That is why the passion is intense when Air
Force and Army meet in their annual hockey matchup.
"It's a classic college series,"
said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. "There is nothing
like a service academy rivalry. ... There's always a lot
of pride on the line."
The rivalry took on special meaning last
season when both teams advanced to the Atlantic Hockey tournament
finals in Rochester. Air Force smacked Army, 6-1, and earned
the NCAA tourney berth – don't think the Black Knights
have forgotten the pain of that setback.
Air Force will limp into the series after
losing three starters to injury last weekend, notably all-star
forward Eric Ehn, a Hobey Baker finalist last season. Ehn
was hooked down from behind on a speed rush to the net in
Saturday's 2-1 loss at Colorado College. Ehn crashed skates-first
into the end boards and fractured his left fibia, in addition
to possible ligament damage.
He should be out of the lineup for several
weeks, and perhaps the rest of the season.
"We're not in the business of being devastated,"
Serratore said. "Hockey is a violent, collision sport.
Players know (they can get hurt).
"Other guys have to pick up the slack,
and as a team you have to carry on."
Serratore had to break up his potent unit
of center Jeff Hajner and wingers Matt Fairchild and Brent
Olson to spread the talent.
On the positive side, the Falcons held two
of the nation's most-potent offensive teams (No. 4 Denver
and Colorado College) to just four goals in two games. Air
Force's 5-2 win was its first over Denver since 1980, ending
a 19-game losing streak to the Pioneers, and its first over
a WCHA team since beating Colorado College, 6-5 in overtime,
in 1985. It was the Falcons' first win over a top-five foe
since beating No. 4 Colorado College in 1975.
Army snapped an eight-game winless streak
last Saturday. The Black Knights scratched out two goals
in the final eight minutes, against the hottest goalie in
the conference – Andrew Loewen of Canisius –
to pull out a 2-1 win, and the relief was evident in the
Army locker room.
"I know that was a big emotional burden
to lift off our shoulders," said Army senior Biff McNally,
who is hoping for a springboard effect into the Air Force
In good years and bad years, the rivalry is
"It's a matter of pride to be playing
for your school and in an important game," McNally
said. "There is a certain level of respect and understanding
that passes between the players on both teams, that flows
from the experiences that we've had and what we're all getting
ready to do once we graduate. That heightens the intensity
of the game; it heightens the sweetness of victory."
SEEN AND HEARD IN ATLANTIC HOCKEY
The Wall: Pitching one shutout
is tough enough but Canisius sophomore goalie Andrew Loewen
found a way to make it back-to-back with a stellar effort.
Coming off a 26-save effort and 4-0 win over Connecticut,
Loewen stopped 40 Army shots on Friday night as the Golden
Griffins posted a hard-fought 3-0 victory at West Point.
He carried his hot play into the second series
matchup, keeping Army off the board for 51 minutes, 28 seconds
on Saturday – he gave up two goals in a 2-1 setback.
He had 30 saves.
Loewen's scoreless streak reached a school-record
201 minutes, breaking Dan Giffin's old mark of 147:34 set
in 2005-06, and he stopped 104 consecutive shots.
His save percentage in January is .969 and
his goals against is 0.99. Loewen's backstopping has helped
the Golden Griffins stop 53 of their last 54 man-down situations.
"When our forwards do their job, the
defense does their job and I have a chance to see the pucks,
it makes things easier," Loewen said. "I'm also
in the zone right now and when you're on, you're on."
Back On Top: Defending regular-season
champion Rochester Institute of Technology moved into first
place with a pair of 4-2 wins over visiting Sacred Heart,
extending its win streak to three games.
RIT (10-5-3, 23 points) moved ahead of Air
Force (9-6-3, 21 points) and Sacred Heart (8-5-3, 19 points).
RIT's Matt Smith scored his 14th and 15th
goals, both on the power play in the opening period, as
the Tigers won the opener. Stevan Matic, Ricky Walton and
Simon Lambert netted third-period goals in the second win.
RIT's Louis Menard made 57 saves in two nights.
"We kept our composure throughout, did
a good job to beat a very good team," said RIT coach
Wayne Wilson, "but we still have a long way to go in
conference play. Getting a sweep in this league is hard
to do, and this was a big weekend for us."
The Tigers are getting it done late: RIT outscored
Sacred Heart, 5-0, in the two third periods after being
outscored 28-13 by opponents before the series.
It was the second time Sacred Heart was swept
by one team on the road this season (Niagara was the other).
Backing Up The Talk: Army
junior Josh Kassel recently lost his starting goalie job
to youngsters Jay Clark and Joey Spracklen, although neither
held on for good. Kassel lost the opener of the Canisius
series, but still went to coach Brian Riley after the game
and asked for the chance to start the Saturday game.
"Give me the opportunity and I will get
it done," he told Riley, whose original plan was to
keep his rotation alive until someone earned a win. Riley
pondered the request for a night and gave his incumbent
Kassel responded well, stopping 22 of 23
shots in Army's 2-1 win. It was his first win since beating
Sacred Heart on Nov. 30, and earned him the starting job
in Friday's series opener with Air Force.
"Sometimes you have a gut feeling,"
Riley said. "He backed up what he said he would do.
I have a lot of respect for him coming to me like that."
Great Weekend Getaway
Force at Army (Fri. and Sun.)
The Atlantic Hockey finalists from last year meet
up for the first time since Air Force left Rochester
with a 6-1 win and the NCAA tourney berth. Air Force
sniper Eric Ehn has been grounded with a fractured
fibia but the Falcons have plenty of offense in reserve.
Brent Olson leads the team with 11 goals and is second
with 24 points. Jeff Hajner has eight goals and 20
points. Andrew Volkening has ascended to the top of
the league's goalie rankings with a 2.39 goals against.
Army counters with leading scorer Owen Meyer and his
13 goals and 23 points. Luke Flicek has eight goals
and 23 points. Bryce Hollweg has six goals and 19
points. Josh Kassel has earned his place back in net
with his 2.67 goals against. The teams split at Colorado
Springs last season and Army swept a home pair the
one shutout is tough enough, but Canisius netminder
Andrew Loewen has three this season. He stopped 40
shots to beat Army, 3-0, and extended his streak to
over 202 minutes before allowing a goal. He is the
main reason why the Golden Griffins are fighting for
a home playoff position.
January but Sacred Heart is probably kicking itself
after dropping a pair of 4-2 games at RIT. These two
teams could meet again in the playoffs, and RIT has
taken four in a row.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• Holding fort – Connecticut took
three of four points from visiting Mercyhurst, the first
time the Huskies have done that in a weekend series this
season. The Lakers overcame three one-goal deficits to forge
a 3-3 tie in the opener. Beau Erickson stopped 41 of 43
shots in the nightcap, and Chris Myhro's goal with 7:06
remaining lifted U.Conn to the 3-2 victory. Mercyhurst forward
Ben Cottreau did manage to extend his scoring streak to
nine games with his eighth goal, and moved into 10th place
on the Lakers' career list with 143 points, surpassing Scott
• Short Crusade – Holy Cross'
feel-good two-game win streak came to an end as Quinnipiac
posted a 5-2 win in Worcester. Holy Cross jumped out to
leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before allowing four unanswered goals.
• Golden 100th – Army's Luke Flicek
knocked in a pass from Zach McKelvie with 3:04 to play on
Saturday as the Black Knights snapped an eight-game winless
streak with a 2-1 win over Canisius. The point was Flicek's
100th, the goal his 36th (the NCAA recognizes only 34 goals
and 60 assists). He is just the 52nd player in the 108-year
history of Army hockey to reach 100 points.
• Next to 100 – RIT senior Matt
Smith needs three points for 100 in his career. Smith scored
twice on Friday to become the 32nd player in RIT history
to reach 50 goals.
• Road warriors – RIT played to
sellout crowds at Ritter Arena in the Sacred Heart series.
The Tigers went 54 days without a home game, last playing
Army on Nov. 25. The good news is RIT went 6-3-1 on the
• Twelve (boring) days – American
International, which plays a non-league game on Sunday at
Dartmouth, has not played since Jan. 15, a 5-3 loss to Holy
Cross. The Yellow Jackets also had 19 days off during the
• This week – RIT plays a pair
at Connecticut. The teams split a pair in Rochester last
season. ... Bentley hosts Mercyhurst for a pair. Mercyhurst
swept a pair in Erie last season, and has won seven in a
row during the regular-season series, but Bentley has a
3-2 double-overtime playoff win in 2006. ... Holy Cross
and Sacred Heart play a home-and-home, starting in Worcester,
Mass., and finishing in Milford, Conn. Sacred Heart swept
four games last season, six in a row and seven of the last
eight. ... American International meets Dartmouth for the
first time on Sunday night. AIC is 0-4-1 in non-league games
this season and is winless in its last 20 (0-19-1) versus
out-of-conference foes. The last win was a 5-3 decision
over Wayne State on Dec. 12, 2003. Dartmouth owns a 56-17-5
record against Atlantic Hockey teams.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached