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In a game that had everything from a fight for first place to an actual fight, the Mercyhurst Lakers were able to come into Cadet Ice Arena and steal not only three points from the Air Force Falcons, but a share of the Atlantic Hockey Association lead while snapping the Falcons’ ten game unbeaten streak by winning 3-1.
Like Friday’s contest, it was a defensive struggle, as both teams were unable to put the puck in the net, despite plenty of chances, as the teams combined for a total of six penalties — three a side — including a five-on-three advantage for Air Force (8-6-4 overall, 8-2-4 AHA) and a four-on-three for Mercyhurst. The two goaltenders were up to the task, as they stopped multiple chances.
The Lakers had a chance to get on the board midway through the period when Andrew Volkening left a rebound lying in the crease. Luckily for the Falcons, defender Scott Mathis swept the puck away to keep the score at zero.
Ryan Zapolski put in some nice first period work also, as he turned away some hard Air Force shots during the five-on-three advantage. A couple of nice leg pad saves kept the Falcons scoreless.
Mercyhurst (9-9-2 overall, 9-5-2 AHA) was able to put one behind Volkening (32 saves) early in the second period. Scott Pitt brought the puck into the zone and fired a quick shot on net. Mike Walsh stopped the puck but did not control it, setting up a point blank shot for Brandon Coccimiglio, putting the Lakers up 1-0.
Using the momentum from the goal, Mercyhurst kept up the pressure, but Volkening was able to keep it a one-goal game for the first period.
Halfway through the second, Volkening made a spectacular save, as he was on his back but stopped a Lakers’ attempt by sweeping his glove arm across the unoccupied part of the crease for the save.
While Volkening was good, Zapolski (36 saves) was great, as he tallied a total of 85 saves on the weekend. He was able to thwart Air Force’s best chance to get back in the game just thirty seconds into the final period. A one-timer from a wide open Falcon was calmly swept away from a butterfly positioned Zapolski.
This save turned into offense, because just twenty seconds later, Mercyhurt’s Steve Cameron put them up by two. In a goal eerily similar to Friday, Cameron brought the puck in by himself on the left boards, cut to the middle around a diving defender, and slid a low shot by Volkening.
Mercyhurst salted the game away with 4:37 remaining in the game, as Volkening lost sight of the puck behind the net. Neil Graham picked it up and easily tucked the puck inside the left post for a 3-0 lead.
Of his team’s performance, Air Force coach Frank Serratore said, “It’s disappointing. We got beat by a more determined team and that’s a tough pill to swallow. We got them here on our ice and we’re playing tonight for basically all the marbles, the winner takes three points away from the series, we come out on the second night and they were more determined in every facet of the game.”
Down three and desperate, Serratore pulled Volkening for an extra attacker with nearly five minutes remaining. It worked soon after, as a Jeff Hajner shot deflected off the skate of Jacques Lamoureux and into the net to make it 3-1.
One goal was all the Falcons could muster, as they continued the relentless attack but were repeatedly turned back by Zapolski.
“We knew coming in here that we wouldn’t have a chance unless we got great goaltending,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “I think Ryan Zapolski played even better than great. Yesterday, he clearly was the difference and today he was solid and like most teams, we feed off that.”
The Cadets frustration finally boiled over, as a fight broke out with two seconds remaining in the game. It was an ugly end to a well-fought series, as the Lakers and Falcons dropped gloves and fought. When it was all over there were a total of seven minors, five majors, and three game misconducts, including Falcons’ star Lamoureux. Luckily however, none of the majors were for fighting, meaning there will be no suspensions.
Both teams go on winter break and are not in action again until January 2-3. Air Force will be in Fairfield to take on Sacred Heart while Mercyhurst will be taking on Minnesota-Duluth in the Catamount Cup.