Former All-American hockey defenseman Greg Flynn still casts a long shadow at Air Force, but Tim Kirby and Scott Mathis have begun to emerge from it after strong sophomore campaigns.
Area fans get at least two more chances to see their progress firsthand this season when the fourth-place Falcons (12-14-6, 12-8-6 league) host second-place Sacred Heart (18-10-4, 16-7-3) Friday and Saturday. Air Force needs to pick up some points to get home ice in the Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinals March 12-14.
Flynn, a 2009 graduate, plays part time for the American Hockey League’s Lowell Devils in between serving full time at a nearby base. He had to work his guts out to reach that level, Air Force coach Frank Serratore said, which gives him high hopes for Kirby and Mathis.
“Both kids are further along,” he said. “Flynn wasn’t particularly skilled when he first came here, but he had the heart and determination to become a great player. Those kids have more God-given ability. They need to show the determination Flynn had and they could be special.”
They’re on their way. Kirby is sixth on the team with 16 points (12 assists) while Mathis, a 2009-10 all-league freshman, is eighth with 12 points (10 assists). Both log big minutes against opponent’s top lines.
Serratore said Kirby is a good skater with better instincts and competitive drive. Mathis has shown flashes of brilliance and is working toward more consistency. Watching Flynn and graduate Michael Mayra work together gave them some important lessons.
“You have to give 100 percent each shift,” Kirby said. “As the top pairing, you have to take on that kind of leadership role.”
“As freshmen, you could get away with a bad shift every now and then,” Mathis said. “Not now.”
They also realized what to do in the locker room.
“Mathis stood up and challenged the team after Friday’s game,” Serratore said. “It was the first time either one had done something like that. That’s a good step in the right direction.”
How many they make in the next two years will decide if they cast shadows for future defensemen.