Down eight injured players No. 19 Air Force kept its foot on the gas but came up short to an equally determined Army West Point squad, 2-0, on Saturday night at Cadet Arena.
Defenseman Alex Wilkinson scored a power-play goal midway through the second period – the third-man advantage strike for the Black Knights (5-3, 5-3 Atlantic Hockey Conference) in two games, and goaltender Cole Bruns stopped all 29 shots he faced.
It was Army’s first sweep of the Falcons (5-4-1, 1-3 AHC) at Cadet Arena since 2003, and the first time Air Force had been shut out at home since Denver did it in 2014.
“First of all, congratulations to Army hockey and football – they had a great weekend at the Academy,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “They were the better hockey team.
“We couldn’t find a way to manufacture offense tonight.”
As he has been all season, Falcons goalie Billy Christopoulos was superlative. Many of his 20 saves were difficult, including a couple in the third period. He made a pair with just under seven minutes left, first stopping a 2-on-1, then stoning a rebound shot from between the circles. Not two minutes later he stopped another breakaway, just as he did late in the first period and again during Army’s second power play.
“He’s playing great for us right now,” defenseman turned forward Kyle Mackey said. “We need to give him a chance to win. I don’t think he’s had a bad game all year, we just didn’t give him a chance this weekend.”
The difference boiled down to special teams. Air Force could not convert on its three chances, while the Black Knights capitalized on their first of two tries.
“Their special teams were extremely good,” Serratore said. “That was a beautiful power-play goal.”
Army salted the game away when senior Conor Andrle buried a 2-on-1 chance with 1:24 to go.
“We were making a push,” Serratore said. “They got a 2-on-1 and converted. We tried hard but their goalie was solid.”
The Falcons had several good chances, particularly from the late first period forward, but could not solve Bruns.
“We brought it to them. Last night we doubled their shots. Tonight we couldn’t score,” Mackey said. “Their goalie played well. It just comes down to if you can’t score a goal you can’t win a game.”
The Falcons’ defense frequently took it upon itself to initiate offense, part of an all-out blitz in the game’s final 50 minutes, when Air Force had all but one of its shots on goal.
“The effort level, you can’t complain about that. The guys worked hard, there’s no question about that,” captain Dylan Abood said. “We’ve got to clean some things up with our play.
“The D jumping up … we expect that. They all have the ability to play that two-way game. We’ll be fine, we’ll stick together and keep it going.”
Excuses aren’t part of the Falcons’ lexicon, nor will they be any time soon, Serratore said. Instead, the coaching staff wants to turn the depleted lineup into an on-the-job training session for the younger players on the roster who now will assume bigger roles.
“There is no gloom and doom here, just a bunch of injuries,” Serratore said. “We’re going to work with the guys who are healthy. Our goal is to make strides every weekend.”
The Falcons have four series remaining before a four-week break in December – they travel to Holy Cross, play RIT at home, travel to Sacred Heart, then have resurgent Niagara at home.
“Other than (Evan) Feno, we should have all of our injured players back after Christmas,” the coach said. “We’re going to have some good acquisitions at the trade deadline.”
Down seven of their 18 forwards, the Falcons put Mackey at right wing. Mackey said he played some forward but not since he was 16. He has played 105 games on defense at the Academy. “Being a D, everything is in front of you, you see all the things the forwards do so it’s pretty easy to adapt out there and know where guys are supposed to be,” Mackey said. … Freshman defenseman Alex Mehnert made his NCAA debut. … Senior blue liner Jonathan Kopacka took the pregame skate, but wasn’t quite ready to go. He has an upper-body injury. … Freshman Marshall Bowery, who has played his first three games at wing, was slotted in at center on a line with sophomores Trevor Stone and Pierce Pluemer.
Air Force’s three stars
- Billy Christopoulos. The junior kept the Falcons in it with several highlight-reel saves among his 20.
- Dylan Abood. The captain played his guts out in every zone, and was one of the ringleaders in generating offensive chances.
- Kyle Mackey. The senior defenseman changed positions and brought a physical element up front.
The Falcons hit the road for the fourth time in six weeks, venturing to Holy Cross for games Friday and Saturday.