COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Coming into the final few weeks of the season, the Air Force Falcons knew they would have to battle hard for almost every point. With Saturday’s 3-2 win against Holy Cross, the Falcons positioned themselves for a shot at the Atlantic Hockey regular season title.
Once again, the Falcons jumped out early. The Falcons’ sparkplug Matt Fairchild carried the puck out of the left corner and cut hard to the crease. As he got to the crease, he spied Scott Mathis high in the right circle and dished the puck to him. and Mathis ripped a wrist shot top shelf stick side past a screened Adam Roy just 1:34 into the game.
Holy Cross quickly equalized the game on a goal setup by strong forechecking. Jay Silvia dumped the puck into the right corner and chased it behind the net, fighting a Falcons’ defender. The puck came back to J.P. Martignetti, and Martignetti, started out from behind the net and dished it to Brodie Sheahan coming across the slot. Sheahan beat Volkening with a backhand low glove side at 4:04.
“It was a good bounce back,” said Crusaders’ coach Paul Pearl of the quick strike back.
After Friday’s game, Falcons’ coach singled out the power play unit for failing to bury the Crusaders. Saturday, the power play struck to get the Falcons the lead back. Standing at the left point, Brent Olson sized up the play and then let loose with a shot that beat Roy high glove side at 6:21.
“Like I said last night, power play hasn’t scored for three games, but it’s coming,” said Serratore. “It was great to finally crack it and get that power-play goal.”
The rest of the period featured a lot of back and forth play. Volkening came up with some big saves late in the period while short-handed to preserve the lead going into the intermission.
“They were an extremely difficult team to play against,” said Serratore. “They had numbers back. They took away our line rush offense. They congest the front of the net and they block shots like madmen, so you have to play a very competitively patient game against them.”
The second period started off slower, with few shots by either team. However, near the midway point of the period, the Crusaders tied the game. Mark Znutas, stationed at the left point, got a pass from Mike Daly and ripped a wrist shot past a screened Volkening high glove side at 8:49 of the period.
Buoyed by the goal, the Crusaders skated with renewed determination, trying to take the lead, and forced Air Force to take some lazy penalties. However, Volkening came up with several big stops, including a brilliant stop on Jordan Cyr down low, to keep the score tied after two.
After killing off another penalty to start the third, the Falcons had a golden chance to take the lead with a power play of their own. The Falcons moved the puck well, keeping the Crusaders pinned deep for almost the entire power play. With time winding down on the man advantage, Josh Frider found himself back door with a wide-open net, but he fanned on the one-time attempt.
With just over six minutes left, the Crusaders had another great chance when the Falcons were called for too-many-men, but Volkening made some strong stops to keep the game tied. Overall, the Crusaders went 0-11 on the power play this weekend.
“We got a ton of chances; they’ve got a good goalie,” said Pearl. “We did what we wanted on it and got some good shots and just didn’t score.”
As he has all season, Matt Fairchild made a difference late. Fairchild rushed up the right side and, while holding off a Crusaders’ defender, crashed the net, getting the puck on Roy. As the net got knocked off its moorings, Michael Mayra backhanded it in, and the referees ruled it a goal at 17:35.
“I saw him (Fairchild) get the puck and I knew he was going to go wide and drive the net like he always does,” said Mayra. “He’s scored countless goals that way this year. I figured if he doesn’t score, I’m going to be there to clean it up, so I just got lucky and got my stick on it and got it past the goalie’s glove.”
“I thought that they interfered with Adam, and they (the referees) didn’t,” said Pearl. “That was unfortunate how it ended. We didn’t get any points this weekend, but there are some positives from this weekend. We still have a whole season ahead of us.”
The Falcons are now setup for a crucial series next weekend with RIT to decide the Atlantic Hockey regular season championship.
“That’s what it’s all about, getting the league championship,” said Mayra.