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Air Force hockey team's rally falls short to Minnesota-Duluth in NCAA Tournament

March 24, 2018 Updated: March 25, 2018 at 8:11 am
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photo - Minnesota-Duluth's Erik Baskin (27) pushes the puck behind the net past Air Force's Zack Mirageas (74) during the second period of an NCAA regional men's college hockey tournament game Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Dave Eggen)
Minnesota-Duluth's Erik Baskin (27) pushes the puck behind the net past Air Force's Zack Mirageas (74) during the second period of an NCAA regional men's college hockey tournament game Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Dave Eggen) 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - The words turned out to be prophetic.

“We aren’t going to win that game in the first period, but you can lose that game in the first period,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said the night before his team took on Minnesota-Duluth for a trip to the Frozen Four.

The Bulldogs took a two-goal lead in the first 13 minutes that the Falcons were never able to erase Saturday night in the 2-1 West Regional final.

It took Air Force nearly 24 minutes to register its first shot on goal. In that time, Minnesota-Duluth took 17 and mustered all the scoring it needed.

“It obviously wasn’t the start that we wanted or needed, but at the same time, we had every bit of confidence in our guys,” senior Dylan Abood said. “We knew we would take this game over one shift at a time.”

The Bulldogs’ Joey Anderson backhanded a rebound in with goaltender Billy Christopoulos tied up on the other side of the goal 9:03 into the first period. Officials quickly reviewed the goal after a talk with the Air Force goalie, but the Bulldogs held onto it.

Three minutes, nine seconds later, Nick Wolff doubled the lead on a shot through traffic.

Air Force looked more like the team that knocked off top-ranked St. Cloud State 4-1 on Friday night as the game went on and the latter half of the second period mostly took place in the Bulldogs’ end.

“We changed our forecheck up,” junior Kyle Haak said. “We just fired everything we could put on the net instead of trying to find one more pass for the pretty play.”

Colorado Springs native Tyler Ledford, who scored twice in Friday’s upset, had a back-door chance go wide and Brady Tomlak and Ben Kucera came close, but the Bulldogs kept the puck away from goaltender Hunter Shepard.

A heavy hit on defenseman Matt Koch in Air Force’s end gave the Falcons a late power play. Behind the net, Evan Giesler threw the puck at Shepard’s back and it bounced off and in. Koch earned an assist.

But Air Force never found the equalizer. It fell a game short of its first Frozen Four berth for the third time and second in two seasons.

“I don’t feel one bit bad about this because we lost to a good team,” Serratore said. “They couldn’t get the knockout punch, but they got enough to win.”

Frozen Four

Semifinals April 5 and championship game April 7

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