STATE COLLEGE, Pa.- — The Air Force Falcons (3-3-3) got five goals from five different skaters en route to a 5-1 victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3-0) at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion Friday night.
Penn State put on a lot of forechecking pressure in the opening minutes, but the stout goaltending of Air Force’s Jason Torf kept the score deadlocked.
The Falcons cracked into the goal department first. As the Nittany Lions were trying to complete a change, Air Force took advantage of an odd-man rush and Casey Kleisinger ripped a wrist shot from the high slot past Penn State goalie P.J. Musico to make it 1-0. The junior’s second goal of the season also marked the third straight home game in which Penn State allowed the game’s opening tally.
Penn State had a litany of power-play chances in the first, but failed on three attempts and struggled against a suffocating Air Force kill. The Falcons also garnered a pair of scoring chances short-handed, but Musico came up with answers.
The Nittany Lions finished the game 0-for-6 on the power play, and their season power play stooped to just 4-for-41.
The second period began with some sloppy play from both sides, but Air Force gained its bearings first and added to the lead. On a mini two-on-one, Cole Gunner made a crafty, spinning backhand pass to Kyle De Laurell, who finished from the left circle to make it 2-0 at the 7:50 mark.
Sensing the momentum, the Falcons’ forecheck caused an egregious turnover that resulted in a goal. Nittany Lions defenseman Luke Juha attempted to break out from behind his own goal line, but Tony Thomas intercepted his center ice pass. Eventually, the puck found its way to the tape of Chad Demers, who backhanded a knuckler past Musico to make it 3-0 at 14:57.
Torf continued to be sensational in net in the third, and the frustration was visible throughout the Nittany Lion roster. In finishing with 34 saves, the junior goaltender earned the admiration of his coach.
“We won because the best player on the ice happened to be in our goal,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
Justin Kirchhevel broke up Torf’s shutout bid midway through the third on a short-handed, breakaway goal to cut the score to 3-1 at the 8:25 mark. However, just 58 seconds later, Stephen Carew scored his fourth goal of the season on the power play to give Air Force the 4-1 lead.
“(Carew’s goal) was a bit of a killer for us,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “But I don’t think we lost heart at all after that.”
Tony Thomas capped off the Falcons win with an empty-net goal at 16:32. Despite the lopsided final, Gadowsky was quick to deflect praise to their Atlantic Hockey conference opposition.
“That was the best team we played by far,” said Gadowsky. “You have to work for what you get; there’s a reason they’ve won their league five of the last six years.”
On the contrary, despite his team’s win, Serratore found very few positives to highlight.
“Penn State deserved a better outcome than that,” said Serratore. “That was not a 5-1 game. We were awful. It was a slop-fest.”
The Falcons coach did not shy away from expressing his disapproval further.
“I’ve never had a team in 25 years play that badly and win by a 5-1 score,” said Serratore. “We have a better chance of hitting the Powerball than we do of winning again playing that poorly.”
The two teams look to rebound from their respective efforts tomorrow when they face off once again from the Greenberg Ice Pavilion. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m.