Here come the Falcons.
Niagara holds onto its comfortable nine-point lead on the Atlantic Hockey pack heading into February and the last month of the regular season, but Air Force, as if there was ever any doubt, has established itself as a team that must be dealt with down the stretch and into the postseason.
Air Force has won four straight games and is the only team that has won more than a single game in a row going into a series at home against AIC this weekend.
Junior goalie Jason Torf, who led Air Force to the last two Atlantic Hockey tournament titles, is heating up again.
“Jason Torf continues to make big saves for us,” said coach Frank Serratore in a story on the team’s web site. “His hockey sense for a goalie is off the charts. All great goaltenders have the ability to make big saves and he has done that for us.”
That was after Torf made 30 saves for a 2-0 win and his ninth career shutout on Friday night.
On Saturday, he had 13 period saves to keep the game tied at 1-1 before Air Force took charge and won, 4-1.
“They took it to us in the first period, but thankfully Jason Torf was the best player in the rink,” Serratore said. “Jason got us through the first period and gave us a chance.”
Senior forward Kyle De Laurell had the game-winning goal on Friday, his fourth, and sophomore Cole Gunner had it on Saturday, his second. Those two share the team scoring lead, De Laurell at 10-12-22 and Gunner at 6-16-22.
The Falcons are 8-2-2 in their last 12 games overall and 7-1-2 in their last 10 league contests.
On Dec. 1, they were in ninth place in the league, eight points out of second.
The sweep of Robert Morris moved the Falcons into second place and they go into this weekend a point ahead of Holy Cross and Mercyhurst, who are tied for third.
There is plenty of work yet to be done.
Consider: When Air Force was in ninth place on Dec. 1, it was nine points behind front-running Niagara. The margin is the same today.
“These were good wins, but right now we don’t want to get too high or too low,” Serratore said. “Right now, we are finding ways to win.”
They’ve done nice job of that in recent weeks and will try to keep it up through the next five weekends, through the home games against AIC, then series at Mercyhurst, home against Canisius, at RIT and then home again in what could be an interesting and intense regular season finale with Niagara.
Player of the Week
Jason Torf, jr. G, Air Force
The Air Force junior stopped 58 of the 59 shots Robert Morris threw at him over the weekend to lead the Falcons to the league’s only sweep, 2-0 and 4-1. Torf made 30 saves on Friday night for his second shutout of the season and ninth of his career. He came back with 28 on Saturday night, 13 of them in the first period, as his team was outshot 14-4. He kept the game tied at 1-1.
Games of the Week
Holy Cross at Canisius, Saturday and Sunday
Holy Cross and Canisius are in the thick of the battle for a top four spot in Atlantic Hockey. The Crusaders are tied with Mercyhurst for third place, a point behind Air Force. Bentley is one point behind them and Canisius is another point back. Holy Cross took a pair from Canisius, 3-2 and 4-0, last season and has won three straight games in the series.
Niagara (15-4-5, 14-1-2) . . . The
first-place Purple Eagles maintained their nine-point lead in the
Atlantic Hockey standings with a three-point weekend against RIT.
Junior forward Ryan Rashid contributed three goals and an
assist to the cause. Bentley comes to town to take on Niagara on
Friday and Saturday.
Air Force (11-9-5, 9-5-3) . . . Senior
forward Kyle De Laurell got the Falcons rolling toward a sweep of
Robert Morris with the team’s first goal on Friday night. He
has six goals in his last six games and his 10 goals are tied for
the team lead with senior Stephen Carew. Air Force is host to AIC
Holy Cross (13-9-2, 9-6-2) . . . Senior
defenseman Evan Zych’s first career goal was a game-winner in
a 2-1 triumph over Bentley on Saturday. The Crusaders once again
remain tied in the Atlantic standings with Mercyhurst. The teams
are in third place, a point behind Air Force.
Mercyhurst (12-10-1, 10-6-0) . . . The Lakers
rebounded from a 4-2 loss at Canisius on Saturday with a 5-2 win at
home on Tuesday. The game in Erie was changed from Friday night to
Tuesday after a broken water main closed the Mercyhurst campus. The
Lakers, tied with Holy Cross for third place in the league, play
Army at home this weekend.
Bentley (11-11-1, 9-7-1) . . . Freshman
forward Andrew Gladiuk and sophomore defenseman Steve Weinstein
each had three assists and sophomore Brett Switzer scored a pair of
third period goals to lift Bentley to a 4-1 win at Holy Cross on
Friday night. The Falcons travel to league-leading Niagara
for games on Friday and Saturday.
Canisius (9-12-5, 8-7-2) . . . The Griffs
split their series with Mercyhurst, winning 4-2 on Saturday at home
and dropping the rematch 5-2 in Erie on Tuesday. The Griffs play
their next three games at home, beginning with a series against
Holy Cross on Saturday and Sunday.
Army (7-12-3, 7-7-3) . . .
Freshman Thane Heller leads the Black Knights with eight goals.
Army beat the Royal Military College, 4-1, in an exhibition over
the weekend and now gets back to league play at Mercyhurst. The
Black Knights got one point against Mercyhurst in a two-game set at
West Point last year, losing 2-1 and playing to a 3-3 tie.
Robert Morris (12-9-2, 7-8-1) . . . The
Colonials, 4-3-1 in Atlantic Hockey games before the holiday break,
have gone 3-5-0 in league games since Christmas. They will try to
get back on track with some home cooking. Robert Morris plays its
next five, and eight of its last 11, games at home starting with
Sacred Heart this weekend.
UConn (10-11-3, 7-8-2) . . .
Senior Matt Grogan stopped 53 of 55 shots to lead UConn to a
three-point weekend against AIC with a 3-1 win and 1-1 tie. The
Huskies head to Rochester for a pair against RIT this weekend.
UConn and RIT are tied for eighth place in the Atlantic Hockey
standings, two points out of fifth and four out of third.
RIT (8-11-5, 6-7-4) . . . Junior forward
Michael Colavecchia had a goal and three assists in a one-point
weekend for the Tigers against Niagara. The teams tied 3-3 in
Rochester on Friday and Niagara won the rematch 6-4 at home on
Saturday. UConn is at RIT for a pair this weekend.
AIC (5-14-4, 2-11-4) . . . Senior Steve
Mele’s second period goal and senior goalie Ben
Meisner’s 39 saves led AIC to a 1-1 tie at home against UConn
on Saturday as the Yellow Jackets pulled a point out of the
weekend. UConn won Friday night’s game in Storrs, 4-1. AIC is
at Air Force on Friday and Saturday.
Sacred Heart (0-22-2, 0-15-2) . . . Sophomore defenseman Will Rayner (Newton, Mass.) scored his first goal of the season and third of his career in Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Princeton. Sophomore forward Brian Sheehan leads the Pioneers with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points. The Pioneers are at Robert Morris on Friday and Saturday.
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.