Air Force clinched a share of the Atlantic Hockey Association regular-season title with a 3-1 win over RIT in the final regular-season conference game, Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Frank Ritter Arena in Rochester, N.Y. Air Force won the AHA Tournament in 2007 and 2008 but this is the first regular-season title in school history.
Air Force and RIT each tied for the regular-season title with 42 points, but Air Force is the No. 1 seed in the tournament based on goal-differential in head-to-head competition. Air Force was a +1 in goal differential in four games vs. RIT this season. The 42 points scored is the most in AHA history.
The Falcons improved to 23-9-2 overall and finished 20-6-2 in the league. RIT finished 21-11-2 overall and 20-9-2 in the league.
RIT got on the board first when Brennan Sarazin scored his second goal of the series at the 4:25 mark. Tyler Brenner made a centering pass from behind the net and Sarazin scored his 18th of the season. Each team had seven shots on goal in the period.
Two goals by Brent Olson in the second period gave the Falcons a 2-1 lead. The senior’s first goal came at 6:13 on the power play to tie the game at 1-1. Michael Mayra made pass across to Tim Kirby and Kirby made a cross-ice pass to Olson in the left circle. Olson’s slap shot beat Louis Menard. Late in the period, Olson’s second of the game and ninth of the season, gave the Falcons a 2-1 lead. Kirby skated the puck down the left side and made a centering pass that was tipped in by Olson. Michael Mayra also assisted on the play.
In the first 20 seconds of the third period, the Falcons turned the puck over in its own end and Volkening made the save. Midway through the third period, Blake Page gave the Falcons a two-goal lead. His line came up with a blue-collar effort and Page took the puck behind the net. His wrap-around shot banked off the goaltender and in the net. Linemates Scott Kozlak and Brett Nylander assisted on the play.
“The boys should be proud,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “They had to fight hard to earn this championship and it is a championship they should be proud of. For us to come on the road, into a rowdy building and then have to come behind really validates what we have done this season. We got off to a great start and then cooled off and then RIT got hot. Then we had to come in here to face the hottest team in the country. This was huge to win a conference championship. We are the co-champions, but we have the No. 1 seed so that puts a little asterisk on it for us. For all practical purposes, this was the championship game. They won last night and got a piece of it, but the No. 1 seed was in the balance tonight.”
After the teams combined for 73 shots on goal last night, they combined for just 43 tonight. Air Force outshot RIT, 25-18, in the game. Volkening made 17 saves while Menard made 22 for RIT. AFA was 1-for-4 on the power play while RIT was 0-3.
“This feels good, but the job’s not over yet,” Olson said. “We have more to play for. We set ourselves up to take care of business in the tournament, but we still have to take care of that business. We got behind the eight ball by giving up the first goal. Coach always says that to be a championship team you have to be able to come from behind and to win on the road and we did both tonight. It was a great effort all the way around.”
Air Force is now off until March 13-15 when the Falcons will host an AHA quarterfinal series at Cadet Ice Arena. The opponent will not be determined until March 7. Air Force could play either No. 7 Holy Cross, No. 8 Sacred Heart, No. 9 UConn or No. 10 AIC. Game times will be 7:05 on Friday and Saturday and Sunday if necessary. Tickets are available by calling the athletic ticket office at 1-800-666-USAF or online at www.GoAirForceFalcons.com.