Freshman defenseman Max Hartner worked his way into a role for Air Force hockey and took advantage when his team needed it.
A puck to the foot of sophomore Casey Kleisinger gave Hartner, a former captain on the junior national champion Green Bay Gamblers, only his second game ever as a forward Feb. 8. He responded by scoring twice to start a four-goal comeback in a 4-2 win at second-place Mercyhurst.
“Max is just a good ol’-fashioned hockey player,” said senior forward Stephen Carew. “He just loves the game and it shows every day in practice. When he scored the first goal, I was ready to jump over the boards, I was so happy for him. We all were.”
Hartner may play his fourth or fifth game as a wing this weekend when Air Force hosts Canisius in Atlantic Hockey Association play. The Falcons are three points ahead of the Golden Griffins, who are in a tie for fourth place. The top four earn a first-round playoff bye.
The former Colorado Rampage local club standout is playing offense for the first time due to a rash of season-ending injuries cutting available forwards down to the minimum 12.
The Greenwood Village resident performed well when given the chance, drawing three penalties in his debut against American International, and scoring twice last weekend.
“I just want to do whatever I can to help the team,” he said.
His presence gives coach Frank Serratore necessary options with players hampered by minor injuries. Hartner also pushes the other 12 in practice.
“They know their ice time isn’t guaranteed,” Serratore said.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder played three games as a defenseman, registering an assist, but struggled to find ice time with 10 healthy blue-liners and six spots. The move came at the midway point of the season.
His transition to forward was not as challenging as he expected. Jason Fabian and Ben Persian spent time teaching him nuances but Hartner does best when he is aggressive.
“I have always been pedal to the metal, which works well as a forward,” Hartner said. “My parents instilled that in me. As a forward I can just attack instead of worrying about defending my zone.”
Carew is not surprised that Hartner has adjusted well.
“It can be challenging but it is more mental than physical,” said Carew, a forward who spent 1.5 seasons playing defense due to injuries to the blue-liners in his college career. “He is a good athlete and he has done well for himself.”
Hartner’s contributions haven’t gone unnoticed by coaches, who need players to raise their games in the battle for playoff position.
“He’s a good teammate and the guys love him,” Serratore said. “He’s got heart and that is what will keep him in the lineup.”
AIR FORCE’S HOCKEY WEEKEND
Canisius (11-14-5, 10-9-2 AHA, tied for fourth) at Air Force (12-10-7, 10-6-5, third), 7:05 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Coaches: Canisius – Dave Smith (96-142-37, eighth season); Air Force — Frank Serratore (267-260-58, 16th season).
All-time series: Air Force leads 7-5-7
Top players: Canisius – Kyle Gibbons, jr. F (14g, 8a); Preston Shupe, sr. F (11g, 7a); Ben Danford, jr. D (0g, 13a); Doug Beck, soph. F (4g, 8a); Mitch McCrank, soph. F (3g, 9a); Tony Capobianco, jr. G (10-14-4, 2.11 goals against, .932 saves percentage). Air Force — Kyle De Laurell, sr., F (13g, 12a); Cole Gunner, soph., F (6g, 18a); Stephen Carew, sr., F (10g, 12a); Tony Thomas, jr., F (7g, 15a); John Kruse, sr., F (6g, 12a); Jason Torf, jr. G (12-10-7, 2.34 gaa, .922 saves).
Notes: The Griffs have split their past three series, against first-place Niagara, fourth-place Holy Cross and second-place Mercyhurst. … Last week, Canisius beat No. 15 Niagara, 2-0, in Buffalo, handing the Purple Eagles their second AHA loss of the season. … Canisius is 6-9 on the road this season. … Capobianco is third in the AHA in goals against (2.11) and fourth in saves percentage (.932). … Earlier this season, AFA’s De Laurell’s first goal of the season gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead in an eventual 1-1 OT tie in Buffalo on Oct. 25. Canisius forward Taylor Law tied the game in the second period. .. Torf made 17 saves and Capobianco 30. … . Five of the past seven games between the teams have ended in a tie with Air Force 3-0-5 against the Griffs of late. … Canisius is one of only two teams (Mercyhurst) to have a winning record (3-2-4) at Air Force. … Air Force’s seven ties this season ties the school record set last season. ... The Falcons have played 10 overtime games this season, one shy of tying the school record of 11 in 2007-08. Air Force is 1-2-7 in overtime this season. … De Laurell has scored nine goals in his past 10 games. … Carew has scored a point in 13 of his past 18 games with 17 points (6g, 11a) during that span. … Gunner has scored a point in five of the past seven games while sophomore forward Chad Demers has a point in five of the past six.