Blocked shots, penalties key for Air Force hockey

Published: February 26, 2009, 11:28 am, by admin

By Matt Dorney

We wrote about how important faceoffs are to Air Force in its Atlantic Hockey Association showdown at RIT this weekend.

There are other things.

Two others coach Frank Serratore mentioned Wednesday are blocking some shots and – as always – don’t take unnecessary penalties.

“They play an aggressive game,” Serratore said. “They obviously have a lot of confidence in their special teams. They’ll go tit-for-tat with you on penalties.”

RIT’s power play actually is better than Air Force’s, but it’s close. The Tigers convert on 21.1 percent of their chances to the Falcons’ 20.7. RIT only gives up goals on 15.6 percent; Air Force’s penalty kill is even better, giving up 12.3.

“We’ve got to play disciplined hockey all weekend long,” said senior Brent Olson, the Falcons’ leader in penalties (27). “We have to control the things we can control. Staying out of the penalty box is one of those things.”

The games at Air Force in December – Air Force won 2-0 before losing 3-2 in overtime – were penalty filled, 64 minutes on Friday and 40 on Saturday, split exactly evenly.

Junior Jeff Hajner, third on the Falcons in penalty minutes (48), said the time of the season should make a difference.

“It’s playoff hockey,” he said. “You don’t want to put your team into a position where they have to kill off a penalty because you’ve been too aggressive.”

If the Falcons can force the Tigers to play even-strength hockey, the biggest difference between the teams should come to the forefront. Both teams have scored 119 goals this season and RIT has outscored the Falcons in the conference (105-98).

But Air Force has given up far fewer goals overall (68 to 91) and in conference games (54 to 66).

“I think one of the reasons we’re both at the top of the league is our depth,” Serratore said. “We’ve got good, competitive depth.

“Our team speed is probably a little bit better; their team savvy is a little bit better. It’ll probably come down to special teams and goaltending.”

Just in case

Should the teams split this weekend, officially they are co-champions. Since the league and series records would then be identical, the No. 1 seed for the AHA playoffs would be decided by either by tiebreaker No. 2, goal differential head-to-head (AFA is plus-1 now) or No. 4, goal differential in conference games (ACA is plus-5).