ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Air Force Falcons scored twice in the first period and shut down Rochester Institute of Technology 4-0 to win their fifth Atlantic Hockey title in six seasons.
Jason Fabian had the final two goals for the Falcons, including an empty-netter with seven seconds to play.
“I thought we played a very good game, a very smart game,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “The only thing they would get is what we gave ‘em. We kept numbers back and we could get offensive opportunities. They would present themselves throughout the game and we capitalized on them.”
The Falcons’ game plan was to keep the Tigers off the board in the early going to take the crowd out of the game and it worked as RIT had some of its best chances early in the contest, but all were turned away by Falcon goaltender Jason Torf.
“Not a bad first period [for us],” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “I thought it was a pretty even first, but they end up getting two goals and that makes it hard right off the get-go.”
“We knew the first ten minutes would be important to not give them anything and not let the crowd in the game,” Serratore said. “Not only did we get through that, but we came out of the period with a two-goal lead.”
The Falcons struck just 70 seconds apart near the end of the first period. At 15:15, freshman Cole Gunner walked out from the back boards and put a backhand shot past RIT goaltender Shane Madolora.
“I just lost it behind the net,” said Madolora. “Their guy came with speed and it came between my skate and the post.”
Air Force struck again at 16:25. Kyle De Laurell found John Kruse with an outlet pass, sending him in all alone on Madolora. Kruse lifted a backhand that floated into the net, silencing the crowd of 2,433.
“He sort of fake shot and dragged it out and flipped it over my pad,” said Madolora. “Pretty good move on his part.”
“We wanted to take out their crowd as early as possible,” said Air Force captain Paul Weisgarber, who assisted on Gunner’s goal. “Getting that first goal is huge. The next shift after a goal scored or goal allowed is huge. Getting one just like that 70 seconds left, or whatever it was, is kind of a dagger to the opposing team.”
“Getting two goals like that really helped us,” added Air Force defenseman Tim Kirby. “Quieting the crowd and I think it took the wind out of their sails.”
RIT outshot Air Force 15-10 in the second period, but Fabian scored at 9:23, again on a play that began from behind the RIT net.
“We’ve been looking to work that back line,” said Serratore. “You’ve got to get some blue collar goals this time of year. Two guys below the goal line moving their feet and keeping one guy high. It was a solid game plan and we executed it.”
“We needed to go from 2-0 to 2-1 and make it a game from there,” said Wilson. “We went for it, had a lot of opportunities, but they make it 3-0 and it becomes very difficult to overcome.
“We didn’t get the timely goals. I thought we were short of energy. Maybe last night took more out of us than we had thought. The bottom line is we couldn’t get the goal we needed.”
The Tigers didn’t get any goals at all, shut out again by Air Force, which has blanked the Tigers in all three meetings all-time in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. In one semifinal meeting and two meetings in the title game, the Falcons have outscored RIT by a 10-0 margin.
“I don’t have the answer for it,” Wilson said. “I wish I did, obviously. Different years are different things. I didn’t think we had the energy. Last year [1-0 loss], I thought we dominated play-wise, but we didn’t win the game. This year, I tip my hat. They got the timely goals they needed and we didn’t.”
It was Torf’s second consecutive shutout in the title game. Last season, he made 40 saves against RIT; this year he stopped 34.
“At this time of the year, it’s not about shutouts, it’s about wins,” said Torf. “I didn’t get the wins last weekend, but I think I did a better job [this weekend]. I felt very good tonight. And it’s easy for me when they keep the shots from the outside, which is a tribute to my defense.”
Air Force is now 10-1 all-time in games at Blue Cross Arena.
“We play some of our best hockey here,” said Kirby. “It’s like a home away from home.”
“There isn’t no magic,” said Serratore. “The magic is getting better as a team. We’ve been coming here with good teams that have played their best hockey this time of year.”
F Taylor MacReynolds, Sr., RIT
F Cole Gunner, Fr., Air Force
F Paul Weisgarber, Fr., Air Force
D Tim Kirby, Sr., Air Force
D Scott Mathis, Sr., Air Force
G Jason Torf, So., Air Force
MVP: Jason Torf