For Air Force, it’s again time to be ambitious.
The Falcons reclaimed the city championship again Friday night with a 6-3 victory over Colorado College that wasn’t quite as dominating as the score.
They also reclaimed their ambitions.
Air Force roared into the season with an experienced, loaded roster. The Falcons quickly skipped to a 5-1-1 record and the nation’s No. 17 ranking.
Then a ridiculous wave of injuries depleted that loaded roster. But it was more than injuries that were draining the Falcons.
Coach Frank Serratore could see his team growing complacent. He preaches, every day at practice, the supreme importance of intensity. He wants opponents departing Cadet Ice Arena shaking their heads and saying, “I never want to play that team again.”
A few days ago, Serratore shouted a question to his lagging team, “Do you think any team is saying it doesn’t want to play you guys again?”
The question was met with silence. Serratore’s point had been made.
On Friday night, CC’s Tigers departed Cadet Ice Arena as rapidly as humanly possible, climbed on the team bus and took the short drive back to campus.
I guarantee you that many of the Tigers – and maybe all the Tigers – were shaking their heads and saying they don’t want to play the Falcons again.
Air Force crawled into the game as a bruised team that could accurately be described as underachieving, a word that seldom applies to any team coached by Serratore.
The Falcons emerge from the game with reason to believe they can return to the NCAA Tournament.
For Serratore, this annual battle with CC is monumental. He understands the temptation to downplay the importance of the game in public. You know, the cool, detached approach.
He never will do that phony downplaying.
He hungers to beat CC. He always has. He always will.
“We lost to them 50 times in a row,” Serratore said.
Ah, Frank, your numbers are a bit off. It was only 29 of 30, including a 10-0 loss in 2000.
This 2017 victory over CC carries more weight than Air Force wins in the past two seasons, when the Tigers dwelled in the dungeon of college hockey. CC has defeated North Dakota and twice tied Denver. CC is led, on most nights, by the superlative goaltending of Alex Leclerc.
But CC, now legit, was stampeded in the first period. Air Force scored three goals in slightly more than five minutes, chasing Leclerc to the bench.
I expected a physical, intense, close game. I got the first two.
The Tigers will learn from this loss. They are a program on the rise, partially because they would have struggled to sink any lower but mostly because of increased talent and effort. And Leclerc will return to being Leclerc.
For the Falcons, who had been on the verge of falling apart, it’s again time to dream big dreams.