This tune-up should be good for at least 3,000 miles.
Air Force got three goals from one line, built a 46-11 shots on goal edge, received a shutout from goalie Billy Christopoulos and generally carried the play in a 3-0 victory over the University of Lethbridge at Cadet Arena on Monday night.
The trio of center Brady Tomlak, Pierce Pluemer and Ben Kucera accounted for all three goals, with Pluemer also adding assists on the two he didn’t score.
“They were good. I don’t think anybody was bad tonight, but the one thing they did that the other lines didn’t do was find a way to finish,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “When you generate as many chances as we did in this game you’ve got find more ways to score goals. We’ve got to give their goalie (Garret Hughson, 43 saves) credit, he was outstanding. But you still have got to find a way to beat guys like that.
“It was a good first step in the journey. We had a lot of experienced players in there and I think it showed.”
Further heartening was the play of three players whose seasons were cut short by injuries a season ago – defensemen Jonathan Kopacka (ankle) and Joe Tyran (knee) and forward Matt Pulver (shoulder).
“I thought it was a great first step for them,” Serratore said. “None of them played with eggs in their pants. They stepped in, they took hits to make plays. You wouldn’t have known they were coming back from season-ending injuries.
“Sometimes mentally that takes a toll on a guy, and I didn’t notice any of them playing shy out there. They all went for it.”
Kopacka, who was utilized in all situations, said it was all systems go.
“My ankle held up, my shoulder held up. I’ve just got to get back used to the speed,” the senior said. “(I have to) realize out I have more time out there (than I think) I do.”
The exhibition kicks off a fast and furious week for the Falcons, who will fly to Fairbanks, Alaska, for their regular-season-opening series against Alaska on Friday and Saturday.
Blue paint project
All three goals were scored no farther than 3 feet from the Lethbridge goal line.
Kucera, a senior, created the chance on the first one, speeding down the right-wing boards with the puck and finding Pluemer in the low slot. The sophomore fired a shot, got the rebound and poked it in with 4:02 to play in the first period.
Fellow sophomore Tomlak made it 2-0 1:36 into the second period, collecting a rebound after Pluemer had redirected Kyle Mackey‘s point shot. Tomlak reached around Hughson to find an opening by the right post.
Kucera finished the third tally, 3:58 into the third. He redirected Phil Boje’s point shot after Boje took a drop pass from Pluemer, who picked up his third point of the game.
Strong when needed
Christopoulos played the entire game and needed to make just 11 saves. Still there were a handful of dandies in that sample, starting with Lethbridge’s first shot of the game, which came on a shorthanded breakaway. He also made the correct read to stop a snap shot from in close in the final minute of the first. Christopoulos was at it again right after the Falcons too a 2-0 lead, stopping another point-blank shot.
“Maybe the most encouraging thing along with the (Tomlak) line finishing was (Lethbridge) didn’t get many shots but when they did they had some quality shots, and it was great to see Bill step up and make the saves,” Serratore said. “A guy blew in on a breakaway and he ate it up. That was encouraging to see him step up when he was asked to do so.”
The Falcons dressed just two freshmen, backup goaltender Zack LaRocque and defenseman Zack Mirageas. Mirageas, who played for Bloomington of the USHL last season, showed excellent mobility and a hard shot. … The Falcons’ dominance carried over to the face-circle, where they won 42 of 63 draws (66.6 percent).
The last word
Kopacka on the Falcons accomplishing one of their missions Monday night: “One of our team goals is to limit (opponents’) shots to under 18 a game,” Kopacka said. “We accomplished our goal, which makes the game a little easier. The shots they did have, Billy made some good saves.”
Follow @AFAFlightPath on Twitter for Air Force hockey updates