When Air Force came alive Friday night, goaltender Billy Christopoulos was ready and waiting.
Pierce Pluemer and Christopoulos gave Air Force the ability to play with a lead until the Falcons stepped up their play midway through the second period of a 3-0 home victory.
Pluemer buried an early chance in the first half of the game where they were few and far between and Christopoulos stopped 29 shots, including a penalty shot, in his second career shutout.
“Billy Christopoulos really kept us in that game when we didn’t have our legs under us,” forward Evan Giesler said. “It took us a while - longer than usual and longer than we want to - to get our legs going.”
Pluemer put Air Force on the board 2:51 into the game when he was the one staring at a half-empty net after some well-placed passing from Ben Kucera and Matt Koch, who returned after missing six games.
Air Force (14-11-3, 9-9-2 Atlantic Hockey Conference) also got seniors Jordan Himley and Tyler Ledford back against AIC, which was outshooting the Falcons 22-5 at one point in the second period and finished with a 29-18 advantage.
“Hard to shoot when you don’t have the puck,” coach Frank Serratore said. “They were working down low, and we were chasing them a lot.”
A Falcon closed his hand on the puck during a frantic sequence in front of Christopoulos, and the goaltender was called upon to make the slim lead stand up when the Yellow Jackets were awarded a penalty shot. Christopoulos waited out Blake Christensen, who deked and went for a backhand.
“What patience he showed on that, but Billy stuck with him,” Serratore said.
The one-goal lead lasted through the second period, and the Falcons finally gave AIC goaltender Zackarias Skog a little more to do.
Ledford’s point shot right off a faceoff got caught up in a tangle of bodies, including teammates Giesler and Dylan Abood. It bounced off Giesler’s shin guard and into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
The goal withstood a review and with 7:40 gone in the third period, Air Force appeared comfortably in control.
“I thought we played a terrific third period, but we could have been chasing the scoreboard at that point,” Serratore said. “We just didn’t give them a heck of a lot.”
Matt Serratore broke away to score an empty-netter with 1:40 left in the game.
The Falcons, ninth out of 11 teams in their conference before the game, have won six of their past seven and once again are at nearly full strength.
“This is the lineup we want to be playing with if we can,” Giesler said. “If we can get that ball rolling right away, we’re good to go.”