Atlantic Hockey: Air Force rolls to sweep of Niagara

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Following Friday night’s come-from-behind win over Niagara that had their coach challenging the commitment to team defense, Air Force killed short-handed penalty time for a third of the first period, including a five-minute major without yielding a shot on goal. That momentum led to a goal late in the period by Kyle Haak for a 1-0 lead that led to a dominating 4-0 win for the Falcons.

“We can’t win if everybody isn’t onboard, and by that I mean team defense,” stated coach Frank Serratore. “This is a happy night for Carol Serratore as the difference in my being Santa Claus or Ebenezer Scrooge is the result of the last series before Christmas. We had a big come-from-behind win last night and a convincing 4-0 win tonight. We outplayed them, out special-teamed them, 3-0, and out-goaltended them; that’s a good win.”

The coach may not have been feeling all Christmas-like just three shifts into the game when Pierce Pluemer took a major penalty for kneeing that also included a game misconduct for his hit on defenseman Tyler Hayes. The commitment to team defense was abundant early, as not only did the Falcons kill the penalty, they outshot Niagara over the five minutes with a couple of short-handed chances while keeping goalie Shane Starrett relaxed without having to face a shot.

Haak, who scored the first-period goal that ultimately proved to be the game-winner, also scored on a power play in the second period when he deftly tucked a rebound at the near post off a shot from defenseman Dan Bailey behind Niagara goalie Guillaume Therien for a 2-0 lead.

“Our special teams were hot tonight,” said Haak. “We had a great net presence tonight that was a big part of all four goals, two on the power play and one short-handed that was a “spin-a-rama” where everyone ended up in the net. These are two big wins and now we get to recharge the batteries a bit before we go on the road for a couple of weeks to start the New Year.”

Forward Erik Baskin chipped in with a short-handed goal and an assist on the final power-play marker to close out the scoring for Air Force, which outshot Niagara by a 36-19 margin, including 11-2 with the man advantage.

“Our special teams were key tonight,” said Serratore. “Now we have to go prove we can win on the road where we have struggled some this season. This is a great way to go into the break and I am proud of how we played a complete game tonight for the win.”

Atlantic Hockey roundup

Robert Morris 4, at Bentley 1
The Colonials took advantage of goals from Timmy Moore, Daniel Leaven and Ben Robillard, the last two goals just under three minutes apart early in the second period,  to build a 3-0 lead that the host Falcons couldn’t overcome. Andrew Pikul stopped 31 of 32 shots, including 13 in the third period to foil a Bentley rally started by Drew Callin’s goal late in the period. Leaven scored his second of the night into an empty net to seal the road win for the Colonials.

Maine 7, American International  2
The Yellow jackets spotted Maine an early goal before taking a 2-1 lead on goals by Shawn McBride and Hugo Reinhardt, but from then on it was all Black Bears as Maine reeled off six unanswered goals, including two each from Chase Pearson and Blaine Byron on their way to a dominating 7-2 win over AIC in nonconference play. Cam Brown added three assists while Patrick Shea posted a goal and an assist on a strong offensive night for Maine.

Providence 3, at RIT 1
In a tight defensive game that saw the Friars jump out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Scott Conway and Erik Foley, RIT fought to within a goal in the third period when Myles Powell scored with just over two and half minutes remaining in regulation time. The Tigers couldn’t find the equalizer, as they managed just four shots on Hayden Hawkey over the final 20 minutes before Conor McPhee iced the win for the Friars with an empty-net goal with 48 seconds remaining.

Army West Point 8, at Holy Cross 1
Perhaps feeding off the big win over Navy by the Black Knights football team, Army raced out to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Conor Andrie, Tipper Higgins, and Brendan Soucie, who was just getting his night started on the way to an 8-1 rout of the Crusaders in Worcester, Mass. Soucie added two goals in the third period to close out the scoring as Holy Cross played all three goaltenders in the loss. Parker Gahagan made 31 saves for Army West Point in the win.

Sacred Heart 3, Mercyhurst 2
Following the Lakers’ goal by Kyle Dutra in the first three minutes of play, Sacred Heart scored the next three off the sticks of Zach Tsekos on a power play, Jordan Minello at even strength, and a short-handed goal from Mitch Nylen. The Pioneers held on to down Mercyhurst by a 3-2 score. An extra-attacker goal with over three minutes remaining in regulation by Taylor Best closed the deficit to just one goal, but goaltender Nathan Perry shut the door and preserved the win for Sacred Heart.

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Tim Costello joined USCHO as a correspondent in 2003. A former collegiate goaltender, he is entering his 11th season covering D-II and D-III conferences in New England and provided features spanning D-I and other special interest stories.