ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After a one-year absence from the Atlantic Hockey championship game, the Air Force Falcons are one win away from their fourth NCAA tournament berth in five years following a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over Holy Cross in the second of two semifinal contests played at Blue Cross Arena on Friday.
Senior captain Jacques Lamoureux scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season in the final 11 minutes for the second-seeded Falcons, erasing a third-period deficit and propelling Air Force to their seventh consecutive win and a spot opposite RIT in Saturday’s final.
“There’s a lot of goal scorers, but there’s a lot who score goals in 6-1, 7-1 games,” said Falcons coach Frank Serratore. “But when you look back at the goals [Jacques] scored … he scored big goals. When we need a goal, he’s got that confidence, that knack. He has a knack for scoring big goals.”
With Air Force trailing 2-1 midway through the third period, Lamoureux set up shop low in the faceoff circle to the right of Crusaders netminder Adam Roy. Sophomore Kyle De Laurell found Lamoureux from behind the goal, and the latter slid the puck underneath Roy to tie the game.
Six minutes later, with the game tied at 2-2, Lamoureux trailed De Laurell on a rush into the Holy Cross zone.
“We talk about driving to the net, but if I would’ve [crashed], I would’ve skated right into one of their players,” Lamoureux said of the decisive sequence. “[De Laurell] was able to run a little interference for me and drop the puck, and I was able to shift the puck to the side, put it on net, and fortunately it went in.”
The winner came at 15:44, and continued pressure from the Falcons prevented Holy Cross from pulling Roy until there were only 40 seconds remaining. The Crusaders did not produce a quality chance with the extra attacker, and registered only one shot in the final 4:16.
After the game, Serratore lauded his team’s play in the final minutes.
“That was a playoff game. There was nothing easy about that game,” he said. “[Holy Cross] was extremely difficult to play against. Hard working, disciplined, well coached. It could’ve gone either way. Luckily, we got the puck on the right guy’s stick twice in the third period and played well defensively after we gave up the faceoff goal, and were fortunate to win.”
Despite mustering only four shots in the opening frame, the Falcons opened the scoring on the strangest of plays. Defenseman Scott Mathis fired a shot from 40 feet that sailed wide of the net but rebounded off the end boards and off the right skate of Crusaders netminder Adam Roy before trickling across the goal line at 15:39. The goal was the eighth of the season for Mathis, who was named to the Atlantic Hockey first team during Thursday’s awards banquet.
“We’ve battled through adversity all year,” Roy said of the team’s reaction to the deficit. “I don’t think anyone felt down about it.”
Indeed, Holy Cross battled back. Late in the second period, Everett Sheen dug the puck out of the corner behind Air Force goaltender Jason Torf and fed linemate Shayne Stockton below the right faceoff circle. The freshman settled the puck and then wedged a fluttering backhander between the left shoulder of Torf and the near post, tallying his ninth goal of the season and deadlocking the game at 1-1 heading into the second intermission.
The momentum carried over into the third, as Holy Cross dominated the opening moments. The pressure culminated with a go-ahead goal from senior winger Erik Vos, who buried a rebound created from an attacking zone faceoff win by Matt Gordon and two blocked shot attempts by Andrew Cox. Vos’ eighth of the year came at 2:51 of the third, about seven minutes before Lamoureux’s heroics began.
“We had three power plays and that’s kind of been our calling card to score a couple more,” said Pearl, whose team held a 30-21 advantage in shots. “You want to create chances on the power play, but those chances just didn’t happen for us tonight.”
Third seeded Holy Cross, which was third in the nation on the power play at 24.5 percent, bowed out despite losing only two of its final 15 games. This was the program’s first appearance in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals since the 2006 season, during which it won the league and defeated Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Air Force represented Atlantic Hockey in the NCAA tournament for three consecutive years from 2007 to 2009 and defeated Michigan in the first round in its most recent appearance.
Video: Air Force coach Frank Serratore:
Video: Air Force’s Jacques Lamoureux: