Being swept by No. 10 Notre Dame had its perks. Air Force figured out where it sat “on the food chain,” according to coach Frank Serratore.
On Friday, Air Force went up 2-0 on the Irish and hung with them before falling to “one of the most well-coached teams in college hockey” under Jeff Jackson. Serratore added it was the “third-best” outcome, after winning and tying.
“To give them everything we got, just to prove that we can compete with teams at that level,” was the third.
Air Force’s third-period collapse in Sunday’s 6-1 loss wasn’t pretty, but junior Max Harper’s first career goal to tie the game and play in all three zones was a highlight.
Serratore said leg and groin injuries wrecked Harper’s first two years and he had surgery that would either end or save his career.
“Thankfully the surgery was successful,” Serratore said. “Really, for us, he’s like a second-semester freshman,” because he’s played in only 19 games through two seasons.
Harper wasn't as good Friday, and Serratore had newcomer Ty Pochipinski ready to spell him Sunday as the extra forward. Harper rallied so thoroughly that Pochipinski only went in for other players.
Arizona State is up next. Air Force’s weekend performance was compelling enough to earn it 13 votes in the USA Today poll in spite of losing twice.
“It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about the process," Serratore said.
Colorado College has the week off before hosting Michigan State on Oct. 25-26. That gives the Tigers time to address needs on special teams and reiterate how staying out of the box is the ideal plan. CC took pride in averaging 3.8 penalties per game last season while its opponents averaged 4.8.
CC was poised for a sweep of Minnesota, the top vote-getter outside the USCHO.com poll that week. But a steady stream of players went to the penalty box in the second period. Sloppy infractions — four hooking calls, one cross check — kept CC from rolling its usual lines and swung the momentum of the game.
In conference, where No. 1 Denver and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth reside, poor discipline will be even more costly.
“The penalties really, really changed the game for us,” coach Mike Haviland said Monday. “Our PK just didn’t get the job done. But we put ourselves in that position.”
He took two penalties that led to goals against, but Haviland complimented “elite” defenseman Connor Mayer, and “steady” fellow freshman defenseman Chad Sasaki.
The Tiger who stood out most was Chris Wilkie, whose three goals and two assists earned him co-NCHC forward of the week honors, shared with Miami senior Gordie Green.
“We’re going to need him the entire year to produce like this. Hopefully he stays on that pace,” Haviland joked. “That would be nice.
“We need more production now from other guys.”
The power play (1 of 9) would benefit from the return of senior defenseman Kristian Blumenschein, usually paired with all-conference rookie team selection Bryan Yoon. Blumenschein isn’t ready yet but is not written off for next weekend. A lower-body injury kept junior forward Troy Conzo out of Saturday night’s game and he was waiting on a reevaluation.
“Hopefully good news,” Haviland said.