Having staked itself to a three-goal lead in the first 5:19, Air Force’s inconsistent defense and ineffective special teams play resigned the Falcons to a demoralizing 5-4 loss at the hands of Mercyhurst on Friday evening at Cadet Ice Arena.
Mercyhurst scored three power-play goals in six attempts, while Air Force was thwarted on its only two extra-man opportunities. The Lakers peppered Air Force goalie Jason Torf with 38 shots, 33 of which he turned aside.
“We have to get better defensively, there’s absolutely no question about that,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “Penalty killing: we gave up three goals. We missed some clears, we lost some draws.
"We have to get better – there’s no question – but I liked our spirit and I liked our attitude.”
But while special teams was the difference, the Lakers scored the game-winner at even strength. With the game tied at 4 and just over 10 minutes remaining, Grant Blakey managed to throw a puck into the upper right corner despite being knocked off balance by a Dan Weissenhofer check.
The teams were scoreless the rest of the way as Air Force managed just two shots on goal over the final 9 minutes.
But for the Falcons, the game couldn’t have begun better.
Just 2:40 into the contest, Mike McDonald beat Mercyhurst goalie Max Strang with a one-timer off a faceoff. Air Force made it 2-0 less than a minute later as John Kruse came charging up the slot and lifted a wrist shot that beat Strang high on the glove side.
The third Falcon goal, scored 1:41 after the second, was a give-and-go between Cole Gunner and Kyle DeLaurell.
The three Falcon goals in 2:39 sent Strang to the bench in favor of Jordan Tibbett.
“I thought Tibbett, when he came in, was very good in their goal,” Serratore said. “When it was all said and done, he probably was the star of the game.”
Mercyhurst (5-5-1, 5-2 Atlantic Hockey) answered with two goals, one on the power play, over a 54-second span to make it 3-2 going into the first intermission. Mercyhurst took the lead with a pair of power-play goals in the second period. Gunner’s second goal, a wrister from beyond the right circle, came 5:24 into the third period and tied the game at 4.
It was the fourth straight loss for Air Force, which slipped to 3-7-3 overall and 2-4-1 in the AHA.The three-goal advantage was the biggest surrendered by the Falcons this season.
“My old boss, Randy Spetman, used to say, ‘tough times don’t last, tough people do,’” Serratore said. “We’re going through some tough times right now. That’s fine. We’ve got to get through it, we’ve got to deal with it, we’ve got to overcome it.”
Air Force announced Friday that it will face Minnesota and Alabama-Huntsville respectively during the Mariucci Classic, which will be played Dec. 29-30 in Minneapolis … Mercyhurst completed its season-opening 11-game road trip with a 5-5-1 record. During the trip, which began on Oct. 13, the Lakers played in eight different arenas.