Air Force’s second-half fortunes rest in part on defensive forwards like junior fourth-line center Jason Fabian providing consistent secondary scoring.
His evolution from a raw offensive talent to a two-way player exemplifies how the Falcons develop their players and use depth to wear down foes.
“That’s Air Force hockey,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “I don’t think there is a huge difference between what you would call our first or fourth line. We want all four lines contributing because we need them to.”
If that happens, fans can expect the eighth-place Falcons (6-9-4, 4-5-2) to get back in the Atlantic Hockey Association race with the second-half surge they have relied on the past five seasons.
Starting a win streak will not be easy against second-place Army (7-9-2, 7-4-2) this weekend. But then, neither was Fabian’s development into a two-way player.
As a freshman, forward depth was thin and the Roseau, Minn., native played on one of the top lines and power play for 21 points (10 goals) in 37 games. It was a comfortable role for a player who recorded 58 points in 57 games his final junior hockey season.
Next season, Fabian was told he needed to focus on defense to get ice time.
“They didn’t give me much of a choice, but it seems to suit me,” he said.
Indeed. Last season, he was the first forward to win the best defensive player team award.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder is the Falcons’ best faceoff man, skates well and thrives in the structure required by focusing on defense and the penalty kill.
“When we put him in that role it was like 500 pounds was taken off his back,” Serratore said. “With his size and speed, he could be a defensive forward for any college team in the country.”
“He always had the offensive skill,” said Casey Kleisinger, who played with Fabian for two years in Bismarck, N.D. “He worked really hard to develop defensively.”
That skill was evident the past two games when Fabian collected two assists to improve to 10 points, tops among secondary scorers.
He and his linemates delivered when given the opportunity on the power play after the top two units struggled. His line flew all over the ice and recorded the opening goal against No. 19 Niagara on Saturday. Third-liner Scott Holm tallied the tying goal in the third period.
“Getting secondary scoring this second half will be critical for putting together an unbeaten run, which we need after a poor first half,” Fabian said. “We have to make the most of our chances when we get them.”
AIR FORCE’S HOCKEY WEEKEND
Army (7-9-2, 7-4-2, AHA second place) at Air Force (6-9-4, 4-5-2, eighth) 7:05 p.m. Friday, 4:05 p.m. Saturday, both sold out
Coaches: Air Force — Frank Serratore (261-259-55, 16th season); Army — Brian Riley (66-48-25, ninth season).
All-time series: Air Force has 31-20-4 lead in its records; Army has 22-31-4 mark against Falcons in its books, counting two 1969 wins AFA considers exhibition games.
Top players: Army — Andy Starczewski, sr. F (5g, 12 a); Mac Lalor, soph. D (4g, 7a); Thane Heller, fr. F (6g, 4a); Rob Tadazak, so. G (3-5-1, 2.66 goals against, .916 saves percentage); Ryan Leets, sr. G (4-4-1, 3.23 gaa, .909 saves). Air Force — Cole Gunner, soph., F (4g, 13a); Kyle De Laurell, sr., F (4g, 11a); Stephen Carew, sr., F
D (10g, 4a); Tony Thomas, jr., F (6g, 8a); John Kruse, sr., F (5g, 9a); Jason Torf, jr. G (6-9-4, 2.66 gaa, .916 saves)
Notes: Second-place Army is much improved over last season despite being less experienced than last year’s senior-laden squad that tied for last place (4-23-7, 3-19-5). … The Black Knights posted consecutive shutouts for the first time since the 2007-08 season when Tadazak blanked Canisius 1-0 in overtime Dec. 30 and then-No.19 Robert Morris 5-0 on Jan. 4, ending the Colonials’ seven-game unbeaten streak that included a win over No. 6 Miami. … Eighth-place Air Force struggled in the first half, losing leads against weaker AHA foes, but Serratore is happier with his team of late. “Saturday was a great game,” he said “I am pleased with how we played. If the score was reversed, I would be ecstatic.” … Serratore said this is a special weekend with the academy abuzz over this weekend’s home series. “People who do not even care about college hockey pay attention when it’s Air Force-Army,” he said.
JOE PAISLEY, THE GAZETTE