Winless and reeling from a pair of lopsided losses to state rivals, Air Force’s hockey team got just what it needed from last weekend’s conference road trip.
The Falcons (1-2-3) opened Atlantic Hockey Association play with a 1-1 tie at Canisius on Oct. 25 and broke into the win column with a 4-1 defeat of Robert Morris two days later. The three-point road trip was a much-needed boost for the defending AHA champions, who, like many college hockey teams at this point of the season, are working to find their identity.
“I think it was huge to be able to take a step in the right direction,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “The most important thing is we played better. We seem to be making some progress in our game.
“That’s what we’re most concerned with now, just taking steps closer to becoming the team we want to be.”
It had been a frustrating start to the season for Air Force, which suffered back-to-back losses to Colorado College (6-2) and Denver (5-2) before the AHA road trip.
“We obviously struggled a little at the beginning of the season, but we’re making strides in the right direction and the weekend shows it,” senior forward Kyle De Laurell said. “Getting that win on Saturday was a huge morale booster for the guys. We started off a little slower than we wanted to, but you’re going to hit some rough patches every season. Our guys know how to battle through it and figure out how to have success on the ice.”
Serratore felt fortunate to grab three out of four possible points on the road trip.
“When you consider that the last two goals against Robert Morris were scored with an empty net, we essentially scored three goals on the weekend and got three points,” Serratore said. “That’s not going to happen very often.”
A visit from always pesky Holy Cross (3-1), which is coming off a lopsided 7-2 loss at the hands of Army, is next for the Falcons. The team knows the Crusaders will be a tough test as they host their first home conference series of the season.
“They came out as the team in the conference that was ready to go right away, and it’s going to be a battle,” said junior forward Jason Fabian, who is tied for the team lead with five points. “They’re in your face all the time, and they’re a team that’s not going to sit back and wait for you. They’re going to come at you.”
The ideal situation for the Falcons this weekend would be to earn some valuable conference points while continuing to improve as a team. Serratore and his players know that improvement is a constant process.
“We’re a long ways away from where we need to be,” Serratore said.
This weekend’s Air Force-Holy Cross hockey series will be a special one for Holy Cross senior forward Rob Linsmayer. His father, Rob, was a 1968 Air Force graduate who competed on the academy’s ski team. The elder Linsmayer was a command pilot who flew in Southeast Asia. He died in a skiing accident in Steamboat Springs in 1991. The younger Linsmayer, an assistant captain this season, was recruited by Air Force, but chose to play at Holy Cross.
AIR FORCE HOCKEY WEEKEND
Holy Cross (3-1) at Air Force (1-2-3)
7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Cadet Ice Arena
Coaches: Holy Cross — Paul Pearl (266-258-63, 18th season); Air Force — Frank Serratore (256-252-54, 16th season)
All-time series: Air Force leads 19-6-8
Top players: Holy Cross — Brandon Nunn, sr., F (3g, 4a); Kyle Fletcher, sr., F (3g, 1a); Rob Linsmayer, sr., F (1g, 3a); Castan Sommer, fr., F (1g, 3a); Evan Zych, sr., D (4a); Matt Ginn, soph., G (3-1, 2.75 gaa). Air Force — Jason Fabian, jr., F (4g, 1a); Tony Thomas, jr., F (2g, 3a); John Kruse, sr., F (2g, 2a); Casey Kleisinger, jr., F (1g, 3a); Cole Gunner, soph., F (4a); Jason Torf, jr., G (1-2-3, 2.74 gaa).
Outlook: Air Force is 4-2 in conference home openers since joining the AHA for the 2006-07 season and is 9-3 in those home-opening series. The Falcons are 3-1-2 in their past six games against Holy Cross, a team that beat them 4-3 in their last meeting in January. Air Force is a work in progress, but showed solid signs of improvement on the road last weekend. The two-game set should be a tight, physical battle that could come down to the final seconds both nights.