ROCHESTER, N.Y. — There’s an adage in hockey: Get to the net and good things will happen.
That was the case for Air Force sophomore Evan Giesler, who recorded his first career hat trick to lead the Falcons to a 4-2 win over host Rochester Institute of Technology.
Giesler had a goal in each period for the first Air Force hat trick since Cole Gunner’s in March 2015.
“Coach always preaches, ‘Get to the net and goods things happen,'” said Giesler. “My role on the team is to occupy space in front of the net and try to bury those rebounds. The guys were playing really well and getting me the puck in front of the net. I was the benefactor.”
The win keeps No. 19 Air Force in the hunt for the Atlantic Hockey regular season title. With three games left, the Falcons trail Canisius by a point for first place with a game in hand.
“Typical Air Force-RIT game,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore . “The games in Colorado Springs against these guys were wars and this was a war tonight. There’s nothing easy about playing these guys. RIT-Air Force, you’re not going to get out of these games without an ice bag on some part of your body. ”
Giesler’s first of three came just 25 seconds into the contest. Evan Feno won a draw in the RIT zone that landed on Giesler’s stick, and he put a wrist shot between the pads of RIT goaltender Mike Rotolo to stake the Falcons to the early lead.
“I was just trying to follow it to the net,” said Giesler. “Goals are big right off the bat, start of the period, especially the first period, and it found a way to the back of the net.”
It stayed 1-0 until early in the second period, when RIT tied and then took the lead on goals from Liam Kerins and Jordan Peacock. The momentum had swung to the Tigers, who outshot Air Force 18-13 in the period.
“They had a lot of momentum in the second period,” said Serratore. “They could have put us away and Shane Starrett kept us in there.
“The third period, I thought we took it to them a little bit. But we had to block shots and we had to have great saves.”
Starrett made 39 stops for the win to improve to 19-4-4 on the season.
“(Starrett) was outstanding,” said Giesler. “The player of the game. He had some huge saves that kept it close during critical times.”
Giesler’s final goal was the game-winner, breaking a 2-2 tie with 9:55 left in regulation. Rotolo made the initial save on a shot from Erik Baskin, but the rebound came to Giesler and he finished for his third of the night and ninth of the season.
RIT pulled Rotolo with 1:12 to go, and Starrett had to come up big in the closing seconds before Baskin sealed it with an empty-net goal with 25 seconds left.
As a result, Air Force has clinched at least second place and is in the hunt for its third regular season title and first since 2011-12.
“We’re battling for the number one spot going into the playoffs, so this was big for us,” said Giesler.
The teams will conclude their season series tomorrow night.
“That was a hard-fought game,” said Serratore. “We’re going to have another hard-fought game tomorrow. We’ve played them three times and they’ve all been bloody-nose games.”
Atlantic Hockey roundup
Bentley 4, Sacred Heart 0
Freshman goaltender Aidan Pelino made 24 saves for the shutout, his second in his last three games. Four different players scored for the Falcons, who have clinched at least home ice in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Canisius 5, at Niagara 2
Felix Chamberland had a pair of goals for the Golden Griffins, who extended their unbeaten streak to 14 games and maintained a one-point lead over Air Force for first place. Stephen Pietrobon had both Niagara goals. Canisius goaltender Charles Williams made 28 saves to improve to 18-6-5.
Army West Point 3, Holy Cross 1
The Black Knights put the game out of reach on Conor Andrle’s power-play goal midway through the third period. Holy Cross outshot Army West Point 33-24, with Black Knights goalie Parker Gahagen making 32 saves, including 12 in the third period.
Mercyhurst 7, Robert Morris 4
Robert Morris opened a 2-0 lead just 4:20 into the contest, but Mercyhurst reeled off five straight goals to open a 6-3 lead after two periods. Derek Barach had two goals and two assists to lead the Lakers, while Luke Lynch had a pair of goals for the Colonials. Each team used two goaltenders, with Mercyhurst’s Brandon Wildung getting the win.