March 9, 2012
USAFA, Colo. - The UConn men's hockey team dropped the first of a best-of-three series on Friday night at Air Force, 4-3. Connecticut had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 but failed to hold on for the victory. The two teams will play game two on Saturday night at Air Force beginning at 7:05 p.m. ET.
The loss dropped UConn to 15-18-4 while No. 19 Air Force improved to 20-9-7 with the victory.
UConn goaltender Garrett Bartus (St. Charles, Ill.) finished with 38 saves. Air Force started Jason Torf was pulled 2:12 into the third and finished with eight saves. Stephen Caple came on for the final 17:48 and finished with 10 stops to earn the victory.
The Huskies are looking to become just the first team in AHA history to win a playoff series against Air Force in Colorado since the Falcons joined the AHA in 2006-07. Coming into the weekend, teams were a combined 0-5 in playoff series and 9-1 in all-time playoff games at Air Force.
The Huskies had two leads in the contest but failed to maintain the advantages, allowing Air Force to skate away with the 4-3 victory in front a packed house of 2,529 fans.
Air Force forward Kyle De Laurell put home the game-winning goal at 12:26. De Laurell fought through a pair of UConn defensemen in the slot and managed a spinning backhand in front of the UConn net that beat Bartus low to put the Falcons ahead for good, 4-3.
Connecticut set the tone with a successful penalty kill in the opening minutes and road that momentum into the game's opening goal. The Huskies took a boarding penalty 23 seconds into the game but held the Falcons without a shot for the duration of the penalty kill.
An unlikely source gave UConn the early edge 3:15 into the contest. Freshman Brad Smith (Trenton, Mich.) picked off a pass in the neutral zone, skated behind the net and finished a wrap-around at the back post for his first career goal.
Air Force responded with a well-placed wrist shot from Scott Holm at 6:11. Holm skated into the UConn zone and fired the puck over the left shoulder of Bartus from the slot.
Air Force had the majority of the possession in the first period leading to a 12-3 edge in shots, but the two teams went into the locker room tied, 1-1.
Sophomore Billy Latta (West Chester, Pa.) gave the Huskies their second lead of the night at 6:30 with his 10th goal of the season. Latta battled behind the Air Force net and created space before skating in front from the left side of the cage and slipping the puck into the far post. Assists on the play went to freshman Cody Sharib (Needham, Mass.) and senior Chris Waterstradt (Tulsa, Okla.).
Bartus kept the Huskies ahead with a trio of great saves 12:16 into the second period, including one on his back reaching back across the goal line.
Despite being outshot throughout the period, it looked as though the Huskies would end the middle stanza ahead, 2-1, until an Air Force surge in the final minutes. The Falcons put home two quick goals in a 23-second span beginning at 17:47 to take a 3-2 lead. Holm took a shot from the right face-off circle that was blocked by Connecticut defenseman at the top of the crease. The rebound fell to Ryan Timar who beat Bartus from the slot to make it 2-2.
The Falcons took the lead for the first time with another rebound goal at 18:10. Casey Kleisinger picked up a loose puck at the left face-off circle after a save from Bartus and hit a one-timer glove side to go ahead, 3-2.
The Huskies found the equalizer off the stick of senior defenseman Brad Cooper (Boca Raton, Fla.) at 2:12. Cole Schneider won a faceoff at the left point back to Cooper. Cooper snapped a shot through traffic from the left point that found its way past Torf. The goal was Cooper's fourth of the season with Cole Schneider earning his 20th assist on the equalizer.
De Laurell's individual effort at 12:26 would stand as the game-winner.
The Huskies had chances the remaining 7:34 but failed to find the equalizer. Billy Latta had the best of those chances with 2:13 remaining but a backhanded attempt at the left doorstep went inches wide.