Air Force finds itself in the thick of the Atlantic Hockey Association home playoff ice race but far from ready for the postseason.
Job No. 1 for the Falcons, who are tied for fourth with Army and Bentley, is improving defensively over the next six weeks. This is especially true against better teams, such as this weekend’s home series opponent Robert Morris, which is tied for eighth in extremely tight standings.
“We know we have to get better defensively as a team,” Air Force senior John Kruse said.
That is because the defensive corps continues to struggle to get the puck out of its zone, putting more unnecessary pressure on junior goalie Jason Torf. That was evident against winless Sacred Heart, which recorded 38 shots Sunday.
“In the playoffs, giving up 38-40 shots could be all she wrote,” coach Frank Serratore said. “We are from being a team that can go far in the playoffs.”
Torf has recorded 657 saves in 23 games, second most in Division I, for an average of 28.6 this season. That is on pace to break program great Andrew Volkening’s school record of 989 over 37 games (26.7 saves) from the 2009-10 season.
“We’re still trying to find the right cocktail,” Serratore said. “We are looking for the defensive corps to bring up the quality of their game.”
That search included giving junior right defenseman Jacob Musselman more playing time last weekend. He finished with a plus-4 plus
minus rating in his sixth and seventh games of the season. Freshman Trevor Waldoch was also in the mix.
“There is a lot of competition back there right now,” Serratore said. “Right now I just want them to play regular shifts and not hurt us.”
The Falcons, 6-2-2 in their past 10 games, have played with better energy and displayed consistent scoring from all four lines during that span. Air Force will need that offensive production to continue while the defense develops.
Robert Morris is two points out of fourth place and a first-round playoff bye. The top four advance to the quarterfinals where they play the winners of the first-round series between seeds Nos. 5-12. Having that extra weekend to rest and playing at home is critical, Serratore said.
“When the race is this tight, it’s a kind of playoff hockey every night,” he said.