The Falcons did it again.
Air Force captured its second straight and fifth Atlantic Hockey Association tournament championship in the past six years last weekend at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., and advances to another NCAA tournament.
The fourth-seeded Falcons take on No. 1 Boston College in the opening game of the Northeast Regional on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.
“They’ve done well,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall. “They’re deep and they have the ability and the experience and they expect to be there. They expect to win those big games. We’re all trying to get to that point.”
Air Force knocked off Mercyhurst, 5-2, in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals and stopped RIT, 4-0, in a rematch of the 2011 title game. Last year, goaltender Jason Torf, then a freshman, outdueled RIT goalie Shane Madolora for a 1-0 win.
This time, Torf, who had been pulled from the first two games of Air Force’s quarterfinal series against UConn and didn’t play the third, made 34 saves for the shutout.
“We outshot them (34-27), but a lot of our shots were from the perimeter,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “We had no second shots. No rebounds. We were one and done. They didn’t give us anything.”
The Tigers were done for the season and the Falcons moved on again.
“This is a great credit to our kids,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said after the game. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. In order to be a champion, you have to be able to come from behind and you have to be able win on the road, and this team has done that. You also have to have the ability to win close games. It all starts with our defense. We defended very well.”
Air Force will have its hands full with Boston College, the top seed in the tournament and No. 1-ranked team in the country. The Eagles have won 15 straight games and rolled through the Hockey East tournament.
They are also likely to be especially wary of a team from Colorado Springs.
Last season, Boston College entered the tournament as the defending NCAA champion with a 30-7-1 record and the top seed in the West Regional.
The Eagles took on fourth-seeded Colorado College, 22-18-3, in a first-round game in St. Louis. BC scored 19 seconds into the game, but trailed 4-1 when the first period ended. CC won the game, 8-4.
Defending champion Minnesota-Duluth faces Maine in the other semifinal in Worcester and the winners of the two semis meet Sunday night for the regional title and a berth in the Frozen Four.
Air Force hopes to match RIT’s 2010 regional performance. The Tigers beat Denver, 2-1, and New Hampshire, 6-2, in Albany, N.Y., to become the first Atlantic Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four.
Air Force lost to Yale, 2-1 in overtime, in its first-round game in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., last March.
In 2009, the Falcons beat Michigan, 2-0, in the first round of the East Regional in Bridgeport and lost a heartbreaker to Vermont, 3-2 in double overtime, in the regional final.
Game of the Week
Northeast Regional semifinals
No. 4 Air Force vs. No. 1 Boston College, Saturday
The winners of the Atlantic Hockey and Hockey East championships meet in a first-round game in the Northeast Regional championship in Worcester, Mass. on Saturday.
BC owns a record of 29-10-1 and is the overall top seed in the tournament. The Falcons are at 21-10-7. The other semifinal in Worcester pits defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth (24-9-6) against Maine (23-13-3).
The two winners play in the regional final on Sunday at 8 p.m. with a berth in the Frozen Four on the line.
Atlantic Hockey power rankings
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.