Another tough weekend did more to create questions than answer them for the Air Force hockey team.
The Falcons lost a pair of tooth-and-nail, one-goal games against Connecticut on the road last weekend, falling to 3-6-3 overall and running their losing streak to three games. UConn had been struggling with a 2-5-1 record heading into the series, but was able to get a 2-1 win Friday night and a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday.
The unfruitful weekend was a bit of a bitter pill for Air Force, a team searching for its identity and working to put its best foot forward. One aspect of the game, in particular, is the Falcons’ top priority for improvement.
“Right now, we’re not very good defensively,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We’re not going to win with any kind of consistency until we get better. We all have to take responsibility for that, including myself. I obviously haven’t done a very good job of preparing this team.
“You have to have a defensive foundation. That’s where it all starts, and right now, we’re just not very good there. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to build a foundation, and that foundation has to start with solid play.”
The Falcons lost a tough game Friday, but were pushed around by the Huskies on Saturday.
“We’re playing too much in our zone, so other parts of our game need to get better as well,” Serratore said. “We’re turning pucks over in the neutral zone and we’re not forechecking effectively, and as a result, we’re ending up having to play in our zone more than we have in the past. We gave up 39 shots on Saturday, and that’s way too many.”
It was tough for Serratore to find a positive from the two-game sweep.
“The only positive is hopefully we’ve either hit rock bottom or are close to hitting rock bottom and can start to build on that and get better,” he said. “I hope there’s nowhere to go but up, but there’s no guarantee with that either.”
Air Force faces Mercyhurst (4-5-1) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (2-7-3) in back-to-back games this weekend at Cadet Ice Arena, and the players believe they have what it takes to correct their mistakes.
“We’ve just got to get back to the basics and focus on solid defensive play and getting pucks out of the zone,” senior co-captain John Kruse said. “We just need solid defensive play and everybody buying in on it. We need to get back to that mentality on defense and have everybody taking care of the puck.”
Junior forward Ryan Timar, who scored a goal in the overtime loss, agrees.
“We know we can beat anybody we play, so it’s just working on getting the wrinkles out right now,” Timar said. “I don’t think anybody’s too worried about it right now. We’ve just got to get back to the grindstone and figure it out.
“We’re confident we can turn it around.”
AIR FORCE HOCKEY WEEKEND
Mercyhurst (4-5-1, 4-2 AHA) at Air Force (3-6-3, 2-3-1)
7:05 p.m. Friday, Cadet Ice Arena
Coaches: Mercyhurst — Rick Gotkin (438-311-61, 25th season); Air Force — Frank Serratore (258-256-54, 16th season)
All-time series: Air Force leads 10-9-2.
Top players: Mercyhurst — Ryan Misiak, soph., F (3g, 7a); Daniel Bahntge, soph., F (4g, 2a); Nick Jones, jr., D (3g, 3a); Grant Blakey, sr., F (2g, 4a); Paul Chiasson, sr., F (2g, 4a). Air Force — Tony Thomas, jr., F (3g, 6a); Jason Fabian, jr., F (5g, 2a); John Kruse, sr., F (3g, 4a); Casey Kleisinger, jr., F (3g, 4a); Cole Gunner, soph., F (7a).
Outlook: Mercyhurst is among AHA leaders with a 4-2 mark and will be looking to continue that conference success. The Falcons are in need of a win in a big way to help boost their confidence, and Mercyhurst will be a big hurdle. It should be a close and physical game, likely decided by a power-play goal.
RIT (2-7-3, 1-4-2) at Air Force
6:05 p.m. Sunday, Cadet Ice Arena
RIT coach — Wayne Wilson (257-134-42, 14th season)
All-time series: Air Force leads 17-14-2.
Top RIT players: Adam Mitchell, jr., F (6g, 7a); Jeff Smith, sr., F (6g, 5a); Greg Noyes, jr., D (5g, 6a); Chris Saracino, sr., D (3g, 8a).
Outlook: RIT has been an AHA power in recent years, but is off to a slow start. The Falcons need to take advantage of that and finish the weekend with at least three points to feel fulfilled against two foes with losing records. It’s only a matter of time before RIT regains its swagger, and Air Force needs to make sure it beats the Tigers to the punch in that regard.
NEAL REID, THE GAZETTE