March 17, 2007
Atlantic Hockey Finals
Air Force Won
Falcons go from wild blue yonder to NCAA Tournament

By Ken McMillan

Air Force 6, Army 1
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
No scoring

Second Period

1-AF Mike Phillipich (16) EV
4:26 A. Ramsey, E. Ehn
2-AF Andrew Ramsey (21) PP
7:53 M/ Phillipich, M. Mayra
Third Period
3-AF Josh Frider (8) EV
4:39 G. Flynn
4-AF Josh Frider (9) EV
9:33 B. Devoney, T. Zacour
1-ARM Tim Manthey (11) PP
12:59 O. Meyer, L. Flicek
5-AF Josh Schaffer (7) EV
15:25 J. Hajner, J. Print
6-AF Andrew Ramsey (22) PP
17:15 M. Phillipich, M. Mayra
AF: Andrew Volkening, 60:00, 23 saves, 1 GA
ARM: Josh Kassel, 60:00, 21 saves, 1 GA
Penalties: AF 7/14; ARM 8/16
Power Plays: AF 2-6; ARM 1-5
Attendance: 713
All-Tournament Team
G: Andrew Volkening, Air Force
D: Tim Manthey, Army
F: Bryce Hollweg, Army
F: Mike Phillipich, Air Force (MVP)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Air Force Academy, welcome to the NCAA party.

The Falcons were certainly flying high following a dominating 6-1 victory
over service academy rival Army in the Atlantic Hockey championship game

The outcome was hardly in doubt after Josh Frider staked Air Force to a 4-0
lead early in the third period, allowing the players and the small contingent of Air Force fans plenty of time to savor the impending victory.

When the final horn sounded at Blue Cross Arena, a mob of Air Force players
rushed the ice to congratulate freshman goaltender Andrew Volkening, who was
tabbed to start the biggest game of his career only one night earlier.

Volkening backed up the confidence of teammate Mike Phillipich and coach
Frank Serratore, stopping 23 Army shots and keeping the Falcons in a close-quarters contest for the first 24 minutes.

“This is a dream come true,’’ said Serratore, now in his 10th season at the
helm. “I’ve been around long enough, and I was on the NCAA tournament
committee the last five years. I would sit up (in the stands) and watch the (NCAA) practices and games, and say to myself, ‘I would give anything to participate in something like this,’ and now it’s going to happen. “It’s unbelievable.’’

Following the traditional handshakes, award ceremony and the nice gesture of the players’ salute from both teams, dejected Army players retreated to their locker room while the Air Force players rushed to center ice to grab the best spots for the championship photo. Captain Billy Devoney clutched the championship trophy while teammates mugged for the photographers.

“It felt amazing,’’ said Phillipich, voted the most outstanding player of the tournament. “Every goal instilled on us that as time ticks away, we’re going to be that champion at the end of the game … I couldn’t have a better bunch of guys to celebrate with at the end.’’

This is the first time in NCAA tourney history that a service academy team will be represented. It was the first championship game appearance by either Air Force or Army, foes since the 1968-69 season.

“Just to get to the NCAAs is huge,’’ Phillipich said. “We had this dream since this beginning of the season, and to finally see it come true is amazing.’’

Air Force (19-15-5) found a way to stop Army’s potent first line of Luke Flicek, Bryce Hollweg and Owen Meyer — holding them to one point and a combined plus-minus rating of minus-9 — while also breathing life into its own top unit.

Phillipich opened the scoring at 4:26 of the second period when his slap shot from the top of the left circle deflected off the shaft of an Army defenseman’s stick and dipped over the shoulder of Army netminder Josh Kassel and under the crossbar.
Phillipich also set up two goals from linemate Andrew Ramsey, the first coming on a power play at 7:53 of the second.

“With those guys, sooner or later they are going to put a couple in,’’ said Army defenseman Tim Manthey. “You can only hold those guys down for so long. I thought we did a pretty good job of holding them down but a few bounces here and there and it just wasn’t our night.’’

The two-goal margin certainly changed the whole aspect of the game. Phillipich said having Kassel surrender two goals allowed his team to believe he was no longer “invincible.’’ He also said it allowed Air Force to get into its preferred style of firewagon hockey.

“It really started to open up in the second period,’’ said Army coach Brian Riley. “In a series like this, whoever gets that first goal, it’s huge. And we were able to do that in January out at their place. We’re more of a defensive-style team so if we can get that lead we usually make it tougher for teams. Air Force is kind of an up-tempo, offensive team. If they score, they kind of get going and obviously they got it going pretty good tonight.’’

The decision to go with Volkening in nets did not come easily, Serratore said. He felt senior Ben Worker was a little shaky in net in Friday’s semifinal win over Sacred Heart, and he noticed Volkening had been playing well in practice of late.

“Andrew has got good size,’’ Serratore said. “We were concerned about Army’s
power play. They are tenacious and they are going to whack at rebounds …
you are going to have to make almost a perfect shot to beat Andrew because
he is big and he gaps up and he blocks the net real well.’’

Volkening made nine stops in the opening minutes of the second period while the game was still scoreless. Flicek was stopped from point-blank as Volkening went from side to side to rob him on what was an open net.

“I know Army is a team that gets flurries like that,’’ said Volkening, who made his first start since Feb. 24. “I just took it one shot at a time.’’

Army (19-12-5) did not beat Volkening until Tim Manthey boomed a rising slap
shot from high in the slot for a power play goal at 12:59 of the third period, but by then Air Force already has a 4-0 lead.

“You have to give the Volkening kid credit,’’ Riley said. “Here is a kid who hasn’t played in a lot of games. He was strong in there tonight and certainly made the saves that he had to.’’

“I think their ‘tender came up big when he needed to in the second period,’’ Hollweg said, “and then them getting the first goal, the fluke … it kind of turned things around.’’

Josh Schaffer and Ramsey added odd-man rush goals in the closing five minutes as Army pushed up the ice in desperation.


One fact can’t be lost on this special night: Army and Air Force waged friendly battle in an arena formerly known as War Memorial and houses an eternal flame to honor the fallen.

An NCAA tournament berth was at stake, yet all Air Force coach Frank Serratore could think was he was facing his chief rival in Army.

“This was a historic, historic game,’’ Serratore said. “Army and Air Force have never played in a championship before. Air Force and Navy had never played in a championship game before.’’

When the game was over, the teams exchanged the traditional handshakes seen
at the close of all playoff series. Since this was a service academy showdown, both teams lined up on their respective blue lines and stood at attention for the playing of the academy alma maters. To cap the special night, the players from both teams formed a circle at center ice and saluted the fans with the raising of their sticks.

“Our guys connect on a lot of levels,’’ Serratore said. “It amazes me to see our teams every year — those kids go out and just pound the tar out of each other for 60 minutes in two games and then they get together at the end and they hug and salute the crowd together. In the regular season, we get together after the games and share a dinner.

“In this day and age, this is as pure as it gets. You saw something very special tonight.’’


Army coach Brian Riley was disappointed in the loss but not the effort and the season as a whole.

“I tried to explain to the guys, one game doesn’t make a season,’’ said Riley, whose team posted its best record in 10 years. “I personally thank them for kind of bringing me and the coaches along for the ride.

“Here we are, a team that was picked ninth at the start of the season, and we did things that no one has ever done in the program at West Point as far as winning a quarterfinal game and winning a semifinal game. It’s just been an unbelievable year.

“I think we as coaches, and I have been in the game long enough, you always have certain years that you look back to with special memories, and for me I know this will be one of those years that I will certainly look back on with a big smile on my face.’’

INCH's Three Stars of the Night

3. Air Force: Yeah, the whole team, which headed into the tournament as the fourth seed and proceeded to dispose of top-seeded Sacred Heart and second-seeded Army. If that wasn’t impressive enough, try this out: The Falcons scored 11 goals against the
league’s top two netminders, five on first-team all-star Jason Smith and six against second-teamer Josh Kassel.

2. Andrew Volkening, Air Force
Talk about being thrown into the pressure cooker. The rookie goalie made only five starts during the season and his last appearance was three weeks ago, and yet Air Force coach Frank Serratore had a hunch and tapped the freshman for the biggest start of the season. Volkening did not disappoint,
stopping 23 shots, including nine during a three-minute stretch at the outset of the second period while the game was still scoreless.

1. Mike Phillipich, Air Force
The media voted the sophomore winger as the most outstanding player of the tournament. With linemate Eric Ehn being hounded all over the ice, Phillipich made sure to get his shots on net. He scored the first goal and set up the second in the title game, proving he was tough in the clutch.


• As if winning the Atlantic Hockey championship wasn’t enough, seven Air
Force freshmen — known as Fourth Classmen in Academy parlance — were
“recognized” as members of the student corps during a post-game pinning ceremony. The hockey players were unable to attend the regular ceremony held this weekend in Colorado Springs, and were a taken aback with the
presentation by Air Force senior players in an emotional ceremony attended
by school superintendent Lt. General John Regni.

• People who attended both days of the tournament may have noticed a peculiarity before the title game. The Canadian national anthem was played
before Friday’s first semifinal but not on Saturday. Think about it: Two military service academies squaring off with rosters chock full of eligible Americans. The lone exception was Army’s Bryce Hollweg, who lives in the Vancouver area but was born and raised in California.

• The snowstorm which blanketed the Rochester area from Friday night through
Saturday afternoon finally relented a bit before the title game, and there was a noticeable rise in a walk-up crowd. Without taking a poll, though, it seemed fairly obvious that half of the 300 or so fans were supporting Air Force and half were cheering on Army.

• Seth Beamer, Army’s team captain last season, got a weekend pass from officer training school to support his former teammates. He arrived late Friday, missing the semifinal contest, but was on hand for the title tilt.

• Army scored first, but only in the pregame warm-ups. The arena’s sound people asked members of the Army staff if they had any music to be played. Someone hustled the two blocks back to the hotel, grabbed Army’s normal pregame music compact disc and raced back to the arena.

• The six-game Division I win streak by Air Force is a school record. The school record is 10 games set in 1975.

• Air Force leads the career series with Army, 25-18-2. Army had won six of the previous 10 meetings. The six goals by Air Force was the most in an Army matchup since the Falcons prevailed, 9-6, on Feb. 18, 1995. The five-goal winning margin was the most for Air Force since a 9-2 triumph over the Cadets on Jan. 24, 1976.


In a great move designed to protect the top seeds and make the regular
season more meaningful, Atlantic Hockey will change its playoff format for
next season, falling into line with the bigger conferences. With all 10 teams eligible next season, the first round will consist of five best-of-three series (1 seed vs. 10, 2 vs. 9, and so on) hosted by the higher seeds and held on a Friday, Saturday, and, if necessary, Sunday. Since there is no longer a play-in game, these series will take place on the first weekend of March.

The five winners advance to Rochester on the former quarterfinal weekend, the second weekend in March. After being re-seeded, the fifth and fourth seeds will play Friday, with the winner facing the top seed in Saturday’s early semifinal. The second and third seeds will play the second semifinal. The winners would meet on Sunday evening.Thus, Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America will hold their
championship weekends at the same time, a week ahead of Hockey East, the
ECAC, CCHA and WCHA. This, too, could open up opportunities for television

While there is time, Atlantic Hockey should consider adding a third-place game on Sunday prior to the championship. It just seems better for fans who must travel five or six hours to be guaranteed of two games for their respective schools. As consumers, hockey fans enjoy doubleheaders as much baseball fans do.

Snow or no snow, Atlantic Hockey has to put more people into the stands and generate more interest in the Rochester area. The addition of RIT to the league increases the chances of the Tiger faithful following their team across town to Blue Cross Arena for the next two years of the contract. Without that, however, the league should consider doling out some free tickets to local youth hockey organizations. It’s better to have kids screaming in the stands and begging for autographs, than a bunch of empty seats. Give the local fans a taste of Atlantic Hockey, and they will be back for more.

It was unfortunate the video scoreboard at Blue Cross Arena wasn’t able to
show live action or replays. The three games were video webcasted by B2 Networks. Commissioner Bob DiGregorio says there have been preliminary discussions for future television coverage but would not provide any details.

The local network affiliates failed to provide any on-site reportingof the tournament. Gee, there wasn’t much else going on in Rochester this weekend, other than snow coverage.

The tournament was certainly easy on the ears, with no blaring music or the endless parade of in-house commercials — for this, we are thankful. However, there has to be some sort of entertainment value for the fans. On-ice promotions, for example, are certainly fan friendly.


One would think Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force would be a sure ticket
for the West Regional in Denver.

“I think that the league has a great representative in the Air Force Academy,’’ said Army coach Brian Riley. “They will make everybody in this league proud. They are an outstanding team. Whoever gets them next ... will be in for a surprise."