Despite a strong second period, in which Air Force outshot Niagara 19-2, the Purple Eagles scored twice in a mere 11 seconds for the eventual game-winning goal, sending them to the Atlantic Hockey Conference semifinals with a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series sweep.
After two seasons of ‘good luck’, winning back-to-back conference championships, the Falcons found misfortune.
“We were hot and clicking on all cylinders and they just got a couple lucky bounces,” said Air Force forward Matt Pulver. “We’ve had a pretty successful years of good puck luck and playing well so it might have been our turn for the bad stuff.”
After being outshot 19-9 in the first period, Air Force sent 34 shots to the net, all the while holding Niagara to five.
“We just came out and flat out outplayed them,” said sophomore forward Walker Sommer. “But their goalie was playing well and pucks weren’t going in the net or bouncing our way.”
The Falcons saw four shots hit the post as ‘puck luck’ didn’t swing their way for the second night in a row.
“I can’t remember a series where we hit that many pipes square,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “They hit them so hard you could hear the pipe ring all the way down to Pueblo. And none of those went our way and went in.”
After falling into a two-goal deficit late in the second period, Air Force emerged from the locker room with a vengeance. Erich Jaeger scored in the first 14 seconds of the period off a deke to goalie Brian Wilson’s right and the Falcon bench erupted.
“He got our whole bench riled up, so that gave us a lot of confidence,” Sommer said. “We didn’t expect this. Each and every guy in the locker room gave it their all, and that’s what’s sad about coming up short. I think we all thought we were going to win that game and win again tomorrow, so it’s tough.”
But despite continuing to out shoot Niagara 15-3 in the third, Air Force couldn't get it done.
"If you would have told me that that score was going to hold for the next 19.5 minutes, I would have put a lot of funds on the fact that that wasn't going to happen," Serratore said.
Pulver and Sommer both scored for the Falcons in the first period, while Kieran Durgan netted a power-play goal in the second as Air Force held a one-goal lead for nearly eight minutes.