Updated: March 22, 2012 at 12:00 am
The odds are against Air Force’s hockey team as it prepares to battle mighty No. 1 seed Boston College in the NCAA Tournament.
But those odds are only slightly against the Falcons, a No. 4 seed.
Since 2007, No. 4 seeds have defeated No. 1 seeds nine times in 20 tries. In the past three seasons, Air Force and RIT - representatives of the allegedly weak Atlantic Hockey Association - have twice bumped off No. 1 seeds, and the Falcons lost by one goal in the other game.
Yes, Boston College is jammed with talent, with nine NHL draft picks. And, yes, the Eagles will cruise 33 miles from their Chestnut Hill campus to Worcester’s DCU Arena. Meanwhile, the Falcons will undertake a 1,993-mile journey.
But the Falcons have a strong chance. They come roaring into the game after pulverizing Mercyhurst and RIT in the AHA Tournament, and their sophomore goaltender, Jason Torf, is playing superbly and their players know all about the perils of the NCAA Tournament.
Those perils are largely in the Falcons’ favor.
No. 1 seeds face immense pressure.
No. 4 seeds face virtually no pressure.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” junior forward John Kruse said. “Everybody will be looking at BC. All their guys will be in the spotlight. To lose to the underdog is really to lose.”
Senior forward Paul Weisgarber was on the ice in 2009 when No. 4 Air Force stunned No. 1 Michigan, 2-0. He knows how these games work.
“All the pressure is on BC,” Weisgarber said. “… We have a lot of confidence.”
And it’s not false confidence, largely because of Torf’s performances in big games. In the 2011 AHA title game, he shut out RIT in front of a hostile crowd in downtown Rochester, N.Y, and followed the performance with a masterful effort against Yale. On Saturday night, he again shut out RIT and again silenced fans in Rochester.
The prime reason for Air Force’s initial rise was goaltender Andrew Volkening, who carried the Falcons to the NCAA Tournament three times from 2007 to 2010. When Weisgarber talks about his former teammate, he calls him “the great Andrew Volkening.” The title is deserved.
After Saturday’s victory over RIT, coach Frank Serratore was asked if it was time to start comparing Torf to Volkening. Serratore was disturbed by the question, saying it was far too early for such comparisons.
Volkening, Serratore said, is a “Falcon legend” while Torf remains “ a work in progress.”
Sorry, coach, but it’s exactly the right time to make the comparison. Once, Volkening gave the Falcons a chance against any team in the country. He was that stingy.
Now, Torf gives Air Force the same chance. He’s that stingy, too.
Serratore is not one to walk through his hockey life embracing false modesty. He encourages his team to ooze confidence. He wants his Falcons to believe they can conquer the mighty Eagles. After all, No. 4 seed Colorado College trashed No. 1 seed Boston College a year ago, 8-4.
Yes, the odds are against the Falcons as they travel across two time zones to the outskirts of Boston.
But not by much.
“We beat Michigan,” Serratore said, thinking back to 2009 and one of the biggest victories in academy history. “It’s not like we haven’t done it. We can do it again.”
Yes, they can.