A shaky power play means nothing for the Air Force hockey team, like an October swoon by goaltender Andrew Volkening and a six-game winless streak late in the season.
It’s March, so the Falcons have flipped the switch.
Sean Bertsch rediscovered his scoring touch with two goals and Volkening resembled his old self Friday as Air Force showed it’s still dominant when it matters, pounding Army 3-0 in the opener of the Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinals at Cadet Ice Arena.
The third-seeded Falcons, gunning for their fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth, can punch a ticket to the AHA Final Four next week in Rochester, N.Y., with another victory against sixth-seeded Army when the best-of-three series continues at 7:05 tonight.
Air Force (15-14-6) never was challenged in winning for the 12th time in 13 games in the AHA playoffs, in control from start to finish after Bertsch, a Woodland Park graduate, scored in the first two periods while Volkening, the school’s career leader with 68 wins and 15 shutouts, made five of his 29 saves on five Army power plays.
Derrick Burnett also scored for Air Force, beating Army goaltender Jay Clark less than 2 minutes after Bertsch recorded his second goal 4 minutes into the second, and Blake Page and Eric Artman had two assists apiece. It was the 21st time Air Force kept its opponent from scoring with the man advantage — the Falcons boast the nation’s No. 2 penalty kill.
“We’re a bit of an underdog, but in the back of other teams’ minds, they know we know how to win,” said Jacques Lamoureux, the Falcons’ leading scorer with 20 goals and 20 assists. “I’m happy with the way we’re playing. Other teams, they’re glad they didn’t get us in the first round. … This time of year, the Falcons know how to play.”
Bertsch entered Friday with only three goals after a sophomore season in which he scored seven. He attributed his scoring outburst partly to “veteran players that know what to do in tough games. … The playoffs is always a new start. It doesn’t matter where you ended up in regular season. It’s a new, clean sheet of paper.”
Air Force coach Frank Serratore warned his players about becoming complacent, mindful of a January series in which Army (11-17-7) took three of four points from the Falcons.
“We’re talking like the series is over,” he said, “and it ain’t. … That’s a proud team that doesn’t want to die, and they sure don’t want to die on our ice.”