Five players scored goals and 11 dented the scoresheet as Air Force defeated Niagara, 5-3, to sweep a two-game Atlantic Hockey series at Niagara Falls, N.Y.
The victory was the fifth in the past six for the Falcons (13-11-3, 8-9-2 AHC), who improved to 8-0 when scoring four goals. It was their fourth victory in a row on the road and avenged a sweep in early December at Cadet Arena by Niagara.
“I liked our game a lot,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “They made a play to score the first goal (2 minutes in) and we answered back.
“They play fast and they play hard. Look at who was out of our lineup, to be able to come in here and win two games … . We blinked once, giving up that shorthanded goal (in the third period), but we rebounded. Our guys were dialed in.”
Air Force built a 4-2 lead in the second period on goals by Marshall Bowery and Matt Serratore.
Defenseman Dan Bailey threaded a beautiful pass to Bowery just 2:02 into the second to put the Falcons ahead for good. It was the freshman’s fourth goal in four games.
The Falcons then connected on their first power-play opportunity. Phil Boje‘s point shot rattled off the end boards to Serratore, who beat Brian Wilson (22 saves) to the short side. AFA was 1 for 4 on the power play and thwarted both of Niagara’s chances.
It stayed that way until 5:49 remained in the game, when the Purple Eagles (11-15-2, 10-10-2 AHC) cut their deficit to 4-3 on a shorthanded goal by leading scorer Derian Plouffe. Plouffe gathered a rebound after Billy Christopoulos (22 saves) initially made two saves.
Niagara then pulled Wilson with about 3 minutes to go in the game, but Serratore controlled the puck and began a 2-on-1 with Erik Baskin, who scored his team-high 11th goal from the right wing into the empty net.
“I’m real proud of the guys,” Frank Serratore said. “The attributes of a champion: You’ve got to be able to come from behind and you’ve got to be able to win on the road and we did both of those things.”
The way the game started it appeared the first team to 10 might be declared the winner. The teams combined for four goals in less than 10 minutes.
Stanislav Dzakhov received a nice stretch pass from Zach Mills at the Air Force line, skated in on Christopoulos and went bar down just 2:05 in. But Ben Kucera answered 2:05 later, knocking in a rebound of a Bailey shot.
Joe Tyran then buried a rebound after Dylan Abood shot from the left point and Pierce Pluemer got a whack at the first rebound to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead 7:54 in. But the Purple Eagles answered 1:32 later, at 9:26, on Mills’ shot from the slot after he received a nice feed from Dzakhov.
As is often the case when Air Force is going good, the defense was initiating the offense.
“The first period goals nothing more than getting pucks to the blue paint,” Serratore said.
When the action picked up in the third period, Christopoulos was there when the Falcons needed him, stopping 10 of 11 shots.
“Billy appears to be that guy who is just there every night,” Serratore said. “He gets the job done. He’s solid.”
Bailey replaced freshman Zack Mirageas on defense. It was just the second game this season that Mirageas did not play. “He’s a darn good player, but we thought he just needed to watch a game,” Frank Serratore said. … The Falcons also were without injured regulars Jordan Himley (knee), Matt Koch (knee), Tyler Ledford (upper body) and Kyle Mackey (upper body).
Air Force’s three stars
- Matt Serratore. The junior Swiss Army knife scored what proved to be the winning goal and sprung Erik Baskin for the clinching empty-net goal.
- Dan Bailey. The junior initiated plays that led to the Falcons’ first and third goals. His tape-to-tape pass positioned Marshall Bowery for a goal that gave the Falcons a lead they would never relinquish.
- Phil Boje. The senior led by example, blocking a career-best seven shots, registering three shots on goal and picking up an assist on Serratore’s goal.
The Falcons return home to Cadet Arena next weekend to play host to American International. Game times are 7:05 p.m. on Friday and 5:05 p.m. on Saturday.
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