March 16, 2007
Atlantic Hockey Semifinals
Military Force
Atlantic Hockey's service academies earned spots in the conference title game

By Ken McMillan

Air Force 5, Sacred Heart 4 OT
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-AF Jay Medenwaldt (3) EV
15:58 B. Nylander, M. Fairchild

Second Period

2-AF Mike Phillipich (15) PP
0:41 M. Charbonneau, M. Mayra
1-SH Bear Trapp (17) EV
7:33 T. Spencer
3-AF Matt Fairchild (5) EV
14:20 J. Medenwaldt, B. Nylander
Third Period
2-SH Paul Ferraro (5) PP
1:18 P. O'Brien, D. Grimson
3-SH Dave Jarman (11) EV
4:06 E. Giosa
4-SH Eric Giosa (12) EV
7:50 D. Jarman
4-AF Billy Devoney (5) EA
19:06 M. Phillipich, J. Hajner
5-AF Josh Print (4) EV
8:04 J. Schaffer, G. Flynn
AF: Ben Worker, 67:40, 20 saves, 4 GA
SH: Jason Smith, 68:04, 29 saves, 5 GA
Penalties: AF 6/12; SH 6/12
Power 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 Cross Arena.

“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 hockey."

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 good."

Army 3, Connecticut 1
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
No Scoring

Second Period

1-UC Chris Myhro (20) PP
11:56 C. Koidahl , S. Erickson
1-ARM Tim Manthey (10) PP
16:42 B. Hollweg, C. Bickley
Third Period
2-ARM Chris Colvin (1) EV
5:53 O. Meyer, L. Flicek
3-ARM Owen Meyer (11) PP
16:06 T. Manthey, L. Flicek
UC: Beau Erickson, 59:18, 23 saves, 3 GA
ARM: Josh Kassel, 60:00, 33 saves, 1 GA
Penalties: UC 9/18; ARM 6/23
Power Plays: UC 1-6, ARM 2-9
Attendance: 780


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," Riley said.

“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 range.

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.


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 are there."

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

3. The Air Force fourth-line unit of Jay Medenwaldt, Matt Fairchild and Brett Nylander
Sacred 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.

2. 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.

1. 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 bid.


• 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 last laugh.


Atlantic 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.

We 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.

Every 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 13.

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 Knights.

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."