn’t see either of them,” said Volkening.
With just 43 seconds left, the Falcons won the ensuing draw. but iced the puck, setting the stage for a nervous end. However, the Falcons won the draw in their zone and, while they didn’t clear the zone, kept the puck pinned along the boards and ran out the clock without allowing another shot on net.