The Falcons started their 2014 campaign inauspiciously: A 2-3 sunrise to their season -- which included losses to Canisius and VMI -- pegged Air Force as a team in progress, one that would need time to find their volition after entering the year with elevated expectations. A six-game winning streak that started in early March illustrated Air Force's ceiling, putting the Falcons in the top tier of the ECAC and forming the profile of a team that was hitting its stride at the right time of the season. The team's back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Quinnipiac at the end of the regular season forced many to pump the brakes a bit on the Falcons as the ECAC Tournament opened in Columbus, Ohio.
Now? Air Force has punched the accelerator after earning a 9-8 victory over top-seeded Fairfield in the championship of the ECAC's postseason. Momentum is fickle, but Air Force has seemingly rediscovered itself at a time in the year when it's difficult to do so.
The Stags and Falcons traded goals for most of the first half. Air Force built an early three-goal advantage late in the first quarter, stringing together three tallies in a 2:03 stretch that featured three different goal scorers -- Mike Crampton, Kyle Cassady, and Keith Dreyer -- for the Falcons. Fairfield slowly climbed out of its hole over the course of the second quarter, leaning on Tristan Sperry and Colin McLinden -- each player had a goal and an assist in the period -- to create the combustion necessary to run with Air Force. Michael Roe sparked the Stags' rush, winning a draw and scoring a bucket with the ball lodged in the back of his stick; the tally came a mere seven seconds after Air Force went up 4-1. The teams would go into the intermission locked at five.
The third period would ultimately define the game: Air Force pounded in three goals in the quarter -- Christopher Allen sandwiched two goals around an Austin Smith tally -- to take an 8-5 advantage in the final period. Fairfield would regroup early in the fourth period, getting an Eric Warden man-up goal to cut the Stags' deficit to two, but Dreyer answered Fairfield's salvo with a goal 1:52 after Warden's conversion. The goal would serve as the game-winner, but Fairfield wasn't finished competing.
Sperry canned the ball past Doug Gouchoe -- who relieved Brett Dadiego at the half -- just 1:23 after Dreyer's hammer. McLindon would pull Fairfield within one under two minutes later on an unassisted tally. Then Gouchoe channeled his inner "Nope!" and crushed the Stags' soul: Gouchoe turned away an Alex Cramer shot with 1:17 remaining in regulation and followed that up with a stuff against Warden with nine seconds left in the game.
TRUNCATED ADVANCED BOX SCORE
|Raw Offensive Efficiency||33.33||29.63|
|Raw Offensive Shooting Rate||21.95%||23.53%|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.52||1.26|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||29.63||29.63|
|Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Possessions||18.52||35.19|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||40.74||25.93|
|Team Save Percentage||57.89%||43.75%|