We're just under 24 hours away from Boston College's opening round matchup with the Air Force Falcons, and the Gazette's Brian Gomez was nice enough to sit down with us to talk Falcons hockey. Brian has a game preview up on the Gazette as well, so be sure to get your game primer from the opponents perspective.
BC Interruption: Even among the diehard hockey fans here at BC, the AHA is a bit off the radar -- especially Air Force, playing out west in the Atlantic border state of Colorado. How would you describe this Air Force team? What's its identity?
Brian Gomez: Like previous Air Force teams, this group isn't going to blow you away with its talent. There are no NHL draft picks. There aren't a lot of high-end skill players. There are a bunch of hard-working guys who are capable of thriving in multiple roles, and that's what has made Air Force successful. The Falcons can light up the scoreboard behind Kyle De Laurell and John Kruse, but their strength is their defense, as Tim Kirby and Scott Mathis often bottle up opponents. Plus, despite a limited body of work because he was injured, Jason Torf has shown that he's capable of being dominant in goal.
BCI: All joking aside, the Atlantic Hockey Association conference has quite the footprint, with Air Force playing some 1,500 miles away from the rest of the teams in its conference. I have this image in my head of the entire Air Force team en route to Storrs, each in their own F-16... Now that's a "Flying V"! Does it affect the team at all having to travel so much over the course of the season? Is it a benefit to them that they are flying out east again for the regionals, or does it really not matter at all?
BG: No matter which regional Air Force was assigned, the Falcons were going to have to travel quite a distance. Commuting a long ways has become old hat for Air Force, which has spent nine weekends in the Eastern time zone this season. Returning to the East Coast isn't necessarily an advantage for the Falcons, and it's not a disadvantage either. Air Force is 10-6-5 away from Colorado Springs - it's a team that's comfortable on the road. And a charter flight for Air Force made life a heck of a lot less stressful.
BCI: Boston College almost played Air Force in the beginning of the season, at the Ice Breaker in North Dakota. The Falcons had about as good an 0-2 weekend as you could hope for, losing by just a goal to NCAA tournament teams North Dakota and Michigan State. How has Air Force evolved as a team over the course of the season since that opening weekend?
BG: Air Force is a completely different team since then. It's considerably improved on defense, doing a much better job of keeping the other team's playmakers on the perimeter and cutting off prime scoring chances. It has become a lot more balanced on offense, not always relying on just De Laurell and Kruse, with increased production from Stephen Carew, Chad Demers, Jason Fabian, Cole Gunner and Casey Kleisinger. And it has developed Stephen Caple as a viable backup to Torf - when Torf struggled in the AHA quarterfinals against Connecticut, Caple relieved him. Also, longtime coach Frank Serratore has again taken a hands-off approach during practice down the stretch, turning over the reins to his top assistant, Mike Corbett, in hopes of generating a spark.
BCI: Air Force may be a heavy favorite in this matchup, but you know BC's Jerry York will have the Eagles respecting the ability of the Falcons. What do you have to say to some of the BC fans who might already be looking past this game to a potential matchup with the defending champion UMD Bulldogs or a rematch with the Maine Black Bears?
BG: Don't underestimate Air Force, especially in the NCAA Tournament. While Air Force never has reached the Frozen Four, it never goes down without a fight. Just look at 2009, when the Falcons stunned Michigan 2-0 in an NCAA Tournament opener. Their four losses in the NCAA Tournament have all been by one goal - 2-1 against Yale in overtime in 2011; 3-2 against Vermont in double overtime in 2009; 3-2 against Miami in overtime in 2008; and 4-3 against Minnesota in 2007. The Falcons are 14-5 in elimination games since they joined the AHA in the 2006-07 season, and they know how to handle pressure.
BCI: How do fans of Air Force feel going into this game? Are they flying high after a run to the AHA title, or is there a feeling that they are flying into a storm coming into the match with BC (and forgive the puns!)? Can there even be a sense of "we're just happy to be here" anymore after RIT's run to the Frozen Four in 2010?
BG: Air Force fans are genuinely confident that the Falcons can make the Frozen Four. They admit, however, that the road isn't going to be easy. Boston College is not only among the best in the country on offense and defense, its penalty kill is fantastic, its power play is very strong, it has a super-hot goaltender in Parker Milner and it boasts a trio of explosive scorers in Barry Almeida, Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau. It's hard to bet against a team that has won 15 straight games, as well as two of the past four national titles. And even if Air Force upsets Boston College, defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth or Maine certainly isn't going to roll over. But Air Force is just as good as it has been in the past, and instead of playing to survive, instead of just trying to hang on until the end of a game, the Falcons can dictate a lot more, control the game a lot more. They honestly think they can beat Boston College - and advance even farther.
BCI: Alright, let's cut to the chase: What's your prediction for the game?
BG: Boston College 4, Air Force 2. If Air Force gets off to a hot start, it could stay in the game. The Falcons must win the special-teams battle, and they can't afford to let Boston College gain early momentum in front of the home crowd. Of course, Torf also must be on his game. I think Boston College simply has too many weapons, and it seems like every time that the Eagles play a regional in Worcester, they advance to the Frozen Four.
For more information on the Air Force Falcons hockey program, be sure to check out the Colorado Springs Gazette. BC takes on Air Force tomorrow at 4pm in Worcester. Go Eagles!