"We've never said, 'Let's defend the
title,'" Serratore said. "What we talk about here
is the opportunity. This is when all great teams come together
and start to play well. It's playoff time.
"Last year is old news. It's about this
year," he added.
With two games remaining against visiting
American International, Air Force sits in fourth place and
can finish anywhere from a three-way tie for first down
to fifth, but at least the Falcons are guaranteed home-ice
advantage in the quarterfinal playoff series.
Frankly, Serratore says, forget the permutations
– all he wants is his team to move up at least one
spot and take the Falcons out of a dreaded 4-5 matchup on
the first day of the first Atlantic Hockey Final Five.
"We were in about the same position last
year," Serratore said. Air Force, indeed, finished
fifth and carried the momentum from a sweep of AIC into
the playoffs. The Falcons ousted Holy Cross, Sacred Heart
and Army to win its first league title and gain the NCAA
Since dropping three consecutive 2-1 decisions
to Colorado College and Army (twice), Air Force took three
of four points from Bentley, split with host Mercyhurst
and swept Canisius on the road. Air Force has outscored
its foes, 14-3, in the last three games, and has seemed
to find its way since losing Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn
to a leg injury on Jan. 19.
"Our culture changed when we lost Eric
Ehn," Serratore said. "I think there was a little
bit of an adjustment period when you lose a guy like that."
Serratore has been pleased with the play of
sophomore center Jeff Hajner and freshman winger Derrick
Burnett ("They have played very well together,"
he said) and said junior defenseman Greg Flynn is having
an all-star season. As far as Andrew Volkening in goal,
Serratore is supremely confident.
Volkening has 16 wins and a 2.22 goals against.
Junior Brent Olson leads the team with 29 points (13 goals,
16 assists), Hajner has 28 points (13 goals) and Flynn has
24 points (19 assists).
Facing last-place AIC, Air Force has an opportunity
to do something it has failed to do in league play: sweep
a home series.
"It's extremely puzzling, especially
when you consider the fact we have gained more points on
the road (16 points) than at home (14)," Serratore
said. "Had we played as well at home as we did on the
road, we would have the regular-season championship wrapped
up. You have to play well everywhere: home, away, neutral
site, parking lot."
One thing is for sure: conjuring up past glory
is not going to help the Falcons this time around.
"Billy Devoney is not going to come back
and lead us to the title," Serratore said. "It's
somebody else's job."
SEEN AND HEARD IN ATLANTIC HOCKEY
Skillful Knight: Army senior
Luke Flicek is the lone player in Atlantic Hockey to be
invited to the Frozen Four Skills Challenge, to be held
April 11 in Denver, the off-day between the semifinals and
There are eight male and eight female participants
chosen for an East vs. West format. Competition will include
puck control relay, fastest skater, hardest shot, rapid
fire shooting, accuracy shooting and penalty shot.
"That's a great honor for him and for
the program," said Army coach Brian Riley. "It
couldn't happen for a better guy. He is so passionate about
the game. He lives and dies and breathes hockey, and he's
always the last guy on the ice, working on moves. I don't
think they could have picked a better person."
Former Army goalie Brad Roberts played for
the triumphant East squad two years ago. Flicek was supposed
to be on hand to watch, but plane delays forced him and
some Army teammates to catch up with Roberts after the competition.
Flicek said he's been looking forward to the opportunity
since that time.
"I am going to meet some players, fellow
seniors across the country," Flicek said. "To
be part of the festivities for the Frozen Four weekend should
be pretty special."
The six male skaters on the East squad include
Flicek; Michael Brennan, Boston College; Pete MacArthur,
Boston University; Jesse Winchester, Colgate; Jon Rheault,
Providence; and, Jake Morissette, RPI. The male goalies
will be Kevin Regan of New Hampshire and David Leggio of
The female skaters on the East squad are Hayley
Moore, Brown; Jaclyn Hawkins, Connecticut; Martine Garland,
New Hampshire; Jennifer Hitchcock, New Hampshire; Marykate
Oakley, Princeton; and, Sabrina Harbec, St. Lawrence. The
goalies will be Sarah Perry, Sacred Heart, and Meghan Guckian,
The six male skaters on the West team are
Kevin Porter, Michigan; Jimmy Kilpatrick, Colorado College;
Andrew Thomas, Denver; Bryan Lerg, Michigan State; Tommy
Goebel, Ohio State and Mike Forgie, Wayne State (Mich.).
The West goaltenders will be St. Norbert's Kyle Jones, and
Denver's Peter Mannino.
The six female skaters on the West roster
are Ohio State's Tessa Bonhomme; Courtney DeHoey, Lake Forest;
Karine Demeule, Minnesota Duluth; Bobbi Ross, Minnesota;
Shannon Moulson, Niagara; and, Laura Fast, St. Cloud State.
The two female goaltenders will be Laura Hosier, Mercyhurst
and Britni Kehler, Minnesota State,Mankato.
The NCAA has chosen some alternates in case
any of the skills participants reach the Frozen Four with
their respective teams.
Oh So Close: It is said that
much of the history taught at West Point was made by the
people who taught there.
Well, the Army hockey team can make a little
of its own history this weekend. With one win over Sacred
Heart, the Black Knights will wrap up the Atlantic Hockey
title, the first Division I league championship of its kind
at the school.
The last time Army came this close to winning a regular-season
title was 1963-64 when the Cadets (17-4) finished second
to Providence (16-3) by mere percentage points in the ECAC
race. Last season, Army finished a distant third in Atlantic
Hockey and lost in the finals of the league tournament.
"From where we were my freshman year
(one point out of last place) to where we are now, it's
special to be part of that transition," said senior
Luke Flicek. "My class (of 2008), we've been the biggest
class numbers wise; we were kind of the catapult for the
transition. It feels good to be part of a turnaround like
Reaching the title game last season only upped
the ante this season.
"Last year we were surprised to be so
far up by the top (of the standings) and even making it
to the conference championship game," Flicek said.
"We didn't have the mindset that we should be there.
It was more like we were grateful to be there and happy
to be there. This year we expected it. We started slow but
came back strong."
Army coach Brian Riley said you couldn't ask
for more than having the opportunity to clinch a title on
the final weekend of the regular season.
"Sacred Heart is a great team, and we've
had good games with them in the past," Riley said.
"We certainly expect two great games this weekend."
The Friday series opener will be especially
tough, playing on the smaller ice surface at the Milford
Ice Pavilion. "It's a small rink and things happen
quick," Riley said. "You have to make sure you
are strong defensively and not turning the puck over.
"They are dangerous up front, they have
big solid (defensemen) and their goaltending is always very
good so they are a good team at every position. In order
for us to beat them, we have to play well."
Final Five Is One Too Many:
Don't count Air Force coach Frank Serrratore as a fan of
bringing the top five teams to Rochester in two weeks time.
"I don't like the Final Five format
because I don't think the fourth- and fifth-place teams
have much of a chance," Serratore said.
The Final Five is a new concept to Atlantic
Hockey. Essentially, 10 teams engage in a first-round playoff
series, and five winners advance to Rochester. The fourth-
and fifth-seeded teams among the survivors contest a play-in
game, followed by two semifinals and a title game.
The WCHA has been using this format since
1993, the ECAC has used the format five times and the CCHA
has employed it three times. Lake Superior State (1995 CCHA)
and Princeton (1998 ECAC) are the only first-day winners
to go on and win a playoff championship.
"I don't believe in sacrificing the realistic
chances of the fourth-place team in a final four (needing
just two wins) to enable the ninth- and tenth-place teams
to play (for a) final five," Serratore said. "I
think the top eight teams should make the playoffs and go
into a final four."
"Last year we were the fourth seed and
we won the championship. This year it would be a difficult
for the No. 4 team to win the tournament (because it would
have to win three games instead of two)," he added.
Naturally, Atlantic Hockey – only in
its fifth season – is going to want to encourage the
playoff aspirations of all 10 teams. If so, Serratore is
in favor of a system which pits the 7-10 and 8-9 seeds in
a first-round series, with the two winners joining the top
six for a quarterfinal series. Using that system would involve
an extra week of playoffs, which the league may shy away
from in order to capitalize on the mid-March window for
its championship weekend and potential national television
audience, whereas it could lose that TV avail and be overshadowed
the following week when the Big Four conferences hold their
Serratore could be swayed if the Atlantic
Hockey tournament became a huge financial success and generated
revenue like the WCHA.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Sacred Heart (Fri.)
Sacred Heart at Army (Sat.)
Do you think the schedule makers had
this scenario in mind? The regular season comes to
an end with No. 1 facing No. 2. One win by Army will
give the Black Knights their first-ever Division I
league crown. It's probably going to take two wins
by Sacred Heart for the Pioneers to win their elusive
pennant – although co-No. 2 RIT owns a tie-break
edge and could spoil that dream. One thing is for
sure: it's going to be loud and boisterous at Tate
Rink on Saturday night. It's an even matchup with
each team securing 4-2 home wins as November turned
into December. Army and goalie Josh Kassel have lost
once in the last six weeks. Owen Meyer and Luke Flicek
each have 32 points for the Knights of the Hudson.
Bear Trapp and Alex Parent have 34 and 33 points to
lead the Pioneers and Stefan Drew already has 14 wins
you want about Atlantic Hockey, but this league headed
into its final weekend of play with four teams still
in contention for the title. Top-to-bottom, the league
has been more competitive than ever.
managed 24 shots on goal … for an entire weekend!
Are you kidding? Hey Griffs, shoot the puck.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• If the playoffs were to start today
– American International (10) at Army (1); Connecticut
(9) at Rochester Institute of Technology (2); Holy Cross
(8) at Sacred Heart (3); Canisius (7) at Air Force (4);
Bentley (6) at Mercyhurst (5)
• Champs make push – Defending
regular-season champion Rochester Institute of Technology
took three of four points from host Mercyhurst, pulling
into a second-place tie with Sacred Heart, two points
behind Army. The Tigers trailed 3-1 in the opener before
Matt Smith produced a power play goal and Darrell Draper
netted his first goal while short-handed in the third
period for a 3-3 tie. League scoring leader Simon Lambert
(19 goals, 23 assists) of RIT had two assists on Friday
and two goals in Saturday's 4-2 win. Louis Menard had
58 saves on the weekend.
• Taking broom on the road –
Air Force hasn't been able to sweep a foe at home since
October but found some success on the road. The Falcons
traveled to Buffalo to take a pair from Canisius, 3-0
and 4-3. Andrew Volkening wasn't tested very often, posting
21 saves on just 24 Canisius shots in the two games –
he set the Air Force record with 133 scoreless minutes.
Counterpart Andrew Loewen had 58 saves for the weekend.
Air Force's Jeff Hajner had two goals in the nightcap,
as did Cory Conacher of Canisius.
• Falcon records – Air Force's
16 conference wins ties its regular-season mark set last
season. The overall record at Division I is 19, also set
last season. The 1971-72 team has the school mark with
• All good things must end –
Josh Kassel's scoreless streak for Army reached 182 minutes,
42 seconds before Bentley's Dain Prewitt tickled the twine
at 12:39 of the first period on Friday. Pat Percella scored
less than two minutes later, and the Falcons posted a
2-1 win, snapping Army's nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1,
a league record). Bentley's Joe Calvi won that matchup
with 43 saves, and posted 33 the next night but Kassel
outdueled him with 28 saves in a 6-3 Army win. Cody Omilusik
(two goals) and Owen Meyer each had three points, and
four other Army players had two points.
• Two dogs better than one –
The Connecticut Huskies posted their first weekend sweep
of the season, earning a pair of 4-2 wins over American
International, first at home and then on the road. The
Huskies used four different goal scorers on both nights.
Charles Solberg produced the game-winner with 6:22 to
play in the opener. Coach Bruce Marshall turned to freshman
Jon Glant (1-2) for the third and fourth times this season
– he had 50 saves on 54 AIC shots. AIC has dropped
four in a row, one shy of its season-high streak (Dec.
• Give and take – Holy Cross
posted a 3-1 win over Sacred Heart on Friday, and then
finished on the short-end of a 4-0 decision on Saturday.
Rob Forshner had two goals and Brodie Sheahan set up a
pair in the opener. Adam Roy stopped 37 of 38 shots for
the win. The Pioneers used four different goal scorers
in the nightcap, with Kyle Tyll and Alex Parent each tallying
two points. Stefan Drew stopped 24 of 26 shots on Friday
and all 31 attempts on Saturday.
• Looking ahead – Connecticut
and Holy Cross play a home-and-home, starting in Worcester
and finishing in Storrs. … Mercyhurst and Canisius
play a home-and-home, first in Buffalo and then in Erie.
Each team won at home earlier this season. … RIT
hosts Bentley for a pair. … Air Force hosts American
International for two games. Air Force has won all 14
• Tie-breaker policy – 1) Points,
head to head; 2) Goals differential, head to head; 3)
Conference wins; 4) Goal differential, conference only;
5) Goals allowed, conference only; 6) Goals scored, conference
If three or more teams are tied and played
the same number of games, use the above tie-breaker. If
they played an uneven amount, pit the teams that played
four games against one another and use the tie-breaker
to determine mini-conference winner, and then pit against
team it played only twice and use tie-breaker to determine
winner; then pit the two remaining teams in similar tie-breaker.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached