Air Force Headed to First NCAA Tourney Since 1988
by Brett Amadon | LaxMagazine.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio - After running out to an early lead Saturday afternoon, Air Force withstood a late rally from No. 15 Fairfield to win the ECAC tournament championship, 9-8, and secure its first NCAA tournament berth since 1988.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Air Force coach Eric Seremet said. “I think we’ve taken a solid step forward as a program and we’re not done.”
Getting off to a quick start, Keith Dreyer got the Falcons on the board first after fellow attackman Tommy McKee found him cutting in front of the net.
Fairfield quickly responded as Bryan Barry collected the groundball on the ensuing face-off and fired a shot high that beat starting goalie Brett Dadiego.
However, led by Dreyer and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year Mike Crampton, the Falcons went on a three-goal run to take the lead 4-1.
Following Dreyer’s second goal of the game that extended the Falcon’s lead to three, Fairfield again took the face-off down for a score as midfielder Michael Roe won the face-off to himself and beat the Air Force defense to cut the lead to 4-2.
After trading goals to start the second quarter, Fairfield turned to its leading scorers in Colin McLinden and Tristan Sperry to bring the Stags back.
McLinden found the back of the cage first off a beautiful cross-crease pass from Sperry, who followed it up with an unassisted goal of his own with less than a minute to play in the first half to even the score at 5-5.
Yet, like they have done all season, Air Force switched goaltenders to begin the second half as they brought in sophomore Dough Gouchoe.
Gouchoe made four saves in the third quarter to hold the Stags scoreless while Christopher Allen scored two goals and Air Force was able to regain its three-goal lead at 8-5 heading into the fourth quarter.
Trailing 9-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Sperry and McLinden were finally able to solve Gouchoe and find the back of the net to cut the lead to one.
Forcing a turnover with less than a minute to play, T.J. Neubauer moved the ball up the field and found Eric Warden, who got off a shot with nine seconds to play, but Gouchoe made the biggest of his eight saves on the afternoon and was able to keep Fairfield away from the groundball as Air Force ran out the clock.
Fairfield head coach Andrew Copelan said he was proud of the way his team played but Air Force made a few more plays to earn the victory.
“We've got a special group of seniors,” Copelan said. “That one could have gone either way, I just don’t think we made enough plays. That third quarter is going to absolutely haunt me but I’m really proud of our team.”
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