USAFA, Colo. — It is always said that playoff hockey is exciting, and Friday night’s game between the Air Force Academy Falcons and the Sacred Heart University Pioneers definitely was. The teams combined for 12 total goals, as Air Force won, 7-5.
“When you don’t play good defensively from the top of the circles in against a team like that, the game is going to be interesting, very interesting,” said Falcon head coach Frank Serratore. “It was a little too interesting for my liking tonight. Three times we had two goal leads only to relinquish it.”
The offense came quickly and in bunches. The Pioneers got on the board first 3:38 into the first period. Eric Delong took the initial shot in front. The rebound came out to the right and a sliding Torin Snydeman picked it up and tapped it in behind AFA goaltender Jason Torf (11 saves).
19 seconds later, the Falcons responded when John Kruse backhanded a shot high past SHU netminder Olivier St. Onge (6 saves).
Within the next two minutes, the Falcons took a 3-1 lead. Paul Weisgarber picked up his own rebound, carried it behind the net and passed it to George Michalke who banked it off the back of St. Onge and in the net. Then, at the six minute mark, Jacques Lamoureux put one five-hole to chase St. Onge in favor of Steven Legatto (28 saves).
The teams were quiet for about five minutes until 10:45 in when Matt Gingera came down on a 2-on-1 and wristed a shot past Torf to make it 3-2. 26 seconds later, however, Ryan Timar sent a pass across the slot to Sean Bertsch who one-timed it past Legatto to extend Air Force’s lead back to two goals.
Sacred Heart got the last laugh of the period when Kyle Verbeek slammed a Mitchell Stretch rebound home shorthanded with 1:01 left to make it 4-3 and cap off a seven-goal first period.
“That’s not the type of game we want to play,” said Sacred Heart head coach C.J. Marottolo. “I was proud of our guys and how they responded after being down a couple of two-goal deficits.”
Air Force started the second off with a bang, scoring a power-play goal 35 seconds into the period. Scott Mathis sent a pass out of the corner to Lamoureux who slammed home his second of the night to make it 5-3.
The Pioneers scored the next two goals, however. 3:18 in, Torf made a save on an initial shot by Patrick Knowlton, but a crashing Anthony Yelovich was able to knock in the rebound. Then, about three minutes later, Gingera scored his second of the night on the power play, sneaking the puck in short-side on Torf to make it 5-5. Torf also became the second goalie to get pulled, being replaced in favor of Stephen Caple (12 saves).
The second goalie switch quieted things down a bit until the final minute of the period. With 53.2 seconds left, Tony Thomas redirected a Jason Fabian shot in past Legatto to make it 6-5.
“Thankfully Steve Caple came in and stopped the bleeding,” said Serratore. “We got our feet under us a little bit and played a lot better in the second half of the game.”
For a while, it appeared as if the third would be devoid of scoring, but the Falcons extended their lead to 7-5 when Kyle De Laurell one-timed a pass from Derrick Burnett past Legatto with 3:58 left.
Marottolo pulled Legatto with 43 seconds left to try and tie the game up, but to no avail.
“The reason we lost that game was their transition game from defense to offense was better than ours,” said Marottolo, “and we were going from offense to defense.”
The two teams play again tomorrow night in the second game of a best-of-three series. Game time is at 7:00 p.m.