Cruikshank hat trick lifts Tigers to outdoor game victory over Air Force

200217_F_XS730_1003Colorado College sophomore Grant Cruikshank will always remember the Faceoff at Falcon Stadium outdoor college hockey game.

He has three good reasons. The Wisconsin native recorded his first NCAA hat trick, including the victory-clinching empty-net goal with about 37 seconds left, to lift the Tigers past Air Force, 4-2, before 7,178 hardy fans on a cold Monday night.

“It was a lot of fun,” Cruikshank said. “The experience of playing outdoors at Air Force was the biggest memory for me. To walk away with a win is icing on the cake. I grew up playing on ponds and lakes my whole life so I knew it wasn’t going to pretty. It would be a greasy game with pucks going over sticks. It was just a very cool experience.”

An experience all the better with a nonconference sweep for the Tigers (10-16-2), who resume National Collegiate Hockey Conference play at Omaha this weekend. Air Force fell to 8-17-5.

Tigers coach Mike Haviland was smiling broadly before and after the game.

“It just doesn’t happen often and may not happen (again) if they play 10, 15 years after,” he said. “I was certainly excited. It brings you back to being a kid. It was cold, it had snow flurries, it had everything. This is something that will last a lifetime.”

The Falcons knew they would eventually look back on the game more fondly.

“I have been on a couple NCAA Final Eight teams and this is definitely up there,” senior Matt Pulver said. “It’s certainly something I will never forget.”

The teams gathered at center ice to salute the fans, who stuck around to the end as the temperature dipped to 22 degrees by game’s end. Many of the former teammates and friends took pictures together.

“They’ll be happy to have those photos someday,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “It was the classy thing to do by both programs. This was a big night for Air Force, for Colorado College and Colorado Springs.”

There was also an entertaining game that wasn’t decided until the moments.

CC pulled ahead early in the third period on Chris Wilkie’s 20th goal of the season, only to see Air Force answer back just 98 seconds later on a goal for defenseman Luke Rowe. That left the game at 3-2 with 15:01 left in the third and set up the exciting finish.

Both second-period goals came off rebounds when Air Force’s Brandon Koch cut the CC lead to 2-1 with 34.5 seconds left in the second period. Koch batted in the loose puck after a hard shot by Trevor Stone bounced out in front during the Falcons’ third power play.

Colorado College had taken a 2-0 lead by Cruikshank batted in his own rebound on a short-side breakaway less than eight minutes earlier for his second goal of the night and 10th this season. Bryan Yoon picked up his second assist of the game.

“We played a real good second period,” Haviland said. “We started to get our groove a little bit, hang onto the puck down low. I think that is when we really started to settle into the game. We found a way to get the empty-netter. It was a good road win for us. Hopefully (the Tigers are) going in the right direction now.”

Colorado College opened the scoring when Cruikshank redirected a pass to the front by Yoon with 6:42 left in the first. The power-play tally came 30 seconds into the man advantage.

“I don’t know if that was just roommate chemistry but he is a great passer,” Cruikshank said.

CC never trailed this holiday weekend, a troublesome problem for the Falcons, who much like CC are trying to play well and become a dangerous playoff opponent.

“It’s been that way all year,” Pulver said. “Whenever we get punched in the gut, we respond. We need to be the ones that punches first.”

“Pulvs is right,” Serratore said. “You can’t chase the scoreboard. That was a key for us this weekend; getting the first goal but CC wouldn’t allow that. CC, and this is no dig at our boys, was the better team this weekend. That’s a well-coached team that will be a team no one wants to face when their playoffs begin. I don’t care where they finish in the standings.”

Both teams played back a bit to start the game, with both getting used to the unusual lighting, different boards and unusually quiet atmosphere with fans so far removed from the ice.

“After the first couple minutes we settled in and started to grind them out, play to our strengths and kind of took over the game,” Wilkie said. “After a while we realized it was just a hockey game. You tune out the rest of the things after you get the Oohs and Aahs out of your system like Havi said to us all week.”

Ice chips

It was the first outdoor college game played at the service academy. It was also the highest outdoor game at 6,621 feet. … The ice held up well, especially as the temperature dropped after sunset. …  In its 10 victories this season, the Tigers have allowed just 19 goals. CC has given up 80 in the other 18 games (0-16-2). … CC now holds a 63-13-2 record against the Falcons. … The Tigers retained the Pikes Peak Trophy on Friday with a 6-2 home win. The two schools established the rivalry hardware in 2013 in honor of John Matchefts, a former head coach at both schools. … About 400 attended the Robson Arena ceremonial groundbreaking on Saturday. … Wilkie’s 20 goals ties him with UMass’ John Leonard for second in Division 1, and behind NCAA leader Griffin Loughran (21) of Northern Michigan.

About paisleyhockey
I am a freelance writer specializing in sports with about 25 years of professional experience.

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