January 9, 2014

Air Force-Army series 'so much bigger than the games'

By Jahsvina Shah


Air Force goalie Jason Torf -- who missed his team's recent two-game set against AIC -- hopes to take part in his fourth season series against historic rival Army this weekend.
 

On Jan. 15, 2011, Army senior Cody Omilusik was cut by a slash. Instead of leaving the game against Air Force, the forward was stitched up by his dad. He returned and scored three goals in the match, including the game-winning, empty-net tally.

That game took place before freshman C.J. Reuschlein joined Army, but he’s heard the tale.

“That kind of shows the passion the guys play through in this rivalry,” Reuschlein said.

Junior Mac Lalor, ready for his fifth game against the Falcons, said he remembers his freshman year contest the most.

The Black Knights were trailing 3-2 in the third period on Jan. 20, 2012, when senior Mark Dube scored a shorthanded tally to knot the game at 3-3. The match ended in a tie, the fifth in the all-time series.

“There seemed to be a lot more hits thrown, the intensity seemed to be thrown up a notch, which was actually, I loved it,” Lalor said. “It’s a great game to play.”

Air Force forward Cole Gunner said the same game stands out to him -- because the Minnesota native broke his arm during the tie.

“I think it’s unreal,” Gunner said of the atmosphere. “I think there’s a lot of respect out there between both teams, but we also definitely want to beat the crap out of each other and try to get the win no matter what happens.”

Air Force leads the all-time series 32-20-5, although Army records list the Black Knights with 22 wins against the Falcons. The discrepancy dates to 1969, when the teams played twice. Air Force counted the pair as exhibition games while Army reported them as regular-season contests.

Each year, the teams alternate between Tate Rink at West Point, N.Y. and Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. At Tate, where the teams will play on Friday and Saturday, the Black Nights are 13-11-2.

“You’ll have alumni flying in, guys I played with my freshman year, they’re coming in and it’s just a lot of anticipation,” Lalor said. “You can just feel it.”

Tickets for Saturday’s contest at Tate Rink are already sold out.

“It’s just like a homecoming,” Lalor said. “You have all these alumni coming in and all these people sending coach emails telling him, ‘Beat Air Force.’ You can just feel the intensity of the game.”

The Falcons are in their 46th season of hockey, while the Black Knights are playing in their 108th season. Army is one of 13 NCAA schools with over 1,000 wins, a feat the Black Knights accomplished on Nov. 11, 2005 -- against Air Force.

The series started in 1976, initially for bragging rights. But in 2006-07 the teams became Atlantic Hockey rivals, and they play for four points each year.

“It’s as intense a rivalry you can find in college hockey,” Army head coach Brian Riley said.  “But when the game’s over, you really have two teams that are ultimately playing for the same team.”

After the contest, the teams stick salute the fans -- together.

“Both schools fight for our country,” Gunner said.

“No matter what happens at the end of the game we’re always standing at center ice and raising our sticks to the fans. I think it’s something that not many schools experience.”

Then seniors from both teams then take the red line, leaving remaining Army and Air Force players on their respective blue lines as the alma maters play. On Saturday night, once the series is over, the teams eat together.

“If you want to be thoroughly entertained for 60 minutes and then at the end of the game view a scene that’s going to bring tears to your eyes, that’s what our series is about,” Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said.

“This series is so much bigger than the games.”

While Army was established in 1802, and Air Force was founded in 1954, both schools aim to produce leaders and officers in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“These are some of the finest young men that this country has to offer,” Riley said. “To watch them when they stand at attention during the National Anthem, I think you can gain a real understanding of truly how special these young men are.

“Anybody who comes and watches will certainly be proud knowing that these are young men who are going to be leaders. It’s the cadets from Air Force and West Point [who] make the rivalry. For me to be able to coach these guys is very, very rewarding and very humbling at the same time.”

Army seniors Brian Schultz and Mike Santee will serve in the U.S. Army’s infantry branch and the Corps of Engineers, respectively. Upon graduating Air Force Academy, cadets become second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.

“For Army-Air Force ultimately what you have is guys who, most of them aren’t going to play in the NHL,” Riley said. “They’re going to serve their country and I think they’re all special young men and tremendous leaders of character.

“The young men on each team are difference-makers in the world that we live in as a result of them serving their country.”

Notes

  • Canisius’ Ralph Cuddemi’s three points on Friday were a career high.

  • Kimberly Newell allowed one goal over the weekend, recording a 0.50 goals-against average as the Tigers swept the Huskies. She was named the ECAC Goaltender of the Week.

  • Colgate defeated Ferris State for the second time this season to claim the Mariucci Classic title.

  • Lauren Walsh was named the ECAC Player of the Week after recording a hat trick, RPI’s first in three years.

  • Paula Voorheis -- the ECAC Rookie of the Week -- posted her first shutout.

Player of the Week

Charlie Finn, G, Colgate

Finn was named the Mariucci Classic MVP, where he made 55 saves and allowed two goals. He posted a shutout against Ferris State in the title game and recorded a 0.96 goals-against average over the weekend. His performance earned him the ECAC Goaltender and Rookie of the Week Awards.

Game of the Week

Army vs. Air Force, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10 and 11

The rivalry is back and tickets for Saturday’s game were sold out before Monday afternoon. In the past eight games, the Falcons are 5-1-2 over the Black Knights. While only five games have ended in ties, three of them happened in the past four years.

N.Y./N.J. Power Rankings

1. Union (12-3-3, 8-1-0 ECAC)

Freshman Eli Lichtenwald has netted at least one point over the past five games.

2. Colgate (8-9-3, 5-3-1 ECAC)

Mike Borkowski, Colgate’s leading scorer, netted two points in the Mariucci Classic. He now has 20 points on the season, surpassing his total from last year.

3. Clarkson (12-6-2, 6-2-0 ECAC)

The Golden Knights are on their longest winless streak and haven’t won in the past four games (0-3-1).

4. Cornell (8-4-3, 4-3-2 ECAC)

This season, 44.2 percent of Cornell’s goals have come from the power play -- the third highest percentage in the country.

5. St. Lawrence (8-9-2, 2-4-2 ECAC)

St. Lawrence’s eight goals in the last minute of a period are tied for most in the country.

6. Rensselaer (8-8-4, 3-3-3 ECAC)

Ryan Haggerty -- who leads the nation in goals -- was kept scoreless at the Mariucci Classic, snapping a five-game point streak.

7. Princeton (3-14-0, 2-8-0 ECAC)

The Tigers played in the Great Northwest Showcase over the weekend, the program’s first-ever trip to British Columbia.

8. Niagara (4-11-3, 4-4-3 AHA)

Saturday’s win marked the first time all season the Purple Griffins netted two power play tallies.

9. Canisius (7-10-1, 6-4-1 AHA)

The Griffins swept Holy Cross in a weekend for the first time since Jan. 7-8, 2000.

10. RIT (6-9-3, 5-5-1 AHA)

The Tigers had their six-game unbeaten streak snapped after losing two straight to UConn, Mike Rotolo’s first collegiate losses.

11. Army (3-14-0, 3-10-0 AHA)

Last Friday’s game at Tate Rink was No. 500.

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