Two-time defending Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force was on the move and had climbed into second place in the Atlantic Hockey standings with the last month of the season commencing.
Then along came AIC.
Showing little regard for the recent fortunes of the Falcons or for their history, the Yellow Jackets went to the Air Force Academy last weekend and left, thanks in large measure to the goaltending of senior Ben Meisner, with three points.
“He gave us every opportunity to win,” AIC coach Gary Wright told the Colorado Gazette after his team tied Air Force 2-2 to open the series on Friday night.
He certainly did.
Meisner stopped 50 shots as his team was outshot by a whopping 52-23 margin.
Get this: Air Force outshot AIC 26-5 in the second period. Meisner stopped all 26 shots in the period and AIC scored the lone goal of the frame.
In the end, the Falcons needed a goal from sophomore Chad Demers with 2:51 left in regulation to get the tie and send it to overtime.
The teams went to overtime again on Saturday night and this time AIC completed the job
Senior forward Richard Leitner, with assists going to senior forward Adam Pleskach and senior defenseman Jeff Ceccacci, ended it with a game-winning goal 18 seconds into the extra session and the Yellow Jackets had their first-ever season series win over Air Force.
Meisner made 38 saves for Saturday’s win and along the way broke the Atlantic Hockey career saves mark previously held by Mercyhurst’s Ryan Zapolski, who closed out his career in 2011.
By the end of the night, Meisner’s league record total was up to 3,380.
Air Force had been 7-1-2 in its previous 10 league games.
“They came in here with a terrific game plan and punched us in the mouth,” said Falcon coach Frank Serratore at the close of the series.
“We have been playing better with five good efforts in the past six games,” Wright said on Friday night.
Saturday made six good efforts in the last seven.
The Yellow Jackets are 2-2-2 in their last half a dozen games and will try to build off their recent success in a home and home series with Army this weekend. The teams play at West Point on Friday and at AIC on Saturday.
Army is in a three-way tied for eighth place in the standings, one spot but seven points in front of the Yellow Jackets.
Air Force will try to regroup and gain back some ground in a series at Mercyhurst. The Lakers have moved into second-place and are three points in front of Air Force and Holy Cross, who are tied in third.
Player of the Week
Matt Grogan, G, sr., Connecticut
Grogan made 34 saves to lead the Huskies to a rare 3-1 win at RIT on Friday night. UConn won at RIT for just the second time in a dozen chances since the Tigers joined Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-07 season. Grogan leads the league with a 1.77 goals against average and .945 save percentage in all games and is undefeated in conference games at 5-0-2.
Games of the week
UConn at Bentley, Friday, and Bentley at UConn, Saturday
With a major snowstorm threatening to throw off the weekend schedule _ double check before hitting the road to your favorite rink _ Bentley and UConn have a home and home series on tap. Bentley holds a one-point lead on the Huskies in the league standings. Bentley is tied with Robert Morris for sixth place and UConn is in a three-way battle with RIT and Army for eighth. The Falcons won the first game in the season series, 3-1, at home on Nov. 17.
1. Niagara (17-4-5, 16-1-2) . . . The Purple Eagles kept rolling with a 2-1 and 6-4 sweep of Bentley and ran its unbeaten streak at home to 17 games. Junior forward Ryan Murphy scored a pair of goals and had an assist in Saturday’s win. Niagara and rival Canisius go at it this weekend: at Canisius on Thursday and at Niagara on Saturday.
2. Mercyhurst (14-10-2, 12-6-1) . . . After playing to a 1-1 against Army, the Lakers exploded for a pair of 8-1 wins over Army on Saturday and at Robert Morris on Tuesday. Sophomore forward Ryan Misiak had a hat trick on Saturday and scored a short-handed winning goal on Tuesday. Mercyhurst hosts Air Force this weekend.
3. Holy Cross (14-10-2, 10-7-2) . . . Junior forward Shayne Stockton scored a pair of goals and freshman defenseman Karl Beckman had a goal and an assist as the Crusaders rebounded from a 3-0 on loss Saturday with a 5-1 win over Canisius on Sunday. The Crusaders play a home-and-home series with Sacred Heart this weekend.
4. Air Force (11-10-6, 9-6-4) . . . Sophomore Chad Demers scored with 2:51 left in the third period to lift the Falcons into a 2-2 tie with AIC on Friday night. There was no catching up the next night and Air Force fell, 2-1. The Falcons are 1-6 in games decided by a single goal this season.
5. Canisius (10-13-5, 9-8-2) . . . Junior forward Kyle Gibbons scored three of the four Canisius goals in a split with Holy Cross. He has at least a point in nine straight games and leads the Griffs at 14-8-22. League-leading Niagara is at Canisius on Thursday and the teams play at Niagara on Saturday.
6. Robert Morris (14-10-2, 9-9-1) . . . The Colonials swept a pair of games at home against Sacred Heart and then were routed at home, 8-1, by Mercyhurst on Tuesday. Senior forward Adam Brace had a goal and five assists in the Sacred Heart series and leads the Colonials at 10-17-27. RIT is at Robert Morris on Friday and Saturday.
7. Bentley (11-13-1, 9-9-1) . . . The Falcons were swept for the first time this season in a pair of close games, 2-1 and 6-4, at Niagara and have lost their last three. They hope to turn things around this weekend against UConn. Juniors Justin Breton (Fitchburg, Mass.) and Brett Gensler and sophomore Andrew Gladiuk each has scored a dozen goals.
8. UConn (11-12-3, 8-9-2) . . . The Huskies and RIT settled nothing with a weekend split. They went into the weekend tied for eighth place and came out of it still tied for eighth, joined by Army. Now UConn takes on Bentley in a home and home series. Bentley is tied for sixth, a point ahead of the Huskies. UConn dropped the first meeting, 3-1.
9. RIT (9-12-5, 7-8-4) . . . The Tigers bounced back from a 3-1 loss at home to UConn on Friday night with a 7-1 win on Saturday. Sophomore Anthony Hamburg contributed a goal and two assists to the triumph. RIT plays a pair at Robert Morris this weekend. The Colonials, tied for sixth, are a point ahead of RIT, tied for eighth, in the standings.
10. Army (7-13-4, 7-8-4) . . .The Black Knights collected a point with a 1-1 tie against Mercyhurst on Friday, but lost the rematch, 8-1, on Saturday and are now 0-5-2 in their last seven games. They have AIC at home on Friday night and are at AIC on Saturday. Army won the first game in the season series at AIC, 3-2, on Dec. 1.
11. AIC (6-14-5, 3-11-5) . . . Senior forward Richard Leitner contributed three points and senior goalie Ben Meisner stopped 88 of 91 shots to lead AIC to a three-point weekend at Air Force. Leitner assisted on the first goal and scored the game-winner in overtime in AIC’s 2-1 triumph on Saturday. AIC plays Army in a pair of games this weekend.
12. Sacred Heart (0-24-2, 0-17-2) . . . Senior forward Eric Delong scored a power play goal each night and added three assists in a series against Robert Morris. The Pioneers scored three goals on Friday and four on Saturday for their best total for a weekend this season. Problem was, Robert Morris scored six and seven for a sweep.
Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.