PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The first upset of the NCAA tournament happened early this year when third-seeded Air Force took down Western Michigan 5-4 on Friday. Three takeaways:
1. Quick goals
The game had so many flurries it could be confused for a blizzard. Air Force opened the scoring 56 seconds into the game from Jordan Himley. Scoring in the third period also came in one go, with four goals coming in eight minutes. Air Force started with a power-play goal when Phil Boje sent a rocket of a shot from the far side faceoff circle.
Western Michigan scored another two goals within seconds of each other 50 seconds after the Air Force tally. Molino kick-started the team’s third-period outburst with his goal at 4:48 after a cold second period by the Broncos.
The sophomore didn’t stop there — he assisted on Sheldon Dries’s goal, pulling Air Force players down low into the slot to leave him an open net. The Broncos took emphasis with the limited time and made it a one-goal game with 5:11 left in the game.
2. Special teams still hold key
Air Force wasn’t a complete unknown entering the tournament. The Falcons hold the best penalty-killing percentage in the country and are the only team above 90 percent, killing 154 of 171 penalties (90.1 percent).
The Falcons are also one of the best in the country in scoring with a player in the box, with eight short-handed goals for the season. Boje’s short-handed goal capitalized on a turnaround with space on the blue line, showing how consistent and strong Air Force’s pressure has been this year. The pressure and hard forecheck have the potential to jam Harvard up Saturday.
3. Atlantic Hockey
Not known for being tournament favorites, Atlantic Hockey teams have advanced to the regional championship only five times.
The victory gives Air Force its second NCAA tournament win in program history, with the other coming in 2009. The Falcons are also the first third-seeded team to win since 2015.
Prior to the Air Force victory, RIT defeated Minnesota State in the first round 2015 and Denver in 2010. The conference had held a dry spell in tournament victories dating back to 2010. The Falcons are one of three Atlantic Hockey teams to win an NCAA tournament game since the conference was formed in 2004, with Holy Cross (2006) also part of the group.