The No. 3 seed Air Force Falcons (20-11-6) used a three-goal outburst in the second period to take complete control of the Atlantic Hockey semifinal game against the No. 2 seed RIT Tigers (19-12-6). Despite a highly partisan RIT crowd of over 3900 strong, the Falcons defeated the Tigers 5-0 to move on to the Atlantic Hockey Championship tomorrow against No. 5 seed Mercyhurst Lakers.
“I was expecting a dogfight right to the very end, especially playing front of that sea of orange,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “We got the bounces tonight. Our guys played with a lot of heart. We’re not splitting atoms here, it is a game. Fortunately for us we came through. It gets down often times to special teams and goaltending, and our special teams and goaltending was better than RIT’s tonight.”
The Falcons scored one of each flavor of goal in the second period, an even-strength tally by Mike Phillipich, a shorthander by Matt Fairchild, and a power-play goal by Brent Olson. The shutout was Andrew Volkening’s fourth of the season and the first shutout in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey playoff history.
“Air Force was the better team tonight, in all facets of the game,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We got beat by a better team tonight. We became unraveled with too many penalties. When you are in these situations, you have to keep your wits about you and give yourself a chance to win the game.”
Air Force scored on its first power play of the game, just 6:32 into the opening period. Matt Charbeonneau fired a blast from the left point that hit off the body of another player and dropped down near the top of the crease. Brent Olson pounced on the puck there and wristed it past RIT goaltender Louis Menard to give the Falcons the 1-0 lead.
“Matt Charbonneau made a great play to bring it in from the point,” said Olson. “I was just going to the front of the net. He was about ready to take a slapshot. I was yelling for the puck and he hit me. I tried to redirect it and got the rebound, whacked at it and found the back of the net.”
Despite the early deficit, RIT carried play for long stretches of the first period. But the closest the Tigers came to scoring was twice dinging the puck off the Air Force goal posts.
The second period was all Air Force as the Falcons scored three straight goals to take control of the game. Air Force opened up the scoring in the period at 5:49 on a strong rush into the Tigers zone. Mike Phillipich finished off rush to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead.
RIT tried to counterpunch during a five-on-three advantage that lasted for fifty-seven seconds starting at the 8:07 mark. But the Air Force penalty killing unit limited the Tigers to only a single shot and kept RIT off the board.
“It was penalties that put ourselves in that situation,” said Wilson. “You can’t afford to do that in a single elimination type scenario. We’ve got to learn from that.”
Air Force extended its lead mid-period when the Tigers gave up their only shorthanded goal of the season. Matt Fairchild bull-dogged the puck out of the Falcons zone through a Tiger defender and then he was off to the races all alone. Another RIT defenseman tried to angle across the ice to cutoff Fairchild, but got there too late and Fairchild wristed the puck past goaltender Menard at 10:04 to give Air Force the 3-0 lead.
“The ‘D’ pushed their forward up the wing, the puck was just sitting there so I slapped at it,” said Fairchild. “After that it was pretty much just a foot race, then threw it on net and it went in.”
The Falcons tallied their second power play goal of the game, and second by Olson, at 17:18 to extend their dominating lead to 4-0.
Despite taking their timeout, that goal sent the RIT team over the edge and their frustrations boiled over. Over the last three minutes of the period, RIT’s Matt Smith was assessed a ten-minute misconduct for words to the referee and Anton Kharin was sent off for a major hitting from behind penalty.
Fairchild scored his second goal of the game midway through the third period to extend the Falcons lead to 5-0. Fairchild broke up an RIT play deep in the Air Force zone, and then followed linemates Jeff Hajner and Michael Mayra up ice. Hajner fed the puck back onto Fairchild’s stick and he finished the play at 10:34.