January 16, 2014 Updated: January 16, 2014 at 8:13 pm
If there is a positive to senior goalie Jason Torf's right groin tear, it is in how his teammates responded.
The Air Force Falcons are 3-1 since the injury and 3-0 under freshman netminder Chris Truehl with the five skaters in front of the rookie playing arguably some of their best team defense this season.
"We have been playing better in from Truehl than in front of Torf," coach Frank Serratore said. "The team has really focused on tightening up the defense. That will pay dividends when Torf is put back in there."
Torf - the "backbone of our team" as Serratore has said - is expected back by late February, just in time for the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs. He suffered the injury late in a Dec. 30 win over No. 7 Providence.
Now, the third-place Falcons (12-6-4, 7-3-3) will play at home for the first time since Nov. 30 when it hosts Sacred Heart (6-16, 5-10).
For the Falcons, the key remains a strong team defense and strong play from Truehl (3-0, 1.14 goals against, .914 saves percentage).
"Truehl is a capable goaltender but when Torf was back there we knew he would make a couple big saves and we knew we could get away with it," senior Jason Fabian said. "We know we should not out that kind of pressure on Truehl."
The defense helped Air Force record its first road sweep of Army since 2001.
"It's Army so their record never matters," Serratore said. "It's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals when they play us. I was really happy with how the team played."
Truehl's good play is why the Falcons are building momentum in January, as usual, despite an injury that could have derailed them.
"He has been solid and done a good job," Serratore said. "He didn't have to win the games for us and he didn't lose them either. All the games were tight and he was delivered."
The Pioneers bounced back from a 2-30-4 season with a season-opening road win over preseason No. 1 UMass-Lowell thanks in part to some talented freshmen, including leading scorer Justin Danforth (17 points, 15 assists) and solid play from juniors including forward Drew George (12, six goals) and goalie Andrew Bodnaruk (3-2, 3.16 goals, .891 saves), including 3-0 in the AHA.
The Falcons will be without sophomore center Ben Carey (shoulder) while junior forward Ben Persian is questionable pending a concussion test. Senior center Tony Thomas missed some practice. Serratore expects him to play this weekend.