Evan Giesler scored two goals, including what proved to be the game-winner in the first minute of the third period, to help lift Air Force to a 5-3 Atlantic Hockey Conference victory over Sacred Heart at Bridgeport, Conn.
The victory gave the Falcons three of the four points in the series as well as points in four of their past five games.
Giesler’s first goal capped a three-goal flurry in a 5:17 span early in the second period that brought the Falcons (7-6-3, 3-5-2 AHC) back from a 2-0 deficit.
The Pioneers took that lead 1:58 into the second when Matt Tugnutt tipped a shot from the right point past Billy Christopoulos.
The Falcons went to work little more than 2 minutes later while killing a hitting from behind penalty on Kyle Mackey. Jordan Himley stole the puck and worked free deep in the Pioneers zone, his backhand pass found defenseman Jonathan Kopacka steaming down the slot, and the senior wasted no time scoring his second goal in two days against goaltender Nathan Perry.
Just 39 seconds later, Matt Serratore capped a two-on-one with Mackey as the latter emerged from the sin bin to tie the score 4:54 into the second. It was Serratore’s team-high sixth goal of the season.
Giesler put the Falcons ahead for good on a power play 9:32 into the period when he tipped Matt Koch‘s shot through traffic. As it did most of the weekend, Sacred Heart (3-9-2, 1-6-2 AHC) packed the slot, allowing Falcons defensemen free reign from the circles up.
“There are a lot of good things about this,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “Give Sacred Heart credit, they came out hard.
“The hardest thing in hockey is to turn a game. Our darkest hour, we’re down 2-0 and we’ve got to kill a penalty. Who’d think that would ignite our comeback? I thought it was all us after that.”
The surge seemed to unhinge Sacred Heart a little bit. The Pioneers took four of their six penalties in the final 28:21 of the game, including a couple of costly ones in the offensive zone.
Giesler got the winner when Koch found him on Perry’s backdoor 43 seconds into the third, and the junior forward wasted no time depositing it past Perry (26 saves).
Air Force got its fifth goal in a row when Erich Jaeger scored with 8:15 to go. It was the sophomore’s second goal in two games.
That temporarily fired up the Pioneers, who drew back to two goals down when Vito Bavaro scored 34 seconds later. Sacred Heart had an apparent goal waved off with 6:58 to play because of a crease violation.
The Falcons’ one power-play goal (in 10 chances) this weekend was a big one, Giesler’s first goal Sunday that gave them their first lead of the game. The penalty kill went 8 for 9, bringing the season mark back above 80 percent.
Frank Serratore said senior center Tyler Ledford (knee) could return for next weekend’s series against Niagara. The assistant captain has missed the past nine games. … Defenseman and captain Dylan Abood (ankle) and center Kyle Haak (knee) are expected back after Christmas. … The returns of wing Max Harper (lower body), wing Walker Sommer (upper body) and center Brady Tomlak (team suspension) remain up in the air.
Air Force’s three stars
- Evan Giesler. The two goals included the go-ahead and winning ones, and they gave the junior six points in the past five games.
- Matt Koch. The junior set up both of Giesler’s goals with an aggressive shot and a timely pass.
- Jonathan Kopacka / Phil Boje. The defensemen brought plenty to the table. Kopacka scored the first goal (his second in two games) and blocked three shots, and Boje again was a defensive rock, blocking four shots and going plus-2. Boje also fired 11 total shots.
The Falcons play host to Niagara in an Atlantic Hockey Conference series Friday (7:05 p.m.) and Saturday (5:05 p.m.) at Cadet Arena.