It could have easily been a different result, but two Air Force seniors stepped up when the Falcons needed it most Friday night at Cadet Ice Arena to get past a scrappy, but determined, freshmen-heavy Sacred Heart squad.
Ryan Timar skated behind the SHU net with under 2 minutes to go and put a shot on goal from the left of goaltender Andrew Bodnarchuk, and the shot bounced off Tony Thomas' skate to break a 4-4 tie with 1:30 remaining and propel the Falcons to a 6-4 win against the Pioneers.
"Tony gave me a nice pass down low and I cut back behind the net," Timar said. "I was going to give it back to him going to the net, but instead I held onto it and turned around and fired it trying to get it on net. He was right where he needed to be and we got the bounce."
Air Force (13-6-4, 8-3-3) extended its winning streak to four games thanks to Thomas' team-best fourth game-winning goal of the season
"I was just spinning around just trying to make sure I had good enough net presence and he threw it right off my skate," Thomas said.
Cole Gunner scored an empty net goal with 46.7 seconds remaining for his second goal of the contest and has registered a point in a season-best nine consecutive games.
Timar and Thomas agreed, however, that Air Force was lucky to get past a Sacred Heart (6-17, 5-11) squad that got two goals from freshman Jeff Carroll, who tied the game at 4-4 with 4:12 remaining.
"We shouldn't have been in that situation to begin with," Timar said, "but luckily we have guys who have played a lot of games and we know how to bounce back from some adversity. We had a lot of good individual efforts, but they probably played a better team game and we have to be ready for that (Saturday)."
Freshman goalie Chris Truehl made 23 saves for the Falcons.
Coach Frank Serratore said the Air Force squad that stepped on the ice Friday was not the same team that just finished off a 14-day road trip 5-1.
The 17-year coach stressed the Falcons must play better overall; especially in their own defensive zone in the face-off circle, or they will be in trouble come Saturday against a hungry Pioneer team.
"One of my assistants (Capt. Eric Ehn) said it perfectly, 'They drove a better race, we just had faster cars.'
"We dodged a huge bullet and Sacred Heart deserves a better fate in my opinion," Serratore continued. "They were a very determined opponent, and their intensity was better than ours."
Pioneer freshmen David Iacono and Evan Jasper scored two goals 19 seconds apart to give SHU a 3-2 lead midway through the second period.
Air Force then got a late second period power-play goal from Dan Weissenhofer to tie the game before Max Hartner gave the Falcons a 4-3 advantage with 10:29 remaining.
Thomas admitted the Falcons were caught off-guard Friday night by Sacred Heart winning a lot of the battles Air Force is accustomed to.
"We're happy to come away with the win, but we have to take a lesson as if we lost because if we play like that again we are going to lose more than we win."