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In a game featuring two teams on multiple-game losing streaks, the Air Force Falcons were able to snap their three-game slide and stay in a tie for the Atlantic Conference lead, beating the Connecticut Huskies, 2-1, in a nationally televised game at Cadet Ice Arena.
After a sluggish first ten minutes to start the game, Air Force put forward their best scoring chance when a Falcon shot thrown in from the blue line caught Connecticut goalie Garrett Bartus (24 saves) – making his second career start after top goalie Jeff Larson left the program – off guard as it glanced off the post.
Even in the loss, Huskies’ coach Bruce Marshall was pleased with his goaltender’s effort.
“He made some great saves tonight that kept us in the game. We’ve been having breakdowns the last couple weeks where it’s a shot here, a missed defensive play there, but when you start getting saves, it starts allowing you to do other things.”
The Falcons used this scoring chance to gain momentum, as they scored less than 30 seconds later as a check from Blake Page — who also picked up an assist on the goal — knocked the puck away from the Huskies’ defender. Eric Artman picked the puck up and deflected a shot off an unsuspecting UConn player, squirting it past Bartus making it 1-0
After the Huskies’ Jim Gallagher was sent off for tripping with three minutes remaining in the period, it looked like Air Force would take the lead, as they were set up nicely in the offensive end. However, the Huskies prevented a goal and quickly turned the disadvantage into a nice short-handed goal.
With 1:17 remaining, the Huskies’ Michael Coppola got behind the Falcons’ defense, tipping a lazy Air Force pass to himself. Falcons’ goalie Andrew Volkening (24 saves) was able to stop the initial shot, but left a big rebound in front of the net. Brad Cooper quickly took advantage, slamming the rebound home to tie the game at one.
“Kyle De Laurell had the puck low and he tried to pass the puck back to Brett Nylander,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “He didn’t get much on it and [Coppola] actually knocked it down, chipped it by Nylander and it was off to the races.”
The teams remained tied at the end of the second, as both had their chances, but neither was able to take the lead.
The Huskies put pressure on Air Force a little more than a minute later, as a scrum in front of the Falcons’ net led to Volkening getting knocked over after making a save. However, UConn was unable to capitalize, as the puck was swept away.
“I think he’s the best player ever to play in the program,” Serratore said of Volkening. “I mean when you see what he’s done, he’s won four championship games, he’s been the all-tournament goalie in three NCAA tournaments, he’s been the all-regional goalie. We’ve had three All-Americans in the last three years, but the last two years he’s been our team MVP.”
Controversy struck three and a half minutes into the final frame as a Falcons’ goal was disallowed. It looked like Scott Kozlak had put Air Force (9-8-4, 9-4-4) ahead with a rising backhand, but as the puck entered the net, it was knocked off its moorings. The referee quickly determined that it was a Falcon who had committed the act and waved the goal off.
Although both sides had their chances, it was the Falcons that finally took the lead with only 2:46 remaining.
Air Force star Jacques Lamoureux carried the puck into the Connecticut zone and fired a pass to a streaking Tim Kirby, who one-timed a shot past Bartus’ outstretched leg, putting the Cadets up 2-1.
It has been a tough stretch for the Huskies (2-15-2, 2-10-2), who have not won since November 7 and are on a seven-game losing streak.
“We know there’s a lot of hockey left,” said Marshall. “We just have to get back to the things that we know how to do, and that’s play simple hockey; we’ve still got to find that balance so it goes our way.”
The teams are back in action tomorrow night at Cadet Ice Arena, game time 7:05.