COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Behind 30 saves from goaltender Jason Torf and a quick-strike offense led by Kyle De Laurell, Air Force shut out Robert Morris 2-0 at the Cadet Ice Arena.
It was Torf’s ninth career shutout for the Falcons.
“To be honest, I was actually fighting the puck a bit tonight,” said Torf. “I wasn’t holding in my rebounds as nicely as I should and would like to, but it didn’t matter because when you have defensive play like that, that clears the puck every time you fumble one, it’s amazing. They kept most of the pucks to the outside, which is always nice.”
Air Force wasted little time getting on the scoreboard.
Stephan Carew collected the puck and got it to Trevor Waldoch coming down from the left point. Waldoch let fly a shot that hit a Robert Morris player in the skate and then bounced up on Colonials’ goaltender Eric Levine. The rebound came to De Laurell on the right side post and he fired it home just 1:05 into the period.
Though Air Force was held scoreless for the rest of the period, they dominated most of the time of possession and had the better scoring chances, including one that got rung off the post by Chad Demers. Even when De Laurell was sent to the box for tripping, the Colonials struggled offensively.
“I thought we played with a tremendous amount of energy; I thought we worked really hard,” said Colonials’ coach Derek Schooley. “I thought we got chances around the net. There were a lot of pucks there just out of our reach. Pretty even hockey game. They scored a faceoff goal and a power-play goal and we didn’t score a power-play goal and we didn’t score a faceoff goal.”
Robert Morris came out with a much better effort in the second period, dominating much of the action with a very physical forecheck, cycling the puck relentlessly in the corners and trying to keep a player in front of Torf as a screen. However, Torf stood strong, and when Robert Morris did get power-play opportunities, the Falcons’ penalty kill was at its best, keeping the Colonials from getting any good chances.
“I thought it was a dead-even game,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “Third period was somewhat fairly even. I thought Levine was great, I thought Torf was strong, even strength was dead-on. I though the difference in the game was in the special teams. Our penalty killing was good and we stopped them on all four power-play attempts and on the other side of the ledger, our power play found a way to get that all-important second goal.”
Robert Morris also carried the play early in the third, forcing Torf to make several stellar saves from point-blank chances, including one by Zac Lynch on a rebound in the slot. However, the Colonials were ineffective on an early power-play chance.
“You know what, our power play has been struggling all year,” said Schooley. “We have talented hockey players, we just haven’t been able to put them in the right spots. It’s frustrating and we didn’t get much accomplished tonight.”
It ended up costing them when Air Force converted on its power-play opportunity. Scott Holm skated up the ice with Cole Gunner and fed him the puck inside the blue line. Gunner in turn passed it to Demers, who was racing up the right side. Demers took a quick wrist shot from the right faceoff circle off the pass that beat Levine top corner glove side at 10:46.
“We changed our mindset,” said Serratore. “At Sacred Heart, we were way too passive. we gave them too much time to come out of the corners and make plays. We worked on it this week and said we were going to be extremely aggressive on the puck and not let that first opponent that gets to the puck make a play. Our puck defenseman was on that guy.”
Robert Morris got one last power-play opportunity late, but once again, the Falcons penalty kill played aggressively and kept Robert Morris from getting many chances.
The two teams faceoff again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. MST and both teams need points for playoff positioning in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Hockey Association.
“To be honest, we looked at the standings for the first time this week,” said Serratore. “As a team, we never even looked at the standings or talked about the standings. Obviously, Niagara is way ahead of everybody and Sacred Heart is way behind everybody and AIC is a little behind everybody, but there’s nine teams in contention for one of the byes. Our goal is to try to get one of those byes. If we have a good effort and fall short of that, we should be in good position to at least host that first-round series.”