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Mixed emotions after dramatic final weekend for Air Force hockey

March 25, 2018 Updated: March 26, 2018 at 6:29 pm
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Air Force goalie Zack LaRocque (31) embraces teammate Tyler Ledford (13) after the team's 2-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in an NCAA regional men's college hockey tournament game Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Dave Eggen)

Still wearing his jersey, having just played his last game for the Falcons, defenseman Dylan Abood reflected on the good and the bad.

Abood had three of Air Force's 29 blocked shots in the team's biggest-ever NCAA Tournament upset of top overall seed St. Cloud State on Friday. It was a shining moment for the program.

"I'll definitely remember that one for a long time. It's a pretty cool feeling," he said. "At the same time, this will be a feeling I remember for a long time, too."

Minnesota-Duluth brought Air Force back down to earth Saturday, scoring two early goals on all-tournament goaltender Billy Christopoulos, who made 40 saves in an eye-opening performance the night before.

Air Force fought hard and well to extend its season in the latter two periods, with Evan Giesler closing the gap to 2-1. But the Bulldogs held on. They will face Ohio State in the Frozen Four, seeking a second straight trip to the championship game.

The emotional swing was large and quick. But the Falcons, at least publicly, kept it in perspective.

"Last night and tonight, those are the kind of games you dream about as a little kid," Abood added. "That was a dream come true to play last night, and even tonight."

The Falcons turned their season around in the second half, battling their way through the Atlantic Hockey Tournament to earn an automatic bid.

But their route to the Frozen Four was halted at the same place and by the same margin as a season before.

"This wasn't supposed to happen to us. We've got well over 200 man-games (lost) to injury," coach Frank Serratore said.

"We came together at the right time - just achingly again, for the third time, one goal from getting to that Frozen Four."

Abood and his seven fellow seniors leave Air Force as the winningest class in school history. They took part in 86 victories over four years.

Christopoulos, Giesler and Kyle Haak are among the current juniors tasked with keeping up the program's standard of success.

"We've got a lot of big shoes to fill," Haak said. "Who wants to step up? Who wants to take those roles? You've got five months to get in shape, to get those skills up."

Two-year captain Abood looks forward to checking in on their progress.

"They're definitely in good hands," he said. "Obviously the junior class is a large and strong group, and the sophomores are coming into their own. I look forward to seeing what they do in future years, and I think they're going to do great things."

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