Air Force has won 20 or more games in five of the last seven years
A short conversation with coach Frank Serratore makes your pulse race a little faster. His enthusiasm and energy for Air Force hockey are that powerful.
As the fourth head coach in the 43 years of Air Force hockey, Serratore was in his office less than a week when he pointed out what it would take to turn the program around.
"We want to be the hardest working team in the country," Serratore said. "We want to have a team full of over-achievers. Not everyone is blessed with outstanding ability, but everyone can work hard and play with pride and spirit."
Serratore enters his 15th season at Air Force with a 234-239-43 record at the Academy. He has an overall mark of 283-331-52 in 18 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 four conference championships and four NCAA appearances in the last five years.
Last year, the Falcons recovered from a slow start to win its fourth AHA title in five years. The Falcons went 9-2-3 in the final 14 regular season games to earn the No. 2 overall seed. Air Force blanked the regular-season champion, RIT, 1-0, in the championship game. A 2-1 overtime loss to top-seed Yale in the NCAA Tournament ended the Falcons' season at 20-12-6.
The 2009-10 season was the only one in the last five years that the Falcons watched the NCAA Tournament at home. The Falcons swept Army in the AHA quarterfinals at home but fell on a late goal to Sacred Heart in the AHA semifinals. AFA finished the season 16-15-6 overall and third in the AHA.
The 2008-09 season proved to be the best in school history with a school-record 28 wins, another league championship and the Academy's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. Air Force opened the season with a school-record 13 straight wins and rose to No. 10 in the nation, the highest in Academy history. Win No. 13 was a 4-1 win over third-ranked Colorado College to end a 24-year drought vs. the Tigers. As the No. 1 seed in the AHA Final Four, AFA rolled over Bentley and Mercyhurst with back-to-back shutouts to win its third straight title. The first round of the NCAA East Regional put the Falcons against third-ranked Michigan. Andrew Volkening made 43 saves as the Falcons earned a 2-0 win. Air Force came within a whisker of the Frozen Four, but 10th-ranked Vermont defeated Air Force in double overtime on a goal that was awarded on video review.
Serratore led Air Force to 21 wins in 2007-08 en route to the second AHA championship and NCAA Tournament berth. Air Force was 21-12-6 overall and finished third in the league. At the AHA Final Five, AFA defeated RIT, 5-0, in the semifinals. The Falcons then needed double-overtime to beat Mercyhurst, 5-4, in the championship game on a goal by Josh Frider. The win sent the Falcons to the NCAA Tournament but second-ranked Miami-Ohio ended the Falcons' season with a 3-2 overtime loss.
In 2006-07, Air Force won its first-ever conference championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament. AFA faced Minnesota in the West Regional, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, and led the Gophers, 3-1, with just over eight minutes left in the third period. However, Minnesota scored three goals in a span of 3:36 for a 4-3 win over the Falcons. AFA ended the season with a 19-16-5 overall record and a 13-10-5 mark for fifth place in the AHA. The Falcons became the first service academy team to ever win a conference hockey championship and play in the NCAA Tournament. In his first season at the Academy, Serratore's disciplined and aggressive style produced more wins than the previous two seasons combined and the first 15-win season in three years. The first-year coach guided the Falcons to a 15-19 overall record. The season could not have ended on a better note as the Falcons swept Army at West Point.
His second season was no different as he guided one of the nation's youngest teams to the best winning percentage in four years at the Academy. In 1999-2000, Serratore led the Falcons to the most wins (19) in 23 years and the first winning season (19-18-2) in 10 years. Serratore juggled an injury-riddled and depleted Falcon lineup throughout the 2000-01 season. The Falcons still posted a 16-17-4 record.
A great run at the end of the 2001-02 season capped a 16-16-2 overall record. The Falcons finished fifth in the CHA (6-10-2) and upset fourth-seeded Niagara in the CHA Tournament. In 2002-03, a midseason scoring drought and numerous close losses left the Falcons with a 10-24-3 overall record. Expectations were low as the Falcons were in a rebuilding mode in 2003-04. However, Serratore led the Falcons to a 14-21-2 record, tying the then-school record with 14 Division I wins. The Falcons also defeated two teams that went to the NCAA Tournament (Miami-Ohio and Holy Cross).
The 2004-05 season was the second year of a rebuilding process. A 14-19-3 overall record again tied the school record for Division I victories. The Falcons placed fifth in the CHA with a 5-14-1 record and then proceeded to upset fourth-seeded Wayne State in a thrilling overtime victory at the CHA Tournament. In 2005-06, the Falcons were 11-20-1 overall, but the team won a school-record eight league games. Serratore, 54, came to the Academy from the Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League, where he was the director of hockey operations in 1996. He was the head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Moose (before they moved to Manitoba) in 1994 and 1995.
Prior to his position in Manitoba, Serratore was the head coach at the University of Denver from 1990-1994. During that time, he led the Pioneers to a 49-91-9 record in four seasons and is credited with rebuilding a struggling Pioneer program. In 1995 and 1997, Pioneer teams which were recruited during his tenure made two NCAA final eight appearances and placed third in the WCHA. Serratore was responsible for improving an out-dated program. The greatest success of his stint in Denver was the increase in attendance. In his first season, home attendance had dipped below 70 percent of the capacity. When he left, DU attendance was up to 93 percent of capacity, one of the top attendance marks in the country.
Before taking over the reins at DU, Serratore was the coach and general manager of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Junior Hockey League. In one season, he took over a last-place team and led them to the USHL regular season and playoff championship. The worst-to-first Cinderella season earned Serratore the USHL General Manager of the Year and the Omaha Sportscasters Sportsman of the Year awards in 1990.
His other coaching experiences have been as the assistant coach at the University of North Dakota (1987-89), the head coach and general manager of the Rochester Mustangs (1985-87) and the Austin Mavericks (1983-85) of the U.S. Junior Hockey League. During his tenure in the USHL, he won three league championships and was runner-up twice while posting a 247-103-6 record. In 1987, he led Rochester to the USA Hockey national championship. While coaching in the USHL, he was named general manager of the year twice and coach of the year once.
Serratore attended Western Michigan University from 1977-79 before earning his bachelor's degree in physical education from Bemidji State University in 1982. He lettered four years in hockey at the two schools playing goalie. He then earned a master's degree in athletic administration/physical education from North Dakota in 1994. He played two seasons for the St. Paul Vulcans (USHL) from 1975-77 and had a brief stint with the Nashville South Stars (Central Hockey League) in 1982.
The native of Coleraine, Minn., is no stranger to coaching at the Olympic development level. In August 2003, Serratore was the head coach of the United States Under-17 Team that won the gold medal at the Five Nations Tournament in Prievizda, Slovakia. He has coached at two USA Hockey Olympic Sports Festivals and has been the coach of the USA Hockey Development Program since 1985. In 1993, he coached the West team to the silver medal at the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival in San Antonio, Texas.
Serratore is married to the former Carol Samec of St. Paul, Minn. They have four children, twin boys Thomas and Timothy (22) and two daughters, Carly (21) and Carina (16).