Refocused Air Force Falcons 'chomping at the bit' to begin Atlantic Hockey playoff march

March 9, 2017 Updated: March 9, 2017 at 9:35 pm
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Canisius right wing Jeff Murray, left, and Air Force right wing Erik Baskin battle for the puck during the first period at the Cadet Ice Arena at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Air Force coach Frank Serratore's question was soon answered.

Last week, he wanted to know if his Falcons would mope after falling one win short of a regular-season Atlantic Hockey Conference title or be motivated by the heartbreaking home loss.

The high-intensity practices since suggest the second-seeded Falcons are more than ready to put that setback behind them.

They get their first chance to spit out the sour taste when they host eighth-seeded Bentley in Friday's Game 1 of their best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series at Cadet Ice Arena.

"We're definitely chomping at the bit to get going," junior defenseman Phil Boje said. "(The loss) made us realize that nothing is a given. We need to come hungry and ready to play every night. You don't want that to happen again."

Serratore hopes the loss can be a catalyst for a playoff run.

"We are in a better position now because we suffered that loss," Serratore said.

"There are better things ahead. We just have to go get them."

For the 22-9-5 Falcons, who have placed in the top four of the AHC 10 of the past 11 years to garner a first-round bye, finishing second is not good enough.

"We feel we have something to prove," Falcons assistant Joe Doyle said. "What we want is to get into the national tournament and reach the Frozen Four. What we wanted to accomplish is still in front of us. Hopefully going through this will pay dividends over the next few weeks."

The Air Force defense has been sound all season thanks in part to Division I's second-best penalty kill (89.2 percent). The Falcons have allowed 12 goals (eight even strength) over the past eight games.

Air Force has also scored 33 goals in those eight contests and is 20-1-3 when scoring three or more goals this season.

But stats are unimportant if Air Force, which went 3-1 against Bentley (13-17-7) this season, does not advance to the AHC semifinals next week in Rochester, N.Y.

Bentley, also nicknamed the Falcons, is a sound defensive team with enough offensive talent - including senior Max French (39 points, 17 goals) and junior Kyle Schmidt (33, 18 goals) - to pull out victories as it did in 2OT Sunday versus Sacred Heart.

"We have a chance to get another (playoffs) championship here," Serratore said.

"Bentley is a good team that was picked to finish higher than they did. They are a little bit scary because they have talent. It will be a good series."

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