Feb 19, 2011 2:37 AM
ERIE, Pa. - Air Force scored three goals in the final 2:06 of the third period for a 5-3 win over Mercyhurst in an Atlantic Hockey Association game Friday at the Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, Pa. Air Force improves to 13-11-6 overall and 11-7-6 in the AHA. Mercyhurst fell to 13-14-4 overall and 11-11-2 in the league. With the two points, Air Force now has 28 in league play and remains in fifth place. However, Air Force moved to within one point of Robert Morris, Niagara and Holy Cross who are all tied for second. The Falcons also moved four points ahead of Mercyhurst.
Mercyhurst defenseman Nate Jensen opened the scoring at the 8:38 mark of the first period on the power play. Taylor Holstrom and Scott Pitt assisted as Jensen scored his first career goal with a slap shot from the point.
Air Force battled back to take a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. The Falcons got on the board at the 8:47 mark when freshman Casey Kleisinger scored his third of the season. Defenseman Adam McKenzie sent a pass from the left point to Kleisinger who snuck in on the backdoor to tie the game at 1-1. Paul Weisgarber also assisted on the goal. Just over a minute later, Air Force tied the game when freshman Tony Thomas scored on the power play. Thomas' sixth of the season was a tip-in at 9:27. McKenzie and Kruse also assisted as the Falcons took a 2-1 lead. Mercyhurst capitalized on a Falcon turnover to tie the game at 2-2 at 14:46. After the turnover, Nick Jones picked up the loose puck in the slot and his shot through traffic slipped past Falcon goalie Jason Torf.
Mercyhurst took a 3-2 lead with just over five minutes left in the third period. Paul Chiasson skated down the left side and took a shot that was saved. As the puck sat on Torf's pad, Chiasson drove the net and punched in the rebound at the 14:27 mark. Air Force tied the game with 2:06 remaining when Jason Fabian took a wrister from the left circle that hit off of the goaltender and went in to tie the game at 3-3. Fabian's eighth of the season was assisted by Weisgarber and Kleisinger. Just 49 seconds later, Kruse scored the game-winner with 1:17 left. Kruse skated the puck down the left side and took a shot that was saved. As Fabian battled down low, Kruse collected the rebound and netted his ninth of the year. Just after the goal, Mercyhurst pulled its goaltender in favor of the extra skater. However, it was Air Force that scored as senior Scott Kozlak scored an empty-netter from the red line to seal the 5-3 win with 23 seconds left.
"We played hard the whole game but we played a little sloppy and loose," head coach Frank Serratore said. "Jason Torf was outstanding tonight. All in all, I have a deep-seated respect for the competitive spirit of our kids. How many times can our kids come of the mat? The game ended and I'm thinking ‘what just happened'. Our kids never quit. But we have to tighten things up . We can't have the kind of breakdowns we had tonight, especially against the gifted offensive players that Mercyhurst has. I thought our battle level was really good and I thought we were the better team tonight."
Air Force outshot Mercyhurst, 44-43, in the game. Torf had a career high 40 saves while Ryan Zapolski had 39 for the Lakers. AFA was 1-for-3 on the power play. Mercyhurst was 1-for-5, but Air Force killed the final four Laker man-advantages.
Air Force and Mercyhurst conclude the two-game league series on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.