The victory lap said it all.
At the urging of coach Frank Serratore, Air Force’s six seniors made a circuit of Cadet Ice Arena to thank fans and celebrate a successful senior night that concluded with a sweep of a top-15 team. Junior defenseman Adam McKenzie had a goal and three assists, and sophomore forward Ben Persian had two goals to lead the Falcons to a 6-1 dismantling of No. 14 Niagara on Saturday.
Air Force (17-11-7, 15-7-5 Atlantic Hockey Association) secured the second seed in the upcoming conference tournament thanks to its sweep of the first-place Purple Eagles (21-8-5, 20-5-2). The lopsided victory put an exclamation point on a stellar weekend for the streaking Falcons.
“Everything just went my way,” McKenzie said. “I played hard, and things just fell into place. This was, hands down, our best series of the year, and we’ve got a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.
“A top-15 team comes in, we sweep them and the fans go crazy — that’s a great way for the seniors to go out.”
Air Force will host a best-of-three series March 15-17, but will have to wait until the first-round series take place next weekend to learn who it will play.
Seniors John Kruse and Kyle De Laurell also had goals for the Falcons, who are 11-2-3 in their past 16 games. Air Force outshot the Purple Eagles 97-41 in the two-game series.
“It’s nice to have that fan support, especially at the end of the season like this,” Kruse, who has seven goals this season, said of the victory lap. “I don’t think anybody expects to score a lot of goals on (Niagara), especially late in the season, but our emphasis was to just get pucks to the net and guys to the net. It’s a good momentum-booster going into the playoffs.”
Senior goalie David Bosner, who had not played since the first game of the season, came on in relief of junior Jason Torf, who had 19 saves to earn his 17th victory of the season, with 6:41 remaining.
“What was really nice was to have that lead and to be able to give David Bosner a little love,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We came from behind last night, and the guys kept their foot on the gas tonight. I’ve been saying all season that we hadn’t played our best hockey, but I can’t say that anymore.
“If we could bottle this …”
Kruse broke a scoreless tie 17:12 into the game with a rocket that scraped the crossbar, slammed against the back of the net and flew back out of the goal. Twelve seconds later, Persian made it 2-0 Falcons off a pass from McKenzie, who also assisted on Kruse’s goal.
De Laurell continued the onslaught 3:40 into the second after collecting his own rebound and beating Colorado Springs native Cody Campbell to put Air Force up 3-0. A Patrick Divjack unassisted goal 8:24 into the second made it a two-goal game again.
That lasted 5 minutes, until Chad Demers made it 4-1 Falcons with a behind-the-back shot that trickled into the net with 6:38 remaining in the second. McKenzie added a power-play goal 42 seconds into the third to cap his stellar night, and Persian struck again with 7:53 left.