COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As time literally expired in the overtime, Matt Fairchild banged home a rebound from the crease on a power play, giving the Air Force Falcons an emotional 3-2 win and sweep of the RIT Tigers. In the press box afterwards, it looked like the puck crossed the line with just tenths of a second left. The red light did go on, and the way the system works, if time is expired, the light won’t go on.
“It was exciting for our kids, for the fans, and as a coach, that never gets old,” said a relieved Falcons’ coach Frank Serratore after the game. “You’re euphoric, just elated, and right after that you look at the other bench and you see the other coach; Wayne Wilson is a friend of mine and you feel for the guy, because that’s a gut-wrenching way to lose.”
“It’s a tough way to lose,” concurred Wilson. “Just getting a penalty in overtime gives them an opportunity to open up the door and they took advantage of it. They needed the whole clock to do it. My hat’s tipped to them. It’s disappointing, and frustrating. It’s a long season. I was happy with a lot of things tonight, just not the result. We’ve said that now for a while. Now we have to get to the other side of that.”
“Definitely it was a tight game the whole 65 minutes,” said Fairchild. “We just wanted to get the puck to the net. We got it back to the ‘D’, it went wide, bounced off the glass, came right back in front and I just happened to be standing there.”
Air Force carried the play early, and top center Jacques Lamoureux had a golden chance when Fairchild fed him streaking down the left side, but Lamoureux’s tip went just wide left. The Falcons drew two early penalties with their aggressive play; however, the Tigers’ penalty kill denied the Falcons a single shot on net during the back-to-back power play opportunities.
“Energy,” said Serratore of the power play. “Even though you have five guys and they have four, your five guys have got to outwork their four, and that was a problem. I probably should have played the freshman power play more.”
Having weathered the storm, the Tigers started to get several good chances, in part because of Andrew Volkening’s predilection for giving up big rebounds. Mark Cornacchia couldn’t get to a rebound in the slot with a partial open net, and Taylor McReynolds had a golden chance from the left side denied when Volkening managed to slide over in time.
When Volkening couldn’t cover the net in time, he got help from his posts, as when Scott Knowles streaked down the right side and fired a shot that went off a skate and then off the right post and out.
Late in the period, the Tigers had their best chance to get on the board when they got a power play opportunity of their own after Brad Sellers got called for tripping. They set up a perfect chance, with Andrew Favot back door looking at an open net, but his shot hit the right post.
RIT got an early power play in the second when Mark Williams got called for tripping. Though they got several good chances, they weren’t able to score. As the penalty expired, the Tigers skated the puck out of their zone on the right side boards, but turned it over in the neutral zone to Danny Durham, who sprung John Kruse on a breakaway up the middle. Kruse buried a shot low glove side past Jared DeMichiel at 6:27. It was the first time in six games this season that Air Force scored first.
The Tigers finally capitalized on a power play to tie the game when Favot put a shot on net from the slot. Volkening gave up another rebound, and Cameron Burt was waiting on the right doorstep to scoop it up and pop it over Volkening’s right shoulder at 12:50.
“This game is more indicative of how our series is with Air Force,” said Wilson. “I don’t think you would have had too many happy coaches, particularly with the first two periods, last night.”
The play continued back-and-forth through the rest of the period, with the Falcons getting the best chance in the last minute when Blake Page had a point blank rebound attempt stopped by DeMichiel.
The Falcons got a couple of chances early in the third period to take the lead, particularly on a point blank shot from the low left circle by Fairchild, but DeMichiel preserved the tie.
RIT took the lead at 5:50, again on a rebound, when Alan Mazur pounced on one off a Favot shot and beat Volkening high glove side from the slot.
However, Air Force quickly battled back to tie it up again. This time, a defensive zone breakdown by the Tigers allowed Durham to get alone in the slot, and Kruse hit him with a perfect pass from behind the net. Durham buried the puck five-hole at 8:25.
“I think it really went back and forth,” said Fairchild. “We had chances, they had chances. No team really got something sustained and going.”
Both teams had excellent chances to take the lead, but neither could capitalize. Knowles had two golden chances on one shift. First, the puck rolled off his stick blade in the slot, and then he sent a shot just wide right from near the crease.
At the other end, Kruse had an open net, but an RIT defender tied up his stick as the pass came to him and the puck rolled off into the corner.
In the OT, both teams had chances before Fairchild’s last second heroics. Air Force’s Stephen Carew had a great quick shot from alone in the slot that DeMichiel stopped, and Volkening made a diving save on a backhand by Tyler Mazzei from the right side of the crease.
“We need to get better,” said Serratore. “We have issues in our zone. We gave up 40 shots last night, and 30 tonight. We’re used to giving up 18-22 in the past. We’re giving up too many shots, and part of that is our inexperience on the blue line. That was a game that easily could have gotten away from us. Stars of the game would have to be the freshman line and Volkening.”