By Seth Cole USCHO Arena Reporter
The highly-anticipated matchup lived up to its billing.
Freshman Brad Roberts stopped 42 shots and senior Nic Serre scored both Army goals, as the Cadets edged service-academy rival Air Force, 2-1, before a season-high sellout crowd of 2,409 at the Cadet Ice Arena.
Army snapped a two-game losing streak to improve to 7-11-0, while the Falcons saw their winless skid stretch to six games in falling to 8-14-1.
Despite the win, Army coach Rob Riley was frustrated in his team for how chippy the game got.
“This is a tough, hard-nosed rivalry, and we have a lot of respect for each other,” said Riley. “Hopefully, we don’t feel too good about ourselves.”
The last meeting between the heated foes, on Dec. 8, 2001, featured 29 penalties, 17 by the Cadets. Tonight’s contest was nearly as physical, with 24 penalties for 56 minutes committed between the two teams.
Both sides set the tone for the contest midway through the opening period, as several fights broke out involving 10 players and all three officials in front of Army’s net. When it was all said and done, seven penalties were handed out in the scrum, with Air Force’s Scott Zwiers picking up three minors and a 10-minute misconduct.
The visitors opened the scoring 5:14 into the second period, taking advantage of an abbreviated power play. Nic Serre skated across the blue line on the left side and rifled a slap shot through the pads of Falcons’ goaltender Mike Polidor.
Air Force appeared to tie the contest late in the second period. Just 10 seconds after Zwiers hit the post with a wrister, Tom Starkey batted a rebound attempt past Roberts. However, the goal was immediately disallowed, as Starkey was called for high-sticking.
“Some of it [Air Force’s recent struggles] is simply the puck bouncing the wrong way,” said Zwiers. “I hit the post twice tonight, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The Falcons finally got on the scoreboard early in the third period with a power-play tally of their own. Defenseman Steve Mead slipped the puck across to Andy Berg, whose one-timer from above the right face-off circle hit the crossbar and bounced in. The goal was Berg’s nation-leading 13th with the man advantage this season.
“That’s the same play we’ve been doing all year,” said Berg. “I just got a good pass from [Mead] and beat [Roberts] glove side.”
Serre gave the Cadets the lead for good with 13:45 remaining. Taking advantage of a turnover by the Falcons, Serre wristed a shot from between the faceoff circles to the right of Polidor for his first multiple-goal game of the season.
“We only have three seniors,” noted Riley. “Serre scored both our goals, [captain Joe] Dudek was strong on defense, and [assistant captain Derek] Hines had some strong shifts. We get strong leadership from those guys.”
Air Force pulled Polidor with 49 seconds left in the contest. However, Roberts stopped both Falcons shots with the extra attacker to preserve the victory.
“He’s got a lot of composure for a freshman,” said Riley about Roberts. “He’s very, very tough physically and mentally, and has played just about every game for us.”
Polidor finished with 26 saves in the loss.
“Polidor was good, but Roberts was great,” said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore. “We just have to figure out a way to score more goals.”