Matt Fairchild scored two goals and Andrew Volkening made 26 saves to lead Air Force to a 3-0 win over Bentley in the Atlantic Hockey Association semifinals, Friday, March 20, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y. With the win, Air Force advances to the championship game for the third consecutive season and improved to 26-10-2 overall. Air Force will play the winner of tonight’s RIT-Mercyhurst game on Saturday, March 21, at 7:05 p.m. ET.
The win improved Air Force to 10-1 all-time in the AHA Tournament and 5-0 all-time in the Blue Cross Arena. Bentley fell to 19-17-2. The 26 wins are the most in Air Force history, passing the previous mark of 25 set in 1971-72. The Falcons are one win from going to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
After a scoreless first period when each team had nine shots on goal, Air Force took a 2-0 lead after the first 40 minutes. At the 10:56 mark, Jeff Hajner dug the puck off the boards and wrapped it around the boards to Michael Mayra. Mayra fed Matt Fairchild in the neutral zone who skated down the left side and past a Bentley defenseman. His wrister from the slot went off of the goaltender’s right shoulder and into the net for a 1-0 Air Force lead. Then with 1:13 left in the middle period, Josh Frider scored his 15th of the year on the power play. Greg Flynn started the rush in his own end and Hajner skated the puck over the red line. Frider came down the right side and fired a slap shot from between the tops of the circles and beat Kyle Rank low to the stick side.
The Falcons again capitalized on the power play late in the third period. Hajner sent the puck to freshman defenseman Scott Mathis at the blue line. Mathis skated down the right side and raced past a Bentley defenseman. As he entered the slot, he dropped the puck to Fairchild who beat Rank from the hash marks for this second of the game and 16th of the season.
For the second straight season, Volkening earned a shutout in the semifinals. Last season, he blanked RIT, 5-0, in the semifinals. Tonight, he made 26 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and ninth of his career. Rank made 23 saves in the game for Bentley. Air Force was 2-for-7 on the play while Bentley was 0-for-4. Each team had 26 shots on goal.
“Both teams played a very tight game,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “Both teams were waiting for the other team to make the first mistake. I thought it would be very important to score the first goal and fortunately we got it. This was a workman-like effort by our guys. Our plan was to make them work hard for their opportunities and stick to our game plan. We were competitively patient and we had to be. My hat is off to Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist for the effort his team played with and for bringing his team a long ways. Right now I’m just happy that Air Force is in the championship game. We’ll take our swings tomorrow night and hopefully the puck bounces our way. Whoever we play, it will be a great game.”