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.

Notebook: Air Force upperclassmen lead second-half surge

Ledford_3065-1Senior Tyler Ledford (above) scored the OT goal that lifted Air Force to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, and he is one of five juniors and seniors leading the team offensively.

The Falcons won the tournament last year and six of the past 11 years. Their veteran presence will certainly help entering Friday’s semifinal vs. Canisius, as it has in the second half – Air Force is 12-4-2 since it started the season 8-10-3. They face Dylan McLaughlin, who is the league’s Hobey Baker Top 10 finalist.

The Atlantic Hockey scoring champion and First Team all-conference playmaker has vaulted to sixth in the national scoring charts. He got off to a fast start, collecting points in 15 of his first 16 games. His 31 assists in 36 games ranks him sixth in the nation. He has 17 goals, 31 assists for 48 points in 36 games – only five minor penalties all season.

Robert Morris (17-19-3) is the only team under .500 in action this weekend, but the Colonials are 4-1-1 in their last six … Regular-season champion Mercyhurst is seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005.

Largest Senior Classes
11 – Mercyhurst
9 – Connecticut, Robert Morris
8 – Air Force, Canisius, five other teams
Note that the four AHC semifinalists are listed.
Fewest Even-Strength Goals Against per Game
0.81 – Cornell
1.19 – Clarkson
1.38 – Minnesota State
1.39 – Minnesota Duluth
1.47 – Northeastern
1.49 – Air Force
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is slated for 10 a.m. MT on Sunday, March 18 (ESPNU, TSNGO)
This marks the third straight season that the top four seeds advanced to the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff … No team has swept the NCHC regular-season and playoff titles in the same year entering this, the fifth year of the conference.

Saturday reading: CC, UNO, Knowlton, Serratores, BGSU, Bemidji State

Knowlton (DU, CS) vs. TechThe highs and lows of the first half of the season for Colorado College are touched on.

Here is a look back on the first half of the season for Nebraska Omaha, which will be without forward Brock Montpetit for three to five weeks with leg injuries sustained on Dec. 15.

This Denver Post feature does a nice job showing all the connections between Denver, CC and RPI involving Colorado Springs’ Chris Knowlton, pictured, a senior DU forward with 10 goals this season.

Here is a strong take on the Serratore family reunion on Saturday.

The Bowling Green State alumni stepped up to save the program three years ago.

Bemidji State picked up a midseason replacement at goalie.

Thursday reading: WCHA column, Winkler, Heil, Rothstein, Enga, Slavvin

I started new irregular features in the weekly WCHA column on USCHO, one focusing on an “unsung hero” for Bemidji State who has a young daughter and wife and still manages to find time to be a league academic honoree and log a lot of quality ice time for the Beavers. The Series Spotlight segment, naturally, deals with CC and Denver this weekend starting the annual battle for the Gold Pan Trophy, pictured.

CC senior Scott Winkler has the best numbers of any NCAA prospect for the Stars, especially in plus/minus.

Chicago Steel forward and CC commit Christian Heil scored two goals in 34 seconds during the third period of Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Indiana.  It gives the 18-year-old five goals over his last four games and pushed him into a tie for third in the USHL with 10 goals this season.

Future Tiger Sam Rothstein scored two goals for the Sioux Falls Stampede Saturday in the team’s USHL-leading eighth home win.

Former Tiger RJ Enga and CC commit Jaccob Slavin played key roles in Team USA’s World Junior A challenge championship. Enga served at an assistant coach while Slavin was an assistant captain.

Former Penn State club coach Joe Battista penned this column praising Air Force coach Frank Serratore and hockey people in general.

More Friday reading: Colorado College at Wisconsin TV/video stream options, McElhinney, Denver, Air Force, North Dakota, predictions

Photo: Kyle Daudelin

A tape-delayed free streaming option for any CC fans who don’t have access to Altitude2 (6 p.m. Mountain) is available for the Tigers at Wisconsin game Friday night. Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the game at 9 p.m. Mountain on The Wisconsin Channel  at http://wpt.org/wisconsinchannel/ .

Colorado College is sixth in the WCHA in scoring at 3.17 goals per game but has struggled on the power play. The Tigers have not converted on their last 12 power-play chances and are ninth in the league at 13 percent (4 of 30).  Senior forwards Andrew Hamburg (four goals, one assist), William Rapuzzi (two goals, three assists) and Scott Winkler (three goals, two assists) are tied for the team lead in points at five.

Former Tiger goalie Curtis McElhinney, pictured, of the Springfield Falcons is the AHL Goaltender of the Month for October. In six appearances during the month, McElhinney went 5-1-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average, a .949 save percentage and two shutouts, helping the Falcons to the best record in the Eastern Conference. Here are the rest of the details.  Former Wisconsin standout Justin Schultz was named as player of the month suggesting that all the summer hype was not too overblown.

Here is the Denver Post’s preview for all three Front Range schools.

No. 12 Boston University is playing at No. 5 North Dakota for the first time since December 1996. Expect more such nonconference match-ups with the new league alignments forcing more nonconference games. Expect more such trips for the Terriers and Boston College, including to the state of Colorado. Fun fact: The last time UND and BU played in Grand Forks, both teams played in the national championship game (UND won 6-4 in spring 1997).

Here is Western College Hockey blog’s weekend preview and the USCHO predictions.

Air Force No. 19, CC 20 in USCHO preseason poll

USCHO announced its preseason poll with Atlantic Hockey Association favorite Air Force ranked at No. 19, well ahead of No. 20 Colorado College in the points that determine the rankings.

This is the first time AFA is ranked ahead of CC in a preseason poll since the Falcons were 19th and CC received votes in the 2009-10 preseason poll.

Boston College garnered 35 first-place votes followed by WCHA favorite Minnesota (12), CCHA preseason pick Michigan (3), North Dakota and ECAC media and coaches’ pick Union.

USCHO then points out that being a preseason No. 1 is not always a good thing for a team’s NCAA championship hopes.

Wednesday reading: Prospects game, WMU, SCSU, Tech, Miami

The days when the NHL ignored American players are over judging from the 100 scouts in Buffalo this week for Saturday’s All-American Prospects Game on Saturday.

Western Michigan players received their CCHA tournament championship rings.

St. Cloud State added two defenseman recruits as did Michigan Tech and Miami.

From Colorado Springs Corp. …

It’s a tradition at the annual Sports Corp College Ice Hockey Face Off Luncheon that the two coaches, Frank Serratore of Air Force and Scott Owens of Colorado College, alternate going first and second with their presentations about the upcoming season.

Serratore will lead off this year at the Thursday, Oct. 4 Noon luncheon at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, and though he may not reveal everything about his 2012-2013 Falcons, he has a team returning that should be another power to be reckoned with nationally.

Serratore enters his 16th season at Air Force with a 255-250-51 record at the Academy. He has an overall mark of 304-342-60 in 19 seasons as a college head coach.

Not only has Serratore turned the Falcon program around, he has turned it into a legitimate national contender with five conference championships and five NCAA appearances in the last six years.

National Collegiate Hockey Conference Commissioner Jim Scherr will open the program with a look at the new league that opens play in the 2013-2014 season. Scherr and his staff being assembled are in place in their new headquarters offices adjacent to the Sports Corp at the Copper Building on the grounds of El Pomar’s Penrose House.

Both squads open at home right after the lunch with exhibition games against the University of British Columbia. The Tigers face UBC at the Colorado Springs World Arena on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 6:07 p.m. and the Falcons host the Thunderbirds on Monday, Oct. 8 at the Cadet Ice Arena.

The two local foes get to know each other early this year, with Air Force hosting the Tigers on Friday night, October 19 at the Cadet Ice Arena. The teams play only once this season.

Both coaches have a lot to talk about related to tough schedules and their top returning players, mixed in with a few outstanding freshmen who will play.

The Tigers finished 18-16-2 last season (5th in the WCHA), while the Falcons went 21-11-7, won their conference title, then lost to eventual NCAA Champion Boston College, 2-0, in the regional.

It’s the final season for the Tigers in the WCHA, with CC entering the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) in the 2013-2014 season with Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, Miami (O), North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

TICKETS: $25.00 for Sports Corp Members and AFA or CC Booster Club Members with ID. $35.00 for all others.

TABLES (10 Seats): $250.00 for Sports Corp Members or AFA/CC Boosters; $350.00 for all others.

RESERVATIONS: Contact Cara Jorgensen at the Sports Corp (719) 634-7333, ext. 1007, or by e-mail: cara@thesportscorp.org

Air Force picked to win AHA championship

2012-13 Atlantic Hockey Preseason Coaches Poll

Air Force (8) – 112
Niagara (3) – 101
Mercyhurst – 89
Bentley – 87
RIT – 87
Holy Cross – 74
Connecticut – 65
Robert Morris (1) – 61
Canisius – 38

“I wish winning the league was as easy as winning the coaches’ poll,” AFA coach Frank Serratore said. “The bottom teams have gotten so much better. There are no ‘gimmes.’”

CBS Sports Network will broadcast two AHA games including Sat., Jan. 12, Army at Air Force.

Air Force and Army are no stranger to the national scene as they have faced each other for the past six seasons on CBS Sports Network. The game will mark the 14th time in the last seven years that Air Force hockey has appeared on national television.

“Our players are thrilled about being able to play on national television,” said Serratore.  “I am excited for the opportunity to showcase one of the greatest rivalries in college hockey, those fans who have never seen an Air Force-Army hockey game are in for a special treat”

“Once again we are looking forward to playing Air Force on national TV,” states Army coach Brian Riley. “It’s a game that is played with a passion and intensity that is hard to match in college hockey. This rivalry is one of the best in all of college sports. I expect that it will be a great game not only for the people who will be in the stands to watch but it will also be great for people around the country to view on national TV.”

Here are more details including this quote from AFA coach Frank Serratore:

Annual face off luncheon seats filling up fast

From the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. …

Head coaches Scott Owens of Colorado College and Frank Serratore of Air Force will highlight the annual Colorado Springs Sports Corp’s College Hockey Face Off Luncheon on Thursday, October 4, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort at Noon.

A total of 310 tickets have been reserved as of today, but there is still room.

Both squads open at home right after the lunch with exhibition games against the University of British Columbia. The Tigers face UBC at the Colorado Springs World Arena on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 6:07 p.m. and the Falcons host the Thunderbirds on Monday, Oct. 8 at the Cadet Ice Arena.

The two local foes get to know each other early this year, with Air Force hosting the Tigers on Friday night, October 19 at the Cadet Ice Arena. The teams play only once this season.

Both coaches have a lot to talk about related to tough schedules and their top returning players, mixed in with a few outstanding freshmen who will play.

The Tigers finished 18-16-2 last season (5th in the WCHA), while the Falcons went 21-11-7, won their conference title, then lost to eventual NCAA Champion Boston College, 2-0, in the regional.

It’s the final season for the Tigers in the WCHA, with CC entering the new National College Hockey Conference (NCHC) in the 2013-2014 season with Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, Miami (O), North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

TICKETS: $25.00 for Sports Corp Members and AFA or CC Booster Club Members with ID. $35.00 for all others.

TABLES (10 Seats): $250.00 for Sports Corp Members or AFA/CC Boosters; $350.00 for all others.

RESERVATIONS: Contact Cara Jorgensen at the Sports Corp (719) 634-7333, ext. 1007, or by e-mail: cara@thesportscorp.org