Scouting Air Force (6-6-2, 2-5-1 AHC) at Sacred Heart (3-8-1, 1-5-1)
Saturday, 3:05 p.m. and Sunday, 10:35 a.m. MST
Radio / TV: 1300 AM and goairforcefalcons.com / atlantichockey.tv (subscription)
Series: Air Force leads 25-9-5 and won three of four last season, but the one it lost (3-2 in overtime at Cadet Arena in February) cost it the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title.
After a four-game slide, the Falcons have three points in their past three games and had a chance at a fourth last Saturday before an RIT power-play goal in the third period torpedoed that. Today’s game kicks off a four-games-in-eight-days stretch to conclude the first half of the season for Air Force, which should see several injured players (Defensemen Dylan Abood and Jonathan Kopacka, centers Tyler Ledford and Kyle Haak and wings Max Harper and Walker Sommer) return after Christmas. “When it’s all said and done, we’ve had to take one step back with the injuries,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “We’ve had to, but ultimately I’d like to say we’re going to take two steps forward because we’re learning a lot about our roster. We’ve uncovered a couple of gems that were buried in our locker room, and those players may not have had a chance to play had it not been for these injuries.” … The Pioneers played Tuesday night and gained a point vs. Army, but they sit last in the AHC standings with three points.
Air Force update
The Falcons embark upon their fifth road series of the first eight weeks of the season, and they’ve gone 3-3-2 away from Cadet Arena. Their defense has been improving almost game-to-game, impressive given three freshmen are seeing significant time on the blue line. Their 2.43 goals against is ranked 11th in D-I and junior Billy Christopoulos deserves much of the credit. He’s played every game and has a 2.36 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.. … The Falcons’ struggles are coming in two areas – penalty kill (78.2 percent) and on offense (2.36 goals per game, 51st in D-I). The offense has shown some signs of improvement of late, scoring nine goals in the most recent three games. Jordan Himley (9 points) has goals in two of those three and seems as though he’s getting untracked. He is tied with Evan Giesler for the team lead in points, while Giesler and defenseman Phil Boje lead with seven assists each. Boje also has 32 blocked shots (sixth in the nation). Matt Serratore leads the Falcons with five goals, while Erik Baskin and Himley have four each. Another defenseman, Matt Koch has eight points. Freshman D Alex Mehnert was the AHC rookie of the week, one week after Jake Levin captured the honor. The third freshman on defense, Zack Mirageas has four points and has played in every game but one. … “That’s what we recruited Alex for, the front side of his game. He’s a power play-type guy,” Frank Serratore said. “Guys like that have to work on the defensive and physical side of their game. Levin has done a good job. Joe Tyran‘s done a good job since he’s gotten in. Erich Jaeger‘s done a good job, Marshall Bowery‘s done a good job. All those kids have got themselves in the hunt, and they’re not just in the hunt for right now they’re in the hunt, when we get all the cavalry back, all our other guys back, they’re going to be in the conversation.”
Sacred Heart update
The Pioneers can’t be overlooked, having defeated No. 5 Notre Dame and Connecticut of Hockey East early in the season. While they score nearly 3 goals per game, they allow more than 4. Their struggles have come on special teams. They have just five power-play goals in 12 games – one in the past four – and connect at a 10.9 percent rate. They have killed off 77.8 of foes’ power plays, allowing four PPGs in their past three games. … Sacred Heart has a balanced offense, but a young one. Eight of its top 10 scorers are underclassmen, led my freshman Mark Johnstone (12 points) and Vito Bavaro (11 with a team-high 7 goals). Junior Jason Cotton has five goals (including three in the past four games), and sophomores Austin McIlmurray and Zach Tsekos have eight points apiece. All five are forwards. … The Pioneers are experience in goal, but neither Brett Magnus nor Nathan Perry has particularly distinguished himself yet. Magnus is 3-4 with a 4.19 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage, while Perry, who gave up five goals in the tie vs. Army, is 0-4-1 with 4.17 and .882 numbers.
How it could go down
This might be just what the doctor ordered for the Falcons. Not only do they have an extra day of rest during a holiday week, but they’re playing the least experienced team in the conference. Compounding things for the hosts is the Pioneers played an overtime game against Army West Point on Tuesday, which anyone who saw Air Force’s series vs. the Black Knights three weeks ago will tell you is no walk in Central Park. This appears to be an opportunity for the Falcons to build their AHC point total.
Follow @AFAFlightPath on Twitter for Air Force hockey updates