Las Vegas, NV — Of all the collegiate hockey teams in the country, only Arizona State is closer to Las Vegas than the Air Force Academy. When the opportunity arose, Head Coach Frank Serratore “Jumped all over that. Playing in Las Vegas is a special opportunity and I didn’t want to pass that up.” As a result, the Falcons drew the St. Lawrence Saints in the first matchup between the teams since a December Tournament held at RPI back in 1978, and flexed their offensive muscles.
From the jump, Air Force dictate pace and tempo. They drew a Jeff Clarke cross-checking minor early and didn’t capitalize. Minutes later, Andrew McIntyre took an interference minor and the Falcons swooped in for the kill. Evan Feno shot a puck from the slot and Matt Koch redirected the puck through St. Lawrence starting goalie Daniel Mannella. The Falcons won the first-period shots 9-7 and maintained the lead into the intermission.
The second period heavily mirrored the first. Air Force again won the shots, 10-5 this time, and got the only goal of the frame on a power play. At the period’s halfway mark, Jacob Nielsen sat for a slashing minor. Eighteen seconds into the power play, Evan Giesler tracked a rebound off Mannella following a Kyle Haak shot. The senior from Naperville, IL, deposited the puck in the net to extend the lead to 2-0 before the second long breather.
This game jumped the shark in the third period. Air Force outshot St. Lawrence 11-6 and landed four goals. Andrew McIntyre took his second minor of the game 1:52 into the third. Nine seconds later, Haak and Giesler combined for Giesler’s second goal of the night and a 3-0 lead. Shortly thereafter, Brady Tomlak chucked Jacob Nielson hard into the boards and was slapped with a 5 minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct. The Falcons did not panic and managed to kill the entire major without surrendering a goal.
After the frame’s mid-point, Kieran Durgan punched home a smooth Dan Bailey feed in front for his eighth goal of the season and fourth Air Force goal of the night. Fourteen seconds later, Evan Feno scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season after knifing through the Larry’s defense.
Under a minute later, Kyle Haak tipped in a Matt Koch pass on the power play and extended the lead to 6-0. Mark Morris’ squad got one goal back when Cade Gleekel redirected an excellent pass from the circle to the doorstep through Billy Christopolous. But Air Force got the last laugh when Walker Sommer drove and sliced through the defense to stake the Falcons to a 7-1 final.
St. Lawrence drops to 3-13-1 after the fourth time they’ve allowed four goals or more. Daniel Mannella faced 25 shots and allowed five goals. Back up Arthur Brey replaced Mannella after Feno’s goal and faced only five shots, allowing the final two Falcons goals. The Skating Saints face UConn on Saturday in the Ice Vegas Invitational’s consolation game. Puck drops at 5 pm PT from T-Mobile Arena.
Evan Giesler and Evan Feno recorded Air Force’s first four and five point games this season respectively. Giesler posted two goals and two assists, his second straight multi-point game, and best career game. Evan Feno scored a goal and piled up four assists, doubling his season total from before the game. Kyle Haak, the top cadet of the entire senior class at the Academy, posted his second three-point game of the season.
Goaltender Billy Christopolous faced 18 shots and stopped 17 of them, the fewest shots faced and saves on the season.
Air Force improves to 11-7-1. They will face the Western Michigan Broncos for the Tournament Championship at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night. Puck drops at 8:30 pm PT.