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Air Force hockey sees major problems underneath game tie, series win against AIC

February 3, 2018 Updated: February 4, 2018 at 8:13 am
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photo - Air Force Falcons forward Brady Tomlak (28), left, and American International Yellow Jackets forward Martin Mellberg (10) fight for puck possession at Cadet Ice Arena at U.S. Air Force Academy on Saturday February 3, 2018 in Colorado Springs. The game ended in a 2-2 tie.
Air Force Falcons forward Brady Tomlak (28), left, and American International Yellow Jackets forward Martin Mellberg (10) fight for puck possession at Cadet Ice Arena at U.S. Air Force Academy on Saturday February 3, 2018 in Colorado Springs. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. 

A rebound bounced out to Air Force’s Brady Tomlak, and he roofed it just inside the crossbar. The game against American International was tied. Or was it?

The sophomore threw his arms up in celebration, but play continued.

“I was pretty confident,” Tomlak said. “I was getting in the ref’s ear.”

A review showed the puck shot right back out of the net, but it was in, however briefly. It wound up being crucial as Air Force escaped the weekend with a win and Saturday night’s 2-2 tie in spite of long stretches of sloppy play.

The Falcons won the series. Or did they?

“That’s not where we need to be,” Tomlak said. “That wasn’t winning hockey this weekend. We were lucky to get three points.”

AIC was the better, more physical team for a large chunk of the series, but still hasn’t beaten the Falcons in 13 tries.

“We rolled the dice. We rolled it way too often,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “And the sad part is, we won.”

The Yellow Jackets failed to score on a penalty shot Friday, and the next night it was Air Force’s turn. Erich Jaeger was hooked on a first-period breakaway and awarded a second try. AIC goaltender Stefano Durante absorbed Jaeger’s shot into his midsection and the game remained scoreless a little while longer.

Erik Baskin erased any bad feelings when he wristed the puck past Durante from the middle of the faceoff circle 41 seconds later.

The Yellow Jackets tied it up with their first goal of the series later in the period when Joel Kocur teed up Jared Pike on the doorstep. AIC took the lead on Hugo Reinhardt’s second-period power-play goal, shot from just inside the blue line through heavy traffic past Billy Christopoulos.

Then came Tomlak’s delayed-gratification third-period goal. Air Force’s Zack Mirageas had a prime scoring chance with just under two minutes to play, then a poorly timed high sticking penalty.

The Falcons’ penalty kill, which has been successful in 32 of its past 34 tries, helped the team limp into overtime.

“I’m very, very, very disappointed with our composure late,” Serratore said. “At least I can say it was a freshman who lost his composure on the penalty with two minutes left. In overtime, it was primarily our seniors.”

A choppy five extra minutes -  full of timeouts, icing calls and one very near miss for the Yellow Jackets where the puck jumped a stick in front of an open net - didn’t produce a winner.

“We did our best to give them the win in the overtime,” Serratore said. “It was gross.”

Christopoulos finished with 22 saves. Senior Kyle Haak took a hit to the head and left the game, and Serratore said he’s in concussion protocol.

The Falcons left the weekend with needed conference standings points but a dissatisfied coach. He referenced his players’ academy-approved intelligence while pointing out their lack of hockey progress.

“They’ve been taking this class since Sept. 15, and the class ain’t changed,” Serratore said. “If they don’t know the material by now, she’s going to be a long month.”

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