Air Force is headed to the NCAA tournament.
After a one-year absence while RIT took the puck and raced with it all the way to the Frozen Four, the Falcons are back on top of Atlantic Hockey.
Led by the young and not-so-young, Air Force stopped Holy Cross, 3-2, in semifinal at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., on Friday night and then blanked RIT, 1-0, on Saturday night in the tournament’s championship game.
Senior forward Jacques Lamoureux scored Air Force’s last three goals of the weekend, giving him the game-winner in each outing, and freshman goalie Jason Torf stopped 68 of the 70 shots he faced. He had a career-high 40 saves in the shutout of RIT.
Air Force won its fourth Atlantic title in five years and will play in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time.
The Falcons and RIT have made it a clean sweep in tournament titles the last five seasons: The Falcons won three straight before RIT won last year’s.
“They’re five-for-five between the two of them as far as who keeps playing deep into March,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall, whose team fell to RIT, 4-2, in the other semifinal. “We’ve all got to raise the bar a little bit to get it done.”
Fourth-seeded Air Force (20-11-6) will play top-seeded Yale, the No. 1 overall seed, in the NCAA tournament’s East Regional at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Yale is 27-6-1 and the only game it did not win in its first 16 was at Air Force on Nov. 14. The Bulldogs were up 3-0 with 15 minutes left in the third period and Air Force stormed back with four goals to win it.
On Saturday, RIT outshot Air Force, 40-24, but could not get a puck past Torf.
The Falcons, who lost their first four games of the season, were celebrating in Rochesteronce again.
“In 2009, we were supposed to win and when we did it was a relief,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said on the team’s Web site. “This one was pure gratification because nobody besides our guys thought we could win it. You have to earn these kinds of wins and these guys did.”
A year ago, Air Force lost in the league semifinals. But the Falcons apparently hadn’t forgotten what it was like to play in a title game.
“When you get here, you have to make the most of it, because you never know if and when you will get back,” Serratore said.
Player of the Week
Jacques Lamoureux, sr., Air Force
Little wonder Lamoureux was named the tournament MVP: He scored three of Air Force’s four goals including the game-winner in each of the Falcons’ wins. He has scored at least one goal in seven straight games.
Air Force vs. Yale, Friday (6:30 p.m.)
Yale holds a 9-4 edge in the series between the teams, but Air Force won a game between them earlier in the season. The winner moves on to the regional championship to play the winner between Unionand Minnesota-Duluth.
Around Atlantic Hockey
The Falcons and Yale have never before met in the NCAA tournament. … The Falcons have won eight straight games, which is second in the nation to North Dakota’s nine. They are 11-2-3 in their last 16. … Senior Jacques Lamoureux has 9-3-12 totals for the last seven games. . . . In its last trip to the NCAAs in 2009, Air Force was also assigned to Bridgeport. The Falcons beat Michigan, 2-0, in the first round and lost to Vermont, 3-2 in double-overtime, in the regional championship that year.
Down 3-0 in the first period of their semifinal game against RIT, the Huskies rallied to cut the deficit to 3-2. But they could not quite catch up and ended their season with a 4-2 loss. … UConn has six of its top seven scorers back next year, led by sophomore-to-be Cole Schneider who led the team at 13-20-33. …Sean Ambrosie, 10-18-28 this season as a sophomore, and Billy Latta, 11-15-26 as a freshman, are among others who return.
This was the first time the Crusaders had advanced past the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals since they won the whole thing in 2006. … Holy Cross finished at 17-16-5, its best win total since that same 2005-06 season when the Crusaders went 27-10-2. … Senior goalie Adam Roy (Feeding Hills, Mass.) finished with 25 career wins, second-best at Holy Cross, and his 2.98 career goals-against average is fourth best. … Senior Everett Sheen finished with a nicely balanced career total of 52 goals and 52 assists for 104 points.
TylerBrenner wasted little time in making an impact as a pro. He’ll graduate early and gave up his final year of eligibility and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, he scored a pair of goals in his debut in a 5-1 win over Grand Rapidson Wednesday night. … Sophomore Chris Saracino led the Tiger defensemen in goals, assists and points at 5-15-20 and finished the season at plus-28, the second best total at the school.
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.