It was Senior Night for Air Force hockey, and all made their marks. Two seniors scored, one got tossed from the game. One started in net and made 21 saves. Another made his college debut in what is likely his final game at Cadet Ice Arena.
Seniors Max Harper (two goals, one assist) and Shawn Knowlton chipped in goals in front of their families in the stands Saturday and freshman Nate Horn added two more in a 5-1 victory over Canisius.
Canisius might wish it had stayed home, like many other teams have in this season COVID-19 has scrambled. The Golden Griffins arrived in Colorado seeking a late boost in jumbled Atlantic Hockey but got swept by the Falcons, who went winless in their first 10 games but have won three straight. Air Force prevailed in overtime Friday.
The Falcons didn’t look like spoilers this weekend. They looked like a team that, as usual, is stepping up at the right time, and might be able to do some postseason damage in spite of an unsightly record of 3-9-1.
“We just decided to stick together and give it our all till the end,” Harper said. “And it’s paying off.”
It was probably goaltender Zach LaRocque’s favorite pull of his career. After Air Force built a three-goal lead, he was yanked in favor of fellow senior Erik Anderson, who hadn’t yet made an appearance for the Falcons.
“Fourth-string goalie that hasn’t played in four years and comes in on Senior Night,” Anderson said. “Really special. Really humbling, too.”
In a gleaming, all-white helmet, Anderson played 2:47 and made a pad save as Canisius pulled Matt Ladd (35 saves) for the extra attacker.
“Probably the best save percentage Air Force hockey has seen in its history,” LaRocque pointed out.
“He’s done everything for this program and would do anything for this program,” Knowlton added. “He works just as hard as anyone on this team, day in and day out.”
Knowlton opened the scoring with a redirection of a Willie Reim shot. Harper scored 56 seconds into the second period and contributed an empty-netter. Horn scored first on the power play and then waited out Ladd with just over four minutes remaining, giving Anderson the green light.
Coach Frank Serratore said LaRocque and Alex Schilling, who have shared time in net this season, encouraged him to put Anderson in.
“He’s Rudy,” Serratore said.
“You would think that he’s preparing for a pro career. When he doesn’t get to practice — and sometimes he doesn’t — he’s up here running the stairs. He’s on the bike. It’s amazing.”
Senior co-captain Zach Mirageas went out with some flair as well. He was the senior ejected in the second period.
The power play, which was tied for second-worst in the country heading into the weekend, went 2 for 4 and connected three times in two days.
“We’re headed in the right direction and we definitely took a major step,” Knowlton said.
Knowlton called his undeniably strange senior season “a leadership experience.”
“We’ve been making it the best possible year that we can, not just for us, but for the three classes under us,” he said.
“Obviously difficult times, but wouldn’t trade it for anything.”