COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It was a battle of the academies as the Air Force Falcons hosted the Army Black Knights at Cadet Ice Arena in the first game of the Atlantic Hockey Association Quarterfinals.
Behind great goaltending by one of the nations best goalies in Andrew Volkening (29 saves), strong penalty kill from the second best unit in the nation, and some timely goals, it was the Air Force (15-14-6) that gained the advantage in the best of three series, shutting out Army (11-17-7) 3-0.
It was a hard fought game, said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore. Weve got a lot of ice bags on our guys and Im sure theres a lot of ice bags in the Army locker room too. You cant win games like this pretty. You have grind them out, youre going to have to gut them out and I thought both teams played hard.
Things started off great for the Falcons as they tallied the first goal of the game less than two minutes into the first period.
Sean Bertsch made a nice play as he picked the puck up on the right boards and gave the puck up to Blake Page, in what turned out to be a mini 2-on-0. Page carried the puck below the circle while Bertsch headed to the front of the net.
A quick pass to Bertsch, who fired a low wrist shot past Army goalie Jay Clark (35 saves), and the Cadets were up 1-0.
While that was it for scoring in the opening frame, the action was nowhere near slow as both teams had a nice flow going up and down the ice, each having quality scoring chances.
Air Force was close to putting another goal on the board with the power play. With just under six minutes remaining in the first, Matt Fairchild whistled a shot that clanged off the crossbar.
Then, with a little under two minutes remaining, Army had their best chance to tie the game. After Air Force had two players sent off for penalties a minute and a half a part, it gave the Black Knights a two-man advantage for 24 seconds.
Unfortunately for the Black Knights, they had to deal with a great penalty kill.
Some nice defense from both the Falcons and Volkening, and the penalties were burned off.
Going into the second period, the teams continued to play evenly-matched hockey as both struggled to score. It was Army that once again created a goal-scoring opportunity, this time while shorthanded.
A breakout pass to Eric Sefchik led to a breakaway for the Black Knights, but Volkening stood his ground as Sefchik attempted to drag the puck across the crease, he poked the puck away with his pads, preserving the lead.
The missed opportunities came back to haunt Army as the Falcons doubled their lead with 4:00 to go in the second. It was a nice goal as Bertsch got his second of the game by shooting from the goal line and banking the puck off the leg of Clark that ended up in the back of the net.
The scoring would not stop there for Air Force as they went up 3-0 less than two minutes later. In a play that was all about hustle, John Kruse out skated a
Black Knights defender to a puck in the corner and threw a no-look, back handed pass to the crease onto the tape of a streaking Derrick Burnett who buried the puck home.
This isnt an easy place to play, said Army coach Brian Riley. Certainly down one after one and down one with five minutes to go in the second period, I thought we were in a great spot, thats where you want to be on the road. Then we kind of fell apart the last four minutes and they got two and really put us in a tough spot.
That would be it for scoring as the Falcons sat back the third, never really allowing Army a chance to get back into the game.
The two teams are back in action tomorrow night at Cadet Ice Arena for Game 2 of the series. Game time is 7:05 p.m.