Frank Serratore has experienced many emotions in 20 seasons covering 722 games as a college hockey coach. At 6:05 p.m. Saturday, he’ll feel something new when the longtime Air Force leader sees his son, Tom, and No. 4 Minnesota on the opposing bench at the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis.
“This one will be different,” Serratore said. “I’ve never played against either of my sons before. We haven’t talked much about it, and I think we purposely stayed away from it. It’s kind of awkward to talk about.”
Air Force (5-7-3) last played Dec. 8 when it earned a 2-2 tie at Bentley to cap a three-point weekend, and is unbeaten in three straight following a four-game losing streak. Despite nearly three weeks since live action, the energy of the past two games seemed to have knocked the Falcons out of their funk after a slow start.
“The momentum definitely has carried over,” said junior forward Kyle De Laurell, a Pine Creek graduate who became the 43rd Falcon to reach the 100-point mark in career scoring Dec. 7. “It gave us a real good feeling going into the break. You can see that spark in our practices since then.”
The Falcons will need that spark against the Gophers (11-3-3), who have lost just once in eight home games and feature 15 players selected in the NHL draft.
Finnish forward Erik Haula (Minnesota) leads the charge with eight goals and 22 points, while sophomore Kyle Rau (Florida) has added six goals and freshman goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay) has produced a sparkling 1.78 goals-against average in 91 percent of the team’s minutes.
“They’ve got a plethora of high-end talent,” Serratore said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to play our best in order to give them a battle. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Like Air Force, Minnesota hasn’t played a game in 21 days, earning a win and a tie at Colorado College.
The Falcons play Alabama-Huntsville (3-14-1) at 3:05 p.m. Sunday to finish out play in the Mariucci Classic. Air Force previously appeared in the two-day tournament in 2007.
Air Force boasts 11 players on its roster from Minnesota, in addition to Serratore and assistant coach Mike Corbett. On Thursday, the parents of senior captain John Kruse played host to the Falcons, cooking up a pasta feast, complete with salad and garlic bread.
“As a team, we’ve been looking forward to this all year,” De Laurell said. “With the amount of guys from Minnesota on the team, a lot of the guys are really amped up to play. It’s nice to have a team dinner. It’s good to hang out and have a little fun, too.”
AIR FORCE HOCKEY WEEKEND
Air Force (5-7-3) at No. 4 Minnesota (11-3-3)
6:05 p.m. Saturday, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
Radio/TV: 1300 AM, Fox Sports North
Coaches: Air Force — Frank Serratore (260-257-55, 16th season); Minnesota — Don Lucia (329-176-57, 14th season)
All-time series: Minnesota leads 1-0-1.
Top players: Air Force — Tony Thomas, jr., F (5g, 8a); Chad Demers, so., F (5g, 7a); Stephen Carew, sr., F/D (8g); Kyle De Laurell, jr, F (4g, 7a); Cole Gunner, soph., F (11a). Minnesota — Erik Haula, jr., F (8g, 14a); Nick Bjugstad, jr., F (8g); Kyle Rau, so., F (6g, 9a); Nate Schmidt, jr., D (13a); Adam Wilcox, jr., G (10-2-3, 1.78 gaa).
Outlook: Minnesota, the five-time NCAA national champions, plays its second Colorado Springs school in a row after a win and a tie at Colorado College on Dec. 7-8. With that series, the Gophers improved to 6-1-3 in their past 10 games. Rau is the younger brother of Chad Rau, who played at Colorado College from 2005-09 and is in the Minnesota Wild organization. Minnesota natives Serratore (Coleraine) and Lucia (Grand Rapids) grew up 7 miles apart. Lucia coached Colorado College from 1993-99. Air Force played Minnesota twice in a eight-month span in 2007. Minnesota rallied from a 3-1 deficit to post a 4-3 win in the NCAA West Regional in Denver, and the teams later played to a 2-2 tie in the Falcons’ debut in the Mariucci Classic.
Air Force vs. Alabama-Huntsville (3-14-1)
3:05 p.m. Sunday, Mariucci Arena
Radio: 1300 AM
Ala.-Huntsville coach — Kurt Kleinendorst (first season)
All-time series: Ala.-Huntsville leads 38-18-3.
Top Ala.-Huntsville players: Kyle Lysaght, so., F (4g, 4a); Alex Allan, jr., F (5a); Jeff Vanderlugt, so., F (5g); Graeme Strukoff, so., D (3g, 4a).
Outlook: The Chargers are one of only two NCAA independents (Penn State is the other, but the Nittany Lions will join the Big Ten with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2013-14). Kleinendorst spent nine years in the New Jersey Devils organization as an assistant and scout, helping in the team’s 2000 Stanley Cup championship. The Falcons-Chargers rivalry goes back to 1984 when both were independents and later as conference foes in College Hockey America from 1999-2006. The teams last met Oct. 22, 2011, when Air Force won 7-2, one night after the teams tied, 1-1.