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Air Force hockey no outsider as it dives into Minnesota-heavy NCAA West Regional

March 22, 2018 Updated: March 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm
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Air Force may be the only school outside of Minnesota in the West Bracket of the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t make the Falcons outsiders. Seven Falcons, and their head coach, are from the North Star State.

Not that it’s a rare occurrence. When you’re a hockey-playing Minnesotan - especially in this part of the country - familiar faces seem to be everywhere.

“The hockey world is small to begin with,” junior defenseman Dan Bailey said.

Senior Erik Baskin was a grade ahead of Jimmy Schuldt, who captains the St. Cloud State team Air Force will face Friday afternoon (2 p.m., ESPNU, 1300 AM). The eventual teammates honed their skills on Schuldt’s backyard rink, which inspired Baskin’s father to build his own.

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Falcons kept believing through up-and-down hockey season.

These days, Schuldt is a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist.

“He’s pretty good,” Baskin said.

Bailey co-captained his Cathedral High School (St. Cloud) team with Huskies freshman Will Hammer, and said the two were best friends.

But the stakes are high, and friendship takes a backseat to competition this weekend. Both Air Force players have thought about what it would mean to make it to St. Paul for Air Force’s first Frozen Four appearance.

“It’s fun to dream about,” Baskin said. “But obviously we’ve got our hands full.”

Falcons coach Frank Serratore, a native of Coleraine, has more ties than a Brooks Brothers. The longtime and well-traveled coach has connections with all three teams.

St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko and assistant coach Mike Gibbons were his assistants at Denver. Serratore called Motzko one of his closest friends.

“I owe Bobby for the rest of my life," Serratore said. “I got him to come to Denver and I gave him a four-year promise. I got fired after the first year. I got him a ticket on the Titanic.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people out there who aren’t going to give us much of a chance, and I can tell you one thing – Bob  Motzko ain’t one of those guys. His team will be ready.”

The web grows from there. Serratore was on staff at North Dakota when Minnesota-Duluth assistant Jason Herter played there. Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings, a St. Cloud State alum, also played for Serratore.

“I’m really proud of every single one of those guys,” Serratore said. “Somebody from my family tree is going to be going to the Frozen Four, and hopefully it’s me.”

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