If this finish seems familiar, it should. A similar one played out just one night earlier.
Air Force surged to a 3-1 lead. Just like Friday. Gave up said lead. Just like Friday. Then it got a late-period goal from Dan Bailey, his second in three games, to defeat RIT, 4-3, at Cadet Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The victory gave the Falcons (6-3-1, 4-2 AHC) a sweep of the Tigers (3-7-1, 3-5 AHC) in a matchup of the Atlantic Hockey coaches’ preseason picks to finish 1 and 2 in the league.
“We played through the adversity,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “They’re a good team. They won’t go away. There was nothing easy about this weekend.”
Bailey’s strike, with 12.8 seconds to go in the second period, was the third one of the game scored by a Falcons defenseman and the only one of the three at even strength.
Evan Feno, who had two assists, gathered a loose puck in the slot and as he was falling down fed it to Bailey at the right point. The sophomore fired it off the inside of the left post and in.
“We’ve emphasized getting pucks and bodies to the net, create some chaos,” Bailey said. “Rosty (Tyler Rostenkowski) got it deep and Evan Feno made a hell of a play. Evan Giesler was screening the goalie.”
Jordan Himley scored his third goal in two games in the first minute Saturday, and blue liners Kyle Mackey and Matt Koch struck on the power play, which was 2-for-6 for the Falcons. Koch’s goal was the first of his Air Force career.
Shane Starrett made 26 saves, several of the outstanding variety in the second and third periods when the Tigers came roaring back.
The Falcons’ four goals came on just 16 shots on net.
The game played out similarly to Friday’s with one exception – all of the events occurred one period earlier on Saturday.
Himley wasted little time putting the Falcons on the board one minute into the game, turning and firing a shot from the inside top of the left circle after Brady Tomlak, who had two assists, won a draw to the right of RIT’s Mike Rotolo.
The AFA defense then went on the offensive, scoring their next three goals: Mackey fired a wrister from the left point on a power-play 6:48.
Ryan Kuper pulled RIT to 2-1 with his second goal in two games less than two minutes later. Koch restored the two-goal margin when he walked between the circles on a power play with 40.8 seconds left and hit a corner, after a slight hiccup.
“Mackey gave me a pass and I don’t think I’ve ever missed a one-timer so bad in my life,” Koch said. “I got it back and skated to the middle. We had (three guys) in front, I was patient and I picked a corner.”
The Tigers’ comeback started when Liam Kerins‘ shot in from the right dot climbed over Starrett with 9:51 left. Erik Brown tied it when he collected a rebound off Starrett’s right pad, walked around and deposited the puck the net with 1:23 left in the second.
True to script, Bailey blasted home the go-ahead goal with 12.4 seconds left after a nice hustle play by Feno to gather the puck between the circles and find Bailey alone at the right point.
Coaches say goals in the first minute and last minute of a period can be killers. Air Force had the ammunition Saturday as three of its goals came within that time frame, and a fourth very easily could have when the RIT net was empty in the closing seconds and Tyler Ledford tried to get Erik Baskin a goal.
Himley’s came one minute into the game. Koch’s came with 40.8 seconds to go in the first period. And Bailey’s came with 12.8 seconds to play in the second.
Shorthanded from the start
Each team was down two skaters due to one-game suspensions handed down by Atlantic Hockey for a multi-player incident that occurred with 4:07 to go in the second period in Friday night’s game.
Air Force forward Kyle Haak, who had three assists in that Falcons 4-3 win, and defenseman Jonathan Kopacka sat out Friday. RIT was without leading scorer Caleb Cameron and Shawn Cameron, both forwards.
Shawn Cameron was whistled for a five-minute major for boarding and given a game misconduct. After the play several players from both teams had an altercation that resulted in penalties for hitting after the whistle, roughing and 10-minute misconduct penalties.
Falcons senior co-captain Johnny Hrabovsky missed his second consecutive game because of a lower-body injury. His and Kopacka’s absences resulted in freshman Matthew Burchill playing the first game of his NCAA career.
Forward Ben Kucera also was not in the lineup. He and Haak were replaced up front by freshmen Pierce Pluemer and Matt Pulver.
“I was confident (in the freshmen),” Serratore said. “In a short-term situation they’re going to be fired up, and they played with a lot of excitement.” …
The Falcons blocked 21 shots, with co-captain Dylan Abood getting six and Phil Boje five. Koch and Burchill each knocked down three. …
Air Force travels to Western Michigan next weekend. The Broncos knocked off No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth on Friday night.