ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Matt Fairchild had two goals and Andrew Volkening stopped all 26 shots he faced as Air Force defeated Bentley 3-0 in the first semifinal of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Jeff Hajner assisted on all three goals for Air Force, the two time defending AHA champs. The Falcons return to the championship game and move to 10-1 all-time in AHA postseason play.
Fairchild, who was suffering from the flu, was too sick to attend the post-game press conference, but did all his talking on the ice.
“(Fairchild) is definitely the fastest player in the league,” said Hajner. “He can do things most other players can’t because of his speed.”
“It was a playoff type game,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “A chess match early on, waiting for someone to make the first mistake. Everybody had a third man high. It was very important to score the first goal. Fortunately, it happened for us.”
Fairchild got the first goal at 10:56 of the second period. He took a feed from Hajner at neutral ice and turned on the jets and beat Bentley goalie Kyle Rank with a shot that Rank was able to get a piece of, but not enough.
“It was kind of weird,” said Rank. “(The puck) kind of rolled up on edge, hit me and went under my arm.
“They’re a great shooting team, and they like to shoot the puck.”
“It was important to get the first goal,” said Hajner. “During our 13-game winning streak, we scored the first goal something like 11 times. It lets us play our game.”
Josh Frider scored on a power play about eight minutes later, with a wrist shot that whistled past Rank on his stick side.
Air force bottled Bentley up in the third period, not giving up many quality chances. The best was by Jeff Gumaer with about three minutes to play. He split the defense and broke in on Volkening, who was able to stack the pads and make the save.
“We didn’t really test (Volkening) as much as we should have,” said Gumaer. “After the first period, he got into a rhythm.”
Fairchild put the game away with a power-play goal, his second of the game, with 2:07 to play. Scott Mathis broke down the right side and found Fairchild in the slot to make it 3-0.
Volkening made 26 saves for the win, his 26th of the season. The junior has played every minute in net for Air Force this season.
“Guys were great in front of me,” said Volkening. “Not letting anything get behind me, no backdoor shots. We got the first goal and were able to play our game.”
“They kept us off the scoreboard and I didn’t think that would happen,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “Definitely thought we’d score at least three or four but we didn’t. We had our chances but we couldn’t bury them.”
“It was a workmanlike effort,” said Serratore. “It’s a different kind of game from the kind we played early in the season, wild up and down games where we’d score a bucket full of goals. We kept waiting for Bentley to open it up when they fell behind, but they never did.”
Air Force will play either Mercyhurst or RIT in the title game. Serratore says his team is taking nothing for granted, despite its gaudy postseason record.
“We have to be pretty humble,” he said. “Look at our records since Christmas; of the four teams here, we have the worst record. We still have some things to prove to ourselves.”