Any successful team needs its goaltender to bail it out at least once in a while, and that is what Air Force got from Billy Christopoulos on Friday night at Cadet Arena.
The junior made 29 saves in a 3-0 Atlantic Hockey victory over American International. It was Christopoulos’ second shutout in the past five games and the sixth win in seven games for the Falcons (14-11-3, 9-9-2 AHC). The victory moved the Falcons up to eighth in Atlantic Hockey and just two points away from fifth.
“This was one of the hardest-earned shutouts I have ever seen,” AFA coach Frank Serratore told the school’s official website. “Billy Christopoulos was terrific. I give AIC a lot of credit. They are skilled and took advantage of the room we gave them.
“We needed Billy to get us to the third period and he did. Then, I thought we played a great third period. I really liked how we finished the game, but give Billy all the credit.”
The Falcons also received a boost from the returns of three players from injury – forwards Jordan Himley and Tyler Ledford and defenseman Matt Koch.
Koch initiated the play that led to AFA’s first goal, feeding Ben Kucera in the slot. Kucera found Pierce Pluemer skating in on the left side, and the sophomore buried it just 2:51 into the game.
The Yellow Jackets largely carried play in the first period, outshooting the Falcons 15-5 – a total that included a penalty shot after Air Force was whistled for covering the puck in the crease. Christopoulos was up to the task, however, stopping Blake Christensen.
AIC (10-16-3, 9-12-3 AHC) kept coming through the first half of the second period before the Falcons regrouped.
Early in the second period, AIC continued to pressure Air Force. Through the first 26 minutes of the game, AIC outshot Air Force, 22-5. However, in the final 34 minutes of the game, the Falcons outshot the Yellow Jackets, 13-7.
The Falcons salted the game away with two third-period goals.
Ledford won a draw in the offensive zone back to Dylan Abood. Abood’s point shot hit Evan Giesler and eluded Yellow Jackets netminder Zackarias Skog (15 saves) with 7:40 gone. Matt Serratore scored an empty-net goal with 1:40 to go after Jonathan Kopacka outfought a Yellow Jacket for the puck, got it Kyle Haak, who chipped it to the neutral zone, where Serratore gathered it and zipped down the ice to the empty net.
By the numbers
AIC outshot Air Force, 29-18. … Two special teams trends continued for the Falcons. Their penalty kill went 4 for 4, extending their recent run of success to 27 of 28. But the power play didn’t score in its only chance.
Air Force’s three stars
- Billy Christopoulos. He has allowed just 10 goals in the past eight games after Friday’s 29-save bagel.
- Dylan Abood. The Falcons’ undisputed leader had an assist, two blocks and was plus-2
- Jonathan Kopacka. His play along the wall ensured AIC couldn’t make it a one-goal game and led to a clinching goal. He also had two blocks and was plus-1.
The teams finish the series Saturday at 5 p.m. at Cadet Arena. AM 1300 has the broadcast and AtlanticHockey.tv will carry the live stream.