Months of nervous waiting came to an end Friday afternoon when Air Force took the ice for a game in front of empty stands in Springfield, Mass.
The extra preparation didn’t help generate many good scoring chances, at least not in this first outing. Stefano Durante only had to make 15 saves for AIC, Atlantic Hockey’s two-time defending regular-season champion, in a 3-1 win.
“We had a very young lineup and I thought the difference was their experience,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said.
“We need to take a page out of their playbook. We’ve got to generate more opportunities.”
Freshman Will Gavin wasted no time scoring his first. He opened the season scoring for Air Force 1:28 into the game when he redirected a shot from Keenan Lund.
“We do have high hopes for Will to be a piece of the puzzle for us,” Serratore said.
The Falcons’ offensive luck ran out while the Yellow Jackets went on to score once in each period. Big Slovenian forward Luka Maver was waiting in the slot with just under two minutes left in the first period. He turned and shoveled the puck past Alex Schilling (22 saves) to tie the game at 1.
With Air Force’s Alex Mehnert in the penalty box, AIC senior Tobias Fladeby one-timed a feed past a sliding Schilling. A shorthanded 2-on-1 created one of the Falcons’ most interesting chances, but Durante deflected the shot out of harm’s way.
“They were much more hungry and tenacious and they had a shoot-first mentality,” Serratore said. “We were a little hesitant and we’ve got to be more deliberate.”
AIC killed off all four Air Force power plays.
Schilling was pulled for an extra attacker in the final 1:20 but Chris Dodero beat the Air Force defenders back for an empty-netter and the final score.
The teams meet again Saturday afternoon.