COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Emotions were running high coming into tonight’s game between Air Force and Army. Air Force (16-14-6) had the chance to clinch a spot in the Atlantic Hockey Association semifinals while Army (11-18-7) tried to send the series to a game three.
It was a battle all night, but when it came down to the end, it was Air Force star Jacques Lamoureux coming through in the clutch once again, earning the victory, 4-2, and sweeping the series.
“That was your typical Army-Air Force battle,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “I think both teams left it on the ice and I told our guys afterward that I’ve been out here many times and I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a team.”
The word physical was a good way to describe the first period, as both teams came out looking to intimidate the other with some hard hits.
Less than a minute in, Army’s Eric Sefchik was sent off on a boarding call after a brutal hit.
Air Force didn’t get to enjoy much time on the power play, as Stephen Carew upended Black Knights’ forward Mike Santee with a trip that sent Santee’s glove and stick flying.
Army almost got on the board first when a point-blank shot from Andy Starczewski was stopped by Falcons’ goalie Andrew Volkening (31 saves).
Then it was Air Force’s turn for a close call, as a wraparound attempt by Blake Page got under the pads of Jay Clark (30 saves). Luckily for the Black Knights, the puck glanced off the post and was swept away.
The hard work finally paid off for the Black Knights with 2:05 remaining in the first, as they scored on a bang, bang play.
An Owen Meyer pass found a wide-open Bryant Skarda, who was sitting on the side of the net, wide-open. Skarda easily slammed the puck home for a 1-0 lead, Army’s first goal of the series.
The Falcons tied it up with a fluke goal with 11:14 left in the second period. As Sean Bertsch and Blake Page came down on a two-on-one, Army’s Mike Hull attempted to block the pass across. Although he did, the puck careened off of Hull, towards the Black Knights’ goal. The deflection caught Clark off guard as it went over his shoulder, evening the game at one, with Bertsch getting credit for the goal, his third of the series.
Army took the lead back, converting on a power play. About a minute after Carew was sent off for his second penalty of the game, the Black Knights scored. A John Clark slap shot from the point was deflected past Volkening by Meyer, making the score 2-1.
Air Force answered two minutes later. After a scrum in front of the net, Brandon Johnson found himself alone in the slot. A quick wrist shot and the game was tied.
With the teams fighting tooth and nail to get the goal and the lead, both Army and Air Force found themselves stuffed again and again by outstanding goaltending.
Clark kept it tied with 7:20 to go in the third with a lunging save that caught the paddle of his stick on a shot by John Kruse.
On the other end, Volkening repeatedly stopped point-blank chances from Meyer, who peppered the Falcons’ goalie all night.
With only 1:25 left in the third, Air Force took the lead for good by looking to its star player Lamoureux. After Cody Ikkala was sent off for a high sticking penalty, the Falcons’ power play went to work.
In an impressive display of toughness, Derrick Burnett grabbed the puck and worked it behind the net. In what looked to be a no-look backhand pass, he fired it to Lamoureux, who was wide open back door. Lamoureux quickly shot it, banking it off of Clark and putting the Falcons in front 3-2.
“It was kind of a broken play,” Lamoureux said. “Burnett was going behind the net and he took the defenseman with him and the goalie went across the net and I went off the back side post, he threw it back, I hit [Clark] in the side of the leg and it went in.”
Burnett added an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left to ensure victory and elimination of Army.
“We had to win tonight,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “If we played tomorrow, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have won. If we had won [tomorrow night] who knows the toll it would have taken on our guys. We have no more available guys. We dressed every healthy body tonight. There was pressure and a sense of urgency to get it done because another day of stress. We had to win tonight.”
After the final buzzer rang, the teams gathered at center ice, where the two sides saluted the crowd together, a sign of solidarity between the two academies.
“There are a lot of great rivalries in college hockey,” Serratore said. “Michigan-Michigan State, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Colorado College-Denver, but there’s no rivalry in college hockey that’s more special than Air Force and Army.”
Third-seed Air Force will now travel to Rochester, New York for an AHA semifinal game against second-seeded Sacred Heart on March 19. Game time is 7:35 p.m.