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Falcons suddenly in second after sweeping RMU

Air Force head coach Frank Serratore
USAFA

Prior to last weekend, the Air Force hockey team had not swept a series all year. Two wins on the road against Sacred Heart took care of that. And now a pair of home wins over Robert Morris have the team on a six-game unbeaten streak, which has vaulted the Falcons to second place in Atlantic Hockey. Victories by scores of 2-0 and 4-1 allowed the squad to jump over three other schools in the conference.

"That's great for us to come in and get four points," said junior defenseman Adam McKenzie. "Every day, every game, we're just climbing up the standings."

Friday night junior goalie Jason Torf pitched his second shutout of the year, stopping all 30 Colonial shots. It was his ninth career shutout. Kyle DeLaurell's goal just 1:05 into the contest turned out to be enough. Chad Demers added a power play goal midway through the third period for the final margin.

Saturday the Falcons weathered an early storm by the Colonials, but then took over beginning in the final minutes of the first period. Air Force outshot Robert Morris 41-15 the rest of the night, after an early 14-4 shot deficit.

In spite of RMU's hot start, Air Force did score first, when Ben Persian jammed the puck in from the right post at the 2:19 mark. The Colonials tied it on an almost identical goal at 4:08. The first ended with the score tied 1-1, thanks partly to some nice work by Torf between the pipes.

Cole Gunner put Air Force ahead for good in the final minute of the second period, setting up in the left circle, and one-timing a long pass from Demers for a power play goal.

Ryan Timar was stopped on a short-handed breakaway just over three minutes into the third period. After that, the Falcons got a five-on-three PP chance; they didn't score right away, but McKenzie blasted a shot past RMU goalie Eric Levine on the five-on-four part of the advantage at the 6:30 mark. Timar's short-handed goal with 1:30 left finished the scoring.

Air Force is now 6-2-1 since the holiday break, and 8-2-2 in their last twelve games. "I think a lot of it is our d-zone play is slowly coming around," McKenzie said. "It had been questionable for a while there. I think this weekend we really took some strides on that. The energy is great right now, even in practice."

Coach Frank Serratore had similar things to say about the improved play, "Just our energy. We're playing better as a team. We're better defensively. We're holding leads. And this weekend I could not be more happy with our special teams. That's a good sign." The Falcons were 3 of 10 on the power play against the Colonials, and 9 for 9 on the penalty kill. "You're not going to lose a lot of games this time of year when the goaltending and special teams are in your favor," he added.

Air Force is nine points behind Niagara in the AHA standings. There's no catching them. And there are just six points separating the Falcons from tenth place, where Robert Morris now sits. So there is work ahead to get that all important bye the first weekend of the conference playoffs. The Falcons will continue that quest with a pair of home games this Friday and Saturday against American International. Faceoff both nights at Cadet Ice Arena is at 7:05 pm.

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