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Air Force Falcons forward Erich Jaeger (26) pushes past Mercyhurst Lakers forward Steven Ipri (11) at the Cadet Ice Arena at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Friday December 7, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

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A tip of the helmet was about all that was left for Air Force players to do following Mercyhurst’s 4-1 win over the Falcons on Saturday at Cadet Ice Arena, forcing a weekend split to wrap up the first half of the season.

The Lakers (8-8-2, 6-5-1 AHC) scored 62 seconds in, killed off a five-minute major and scored a short-handed goal to send the Falcons (9-7-0, 9-5-0) into a nearly three-week break with a loss.

“We had our opportunities, but the better team was wearing green tonight,” coach Frank Serratore said.

“I’m not going to take a shot at our guys, because the guys we had out there have done a magnificent job over the last four games.”

Riding a three-game win streak, the Falcons quickly fell behind when Mercyhurst’s Jeremy Wu opened the scoring as fans settled into their seats.

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A prime opportunity to level things came at the end of the opening period when Mercyhurst’s Quinn Wichers was sent to the box for five minutes for interference, but the Falcons failed to take advantage.

“When you don’t score on that, when you don’t take advantage of a situation like that, generally it comes back to bite you in the (butt),” Serratore said. “What happens when you don’t score? It demoralizes you and it pumps them up.”

About 10 minutes after the penalty expired, Joseph Duszak cushioned the visitor’s advantage with a backhanded shot that snuck over goaltender Billy Christopoulos’ shoulder.

Falcon senior Kyle Haak’s redirection, his second goal of the weekend, made things interesting a couple of minutes later, but Duszak’s second score, this one early in the third, erased any building Air Force momentum.

With the Falcons again on the power play, Duszak forced a turnover in the neutral zone and carried the puck into a breakaway before beating Christopoulos.

“The kid made a play. He read our power-play breakout; he took a calculated risk. That’s what he does,” Serratore said.

“He was the best player on the ice by a country mile tonight.”

Joshua Lammon’s empty-netter capped the scoring in the final minutes.

Air Force finished with a 35-33 edge in shots and extended a successful penalty-kill streak to 32, but failed to score in its 17 minutes on the power play.

“In the third period, I thought we had a couple good looks, but again with the amount of power plays we had, it almost demoralized us a little bit when you don’t get the good looks,” senior captain Evan Giesler said. “You don’t have to score every power play, but it’s important to keep the energy up on the bench, and sometimes it can demoralize a bench when you don’t.”

The Falcons still sit atop the conference with 18 points after the loss, followed by American International, Niagara and Army.

“I would like to hope that we learned some lessons in the first half of the year,” Serratore said. “When we’re ready to play and on our game and we’re proactive, we’re pretty good. When you’re not, and you let the other team dictate, you’re going to get knocked on your (butt).”

Saturday, the Lakers knocked the Falcons on their backside.

“We knew they were going to come out hard, and they did exactly that,” Giesler said. “Credit where credit’s due. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to your opponent. They played really well.”

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