February 10, 2012

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Air Force soars to top

By Allen Lessels

Air Force swept RIT to swap spots with the Tigers atop the Atlantic Hockey standings. Meanwhile, Holy Cross bounced back nicely from a lost weekend to take a pair of games from AIC. 

They were the only teams sweeping their w eekend series.

Air Force became the third team to hold down the top spot in the league in the last three weeks, following in the steps of Mercyhurst and then RIT.

Holy Cross lost twice to Connecticut the week before and came back to beat AIC, 6-1 and 4-0.

Junior Brandon Nunn’s first career hat trick paced the Holy Cross attack on Friday night and freshman goalie Matt Ginn stopped 53 of 54 shots for the weekend.

“Brandon was great,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl (Winthrop, Mass.) on the team’s website. “He got the first because he stayed at the net. He got the second because he threw the puck to the net and the third because he threw the puck to the net. He’s got a sneaky little release and when he gets it on net, it’s tough to handle.”

The Crusaders’ defense was also impressive for the weekend.

“All six of them were skating,” Pearl said. “I think they moved the puck out well, and we were coming back and picking guys up away from the puck, which is very important.”

Defensemen, along with sophomore goalie Jason Torf, stepped up in Air Force’s 3-0 and 4-2 wins over RIT, too.

Torf missed nearly three months with a groin injury and started both games on the weekend for the first time since the beginning of the season. He made 25 saves in Friday night’s win.

On Saturday, the Falcons trailed 1-0 going into the third period and took charge with consecutive goals by sophomore Adam McKenzie, and seniors Tim Kirby and Scott Mathis, all defenders.

“We build our team with defensemen that can skate,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “That is by design. We would not have had the success that we have had without skill on our blueline. We put the puck on their sticks a lot and tonight they scored three for us.”

The challenge now for the Falcons is to be the first of the last three Atlantic leaders to hold onto the top spot for longer than a week.

They play at Niagara, which is tied for third place with RIT and just two points out of first, this weekend and then finish up with two-game sets against Mercyhurst at home and at Robert Morris.

Holy Cross is at Army for a pair and then closes out the regular season with home-and-home series against Sacred Heart and Bentley.

Games of the Week

Air Force at Niagara, Friday and Saturday

The tussling at the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings continues. Thanks to its sweep of RIT, Air Force is the third different team in the last three weeks to lead the league into a weekend.

The Falcons will have their hands full at Niagara. The Purple Eagles had their seven-game win streak snapped with a 3-2 loss to Mercyhurst on Saturday night and were tied for third in the league, two points behind Air Force.

Atlantic Hockey power rankings

  1. Air Force (14-7-6, 12-4-5 AHA). . . . Sophomore goalie Jason Torf, who missed nearly three months with a groin injury, backstops sweep of RIT.
  2. Mercyhurst (15-11-4, 12-5-4). . . . Paul Chiasson scores game-winner to snap Mercyhurst streak, 3-2. 
  3. Niagara (12-9-7, 11-5-5). . . . Runs win streak to seven with 6-1win at Mercyhurst on Friday; snapped on Saturday.
  4. RIT (15-10-3, 12-6-3). . . . Swept in league series for first time since Oct. 2009, also at Air Force.
  5. Robert Morris (13-12-3, 11-7-3). . . . Junior Adam Brace gets game-winner in 6-4 win over Canisius.
  6. UConn (12-14-2, 11-9-1). . . . Huskies outshot 30-15 in 4-2 loss to Army on Tuesday night.
  7. Bentley (9-12-7, 9-6-6). . . . Brett Gensler’s extra attacker goal with less than a second left earns 3-3 tie with Sacred Heart.
  8. Holy Cross (12-13-3, 10-8-3). . . . Freshman Matt Ginn stops 53 of 54 shots in sweep of AIC.
  9. Canisius (9-15-4, 9-9-3). . . . Freshman defenseman Stephen Farrell’s first career goal is game-winner against Robert Morris.
  10. Army (4-15-7, 3-13-5). . . . 4-2 win over UConn gives Black Knights back-to-back wins for first time this season.
  11. AIC (5-21-2, 4-15-2). . . . Yellow Jackets scoring 1.90 goals a game, allowing 3.71. 
  12. Sacred Heart (2-24-2, 1-18-2). . . . Pioneers led Bentley 3-0 after two periods, but had to settle for 3-3 tie.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.