Senior forward Erik Baskin is the only player besides goaltender Billy Christopoulos who has appeared in every game for Air Force this season.
Who joins them is always a surprise.
“We’re kind of used to it,” Baskin said.
Using another patchwork lineup, Air Force eliminated Army on the road last weekend and earned its third straight trip to the Atlantic Hockey Final Four in Rochester, New York.
Defensemen moved up to forward and lineup tweeners played starring roles, and Air Force got it done again on Sunday, 1-0 in overtime.
“It was one of the most intense series that I’ve ever been a part of,” coach Frank Serratore said. “The last game was a gem. We didn’t make many mistakes. I’d like to think we’re playing our best.”
Canisius is up next Friday night in the semifinals (1300 AM radio). With standout freshman Marshall Bowery definitely out, and the prospects for Jordan Himley - fourth on the team in scoring - iffy, the Falcons are making do again.
Both teams are coming off three-game series. The Golden Griffins (19-16-2) had to return Sunday to finish off AIC, 3-0.
It’s single-elimination now, and one mistake could mean the end of a season. The victor will play the winner of Friday's early game between Robert Morris and Mercyhurst in the conference championship Saturday for an automatic NCAA bid.
“There’s a lot of uncontrollables at this point in the season,” Baskin said.
In goal, it will likely be newly named AHC Goaltender of the Year Christopoulos and, for Canisius, sophomore Daniel Urbani, who has a .918 save percentage in starting 32 of the Griffs' 37 games this season.
Canisius found out Thursday it had its second top-10 Hobey Baker finalist in two years in forward Dylan McLaughlin, the AHC’s only representative on that list. McLaughlin put up 48 points in 36 games and 2 goals, 3 assists against Air Force during the regular-season series.
“He’s just a heckuva player,” Baskin said. “We’ve been playing against him for three years, and you’ve always gotta know when he’s on the ice. He can strike at any time.”
The Falcons took three of four against Canisius during the regular season, including a late-season sweep, and went 5-2-1 against the remaining field as a whole.
The deciding Army win checked a lot of boxes for the 20-win Falcons, no matter who played where. But there’s plenty more to work for.
“We’ve baked a nice cake and now it's time to put some frosting on it,” Serratore said.
In addition to Christopoulos’ honor, awarded at the annual Atlantic Hockey tournament awards reception at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, Air Force won the Team Sportsmanship award for averaging the least amount of penalty minutes.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Colorado College sophomore Nick Halloran took the Three Stars Award at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference awards celebration. The award is given to the player with the highest Three Stars of the Game point totals from the season. He beat out teammate Alex Leclerc.