U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Five different Falcons scored as Air Force came from behind for a 5-2 win over No. 13 Niagara in an Atlantic Hockey Association game Friday, March 1, at the Academy’s Cadet Ice Arena.
Air Force improved to 16-11-7 overall and 14-7-5 in the league. Niagara fell to 21-7-5 overall and 20-4-2 in the league. Air Force is in second place in the league with 33 points while Niagara has already clinched the league title with 42 points. The Falcons can clinch second place with a win or a tie on Saturday or a Holy Cross loss or tie. If Holy Cross, currently in third place with 31 points, wins on Saturday and Air Force loses, the teams would finish tied for second but Holy Cross would be the No. 2 seed based on tiebreakers.
Niagara took a quick 2-0 lead with two goals in a span of 2:15 midway through the first period. With the Falcons on the power play, a turnover deep in the Air Force end led to the first goal. Hugo Turcotte picked up the loose puck and scored at 8:45. The Purple Eagles took a 2-0 lead on the rush. Turcotte led the rush and took a slap shot from just inside the blue line that got past the blocker of Jason Torf at the 11:00 mark. Air Force answered on the power play after Dan Weissenhofer drew a holding penalty. Adam McKenzie dropped a puck in the corner for Chad Demers and Demers skated out to the near post. Demers found Scott Holm wide open on the back door and Holm netted his eighth of the season.
Early in the second period, Stephen Carew tied the game. Cole Gunner forced a turnover behind the Niagara net and Kyle De Laurell sent the puck into the slot. Carew scored his 11th of the season at the 4:40 mark with a wrister from the slot. A wild second period saw Air Force outshoot Niagara, 27-7. Carsen Chubak made 26 saves in the period for the Purple Eagles.
On the first shift of the third period, the Falcons took a 3-2 lead. Cole Gunner skated coast-to-coast and took a shot from the right wing that was saved. The rebound bounced off of a Niagara defenseman and slid past the left pad of Chubak and into the net. Gunner’s seventh of the season came 26 seconds into the third period. With 2:15 left in the game, Niagara pulled Chubak for the extra attacker. With under a minute remaining, Stephen Carew forced a turnover and chipped it out of the zone. Tony Thomas skated the puck into the Niagara end on a 2-on-1 and slid the puck over to Kyle De Laurell who scored into the empty net. Niagara did not get a shot on goal in the extra attacker situation. With Chubak back on the ice, Falcon sophomore defensemen Mike McDonald ripped a slap shot from the blue line for his second career goal with seven seconds remaining.
Air Force outshot Niagara, 51-19, in the game. The 51 shots were the second most of the season. AFA was 1-for-4 on the power play while Niagara was 0-for-4. Chubak made 46 saves in the game, including 26 in the second period. Jason Torf made 17 saves for the Falcons.
“Whatever could go wrong for us in the first period did,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “We played a great 60-minute game tonight. We made a couple mistakes and they put them in the net. There’s a reason they have won 21 games this season. Our effort was great tonight. I haven’t seen our team play with such emotion as they did tonight. We had great emotion from beginning to end.”
Air Force and Niagara conclude the series, and the regular season, on Saturday, March 2, at 7:05 p.m. MT at the Cadet Ice Arena.