For the second straight year, the Air Force hockey team is going to the NCAA hockey tournament. It's quite an accomplishment considering they never made to the tourney in their first 39 years of existence.
Josh Frider’s goal 56 seconds into the second overtime lifted Air Force to a 5-4 win over Mercyhurst in the championship game of the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament, Sunday, March 16, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
With the win, Air Force (21-11-6) wins its second consecutive AHA championship and earns the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Air Force, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, will play in one of the four regionals on March 28-30. The opponent and site will be determined on Selection Sunday, March 23. Mercyhurst ends the season with a 15-19-7 overall record. Air Force is the first AHA team to ever win back-to-back titles.
Air Force broke the scoreless tie with 1.9 seconds left in the first period. Midway through the period, Air Force killed off 34 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play. Then, with 21 seconds left, Ben Cottreau was called for charging, putting the Falcons on the power-play. Mike Phillipich took a shot fro the slot that was saved and Brent Olson collected it on the right side. His tough-angle shot from near the goal line got past Matt Lundin for a 1-0 lead.
The Falcons took a 2-0 lead in the second period when Frank Schiavone scored with a shot from the center point at the 13:23. Scott Kozlak made a no-look pass from the goal line to Schiavone who netted his fifth of the season.
However, the final three minutes of the period was all Mercyhurst. Back-to-back penalties called on Greg Flynn and Frank Schiavone gave the Lakers 1:41 of a 5-on-3 advantage. The Lakers were buzzing around the net and Matt Fennell hit the cross bar with a shot on the power play. Just seconds later, Ben Cottreau scored on the flurry in front from Jeff Terminisi. After a penalty on AFA’s Jeff Hajner, Laker winger Steve Cameron scored with a wrister from the left side to tie the game at 2-2 with 13.8 seconds left in the period.
A wild third period saw Mercyhurst twice take the lead, only to have Air Force tie the game each time and force overtime. The Lakers took their first lead of the game less than four minutes into the third period when Nick Vandenbeld scored fro Chris Risi for a 3-2 Laker lead.
The Falcons came back to tie the game at the 9:50 mark when senior Josh Schaffer scored on a flurry in front of the net. Mike Phillipich and Sean Bertsch assisted on the play to tie the game at 3-3. Just over a minute later, the Lakers took a 4-3 lead on a goal by Brett Robinson. His goal, a rebound of his own shot at the 11;09 mark, came from Matt Pierce and Kirk Medernach. AFA again tied the game 19 seconds later on a goal by Josh Frider. Olson took a shot from the left side that bounced off the back wall. Frider collected the puck and beat Lundin short side for his 12th of the season.
Each team had chances late in the game, but it was the Lakers that had the final opportunity in regulation. Cottreau skated with the puck down the slot and Volkening made a save as the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime.
In the first overtime, each team had 12 shots on goal. Mercyhurst had several odd-man rushes that were poked away by the Falcon defensemen or saved by Volkening.
In the second overtime, Olson skated the puck down the right side and took a shot that was saved. Frider cleaned up the rebound for his second goal of the game and his 13th of the season.
Mercyhurst outshot Air Force, 53-47, in the game. Volkening made a career-high 49 saves. Lundin made 42 for the Lakers. AFA was 1-for-6 on the power play while MC was 2-for-7.