STORRS, Conn. 06269 — In terms of pedigrees, there was no comparison between UConn freshman goalie Jeff Larson and his counterpart, Air Force senior Andrew Volkening.
Volkening, who finished his stellar 2008-09 season sixth in the nation in GAA and as a AHA first team selection, entered Friday night’s contest at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum with almost six times as many wins (58) as Larson had collegiate games (10).
However, it was the Huskies’ freshman who outshone the stellar Falcons’ netkeeper, doing his best to keep Air Force’s offense grounded as he turned away 49-of-51 shots in a gritty 2-2 tie.
“They don’t give up many out-numbered rushes and they’re good in their own zone,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “When we were able to get any type of penetration, the goaltender was there.”
Even though they more then doubled Connecticut’s 24 shots on net, the Falcons were never able to bury the Huskies.
“I think it was a real great performance out there,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall. “They outshot us and maybe it looked like they were outplaying us, but I don’t think it felt like it was a tilted ice out there. Larson made some great saves when we needed it. I guess we’ve got to look and see why we were giving up so many shots.”
Despite a swarming Falcons’ attack that produced nine shots on goal in the early going, compared to a mere one for the Huskies, UConn took a 1-0 lead midway through the first.
Air Force’s Sean Bertsch was called for obstruction interference at 11:18, giving the Huskies their second power play of the game. After two solid Huskies’ penalty kills in the early going, the Falcons were looking to return the favor and match Connecticut in penalty kills.
With twenty-nine seconds left in the man advantage, Huskies’ assistant captain Andrew Olson took a pass behind the net from Sean Ambrosie and went top shelf from the middle of the left faceoff circle.
The Falcons (5-5-3, 5-1-3 AHA)s took little time to respond. After matching holding penalties for each team at 15:03 presented a four-on-four matchup, Tim Kirby wristed a shot from between the faceoff circles that rattled around the crease. Jeff Hajner was there to poke the loose puck past Larson to tie the game at one.
Despite the goal, it was the play of Larson that kept UConn (2-7-2, 2-4-2) in the game during the opening period. The Falcons outshot the Huskies 16-3.
“They played very well, they’re definitely a defensive first team,” Serratore said. “I have no problem with our work ethic; we’re just having a hard time generating offense. We’ve only scored five goals in our last three games, all road games, but the good news is we’ve managed to get four of the six points in those games.”
The second period proved identical to the first in terms of combined penalties and power plays for each team (six and four, respectively), but this time it was Air Force that was able to capitalize with Connecticut down a man.
Huskies’ captain Michael Coppola was whistled for a face mask penalty at the 16:07 mark. On the ensuing power play, Derrick Burnett carried the puck from the left wing and swung behind the net before dumping a pass out to Jacques Lamoureux, who flicked the puck past Larson at 17:04.
The Falcons’ lead appeared safe until the 13:32 mark, when Coppola atoned for his foul by finding the back of the net to tie the game at two. Jeff Sapieha and Matt Miller were credited with the assists on the goal.
“I never felt like it was OK, the floodgates were going to open,” Marshall said. “It’s a deteriorating stat to see [the shot totals] but the game is still played between the boards. They probably thought we’ll keep them off the board and make it 3-1 eventually, but it didn’t happen.”
After a tough stretch in the early going, Larson and the Huskies have earned points in four of their last five games.
“It’s big learning curve coming straight out of midgets,” he said. “I’m starting to feel comfortable after a month or two here; not only am I confident but the team is confident.”
The teams conclude their weekend with a 7:05 p.m. start Saturday.