Salute to 2017 Air Force seniors

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Senior co-captain Johnny Hrabovsky has been a force at both ends of the ice for Air Force since his return from injury. Photo courtesy of Air Force Athletics

When it comes to Air Force’s three seniors, the individual numbers don’t come anywhere close to telling the entire story.

The numbers that count are 15, 16, 17 and 18.

Thanks in part to returns to health and surges in play by Johnny Hrabovsky, A.J. Reid and Tyler Rostenkowski, the Falcons have won 15 of their past 20 games and gotten points in 17 of those contests. They also sit 16th in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, which can be illuminating when trying to predict the 16 NCAA Tournament teams. Then there is 18, which is where the Falcons sit in the USCHO.com rankings heading into this weekend’s Atlantic Hockey Conference quarterfinal series against Bentley.

It’s unlikely the Falcons would have hit any of those numbers without the senior trio picking things up several notches.

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Johnny Hrabovsky

“Our seniors, it’s not only their play but their leadership,” assistant coach Joe Doyle said this week. “Johnny Hrabovsky, A.J. Reid and Tyler Rostenkowski are three very good players but even better guys.

“They’re playing to their strengths. Each one of those players brings some different elements for us. All of them are very, very valued.

“In addition to that, their play has been good, but what they’ve brought to the room with Dylan Abood, as junior captain, has been really been the difference for us in the second half. The first half we were kind of up and down before we hit our stride toward the end of the first half. You can’t say enough about what those three guys have brought to the room. They’re doing it not only on the ice but off it.”

The Falcons’ second-half run was was capped by a 7-1 stretch to finish the regular season. That coincided with Hrabovsky’s return to the lineup in late January after a lower-body injury. The co-captain has been a force at both ends of the ice and has five of his six assists during the span and has teamed with Abood to form a shutdown pair.

Injury robbed Hrabovsky of nine games. As he returned to form the Falcons allowed an average of just 1.5 goals per game over their past eight, and just 1 goal per game at even strength.

The even-keeled captain also is one of 10 finalists for college hockey’s Senior CLASS Award. The acronym stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School.

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Alternate captain A.J. Reid has eight of his nine goals in the second half for No. 18 Air Force. Photo courtesy of Paat Kelly, Air Force Athletics.

Reid and Rostenkowski are just two of five players on the Falcons to play in all 36 games so far. And it’s one of the most welcome statistics for Reid, who missed all but 22 game games a season ago after suffering a horrific knee injury. Yet he returned to play late in the season.

Reid had a slow start, but much like the rest of the team he was at his best when it mattered most, scoring eight of his nine goals in the second half and 12 of his 15 points then. And he scored big goals – getting a pair in the Friday game at Bentley early last month when the outcome was much in doubt, getting another key goal at Robert Morris in January and getting two more against American International.

His play also helped jump start linemate Tyler Ledford, who went from having five points in the first half to 18 and counting. Reid also added a consistently physical presence, giving as well as taking.

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Senior Tyler Rostenkowski’s 12 points are nearly as many as he had in his first three seasons combined at Air Force. Photo courtesy of Paat Kelly, Air Force Athletics

Rostenkowski offered plenty of flexibility and also scored more than half of his points (7 of 12) in the second half. At one point he was working with the team’s defensemen when injuries to Jonathan Kopacka and Hrabovsky robbed the team of two stalwarts. Rostenkowski’s point total nearly matched his career total of 14 coming into the season.

All three have been a delight to talk to this season, and each clearly brings a different element to the team. Hrabovsky is the most measured of the three, setting the tone by example as much as anything. Several players have told me Reid is a go-to guy to talk to about hockey or life, his friendship valued even more than his play. Rostenkowski is the most gregarious, putting all around him at ease. He wouldn’t be out of place in a Cheers episode.

For as much as the Falcons have accomplished, the season could come to a crashing halt if they don’t take care of business against a Bentley team they’ve defeated three of four times this season. After that, it would mean a return to the AHC semifinals in Rochester, N.Y., but with a hitch. Host RIT, which has dispatched the Falcons the past two seasons, was knocked out in the AHC first round.

Air Force can write its own finish, and it’s a good bet that its three seniors will be the ones holding the pens.

Note: Each of the three took time earlier this season to participate in light-hearted Q&As with the Flight Path. Click on the player’s name to read those:

One-timers with … Johnny Hrabovsky

One-timers with … A.J. Reid

One-timers with … Tyler Rostenkowski

 

 

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