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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Four of the best goalies in the country were in Rochester this weekend at the Atlantic Hockey Championships. Of the four, Air Force goaltender Shane Starrett was perhaps the least lauded. But when the dust settled, Starrett and the Falcons were on top after a 2-1 win over Robert Morris in the AHC title game.
The sophomore allowed just two goals in four AHC playoff games this season to improve to 26-4-4. Against Robert Morris, he stopped 24 of 25 shots as the Colonials outshot the Falcons 25-14 including 22-9 over the final two periods.
“I’m definitely on a roll right now,” said Starrett. “But I’m just going out there trying to give my team the best chance to win every night, if that means giving up no goals or one goal.”
“We’ve got a good team, I’ll even say we have a very good team,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “(Starrett) is our best player. He makes us a great team. He gives us a chance to win every night. This is his team.”
Air Force had the advantage early when Erik Baskin scored just 1:15 into the contest. He took a feed from Tyler Ledford and put a wrist shot past Robert Morris goaltender Francis Marotte, just inside the far post.
The Falcons outshot Robert Morris 5-3 over a tightly contested first period, but the Colonials began to gain a territorial advantage as the game went on, eventually tying the score at 16:02 of the second when Ben Robillard redirected a pass from Eric Israel past Starrett.
But the Falcons responded minutes later with Jordan Himley’s 20th goal of the season with 31 seconds to go in the second period. He jumped on a bouncing puck and avoided a pokecheck from Marotte for the eventual game-winner.
“I just kind of busted straight through the middle,” said Himley. “(Ledford) kind of curled out; I saw him send the puck through. I think it hit my skate. The goalie slid over and I had an empty net. Little bit of luck there.”
“A little luck, he’s only done that 20 times this year,” quipped Serratore.
Robert Morris threw everything it could at Starrett and the Falcons in the third period, but was unable to get the equalizer.
“We’re heartbroken,” said RMU coach Derek Schooley. “Devastated. We deserved better, but Air Force deserved it, too. Both teams deserved it.”
The Colonials came up short in the title game for the second year in a row.
“Last year when we were in this same position, I didn’t think we gave a championship performance,” said Schooley. “I thought we gave a championship performance tonight. We were outstanding. We left it all on the line.”
It’s the sixth championship for Air Force since joining the league in 2006, but its first since 2012.
“We had a good run for a while,” said Serratore. “We won five of six. But after a couple years when you’re not here, you think, oh my God, the league keeps getting better and better, am I ever going to get another chance?”
Air Force improved to 12-2 all-time at Blue Cross Arena in the AHC tournament, and is now 6-0 in championship games. The Falcons will most likely be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Whomever the opponent is, Serratore says his team will be ready thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule.
“We’ve beaten good teams this year,” he said. “There’s nobody that we play that’s going to intimidate us. We play those (non-conference) games for a reason, to prepare for this moment.”