Penn State may be competing in its first season of Division I hockey, but Air Force isn’t taking this weekend’s road opponent lightly.
The Falcons (2-3-3) travel to the Greenburg Ice Pavilion in State College, Pa., for the first time and will find a game Nittany Lions team waiting with a 5-2 record. Air Force is coming off a split against Holy Cross and is finding its footing in the young season.
“Right now, we’re a 2-3-3 team,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “If we play as a team, I like our chances every night, but we’ve got to play as a team. If we want to become a good team, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Air Force blew a 2-0 lead in its first game against Holy Cross this past weekend in a 3-2 loss, but rebounded with a 7-0 win that was, the team believes, its most complete game thus far.
“I think our intensity level is what made the most difference,” sophomore forward Chad Demers said. “Saturday, we put a complete 60 minutes together for the first time this year. We got scoring from everybody, so that’s positive to see. Our offense had been kind of nonexistent at times, so it was nice to put together a game like that.”
Seven Falcons scored goals Saturday against Holy Cross, and Serratore said that kind of wide distribution will need to continue for his squad.
“That’s what we have to do,” Serratore said. “We don’t have one guy who’s going to lead us to the promised land. We’ve got to score by committee.”
Penn State has 14 freshmen and six sophomores on its 27-man roster, but also five transfers that include Taylor Holstrom, the Atlantic Hockey Association 2010-11 Rookie of the Year while at Mercyhurst. The Nittany Lions are coached by 1989 Colorado College graduate Guy Gadowsky, who spent the past seven seasons coaching at Princeton.
“They can recruit immediate impact talent,” Serratore said of Penn State, which has already defeated three AHA teams and is riding a four-game winning streak. “That’s the difference between schools like CC, Denver and the Big Ten schools and Air Force. They’re a legit Division I team.”
The Falcons know the talented Penn State squad will be a worthy opponent this weekend.
“They’re a new team to Division I hockey, but we know they have some good players,” said junior defenseman Adam McKenzie, who has a goal and five assists. “They’ve got the whole Big Ten recruiting thing helping them out, so they’re not a team we can just overlook. It will be a tough week.”
One simple concept is Air Force’s main focus at this point.
“It’s been a slow start to the season for us, but at this point, we just have to focus on getting better one game at a time and start stringing together some good games,” McKenzie said. “We’ve got to keep moving forward and keep getting better. That’s what’s important for us right now.”
AIR FORCE HOCKEY WEEKEND
Air Force (2-3-3) at Penn State (5-2)
5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, State College, Pa.
Coaches: Air Force — Frank Serratore (257-253-54, 16th season); Penn State — Guy Gadowsky (5-2, first season).
All-time series: First meeting.
Top players: Air Force — Tony Thomas, jr., F (2g, 5a); Jason Fabian, jr., F (5g, 1a); John Kruse, sr., F (2g, 4a); Adam McKenzie, jr., D (1g, 5a); Jason Torf, jr., G (2-3-3, 2.43 gaa). Penn State — David Glenn, fr., F (5g, 4a); Casey Bailey, fr., F (3g, 3a); P.J. Musico, fr., G (4-0, 2.00 gaa).
Outlook: Penn State has won four straight and has already knocked off AHA teams Army, RIT and Sacred Heart. The Falcons are coming off what the team believes is their most complete game, so their ability to continue that will be the key to the weekend. Junior goalie Jason Torf will likely get the 23 saves he needs to become the 11th netminder in school history to reach 1,500 for his career.
NEAL REID, THE GAZETTE