Air Force falls to Niagara, 6-3

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U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Niagara goalie Brian Wilson made 40 saves and Derian Plouffe scored two goals as the Purple Eagles defeated Air Force, 6-3, in an Atlantic Hockey Conference game Friday, Dec. 1, at the Academy’s Cadet Ice Arena. Niagara improved to 8-5-1 overall and 7-2-1 in the AHC. Air Force is 7-7-3 overall and 3-6-2 in the league.

The first period saw a combined 27 shots and five goals. Niagara opened the scoring at 8:06 as Noah Delmas took a shot from the right point that was saved, but Eric Cooley cleaned up the rebound. The Falcons tied the game 34 seconds later. Jordan Himley made a short pass in the slot to Tyler Ledford, who returned after missing nine games due to injury. Ledford’s shot was saved, but Erik Baskin netted his sixth of the season at 8:40. The Purple Eagles scored the next two goals. Cooley’s pass from the goal line bounced off an Air Force stick and into the air and Tanner Lomsnes batted it in at 11:55. Just over two minutes later, NU had a 3-1 lead. Lomsnes led the rush down the right wing and dropped the puck for Niko Kovachis. Kovachis, entering the zone with speed, fired in a slap shot at 14:01. Air Force answered with 2:07 left in the period. Phil Boje stepped in front of an Air Force clear at the Falcon blue line. His shot was saved but Himley followed up the rebound for his fifth of the season.

Midway through the second period, the Purple Eagles scored two special teams goals in a span of 2:18. On the power play, Derian Plouffe’s pass from the goal line was redirected in the slot to Johnny Curran on the back door. Curran buried his sixth of the season at 7:42. Then, with Air Force on the power play, Cooley led a 2-on-1 short-handed rush. Cooley’s shot was saved, but Plouffe put back the rebound at 10:00 of the second. After the goal, Billy Christopoulos was pulled from the net in pace of freshman Zach LaRocque.

Early in the second period, the Falcons put pressure on the Purple Eagles and out-shot the visitors, 8-3, but were unable to get anything past Wilson. At the 5:43 mark, on the rush, Plouffe scored from Ben Sokay for a 6-2 lead. Late in the period, Ben Kucera’s shot was saved, but Evan Giesler dove after the loose puck and batted it in at 14:39.

Air Force outshot Niagara, 43-27, in the game. The Falcons were 0-for-3 on the power play while Niagara was 1-for-5.

“We got what we deserved tonight,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “The better team won. They came at us hard everywhere. They were bigger, stronger, faster and more willing than we were. Niagara is a really good hockey team, I think the best team we have played all season. We better come back stronger and more willing tomorrow or it will be the same thing.”

Air Force and Niagara conclude the two-game series on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 5:05 pm MT. Saturday’s game will feature the Teddy Bear Toss. Bring a stuffed toy to the game and when the Falcons score their first goal, fans can throw it on the ice. The toys will be given to children in need during the holiday season.