March 15, 2008
Atlantic Hockey Tournament Semifinals
Air Force Is A Semifinal Steamroller Once Again

By Ken McMillan

Air Force 5,
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-AF Brent Olson (16) PP
6:32 J. Frieder, M. Charbonneau

Second Period

2-AF Mike Phillipich (6) EV
5:49 M. Charbonneau, J. Schaffer
3-AF Matt Fairchild (10) SH
10:04 B. Nylander
4-AF Brent Olson (17) PP
17:18 M. Charbonneau, J. Hajner
Third Period
5-AF Matt Fairchild (11) EV
10:34 J. Hajner, M. Mayra
AF: Andrew Volkening (60:00, 24 svs, 0 GA)
RIT: Louis Menard (51:14, 22 svs, 5 GA), Jared DeMichiel (8:35, 2 svs, 0 GA)
Penalties: AF 8/16; RIT 11/41
Power Plays: AF 2-8; RIT 0-7

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The last time Air Force took the ice at Blue Cross Arena, the Falcons roared to the Atlantic Hockey championship with a dominating win over Army.

Fast forward one year, and the Falcons are at it again.

Air Force took the best shot from home-standing Rochester Institute of Technology and didn't flinch. The Falcons killed off seven RIT power plays rolled to an improbable 5-0 semifinal round victory before a stunned crowd of 3,933 at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday.

"The last thing I expected was a 5-0 score, that blows me away," said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
Air Force will meet Mercyhurst in Sunday's 7 p.m. title game. The Lakers had a much tougher time with Army but they broke open a close game with two goals in the first six minutes of the third period for a 4-2 victory.

"Much like (Friday) night, we found a way to win a game," Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. "We are excited to continue and play (Sunday) night. We like where we're at."

Going home early are the top two seeds: regular-season champion Army and runner-up RIT. It marks the second year in a row that the top seed failed to reach the final and the first time that the top two seeds were eliminated early.

"We felt good, obviously, coming into the game. We don't feel so hot leaving the game," said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. "We got beat by a better team tonight."
"It was certainly not the outcome we were looking for," said Army coach Brian Riley. "As I told our players, one game certainly doesn't define the season. … Obviously, losing this game hurts right now. If this is the worst thing that happens in all of our lives, life will be pretty good for us."

Special play lifts Falcons: Air Force got two power play goals from Brent Olson, a short-hander from Matt Fairchild, and the Falcons killed off seven RIT power plays. It was a pretty special night for the Air Force special teams.

"Every kill is pretty big," said Fairchild. "Either they can get their team going or get our team going."

Most notable was a 5-on-3 kill midway through the second period. Air Force was clinging to a 2-0 lead when Matt Charbonneau and Michael Mayra were sent off for tripping within 64 seconds of one another. Goalie Andrew Volkening stopped a Matt Smith one-timer from the right circle and steered aside a tricky shot from Brent Patry from the left point. In between, RIT lost the zone twice and nearly a third time.

Fueled by success, Fairchild started and finished off a breakaway, fending off Patry's backcheck to beat Louis Menard from the left circle.

"In that case, that (penalty kill) pumped up our team," Fairchild said. "Once you kill off five-on-three, the momentum definitely shifts into your advantage, and they capitalized on it," said Smith.

Mercyhurst 4,
Army 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-M Matt Pierce (14) PP
7:29 M. Fennell , B. Robinson
1-A Aaron Anderson (2) EV
14:23 W. Ryan, J. Ammon
2-M Matt Gurtler (9) EV
15:24 N. Graham, B. Phillips

Second Period

2-A Bryce Hollweg (11) PP
1:39 C. Omilusik, L. Flicek
Third Period
3-M Chris Risi (7) SH
0:25 N. Vandenbeld
4-M Neil Graham (5) EA
5:41 D. Bremner, M. Gurtler
M: Matt Lundin (59:58, 36 svs, 2 GA)
A: Josh Kassel (57:46, 23 svs, 4 GA)
Penalties: M 9/18; A 9/18
Power Plays: M 1-5; A 1-5

Volkening just doing his job: When Andrew Volkening beat Army to claim the 2007 Atlantic Hockey championship, the freshman netminder was a lot more excitable.

A year later, Volkening is keeping his emotions in check as he tries to backstop the Falcons to another title. Asked about his fifth career shutout, a 24-save effort over RIT, Volkening was not overly moved.

"To be honest with you, I didn't think about it," Volkening said. "It's done and over. During the game I wasn't thinking about it. It's not something that is important to me. The (win) was important; it doesn't matter what the score was. No matter what the score is, I always think of it as a 0-0 game. I just don't want to give up the next goal, or the first goal. I tried to ride that through the game."

Game of inches: Mercyhurst goalie Matt Lundin is good but he knows when to thank the hockey gods and his friendly goalposts.

Locked in a 2-2 tie late in the second period, Army pulled its goalie to get a sixth attacker with two seconds on the clock. The move paid off as Bryce Hollweg won the offensive zone faceoff and got the puck to Owen Meyer. His quick rip hit Lundin and trickled right to the left post. Army swiped the puck in but not until after the horn had sounded.

"When things are going for you, the puck seems to stay out of the net," Lundin said. "Luckily, we got a few breaks tonight."

You can point to Chris Risi's game-winner in the early seconds of the third period. Down a man, Risi threw a puck on net from the right circle and beat Army goalie Josh Kassel. It was hard to tell on video replay whether the puck went off Nick Vandenbeld's skate, and Kassel threw his arms up in a fruitless appeal.

"Nick went hard to the net and I threw it there," Risi said. "I am pretty sure he got a piece of it."

So why didn't Risi give his teammate the goal? Risi laughed and said he was trying to change the scoring but the goal remained his.

"It was a big goal," Risi said. "Both teams were working hard. We got a bounce and we broke the momentum. Momentum is huge in a game like this."
Neil Graham finished off a pretty passing play with his fifth goal at 5:41.

Getting in the way: Mercyhurst forward Matt Pierce has opened the scoring in both of the Lakers' Final Five games with re-directs on the power play.

"I can't even take credit for any of that," he said. "I put my stick in the way and the pucks go in the net."

Pierce has a team-leading 14 goals, eight on the power play. The Lakers have produced power play goals in seven consecutive games.

Repeating history: This is the first time Atlantic Hockey has used a Final Five concept so there is no history for winning three games in three days. Mercyhurst has that opportunity on Sunday.

"That's a pretty good fifth seed there," said Army coach Brian Riley.

Last year, fifth-seeded Alabama-Huntsville won the College Hockey America tournament with a 4-3 overtime win over Wayne State, a 5-3 decision over Niagara and a 5-4 overtime triumph over Robert Morris.

Last year Air Force was the lowest seed (four) to win the Atlantic title. Mercyhurst was a three seed when it beat Quinnipiac in 2005.

Losing their cool: Army is the second-least penalized team in Atlantic Hockey (12.6 minutes per game). That wasn't the case Saturday as the Black Knights were whistled nine times for 18 minutes. Mercyhurst produced only one power play goal but having to kill off penalties hurt Army's offensive rhythm.

"The guys maybe were playing with too much emotion and trying to do too much," said senior captain Bryce Hollweg. "You never get on a guy for trying too hard."

"All you can ask of your guys is they work as hard as they can and they don't give up," said Army coach Brian Riley. "Our guys did that. I am not walking out of here feeling … the guys could have done any more. It just wasn't our night."


Music comforts from home: As the top seed in the semifinal matchup, Army got to provide the pregame music. It was a copy of the same music that is played at West Point's Tate Rink.

Luck of the Irish: St. Patrick's Day is Monday but the city of Rochester rolled out the green two days earlier for thousands of revelers. A nearby street is named St. Patrick's Boulevard and hosted a morning parade. Hours before the semifinals, large groups of Irish and would-be Irish whooped it up around the Arena. At least Mercyhurst dressed appropriately with its green road uniforms.

Golden: Army decided to use its alternate third jersey, a gold sweater with the Black Knights' third logo on the front, three stars on the sleeves and one on each of the shoulders. It brought Army good luck with wins in its last four home games, but not in Saturday's neutral-site contest.

INCH's Three Stars of the Night

3. Matt Lundin, Mercyhurst
Lundin gave up two goals to Army in the opening 22 minutes and then stoned the Black Knights the rest of the way. His 36-save effort puts the Lakers into the finals for the first time since 2005.

2. Brent Olson and Matt Fairchild, Air Force
Olson produced two power-play tallies and Fairchild netted a shorty and even-strength tally to lift Air Force into its second final in two years of Atlantic Hockey membership.

1. Andrew Volkening, Air Force
Volkening knows what it takes to win in the post-season and he proved it once again with a solid 24-save shutout effort.

What do Tigers eat?: Taking advantage of decent weather and temperatures approaching 50 degrees, a host of fans from Rochester Institute of Technology decided to do some tailgating in a nearby parking lot.

A good up of Joe: Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin knows where to find a good cup of coffee before the game. Before each playoff game, Gotkin has strolled up to the fourth floor of BCA where coffee was being brewed for the corporate sponsors.

Puddles: The start of the second period for the Army-Mercyhurst game was delayed a few minutes while pooled water left by the Zamboni had to freeze. Play started with visible puddles, and one pool collected and stopped a puck, thwarting an Army offensive chance.

A little premature: The goal judges on both ends of the BCA rink had troubles during the Army-Mercyhurst game, both setting off the red light in anticipation of goals that never came.

Falcon repeat: Air Force is the first team to reach an Atlantic Hockey final in consecutive years. No. 1 Holy Cross beat No. 4 Sacred Heart, 4-0, in the 2004 final at West Point, N.Y. No. 3 Mercyhurst edged No. 1 Quinnipiac, 3-2 in overtime, in the 2005 final in Northford, Conn. No. 1 Holy Cross beat No. 4 Bentley, 5-2, in the 2006 title game in Worcester, Mass. No. 4 Air Force routed No. 2 Army, 6-1, in the 2007 final in Rochester.

Blankety-blank: Air Force's 5-0 shutout of Rochester Institute of Technology was the ninth in Atlantic Hockey playoff history (46 games). It matched the largest shutout set in 2004 when No. 1 Holy Cross beat No. 9 American International. There have been two shutouts in 2008, plus two in 2007, none in 2006, one in 2005 and four in 2004.


Thank goodness for RIT hockey fans. Sure, they can be obnoxious with some of their chants (hardly original, I might add) but they brought fun and excitement to the Blue Cross Arena, and their presence will be missed Sunday since their beloved Tigers were ousted.

I've been ripping Rochester for two years about the lame atmosphere of the tournament, but I must say it was a bit more lively for Semifinal Saturday. There was music and the video scoreboard was operational (that was not the case on Friday).

RIT and Sacred Heart were the only schools to bring along any pep bands. The Sacred Heart musicians struggled, much like their team. The RIT band, though, was excellent and on cue with appropriate selections. The band wasn't too pleased with some of the calls and they serenaded the officials with "Three Blind Mice" and the evil empire music from "Star Wars."

What is it with those thunder sticks? I can't stand those things. What ever happened to good, old-fashioned clapping and yelling? The arena cleaning staff definitely had their work load increased, picking up all the orange RIT balloon remnants, most of which were popped, along with their team's NCAA hopes.


Who's hot? Both of Sunday's finalists. Mercyhurst has won four in a row and is unbeaten in five. Air Force has four wins in a row and is unbeaten (7-0-1) in its last eight.

Air Force and Mercyhurst gained splits on each other's home ice. The teams met in Colorado Springs, Colo., in early November. Mercyhurst won the opener, 5-3, and Air Force bounced back with a 6-2 win. They met in Erie, Pa., five weeks ago and again Mercyhurst took the opener, 3-1. Air Force responded with a resounding 7-0 rout.

"Air Force is big, strong and physical," Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. "They possess the puck well. We have to play pretty darn well and continue to get great goaltending from Matty (Lundin)."

"Mercyhurst is a dangerous animal," Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. "They are playing with nothing to lose. Nobody expects them to win three games in a row. … They have got some handy guys that if they get the puck in the right spots, they can hurt you."

It all could come down to goaltending. This month, Lundin has four playoff wins and Volkening has three.

Ken McMillan can be reached at