Atlantic Hockey Semifinals
Atlantic Hockey's service academies earned
spots in the conference title game
Force 5, Sacred Heart 4 OT
Nylander, M. Fairchild
Charbonneau, M. Mayra
Medenwaldt, B. Nylander
O'Brien, D. Grimson
Phillipich, J. Hajner
Schaffer, G. Flynn
Ben Worker, 67:40, 20 saves, 4 GA
Jason Smith, 68:04, 29 saves, 5 GA
AF 6/12; SH 6/12
Plays: AF 1-6; SH 1-6
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The NCAA Tournament
is about to be visited by the
Service academy rivals Army and Air Force
have worked their way into the Atlantic Hockey tournament
title game, and the winner will represent the armed forces
in the NCAAs for the first time.
“You try to take every game just like
the next one," said Army junior Bryce Hollweg, “but
with Air Force and the hype … it means a little more,
to our school and to the Army and Air Force at large."
Air Force needed some late-game heroics to
secure its place in the finals. Leading 3-1, the Falcons
surrendered three goals in the third period to top-seeded
Sacred Heart. Air Force tied the game in the final minute
using the extra attacker and scored the game-winner in the
ninth minute of overtime.
Army also came from behind, posting two power
play goals in a 3-1 victory
over Connecticut in the second semifinal played at Blue
“I just think it’s kind of neat
for college hockey to have two service academies playing
in a championship game," said Army head coach Brian
Riley, “with one having the opportunity (to) be in
the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s good for college
The result of Saturday’s title contest
will surely have far-reaching impact with troops stationed
around the globe.
“We certainly like to make the guys
overseas feel good because they love that," Hollweg
said, “and make the people back at West Point feel
3, Connecticut 1
Koidahl , S. Erickson
Hollweg, C. Bickley
Meyer, L. Flicek
Manthey, L. Flicek
Beau Erickson, 59:18, 23 saves, 3 GA
Josh Kassel, 60:00, 33 saves, 1 GA
UC 9/18; ARM 6/23
Plays: UC 1-6, ARM 2-9
THANKS FOR THE NOD
Army goalie Josh Kassel and coach Brian Riley
were having fun during the post-game press conference. Asked
if he’s ever had playoff exposure before this, Kassel
– who made 34 saves and held Connecticut to just one
goal – replied that this is his first postseason experience.
“He has a pretty good history so far,"
Riley chimed in, eliciting laughter. “Keep it going."
Kassel said the last time he felt this kind
of pressure was playing the opening game of the season against
Canadian college Ryerson Tech after not playing for a year-and-a-half,
making sure to look over at his coach seated next to him.
It was Riley’s decision to use Kassel for just one
period of action all of last season because he had four-year
starter Brad Roberts at his disposal.
“Twenty minutes … six shots,"
Kassel said, rolling off his freshman statistics line.
“They didn’t score on you, though,"
“That’s right," said Kassel,
“so it was a good period."
Kassel was asked if he was still miffed at
coach Riley, and he said, “No."
“Good answer," Riley said.
“Everybody wants to play but I understood
the situation coming into the (freshman) year," Kassel
said. “You just have to wait for your chance."
Kassel’s play is the prime reason why
Army finished in third place rather than the ninth position
voted the Black Knights in the coaches’ preseason
poll. He leads the league in goals against and is one of
the nation’s best in save percentage. Kassel does
not make dazzling, acrobatic saves a regular part of his
repertoire. What he does well is keep the puck out of the
net by making all the saves he should make with a steady
effort between the pipes.
Kassel made a big save on a Cole Koidahl near-breakaway
during a scoreless first period. During a five-minute Connecticut
power play, Kassel took a shot off his shoulder from Sean
Erickson and stopped Chris Myhro on a blast from the left
circle. Myhro did get the best of him moments later when
another blast was slowed by a leg pad but fell to the ice
and trickled in.
Before the end of the period, Kassel robbed
Myhro again and stopped Jarrett Scarpaci from point-blank
Still tied at one apiece in the third period,
Kassel stopped a shot from the point and then stopped B.J.
Bayers while sprawled on the ice. Nursing a one-goal lead,
Kassel reacted quickly by coming out of his crease to thwart
a scoring attempt by Koidahl.
Kassel passed the credit to his teammates.
“There were a couple big scrambles there
for a while and the (defense) did a great job clearing it
out,’’ he said. “I ended up on my back
a couple times. The penalty kill was pretty good. We had
guys blocking shots all night, as usual."
Kassel said he felt more comfortable playing
in his second playoff game than in his debut last week when
he beat Bentley. The third outing should be interesting.
GETTING HIS CHANCE
Air Force goalie Ben Worker has seen little
action in his four years, and in his senior season he has
been mired in a four-way battle for playing time. In fact,
Worker didn’t even have regulation-sized goalie pads
at the outset until coach Frank Serratore got permission
to buy some.
“The first half of the season didn’t
really go my way," said Worker, who played just two
games as a junior and none beforehand. “I didn’t
do the stuff in practice that I needed to do. But in the
second half I got my chance."
Worker saw his first action on Jan. 6, and
has become Air Force’s go-to guy, starting 13 of the
last 16 contests for the Falcons.
“I am so happy to be even associated
with these guys," Worker said. “It’s unbelievable
to actually be out there and playing."
So imagine his feeling when Worker gave up
three goals to Sacred Heart in the third period of Friday’s
first semifinal, turning a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit.
“To let my team down like that is terrible,"
Worker said. “After the first two goals, it was just
heartbreaking to be out there."
Worker was picked up by the play of his teammates,
who displayed a never-quit attitude.
“I knew they were going to do everything
they could do, so I wasn’t going to give up on them,"
Worker said. “I was able to keep a few of the pucks
out of the net for them and hopefully that helped."
Serratore praised Worker for his patience
and his commitment to the team during his career.
“He is typical of most guys we have
here at the Academy," Serratore said. “Most kids
would have quit a long time ago. He practiced for three-and-a-half
years. He didn’t even have legal gear for the first
half of the season. … He stuck in there and persevered.
Again, you never quit, you stay in there and you keep on
fighting and the opportunity for great things to happen
These two nearly forgotten goaltenders will
vie for a league championship on the final night of the
Atlantic Hockey season.
INCH's Three Stars of the Night
The Air Force fourth-line unit of Jay Medenwaldt,
Matt Fairchild and Brett Nylander
Heart did a solid job of bottling up Air Force’s
top line of Eric Ehn, Andrew Ramsey and Mike Phillipich,
so leave it to the Falcons’ fourth unit to produce
two goals and a plus-six combined rating.
Josh Print, Air Force
Okay, maybe shift for shift Print is not
the guy to rely on for scoring, but he made his one
scoring chance count on Friday when he tipped a point
shot past Jason Smith in overtime to lift Air Force
into its first Atlantic Hockey title game.
Josh Kassel, Army
Kassel posted the best numbers of any goaltender
in Atlantic Hockey, and yet he was bypassed for the
league’s all-star team in favor of Devils' draft
pick Jason Smith, a senior from Sacred Heart. Kassel
played like a first-teamer in the win over Connecticut
and he’ll be in net for Army’s first championship
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE BCA
• Former Army coach Rob Riley was on
hand to scout talent for the Columbus Blue Jackets and provide
brotherly support for his successor, current head coach
Brian Riley. Riley coached 19 seasons at West Point and
retired following the 2003-04 season. He moved back to New
England and joined a financial services company. He works
as a part-time scout for the Blue Jackets. “It keeps
me in the game,’’ he said.
• A question was asked whether the Army-Air
Force finals matchup was tantamount to the hockey cadets’
version of Army-Navy football. The Army players cringed,
and grudgingly accepted the premise. You see, Army hockey
has earned its own reputation on campus, and certainly has
more recent success in service academy matchups than their
football counterparts. Of course, CBS televises the Army-Navy
game and host stadiums pack in more than 70,000 fans, so
score one for the football folks.
• With a powerful Nor’easter dumping
more than foot of snow through the same corridor which hosts
Army, Connecticut and Sacred Heart, attendance was certainly
kept down, especially with a 5-6 hour car trip from those
schools. Who would have thought Atlantic Hockey fans would
run to the snow belt of New York state in order to escape
the blizzard below?
• Sacred Heart brought a pep band for
the tournament. In addition to playing tunes, the band also
taunted Air Force goalie Ben Worker during his tumultuous
third period with the traditional, "Hey goalie, you
suck" chant. Worker and the Falcons, though, had the
PLUSSES AND MINUSES
Hockey was wise to set up webcasts of its Final Four on
the B2 Network, considering no cable or broadcast network
was willing to step up. Getting the product out to the masses
is the only way this league will gain a foothold.
applaud Atlantic Hockey’s decision to conduct its
Final Four in a professional arena but where was the excitement
and where were the people? Blaming poor attendance on the
snowstorm is not going to get it done, especially since
the snow didn’t start falling until after the second
semifinal was complete. The folks of Rochester dropped the
ball on this one, big time.
major hockey conference in the country has some form of
television broadcast from its tournament site. Atlantic
Hockey has none, even though its member schools reside in
perhaps the largest regional media market swath in the nation,
extending from Boston metropolitan to Buffalo to New York
metropolitan (not to mention Colorado). There are four major
sports networks (MSG, Fox Sports, YES and SportsNet New
York) in the New York region alone, so it would be nice
if someone stepped up to the plate and aired some Atlantic
Hockey. There’s plenty of blue blood money and ex-military
donors who should be able to make something happen.
Who scored?: Friday’s
semifinals produced some unlikely goal scorers. Army junior
defenseman Chris Colvin produced the first tally of his
career, netting the game-winner early in the third period
of a 3-1 victory. It was Colvin’s 101st career game.
Air Force junior Eric Ehn has 24 goals this
season. The combined goal totals for four of the Falcons
goal scorers (Matt Fairchild, Jay Medenwalt, Billy Devoney
and Josh Print) heading into Friday’s game was a mere
Devoney, the senior team captain, scored the
tying goal with 55.4 seconds left in regulation. He threw
the puck on net from the blue line and it happened to bounce
off a couple Sacred Heart players before crossing the line.
Print managed just one shot in the game, his
tip of a Greg Flynn shot from the point bouncing past Jason
Smith at 8:04 of overtime for the 5-4 Air Force win.
We own you: Air Force has
never lost to Sacred Heart in seven career meetings (4-0-3).
Four-play not so good: Sacred
Heart had won its last 14 games in a row when scoring at
least four goals.
Silence is bliss: Air Force
captain Billy Devoney said the Falcon locker room was really
quiet during the intermission before overtime. "It
wasn’t too high and wasn’t too low. I liked
it. It was the calm before the storm. Everybody knew what
they had to do. Frank (Serratore) said, ‘I am not
going to really say anything. It’s all about you guys.’
We just kind of took over. Everybody knew what they had
to do and did their role."
Proper seeding: This is only
the third time since 1999 that the top four playoff seeds
in MAAC/Atlantic Hockey have reached the semifinal round.
As for the title game, this marks the fourth consecutive
year the top two seeds have not met in the finals. No. 1
Mercyhurst beat No. 2 Quinnipiac in the 2001 and 2003 finals.
Extra duty: This is the fourth
consecutive year the league has produced at least one overtime
contest in the postseason. Only the 2000 and 2003 tournament
teams failed to play extra time.
Army and Air Force have played 44 times since
1968, although this is only the second season the two service
academies have played in the same league (Army had one season
in College Hockey America in 1999-2000). Air Force owns
the career lead, 24-18-2.
The two clubs squared off twice in January
during a weekend set in Colorado Springs. Air Force slugged
out a 4-1 win on Jan. 19 with Jeff Hajner and Andrew Ramsey
each scoring twice. Army bounced back for a 2-0 win the
next night as Josh Kassel posted 26 saves for the Black
The matchup will feature two outstanding first-line
units, the slight edge having to go to Air Force because
it has national scoring leader Eric Ehn centering Ramsey
and Mike Phillipich.
Kassel has the edge in net, following his
solid semifinal outing against Connecticut. He hardly looked
rattled at all while Worker struggled in the third period
against Sacred Heart. Expect one thing is for sure: Air
Force will fire a lot of shots.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore expects a
60-minute effort from both teams. “You will see it
the next game with the boys from West Point – no matter
what happens they never quit and when you never quit you
are always in a position for great things to happen."
Army coach Brian Riley said he has a lot of
respect for Air Force, as hockey players and as cadets.
“They scare the heck out of me,"
Riley said. “They have that top line, which obviously
can beat you by themselves. They played against some pretty
good teams this year and that line has put up some good
numbers. Just their work ethic alone, from 1 to 30 you know
they are going to come out and play extremely hard for 60
minutes so you better be ready to match that intensity otherwise
you can find yourselves in for a long night."