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Air Force Academy's Erick Jaeger prepares to shoot on goal around the defense of Niagara's Jordan Wishman during the game at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)

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Despite a dominant performance through regulation, outshooting Niagara 37-17, Air Force's hockey team came up inches short in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1 of the Atlantic Hockey Conference quarterfinals.

A shot by Niagara freshman Ludwig Stenlund trickled past Billy Christopoulos’ glove, and across the goal line barely two inches before the horn sounded just seven minutes into overtime.

“You have to be good but you also have to be lucky and Niagara was good when they had to be but they were also a little bit lucky,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We just didn’t seem to get any puck luck.”

The Falcons outshot Niagara 18-6 in the second period alone as the Purple Eagles’ sophomore goalie Brian Wilson stopped anything coming his way after the first two minutes of the period.

"I just had to keep my head clear," Wilson said. "I have a little mental routine I go through so I tried to stick to that and keep it simple because that usually works more times than not."

Wilson finished with 35 saves.

Air Force will host Niagara in Game 2 of the best-of-three series Saturday at the Cadet Ice Arena at 7:05 p.m. And it's do-or-die for the Falcons. 

"I’d like to say I feel sorry for our guys right now, but there’s no time to feel sorry for yourselves. This is the playoffs, it’s either put up or shut up and now we are playing elimination games," Serratore said. "It’s a must-win game for us tomorrow. We need to come back with our heads held high. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, our guys left it all on the ice."

Friday was the third overtime game for Niagara in four postseason contest. In their last series against Canisius, the Purple Eagles won Game 1 in 2OT, but dropped the second in overtime.

"We know Air Force is going to come out hard. They have a lot of postseason experience over there and hopefully we learn our lesson from last weekend," Wilson said. "We won the first game and they came out hard and we were a little taken-back so hopefully our preparation will be a little better this weekend and know what to expect."

Stenlund scored in the first minute of play in the second period to give the Purple Eagles a one-goal lead, but Air Force alternate captain Dan Bailey netted the game-tying goal just a minute later.

“We felt like we were dominating and maybe felt like we deserved more on the scoreboard,” Bailey said. “It was definitely important to bounce back and mentally keep the guys in it on the bench.”

Bailey said his team kept from getting frustrated in the second knowing that they were playing well, despite the score.

“We just tried to stay positive. We are feeling good and playing well right now and that’s kind of been our theme the last few weeks,” Bailey said. “We think we are dominating 5-on-5 but we just need to bear down in front of their net, for sure.”

Serratore echoed his statement, saying that he is confident heading into Game 2 on Saturday if they play at the same level.

“The luck favored them this time, but it was a game that could have gone either way. I liked our game,” Serratore said. “If we can replicate that game tomorrow, like our chances. And I like our chances of scoring more than two goals.”

Niagara controlled the puck most of the way through the short overtime period, outshooting Air Force 6-1. The Purple Eagles had not registered more than five shots per period through regulation. 

"We know that they have some opportunists, they were the second-highest leading scorer in the league, so when you get into late-period situations and overtime you don’t want to give them chances," Serratore said. "They’ve proven that they can score."

Pierce Pluemer scored Air Force's opening goal just two minutes into the first period. Christopoulos had 20 saves. Eric Cooley had the opening goal for Niagara in the first period. 

Preps Editor

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