Facing a crossroads in Saturday night’s game against Atlantic Hockey rival Army West Point, Shane Starrett made sure things didn’t go sideways for Air Force.
The Falcons held on for a 3-2 victory that kept them tied atop the AHC standings with Canisius and put some distance between them and their fellow service academy.
Dan Bailey’s goal with 4:55 to go in the second period started the Falcons’ comeback and Tyler Ledford scored 47 seconds later. Bailey also had a hand in what proved to be the winning goal when his slap shot with 6:50 to play in the game was redirected by Brady Tomlak past Army’s Parker Gahagen, who was playing in his 100th college game.
The mountain would have been harder to scale had not Starrett kept the score 1-0 midway through the second period.
“Shane makes timely saves,” AFA coach Frank Serratore said. “When it was 1-0 we turned the puck over and (Ian) Mansfield went in on a breakaway. A 1-0 game turns into a 2-0 game in a game like this and that can be all she wrote.
“These games it’s strange. A bounce here, a bounce there. A big save here, a big save there.”
The Falcons (16-8-4, 13-5-2 AHC) seized the momentum in the second period, when they outshot the Black Knights, 18-7. It took a majority of the period, but Bailey and Ledford put them ahead for good 47 seconds apart.
Bailey took a drop pass at the Army line from Tyler Rostenkowski as the Falcons started a change, the defenseman skated to the outside of the right circle, spun and wristed a shot that beat Gahagen to the wide side.
“Tyler Rostenkowski made a nice play in the neutral zone to get it to me,” Bailey said. “I didn’t see too much on the rush so I was just trying to get the puck on net and it found a hole.”
Ledford then scored for the third game in a row, deflecting a shot by Phil Boje from the right point past Gahagen, who had a traffic jam in front of his net. Ledfords’s strike came with 4:02 to play.
“I took the face-off and threw it over to the corner, the pass went to Boje, and I went to the net. I think it just hit me. I got lucky,” Ledford said.
Starrett, who made 23 saves and was masterful in stopping several Army chances from in close, was beaten as an Air Force penalty was expiring early in the second period. Blake Box’s blast from the right point eluded both the Falcons netminder and a defenseman who had gone down to block the shooting lane to give Army (12-10-3, 11-8-1) a 1-0 lead.
Tomlak’s goal was a nice redirection in the high slot after Bailey launched a shot from the right point.
“When we got that third goal I was happy because they’re going to have to get two. Then they got one back,” Serratore said of a goal by Michael Wilson that was subject to a lengthy officials review.
Compounding matters was Trevor Stone was sent to the box for a holding penalty. The Black Knights wasted no time calling Gahagen, who finished with 31 saves, to the bench.
“Over two minutes on a 6 on 4 I was a little concerned but I thought our guys handled it well,” Serratore said. “We didn’t chase guys around. We packed it back and fronted pucks.
“A game that could have gone either way. … We battled adversity, we came from behind and we had to overcome the chaos at the end.”
Growing injury list
Air Force got a bit of a scare when senior assistant captain A.J. Reid stayed down on the ice with 8:03 to play in the second period after being driven what appeared to be neck first into the goalpost to Gahagen’s left. Reid returned later in the period and took a regular shift in the third.
The Falcons already were shorthanded as five of of their six scratches have injuries. The list includes defensemen Jonathan Kopacka, who has a broken ankle, and Joe Tyran (knee), and forwards Matt Serratore (concussion), Ben Kucera (shoulder) and Matt Pulver (shoulder).
“It was a real gutsy performance,” Serratore said. “We’re down to one healthy guy who didn’t dress, (freshman defenseman) Matt Burchill.”
The coach said Kucera and Serrratore could return soon.
Defensemen played a key role in all three of the Falcons’ goals. In addition to Bailey’s strike, he and Boje got pucks through enough that they could be deflected past Gahagen.
“We put a lot of emphasis on five-man offense,” Bailey said. “When defensemen can get up the ice and contribute it helps our game.”