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Air Force hockey beats Robert Morris to win conference title, clinch NCAA spot

March 17, 2018 Updated: March 17, 2018 at 8:57 pm
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Air Force hockey beats Robert Morris to win conference title, clinch NCAA spot (Director of Athletics, Air Force Academy via Twitter)

Air Force hockey is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.

The Falcons jumped on Robert Morris, scoring twice in the first three minutes. They cruised to a 5-1 win and defended their Atlantic Hockey Championship title.

Air Force junior Kyle Haak bookended the scoring and goaltender Billy Christopoulos made 35 saves.  

Christopoulos, who allowed his only goal of the weekend in the title game, was named the tournament MVP. Haak, Jordan Himley, Zach Mirageas and Jonathan Kopacka took all but one of the remaining spots on the all-tournament team.  

The Falcons were the first recipients of the brand-new Jack Riley Memorial Trophy, named for the winningest coach in Army West Point history.

“This group still has a lot of fight in them,” Air Force assistant coach Joe Doyle told Xtra Sports Radio.

Air Force defeated Robert Morris by a goal to reserve an NCAA spot last season. This year, the outcome appeared decided by the first period break. Haak opened the scoring for the second straight night, tipping in a Himley pass 2:06 into the game.

Fifty seconds later, Kopacka doubled the lead when he buried a long rebound.

Defenseman Phil Boje took several cracks at it on the power play before Himley solved Robert Morris goaltender Francis Marotte to push the score to 3-0 before the end of the first period. Himley was questionable heading into the weekend due to injury.

“He’s a game-breaker. He’s dangerous,” Doyle said. “To have that element in our lineup was massive.”

After a series of turnovers forced by the Falcons, Evan Giesler fired home a puck to make it 4-0 and chase Marotte from the net. Andrew Pikul made 14 saves in relief.

Robert Morris got on the board with 3:05 left in the second period when Nick Prkusic scored late into a power play. The desperate Colonials pulled Pikul with plenty of time left, but Haak rebounded from a scary hit earlier in the third period and scored his second of the night into the empty cage.

The NCAA bracket will be announced Sunday.

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