Flying First Class
By Jess Myers
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – There’s
something to be said for knowing when you’re where
you belong. A decade into his tenure at the United States
Air Force Academy, the one-time northern Minnesotan who
occupies the head coach’s office has come to the definite
realization that he and his team are where they’re
meant to be.
Serratore’s white Dodge is the only car in the Cadet
Ice Arena parking lot that came from a dealership in Duluth.
But with a green and white Colorado license plate just a
few inches from the dealership logo that features a Lake
Superior lighthouse, the car fits the setting somehow.
|Forward Eric Ehn
was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2007, part of a
precedent-setting season at Air Force.
the same way with Serratore and his hockey team, which have
found their places in Atlantic Hockey despite the fact that
Falcons home games are played roughly 2,000 miles west of
(and more than a mile above) the ocean for which their conference
a sunny June morning, Serratore welcomed a visitor into
his office tucked beneath the east side stands. He gave
a quick tour of the Falcons’ locker room before the
conversation moved through the double doors that lead to
the rink. Just two of the arena’s 2,995 seats were
occupied as Serratore motioned to the banners for schools
like Sacred Heart, RIT, and Connecticut that hang above
the scoreboards. Their closest conference rivals are two
time zones away, but the Falcons feel like they’re
where they belong.
play in Atlantic Hockey where we compete and have a good
team,” Serratore says, giving the 10-second version
of 2006-07 in review. “We win our share and we have
a nice run at the end, we win our league, we go into the
NCAA tournament, we’re playing Minnesota, and our
three months after the final horn, mentioning the details
of Air Force’s first-ever trip to the NCAAs (a come-from-ahead
4-3 loss to the Golden Gophers in Denver) still causes Serratore’s
legendary temper to flare. But the result serves to illustrate
his point about the Falcons being where they belong, playing
against schools of like size and resources.
had a good Air Force team, but if we played in the WCHA
we would be demoralized by Christmas from losing 4-2, 4-3,
3-1, 3-2,” he says. “We would be so demoralized
by losing those close games that we couldn’t win an
intrasquad game in January.”
glance at the season results shows that the Falcons were
indeed 0-3 versus WCHA teams last season and all three were
one-goal losses. By contrast, the Falcons were immediately
competitive in their first Atlantic Hockey campaign, finishing
in the middle of the conference pack with a 13-10-5 record,
winning the conference tournament, making some noise in
the NCAAs, and notching the school’s first Hobey Baker
Award finalist in Eric Ehn.
the breakout year behind them and the next Frozen Four set
to be played just up the road, there’s likely more
than one optimistic Falcons fan who feels it’s destiny
that their team will be playing in the Pepsi Center in April.
Serratore doesn’t make those kinds of predictions.
Instead, he focuses on the little victories of the past
season, like winning enough home games to get fans excited
about coming to the rink next season.
final conference game of the season was a 6-1 thumping of
archrival Army in the Atlantic Hockey title game. And, like
conference member Holy Cross did the year before, the Falcons
played well enough versus Minnesota in the NCAA tournament
to make the college hockey world take notice.
preparing for next season, and for a few weeks of camps
held on campus each June, Serratore has enough time to ponder
ideas like an alignment between his new conference and his
old one. As he envisions it, an agreement between Atlantic
Hockey and College Hockey America would allow the latter
to survive with five teams for the time being, keeping two
automatic bids into the NCAA tournament and providing a
home for potential new members of the D-I family. But those
decisions will be made by others in meeting rooms far away
from the stunning vistas available just outside Serratore’s
just a few days, a new class of first-year cadets will arrive
and begin their dual-track training to become airmen and
athletes. The coach will welcome them to their new home
at the base of the Rockies and help them get used to their
new home in college hockey. A banner or two will be raised
in the arena commemorating the notable firsts accomplished
unclear whether those feats can be duplicated by the only
members of Atlantic Hockey that must adhere to the high
altitude directions when making a box of Hamburger Helper.
But to their coach, it’s as clear as the cloudless
Colorado sky that the Falcons have found their home in the
college hockey world.
Jess Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org