A tense, scoreless game – the teams’ third in three nights – had stretched well into overtime. One quick mental lapse and host Army would be headed to the Atlantic Hockey Conference semifinals, fighting for an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, and Air Force would be headed home.
Inside the blue line, Tyler Ledford spun around and fired Air Force’s 39th shot of the game. With the help of a deflection, that one made it past Black Knights goaltender Cole Bruns.
“I’ve never scored a goal that big so I didn’t really know what to do,” Ledford said after the game. “I just waited for the guys to come celebrate.
“It was such a battle. We all worked so hard and we were all tired.”
The Falcons’ homegrown player came through again, making sure he and his fellow seniors could stick around a while longer. Though sticking around has been a theme so far. The Colorado Springs native is headed to graduate school, but mentioned in his team biography that he’s interested in returning to teach at the academy.
Here is Tyler Ledford's game winner in OT to lift Air Force over Army last night! The Falcons move onto the AHC Semifinals this Friday in Rochester, NY to face Canisius. Game time will be announced later today. #LetsFly (Video Courtesy of Army West Point). pic.twitter.com/RugtItqIGO— Air Force Hockey (@AF_HKY) March 12, 2018
Ledford started going to Air Force games when he was eight years old. He was on one of the inaugural Colorado Thunderbirds teams, following his brother, Bentley alum Zach. Air Force coach Frank Serratore founded the program.
Many years later, 20 local family members attended as Ledford was honored at Air Force’s Senior Night.
“It was kind of a dream come true, to be honest. I grew up watching the games, and Frank was still the coach,” Ledford said. “It’s weird how things worked out.”
Things worked out again Sunday for both of them. Army tied the series with a 1-0 decision, then Air Force returned the favor.
“For me personally, this might be the greatest experience I have had as the Air Force coach,” Serratore said Saturday night. “Coming in here against a good Army team and winning this series is special. These games against Army mean a lot to me. This is as big as it gets.”
Air Force, which entered as the fifth seed, will take on second-seeded Canisius on Friday. A second straight AHC tournament championship would send the Falcons to an NCAA regional.
“It was so much fun last year, the whole experience, and we just want to get back there,” Ledford said. “We all have that in the back of our minds. It’s going to drive us.”