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Goaltenders shine as Air Force edges Army, makes AHC title game

March 17, 2017 Updated: March 18, 2017 at 10:18 am
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photo - Air Force Academy goalie Shane Starrett makes a save in the first period against Army Friday, January 27, 2017 at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Air Force Academy goalie Shane Starrett makes a save in the first period against Army Friday, January 27, 2017 at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - History did not repeat itself for Air Force hockey.

Because of that, the program has a chance at making the NCAA Tournament for a historic sixth time.

Air Force goalie Shane Starrett made 29 saves, 12 in the third period, as the Falcons held on Friday for a 1-0 win over Army in the Atlantic Hockey Conference semifinals at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

The win sends the 25-9-5 Falcons on to a winner-take-all title game against fourth-seeded Robert Morris, which ended regular-season champion Canisius' season with a 6-2 win behind three goals from AHC leading scorer Brady Ferguson. Air Force must win Saturday night to qualify for next week's NCAA Tournament.

Last season, an inexperienced Air Force squad saw its 1-0 lead evaporate in the final moments of the third period against the Rochester Institute of Technology in an eventual 2-1 overtime loss.

Coach Frank Serratore hadn't forgotten, especially with Army about to pull its goalie for the extra attacker in the final seconds as RIT did the year before.

Starrett had a number of big saves among his 29 stops, including three in the final seconds for his fifth shutout this season. Army goalie Parker Gahagen (22 saves) was almost as good.

"Our best player the past two years was our best again tonight," Serratore said.

The game's only goal midway through the second period developed after Air Force shook off its first-period jitters and began to attack the Army net with more vigor.

It paid off when senior Johnny Hrabovsky collected a pass from Evan Giesler and sent in a low shot that caromed off Gahagen's leg pad right to a charging Ben Kucera.

"We knew their guy was too good to beat on the first shot," Hrabovsky said. "I was just looking to get the puck on net and create some chaos in front."

Kucera banged in the rebound over Gahagen's shoulder to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead with 8:57 left.

"I knew he was looking to make a rebound pass so I just went in," Kucera said of his second playoff game-winner in a row.

Air Force's Kyle Haak nearly made it 2-0 about a minute later when his low shot clanged off the near post. It was the second Falcons shot to find iron Friday after AFA defenseman Phil Boje's shot with 10:46 left in the first period missed.

Another scramble in front of the Army net early in the second period prompted a video review that showed Gahagen keeping the puck out by an inch at most.

"That's a 3-2, 4-2 game with average goalies," Serratore said. "Starrett was perfect and Gahagen was near perfect. We have to play better, but the good news is we get to play another."

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