No. 1 star: CC goaltender Josh Thorimbert (9-4) solidified his position as the every-game starter by stopping 73 of 76 shots against a team with the nation’s second-highest scoring offense and 10th-best power play. Sound positioning and good lateral movement enabled him to deny all 16 shots that he faced on the penalty kill, and of the three goals he gave up, one came when Minnesota had an extra attacker and one was a short-handed score following a power-play breakdown. He lowered his goals-against average to 2.21, and his .927 save percentage is tops in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
No. 2 star: Air Force left wing Paul Weisgarber recorded two goals and an assist, making the most of his three shots. His goal Friday gave the Falcons a third-period lead that they eventually surrendered, and his goal Saturday staked Air Force to a 2-0 edge in the second. He finished with a plus-two rating, and he increased his season total to 15 points.
No. 3 star: CC center Tim Hall had the game-winning goal Friday with 36 seconds left, marking just his second score of the season after Minnesota drew even 41 seconds earlier. In addition to skating his regular shift on the fourth line, he occupied Archie Skalbeck’s left wing position on the third line after Skalbeck was ejected for a check from behind, and he played a pivotal role in helping CC kill the five-minute major on Skalbeck.
How CC managed a split: The Tigers (14-9-1, 11-7 WCHA) tightened up in the defensive zone and held Minnesota scoreless on seven power-play chances. They displayed intensity over long stretches, and they were much more consistent in executing their systems than they were the previous weekend in a home split against St. Cloud State. A sweep would have been possible if not for an 0-for-8 effort on the power play, 10 penalties totaling 31 minutes, a 76-47 shot deficit, a 59-44 disadvantage on faceoffs and the eighth short-handed goal that CC has allowed, the third-most in the country.
CC coach Scott Owens: “The win (Friday) was big. I’m a little disappointed (Saturday) we didn’t pick up a point. But we’re OK. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
The impact on CC: Gaining two points kept CC in third place in the WCHA, four points behind Minnesota, two points in back of No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth, a point ahead of Nebraska-Omaha and three points in front of No. 15 Denver – Minnesota-Duluth and Denver have played two fewer games than the rest. The Tigers dropped to 16th in the PairWise rankings used to predict the NCAA Tournament field, meaning they would be the first team left out if the season ended today. College Hockey Weekly projects CC as a No. 3 seed in the Northeast Regional.
How Air Force got three points: The Falcons (11-7-5, 9-4-4 Atlantic Hockey Association) rediscovered the energy required to win on the road, with crisp passing, triumphs in the corners and a knack for forcing turnovers. On a weekend in which leading point producer Kyle De Laurell didn’t score, Jason Fabian and John Kruse tallied two goals apiece; Tim Kirby had a goal and an assist; and Cole Gunner had two assists. Plus, Stephen Caple (10-4-5) and Jason Torf (1-2) combined to relinquish only two even-strength goals, as Army twice scored on the power play and had a short-handed goal. Air Force went 1 for 8 on the power play and took 10 penalties, but it outshot Army 58-39 and won 62 percent of the faceoffs.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore: “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. … We have been beating ourselves the last few weeks. It is tough enough to overcome your opponent and almost impossible to overcome your opponent and yourself.”
The impact on Air Force: It represented Air Force’s first victory at Army since 2004. The Falcons dropped to fourth in the AHA, three points behind Mercyhurst, two points behind the Rochester Institute of Technology and a point behind Robert Morris. They aren't in the PairWise, which has one AHA team (RIT) in the top 31. However, Air Force is projected as a No. 4 seed in the West Regional by College Hockey Weekly.
Up next: CC is idle this weekend, then meets Denver (13-8-3, 8-5-3 WCHA) in a Feb. 3-4 series, with the first game in Denver and the second in Colorado Springs. Air Force plays at Canisius (8-13-3, 8-7-2 AHA) at 2:05 p.m. Sunday and 5:05 p.m. next Monday.
The last word: There aren’t plans for CC to travel to Minnesota in the foreseeable future, as the Tigers are leaving the WCHA for the recently formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference in the 2013-14 season, when the Gophers also will depart for the startup Big Ten. That’s unfortunate because Mariucci Arena is one of college hockey’s top venues, regularly drawing 10,000-person sellouts, with mostly knowledgeable fans, a rowdy student section, a pep band and cheerleaders and a mascot who skate on the ice. Plus, you have to respect a place with five national championship banners hanging from the rafters.
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