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Air Force, goalie Starrett end Army’s hockey season

By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record | Published: March 18, 2017

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — As Army got better and better on offense in the third period of Friday's Atlantic Hockey semifinal playoff with Air Force, desperately seeking a tying goal in a 1-0 game, coach Brian Riley caught himself looking to the red goal light, waiting for a game-tying signal that never came.

Air Force goalie Shane Starrett made that possible with an incredible third-period performance of 12 saves as the Falcons escaped with the shutout victory in Rochester. Most noticeable was a shoulder stop on a quick shot by C.J. Reuschlein with just over four minutes to play.

"Shane Starrett was ridiculous in probably the last 10 minutes of the game,'' Air Force assistant coach Joe Doyle said. "They had three, four, five Grade A chances. He was unbelievable. There's no other way to put it. ... There were some major-league saves there down the stretch.''

Army's season comes to a close with a semifinal loss for the second year in a row. The Black Knights, two wins from their first NCAA tournament berth, finished 18-14-5.

No. 17 Air Force (25-9-5) plays Robert Morris, a semifinal winner over Canisius, in Saturday's championship. The Falcons are No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings that determine the NCAA tourney field, so even a loss might not keep them out.

The playoff was a matchup of Atlantic Hockey all-star goalies: Army's Parker Gahagen was named second team and Starrett was third team.

"If you told me beforehand that Air Force would score only one goal, I thought we would be in great shape,'' Riley said. "In the third period, we threw everything at him (Starrett) and fought for our lives.''

The first period was a bit lackluster compared to the next two. Air Force forced the issue in the middle stanza and it resulted in the lone goal by Ben Kucera off a rebound at 11:03. Defenseman Johnny Hrabovsky broke in from the left circle and got a shot off that Gahagen made a kick save with his left leg. The puck bounced out into the slot and Kucera raced in between three Army players to knock home the rebound.

"They did a good job getting to the net,'' Army captain Ryan Nick said of the scoring play.

Gahagen said he didn't feel hampered by his lower-body injury suffered four weeks ago and re-aggravated in Sunday's game 3 quarterfinal win over Mercyhurst.

"I convinced myself I was 100 percent,'' Gahagen said. "I didn't feel any tweaks. Last week I felt a few. I think having the injury kind of helps simplify my game more. It actually helped me improve.''

Riley thanked his senior class. "Your legacy ... you always want to leave a place better than when you left here, and man oh man, our seniors did that,'' Riley said.

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©2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
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Dan Bailey, a sophomore, drives towards the goal as the Air Force Falcons played an exhibition hockey game at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Oct. 3, 2016.
JASON GUTIERREZ/U.S. AIR FORCE

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