For a team that resides far from the lead in the Atlantic Hockey Association, the Air Force Falcons are remarkably confident.
There’s a solid reason for this optimism:
Jason Torf stands in front of the net for the Falcons. Every night. And we’re talking literally.
Air Force and Torf smothered Robert Morris, 2-0, Friday night at Cadet Ice Arena, stretching a resurgence that began Dec. 2. The Falcons collected only three wins in their first 13 games, inspiring coach Frank Serratore to wonder if his players had much interest in winning.
Since then, the Falcons have two losses in their past 11. I realize Niagara has rampaged to 13 wins in 16 AHA games, but the leaders should be worried. The Falcons are gaining strength as they seek their sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past seven seasons.
Torf laughed for a long time when asked if he ever yearns for a night off. Falcons goaltenders have labored 1,466 minutes this season, and Torf has 1,446 of those minutes. If you’re looking for a sure thing in life, look for Torf to again start Saturday against Robert Morris.
He’s not complaining about his workload.
“It’s our job as goaltenders to want to be in the net,” Torf said after his 30-save performance. “I love the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to do this for my team.”
It’s not easy. As he talked, Torf knew a 15-minute ice bath awaited him. He spends a session in the freezing water after each game, and then hops on an exercise bike. The morning after games, he spends several minutes stretching as he prepares for another rugged night.
The biggest challenge, he said, is mental preparation. Working in front of the net is a strange mix. A goaltender can be standing there, basically doing nothing for 10 minutes, but the transformation to dangerous action is often instant.
Serratore believes in his junior goaltender. That’s obvious.
“He finds ways to make big saves,” Serratore said. “…The great ones have the ability to make those big saves.”
During the bad times of the early season, Serratore noticed Torf never wavered. His teammates struggled. He didn’t.
“He was our only guy,” Serratore said, meaning Torf was the lone player Serratore could count on every night.
Serratore insists he and his team have spent little time looking at the AHA standings. This makes sense. Looking at the standings might be depressing with Niagara soaring so high above everyone else.
“The regular season is nice,” he said.
The AHA Tournament is more than nice. Torf already is planning a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
He seems confident.
He has every reason to be.