Brent Olson and Matt Fairchild each scored two goals and Andrew Volkening posted his fourth shutout in the last seven games to lead Air Force to a 5-0 win over RIT in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament, Saturday, March 15, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. An AHA record crowd of 3,933 watched as Air Force advances to the championship game for the second consecutive year.
Air Force, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, will face fifth-seeded Mercyhurst in the AHA championship game, Sunday, March 16, at 7:05 p.m. ET. The winner of the championship game advances to the NCAA Tournament.
With the win, Air Force improved to 20-11-6 overall while RIT finishes the season at 19-12-6.
Air Force struck first on the power play when Brent Olson scored at the 6:32 mark. Defenseman Matt Charbonneau skated around a defenseman and made a centering pass to Olson right in front. The junior winger netted his 16th of the season for a 1-0 lead. AFA outshot RIT, 10-7, in the opening period and killed two Tiger power-plays, the No. 4 unit in the nation.
The Falcons dominated the second period with three goals, two of them on special teams. Mike Phillipich gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead at the 5:49 mark with an even-strength goal. Charbonneau started the rush in his own end and fed Josh Schaffer down the left wing. Schaffer’s centering pass was right on the tape of Phillipich coming down the slot.
Midway through the period, RIT was trailing 2-0 and had a 5-on-3 power play for 57 seconds. Not only did Air Force kill the penalty, but the Falcons added to their lead. Brett Nylander fed Matt Fairchild in the neutral zone and the sophomore winger skated down the left side with an RIT player hanging all over him. He netted his third short-handed goal of the season, and his 10th of the year, to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead at the 10:04 mark. Then, with 2:42 remaining, Olson scored his second of the game on the power play. With a 4-on-3 advantage, Olson scored from Charbonneau and Jeff Hajner for a 4-0 lead.
In the third period, Fairchild’s second of the game gave Air Force a 5-0 lead at the 10:34 mark from Michael Mayra and Hajner.
The shutout was the first ever in an AHA semifinal game and the largest margin of victory ever in the league semifinals. AFA is the first team to ever play in the championship game in consecutive years.
Volkening stopped all 24 shots he faced in the game and now has four shutouts in his last seven games. RIT goalie Louie Menard made 22 saves for RIT. AFA was 2-for-7 on the power play while RIT was 0-7. Air Force out-shot RIT, 29-22, in the game.
“We knew this was going to be a dog fight,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “The last thing I expected was a 5-0 score. They are a quality team and are well-coached. We knew they would come out hard and we could not afford to get behind in a hostile environment. They know us and we know them and it comes down to execution and getting bounces. Tomorrow we face a dangerous animal in Mercyhurst. Nobody expected them to be here, but they have some skilled players. Tomorrow will be a battle of the two hottest goalies in the league.”
Mercyhurst advances to the championship game after beating No. 4 seed Sacred Heart, 4-1, in the play-in game and then upsetting top-seeded Army, 4-2, in the other semifinal game.