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The Air Force Academy Falcons men's ice hockey team takes to the ice during the season exhibition opening game against the Trinity Western Spartans of Langley, British Columbia, Canada at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

After seven unsuccessful tries, sweet relief belonged to Air Force.

It wasn’t like the Falcons were playing easy teams – Notre Dame and Arizona State look like NCAA Tournament contenders again. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have chances – they put 80 shots on net in a home series against RIT but were outscored 3-1 in two regulation losses.

But November arrived and Air Force was still seeking its first win. The last time it took the Falcons eight games to crack the win column was 1993-94. The last time they started 0-7, without even a tie, was 1982-83.

It took a gutsy 4-3 road win in front of a new goaltender for Air Force to get that first victory.

“It was a great feeling to finally get that win,” junior Shawn Knowlton, who scored his first career goal against Sacred Heart, said. “We checked that box, now we have to build off it. Keep moving forward.”

Alex Schilling made 21 saves and won his first career start. Knowlton called his performance “phenomenal” and coach Frank Serratore said he was the best player in the rink that night.

The sophomore took the place of junior Zach LaRocque, who started all of the previous seven.

“We couldn’t get it done for him,” Knowlton said.

Earlier this season, the goaltenders, who share a tight bond, agreed it didn’t matter who was in net as long as the Falcons were winning.

“We have a great competitive relationship that pushes each other,” Schilling said.

“We know we have to stand up for the team this year.”

The Falcons (1-7, 1-3 Atlantic Hockey) have a lot of ground to make up as Bentley (3-4, 2-3 Atlantic Hockey) visits this weekend.

They’ll have to carry over what worked in Connecticut. Air Force, which returned the sixth fewest goals in the nation, has had the predicted lingering scoring issues. Atlantic Hockey as a whole has struggled to connect early, with four other teams averaging less than two goals per game. That doesn’t include Bentley.

The Air Force home fans have witnessed three goals in four games, two of which were shutouts.

“We haven’t been able to score too many in front of the home fans,” Knowlton said. “They definitely deserve it. They’ve been through a lot at the start of the season.”

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