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College hockey notebook: Air Force learns place in unusual NCAA bracket

March 18, 2018 Updated: March 19, 2018 at 8:11 am
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Kyle Haak (16) of the Air Force, left, fights Anthony Croston (18) of the Arizona State for possession of the puck as the Falcons took on the Sun Devils at the Cadet Ice Arena at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Friday October 13, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Air Force found out Sunday morning that it’s headed for Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the West Regional in the NCAA hockey tournament to take on St. Cloud State on Friday at 2 p.m. The Falcons and Huskies will meet for the first time since 1994.

The top-seeded Huskies have been a powerhouse all season. They won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season title but lost the Frozen Faceoff championship 4-1 to Denver on Saturday. The Pioneers are the second seed in the Midwest Regional.

The West also includes Minnesota State, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champion, and another NCHC team in Minnesota-Duluth, which slid into its spot by an incredibly thin margin - .0001 RPI points.

Air Force will be playing for its first Frozen Four berth.

Family ties

Air Force’s game against St. Cloud State will pit Falcons coach Frank Serratore against his former assistant, Huskies head coach Bob Motzko. Motzko and his current assistant Mike Gibbons worked with Serratore at Denver in the early 1990s.

Missing tournament regulars

For the first time since the NCAA Tournament moved to 16 teams in 2003, all of the four-seed slots went to automatic bid teams, including Air Force.

Host North Dakota might have been in the West Regional, but after a wild night of tournament finales, the Fighting Hawks were pushed out of the bracket and missed the tournament for the first time in 15 years.

It will be the first tournament since 1977 where North Dakota, Boston College and Minnesota didn’t make the cut.

Forward Haak finding rhythm

Junior Kyle Haak had six points (2 goals, 4 assists) through 22 broken-up regular-season games. He almost doubled that in five conference playoff games (4 goals, 1 assist).

Haak missed nine games in November and December, then got hurt again, making it back in time for Air Force’s last regular-season series.

“He’s got his legs underneath him now,” Air Force assistant coach Joe Doyle said after Haak scored twice in Saturday night’s win.

The line of Haak, Jordan Himley and Matt Serratore was all over the place Saturday and had a hand in three of five scoring plays.

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