ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here are three takeaways from Air Force’s 2-1 win over Robert Morris in the Atlantic Hockey championship on Saturday.
1. The win for Air Force was a win by a family.
“Coaches always say that these are like my kids and we’re like family,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
And that’s something that he really couldn’t say about the Falcons’ five league titles in their first six seasons in Atlantic Hockey.
“I knew my guys, but I didn’t know them like this group,” said Serratore, who explained that players stay at his house on the weekends, something he couldn’t do when he was raising his twin sons and two daughters.
“Now my kids are grown up and these guys have moved in with me. And for me, it’s almost like winning a championship with your kids. It’s really special.”
2. The loss for Robert Morris was a devastating loss for a family.
“We’re heartbroken. Devasted,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley as he opened his postgame comments, seeing a season abruptly end that he said had been the most fun he’s had in his coaching career.
Schooley pointed to his team’s leadership as the reason why.
“It’s the character. It’s the glue. It’s the people,” he said.
Senior assistant captain Daniel Leavens summed up the personality of this year’s team with one word: “Family. It’s that simple.”
When captain Rob Mann was selected, and Leavens, along with fellow senior Ben Robillard and junior Alex Bontje, were named assistants, they decided that they wanted to build a close-knit culture with this team.
“We wanted to build a family this year,” Leavens said. “We wanted to have good people in the dressing room.
“I’ve played on a lot of teams over the years, and played with a lot of great guys. This team, this year from day one was a family.”
3. It’s not getting any easier to win the conference.
It’s almost become a mantra for folks in and around Atlantic Hockey that the conference is getting better every year. New buildings, a full complement of scholarships, and success in non-conference play has contributed to that.
After Friday’s loss, Canisius coach Dave Smith recounted the progress the league has made, from a time when moral victories and just getting there were considered success, to the present when success is expected.
Getting to Blue Cross Arena is not as easy as it was during Air Force’s early years in the conference, according to Serratore.
“It’s so much harder,” he said. “Before, we just knew we were going to get here. We had some quarterfinal opponents, where we knew we just weren’t going to lose.”
He pointed to the difficulty of making it through the on-campus rounds to advance to Rochester.
“Those games at home are the toughest games of the year,” said Serratore. “You don’t want to lose in the quarterfinals at home in front of your own fans. You don’t want your season to end.”
And going forward?
“It’s not going to get any easier.”