January 9, 2014 Updated: January 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm
Falcons coach Frank Serratore is happy that Mitch Torrel keeps proving him wrong.
There was never any question about his work ethic. But Torrel was concerned he would never again play for Air Force, which travels to Army for an Atlantic Hockey Association series this weekend.
The senior forward was cut from the team after his sophomore season and missed the first half of his junior year before injuries opened up a spot.
"That was why Frank brought him back, to have him set an example in practice," teammate and friend Ryan Timar said. "He never quits. He gives it everything he's got on or off the ice."
Torrel was cut due to unforced turnovers and other miscues.
His defensive improvement and hard shot - a team-high 20.8 percent result in goals - are paying off during a breakout final season. Torrel has seven points (five goals) in 12 games, all career highs, including MVP honors last week at the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth, where Air Force recorded two wins over ranked opponents for the first time. Torrel had two assists in 24 games in his first three seasons. He tallied three goals last week.
"He has earned everything he's got," Serratore said. "There are no shortcuts with that kid. He has never lacked passion or fire."
Torrel is gracious about being cut from the team but admits he is "a little" motivated by the decision.
"Naturally you have to believe in yourself or you will never succeed," he said. "My teammates' support never wavered. That was huge."
His teammates know his secondary scoring could jump-start the Falcons' usual second-half surge.
"The biggest thing is I am playing with a lot more confidence now," Torrel said.
That bodes well for the fourth-place Falcons (10-6-4, 5-3-3 AHA) as they battle for league points against last-place Army (3-14, 3-10), which is led by sophomore Shane Hearn (nine points, five assists) and two freshmen with eight points each.
"Yeah, it's Army but what is more important is that these are huge league points," Serratore said. "We want to get on that roll we have become accustomed to. We need to get some momentum."
Air Force may have found a goalie - league rookie of the week Chris Truehl - to step in for senior Jason Torf, who is out for at least a month with a torn right groin muscle.
"We have to soldier on," Serratore said. "Two years ago when Torf hurt the other side, we had Steve Caple step in and we won the regular-season title. Torf came back and led us to the NCAAs. We have to continue to improve."
Timar thinks Torrel is one of the reasons the Falcons will finish strong.
"He's got the hot hand," Timar said. "He's doing all the little things right, which is exactly what we need."