Updated: November 19, 2009 at 12:00 am
Senior assistant captain Matt Fairchild is the Falcons’ best all-around player.
“He’s the best package I’ve coached at Air Force,” hockey coach Frank Serratore said. “He’s the only player on our team that plays in every single situation we have.”
The Most Valuable Player of last season’s Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament is indispensable for the league-leading Falcons (5-5-2, 5-1-2) as they head into tonight’s road series at UConn (2-7-1, 2-4-1).
His speed sets him apart from the rest of the AHA.
“Hands down, he’s the fastest in our league,” senior captain and linemate Jeff Hajner said. “He does everything at such high speed he creates problems for the defender trying to handle him.”
That speed allows him to contribute in many ways.
“A lot of guys can’t skate as fast with the puck as without,” Serratore said. “He’s a threat wherever he is.”
As a freshman, Fairchild assisted Hajner’s goal against Minnesota in Air Force’s first NCAA tourney appearance.
The senior from Ashburn, Va., is sixth in the nation with two game-winners this season and has been part of some of the program’s more memorable goals. His slick move around a flat-footed Michigan defenseman set up a goal by Jacques Lamoureux for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win. He’s won two games with a goal in the final second.
“He’s an extremely reliable defensive player who has worked his way up from the fourth line,” Hajner said. “I’ve had class with him and he has an above-average intelligence. He could have made it here on academics.”
The systems management major is the team’s nominee for the annual Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, handed out for excellence in academics (he has a 3.65 grade point average), athletics (third team All-AHA) and community service.
He is second on the team with 11 points (six assists) behind Lamoureux (12, seven assists).
The Falcons’ improvement will need to continue against UConn, which is led by freshman Sean Ambrosie‘s eight points and freshman goalie Jeff Larson (.887 save percentage).
Three things to watch
Here are three things that Air Force (5-5-2, 5-1-2) needs to do to be successful in its road series at UConn (2-7-1, 2-4-1) this weekend.
1. KEEP IT UP ON DEFENSE
The Falcons have improved on defense and it has shown, with a 3-0-2 mark in their past five league games. The better support has enabled senior goalie Andrew Volkening to get closer to his 2008-09 form (1.70 goals against, .943 save percentage) in the past eight games (5-1-2).
2. IGNORE THE RECORDS
On paper, this looks like two wins for the Falcons, but the Huskies traditionally have played Air Force tough, coach Frank Serratore said. Air Force has an 11-3-1 record all-time, but is only 3-3-1 since 2003, with no game decided by more than two goals. The chance to knock off the AHA leaders is motivation enough for struggling teams like UConn.
3. SCORE MORE
The margin of error is too thin for Air Force when it is not producing points outside the nation’s No. 9 power play (24.1 percent). The Falcons were lucky that three goals last weekend at Holy Cross were enough to garner three points. They can’t push their luck. Point production from all four lines would take some pressure off the defense.