ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Shane Starrett made 24 saves and Jordan Himley scored the game-winner as 17th-ranked Air Force defeated Robert Morris, 2-1, in the championship game of the 2017 Atlantic Hockey Conference championship game, Saturday, March 18, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
Air Force advances to its sixth NCAA Tournament in school history and the first since 2012. The Falcons competed in 2007 (vs. Minnesota in the West Regional), 2008 (vs. Miami in NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.), 2009 (vs. Michigan and Vermont in the NCAA East Regional) , 2011 (vs. Yale in the NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.) and 2012 (vs. Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.). Air Force is 1-5 in the NCAAs with the only win coming against Michigan in 2009.
Air Force improved to 12-2 all-time in the Blue Cross Arena and 6-0 in championship games.
Air Force (26-9-5 overall) opened the scoring just 1:15 into the game. Tyler Ledford controlled the puck and shed a defender behind the net before centering the puck. After the puck bounced off of Jordan Himley's skate, Erik Baskin fired it in for a 1-0 lead. Later in the period, on the power play, Johnny Hrabovsky's shot from the point clanked off the post as the Falcons had a 1-0 lead after one.
Early in the second period, the Falcons hit yet another post as Ledford ringed one off the iron just over a minute into the period on the rush. With seven minutes left in the period, Spencer Dorowitz found a soft spot in the left circle, but his point-blank wrister was gloved out of the air by Starrett. With Robert Morris controlling play, the Colonials tied the game with 3:58 as Ben Robilliard put back a rebound of Brady Ferguson's shot. RMU continued buzzing around the Air Force net, but when the Falcons finally got out of the zone, they capitalized. Himley made a play in the neutral zone and flipped the puck in. Ledford chased it down, and gave it back to Himley between the circles. Himley made a move around the defenseman, and then around the goaltender, and slid the puck into the open net for his team-leading 20th of the season with 31 seconds left in the second period. With time winding down, Colonial Luke Lynch took a shot from the right side and Starrett made a save with the left pad as time expired.
Early in the third period, Colonial Timmy Moore hit a pipe and then later in the period, Falcon defenseman Dylan Abood took a shot that trickled through the legs of RMU goalie Frances Marotte. Just before the puck crossed the line, Marotte reached back and covered it up. With 2:30 left in the game, Robert Morris pulled its goalie in favor of the extra attacker. The Colonials had three shots on goal, but were not able to get the equalizer.
RMU outshot Air Force, 25-14, in the game. Each team was 0-for-2 on the power play.
"There was nothing easy about this," head coach Frank Serratore said. "We had a good run winning five of six a few years back. This group has become like my family since all my kids are out of the house. That makes this one really special. We knew we would get back to this point. It was part of our business plan. But this happened one year early. We only have three seniors, but what an amazing group we have. They found a way to get it done. We have only scored five goals the last three games and won all three. We did it with a defense, special teams and a great group of players and coaches in our program."
Air Force will find out its opponent and regional site during the NCAA Hockey Selection Show, which is set for Sunday, March 19, at 10 a.m. MT on ESPNU.