The Falcon penalty kill held the UConn power play to only four shots and a 0-for-4 performance with Air Force attacking the puckhandler as he entered the zone, forcing turnovers and not allowing the nation’s fourth-ranked power play (23.3 percent) to set up as it did for two scores on Friday.
That 2-for-3 performance moved UConn up from 11th in Division to fourth entering Saturday’s Atlantic Hockey Association series finale.
UConn was better able to set up over it next two power plays, including a five-minute advantage that started late in the second period after a checking from behind call on Mitch Torrel and lasted 3:29 into the third. Only 16 seconds later, a cross-checking call on Dan Weissenhofer put the Air Force penalty killers back on for another two minutes.
The difference was execution, which was lacking in Friday’s 5-3 loss.
“It wasn’t so much that we changed anything so much as we just played better,” senior captain Adam McKenzie said.
The AFA penalty killers also did a better job clearing the puck out of the zone by working it to the opposite side from where the Falcons could clear.
The Falcons (15-9-4, 10-6-3, tied for fourth) recorded 22 blocks and freshman goalie Chris Truehl (21 saves) made several big-time stops.
“Our penalty kill was the story of the game and Truehl was solid,” coach Frank Serratore said. “We cannot afford to take a five-minute penalty. Our biggest adversary was ourselves which could have lost the game for us, if not for our penalty kill.”
The Falcons power play, which was out shot during the second period, delivered a timely goal. Junior Cole Gunner scored his team-high 12th goal when he wristed a hard-angle shot that went in over UConn goalie Matt Grogan’s left shoulder for the final margin with 4:07 left.
The Air Force penalty kill clinched the win after third-place UConn (13-8-4, 11-5-3) cut the lead to 2-1 on a redirect by Ryan Tyson with 5:54 left. A penalty with 1:45 remaining on Weissenhofer gave UConn a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Huskies managed only two shots.
“Our power play hadn’t been good but that was a big-time goal,” Serratore said. “I felt a lot better going into that 6-on-4 lead at 3-1 instead of 2-1.”
Earlier, Falcons freshman defenseman Johnny Hrabovsky opening the scoring with a hard rip through traffic that beat Grogan with 12:48 left in the first.
The Falcons went ahead 2-0 when Gunner fired a hard shot on net. that bounced off Grogan and to his right, where Scott Holm was waiting to score the eventual game-winner with 1:26 left in the opening period.
Air Force 3, Connecticut 1
UConn 0 0 1 –1
Air Force 2 0 1 –3
First period –1. AFA, Hrabovsky (Hartner) 7:12; 2. AFA, Holm (Gunner, Demers) 18:34. Penalties – UConn, Oskoroba, roughing, 7:12; UConn, Sims, tripping, 13:15; AFA, Reid, elbowing, 16:15.
Second period –No. scoring. Penalties – UConn, Oskoroba, holding, 10:42; UConn, Cooke, hooking, 15:35; AFA, Torrel, five-minute checking from behind, game misconduct, 18:29.
Third period –3. UConn, Tyson (Poe, Segalla) 14:06; 4. AFA, Gunner (Weissenhofer, Demers) 15:53 (PP). Penalties – AFA, Weissenhofer, cross-checking, 3:45; UConn, Sims, holding, 14:45; AFA, Weissenhofer, interference, 18:15.
Power play – UConn 0-4, AFA 1-5. Shots on goal – UConn 8-4-10 – 22; AFA 9-13-7 – 29. Saves-minutes – UConn, Grogan 7-13-6 – 57:53; AFA, Truehl 8-4-9 – 60:00. Referees – Ernst, Barnard. Linesmen – McAfee Jr., McGee. Attendance – 1,924 (2,470 capacity).