While Air Force snapped its four-game losing streak with a win over Rochester Institute of Technology on Sunday, the Falcons are still in search of what coach Frank Serratore refers to as their “culture.” That search, at least for the next month, will take place away from the familiarity of the Cadet Ice Arena.
Air Force will travel to Waltham, Mass., to face Bentley (6-7, 5-4 Atlantic Hockey Association) in a two-game series before taking much of the rest of the month off. The Falcons will then head to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Mariucci Classic and games against Minnesota and Alabama-Huntsville. A one-game stop at Niagara will end the road swing. Air Force returns home to face Army on Jan. 11-12.
“Things have not been right within our culture and thus it’s affected the way that we perform,” Serratore said. “It’s an environment that lends itself to camaraderie, towards togetherness, towards wanting to play together, being excited to play together.
“You have to work at it. It’s like a marriage — you can’t force people to love each other but if you want to make it work they’ve got to work at it.”
The most obvious symptom of chemistry imbalance has been on defense. Through 14 games, Air Force is allowing 31 shots per game and has allowed 30 or more shots in seven games. The Falcons allowed just 24.7 shots per game last season and had allowed 30 or more shots just eight times in their previous 42 games.
Senior Mike Walsh, a defenseman on those Air Force defenses of three previous seasons, said the Falcons need to get back to five-man defense.
“Everybody’s got to be involved, get open, support, make sure that they cover their own man, get sticks up and keep them from having easier shots,” Walsh said. “A lot of our problem is that we’re dumping the puck and not getting any pressure on them, so they would be able to transition pretty quickly and get up the ice without us establishing any sort of forecheck or being able to play offense in their zone.”
Sophomore Cole Gunner said he thinks the team knows what Serratore is looking for and is ready to put it on the ice.
“We need to find what Falcon hockey is,” Gunner said. “I think (Serratore) wants trust within the team, trust in the coaches; just go out there and play hard and not over-think the game.”
Gunner did a good job not over-thinking Friday against Mercyhurst. After getting eight goals and 28 assists as a freshman, he finally notched his first two goals of this season to go along with eight assists.
“It felt good to get the monkey off my back,” he said. “There’s nothing better than scoring and jumping into the fans in the cadet section.”
But for the team to experience that feeling as often as they’re accustomed to, they need to find their culture. Until then, Serratore said that no amount of technical or tactical brilliance will have much effect.
“You can’t do anything until we play better — until we’re hitting on all cylinders, and we’re playing together and our chemistry is good,” he said. “There’s not going to be any consistency in any phase of our game until we get that as a foundation.”