Saturday night’s 3-3 draw against Sacred Heart won’t sit well for Air Force. How it happened might be tougher to swallow.
The Falcons (6-6-3, 2-5-2 AHC) had a 3-1, third-period lead at Bridgeport, Conn., before the Pioneers (3-8-2, 1-5-2 AHC) rallied. After solid showings by both special teams units, both struggled in the final minutes.
Up 3-1 and on a power play in the final three minutes of regulation, the Falcons gave up a short-handed goal to Marc Johnstone off a face-off play to the right of goaltender Billy Christopoulos. Zach Tsekos controlled the draw and tipped the puck across the slot to a diving Johnstone, who tapped it into an open net with 2:36 to play.
Johnstone tied it on a 6-on-4 power play with 22 seconds left, again right after an offensive zone draw.
“We can’t afford to let it feel like a loss. We’ve got an awfully young team in there,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “We’re up 3-1 and we have a power play and instead of going for the jugular, we go into a prevent defense. We have to use that as a learning opportunity.
“I am making zero excuses for us, but we needed to play to the buzzer.”
After a relatively uneventful first two periods, the Falcons surged ahead midway through the third period when defenseman Jonathan Kopacka jumped into the play and fired a shot at Nathan Perry (20 saves) that bounced into the blue paint, where Erich Jaeger finished it for the Falcons’ first lead of the game. It was the sophomore’s first goal of the season and the second of his NCAA career.
Just 2:18 later, Kopacka received a nice right to left feed from Evan Giesler and buried it from the left circle and a 3-1 lead with 7:18 to play. It was the senior’s first goal of the season.
It seemed like things were well in hand until the late Falcons power play, which Sacred Heart largely controlled.
The Pioneers took an early 1-0 lead when their forecheck forced a turnover right on Christopoulos’ right doorstep. Stephen Hladin tucked the puck between the goalie’s left pad and the post just 1:12 in.
The Falcons tied it with 5:24 to go in the first when Matt Koch capitalized on plenty of skating room and zipped in from the left point, held the puck then found Erik Baskin on the right side of the net, and the senior put it past Perry.
The ending belied what otherwise had been a decent game for Air Force, including on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle. The Falcons killed off the first four penalties they took and won 33 of 58 draws. Christopoulos made 28 saves.
“Here’s a key thing. You take away the first minute of the game and the last two minutes of the game and we were pretty good, and we got better,” Serratore said. “This is a tough pill to swallow, but we have to take our medicine and move on.
“What I’m choosing to look at is those middle 57 minutes. Is that a good tie? No, but it would have been a horrible loss.”
Wing Trevor Stone returned to the lineup after missing most of the past four games because of an upper-body injury. The physical sophomore was involved all game and played with Jaeger and freshman Marshall Bowery. … Two defensemen – Dan Bailey and Kyle Mackey – skated on a line with Pierce Pluemer.
Air Force’s three stars
- Erich Jaeger. His was a reward for several games worth of hard work and seemed to ignite the Falcons. He also won six of eight draws and was plus-2.
- Jonathan Kopacka. The senior went from nearly being scratched to having a two-point game.
- Matt Koch. The defenseman’s patience with the puck resulted in Erik Baskin‘s goal, and he went plus-1.
The teams play again Sunday morning at 10:35 a.m. MST. AM 1300 (also available through goairforcefalcons.com) will broadcast it.
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