WORCESTER, MASS.– Coming into the first round of this year's NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament, top-ranked Boston College had faced Air Force five times in their long history, winning every game. The last time the two teams squared off in December 2007, the Eagles blew out the Falcons 8-2.
On Saturday, BC, boasting the fifth-best offense in the nation, looked like a surefire lock to advance before the puck dropped. However, this 16th-seeded Air Force team was different than the one the Eagles had faced in years past..
Boston College junior Chris Kreider scored the first goal of the game 7:39 into the first period after a relentless offensive attack by the Eagles. But from that point on, it was clear that Air Force held its own well against the Hockey East champions.
"I thought that early in the first period, they were going to give us the knockout punch. Our guys were a little tentative, a little nervous, and luckily we got through it," said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore.
From the end of the first period, and throughout the second period, the team to score next would depend on whose defense broke first, but that didn't happen for either team. The Eagles went on an offensive barrage in the second period, but the Falcons defense and goalie Jason Torf were there to deny BC every time. The Eagles out-shot Air Force 11-4 in the second period, which was a fast-paced 20 minutes, highlighted by plenty of good scoring opportunities for the tournament's No. 1 seed.
"I thought there was a stretch in the second period where the play was just continuous, without whistles, to the point where I think all three TV timeouts had to come in the last four minutes. But during that stretch, we really got some outstanding chances," said Boston College head coach Jerry York.
But the Falcons were able to get off some good shots while keeping the Eagles at bay in their own zone.
"For the most part, we didn’t get a lot of Grade A chances, and they didn’t get a lot of second shots," said Serratore. "We had some opportunities. We could have scored some goals."
The BC defensive effort, led by junior goaltender Parker Milner, was phenomenal. Milner stopped all 20 shots he faced, and was the first netminder to shutout Air Force this season. But even with the shutout, Milner couldn't help but give credit to the Falcons' tenacity.
"I thought they were a really tough team to play against. I wouldn’t say that we weren’t expecting that, because we’d seen what they had done in the past couple of years in the tournament. They’d given tough games to every team that they played. It was an incredibly hard-working team and they made it really tough for us all night," Milner said.
Kreider also scored the Eagles other goal on the night, slipping it past Torf on an Eagles power play at 18:39 of the third period. Exactly 50 minutes of play separated Kreider's two scores. He is now tied for the team lead in goals with senior Barry Almeida at 22.
Coach York gave credit to his team's effort on defense, saying "we are an excellent defensive team," but said Air Force deserves credit for hanging with the Eagles.
"Not only have they been in five of the last six NCAA tournaments, but they’ve competed so well in all of the games they have played. They’ve proven on a national scale that they’re a team that can compete with anyone," said York.
BC will move on to the second round to face either the University of Minnesota-Duluth or the University of Maine, the latter setting up a potential Hockey East championship game re-match, on Sunday.