Air Force begins rebuilding process
One thing’s for certain: Air Force Academy head coach Frank Serratore tells it like it is.
After the Falcons finished 16-21-4 last season – their first losing campaign since 2005-06 – Serratore labeled the disappointment “the end of an era.”
“There weren’t a lot of positives to take out of last season,” said Serratore, who’s been at the helm of the Falcons since the 1997-98 season. “Our seniors that graduated were the last players to win championship rings (from the 2011-12 Atlantic Hockey regular-season and playoff tournament championships) and, going into next year, we’re turning a page, starting a new chapter, beginning a new era at Air Force.
“I’m not excited about that, but we’re excited to turn the page.”
From 2006-12, Air Force won a pair of regular-season Atlantic Hockey titles and five playoff crowns, which earned the Falcons an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Serratore said moving forward, he’s hopeful the large freshmen and sophomore classes can run with the opportunities they’ll be afforded and bring Air Force back to the top of the heap in its conference.
“We’ve never had to rebuild like this; we’ve simply reloaded for the past eight years,” Serratore said. “We’ve had down recruiting classes the past two years for whatever reason, but now I hope we can start to see the depth within our roster and make next season what I like to call a foundation year.
“We only have a couple juniors and a couple seniors and two freshmen goalies, so it’ll be up to the players if we want to win.”
Gone from last season’s squad are the team’s top three scorers in Cole Gunner, Chad Demers and Scott Holm. Junior A.J. Reid and sophomore Erik Baskin each potted 10 goals last season and both return. Forwards Ben Carey and Max Hartner will be the lone seniors back in Colorado Springs next fall and will captain the team.
In net, sophomore Chris Truehl and freshmen Connor Girard and Austin Priebe have all left the Academy, leaving two incoming freshmen (Shane Starrett and Billy Christopoulous) to battle for time between the pipes.
“You can win with a freshman goaltender,” said Serratore. “Andrew Volkening took us to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and Jason Torf did it in 2011, so it can be done. On paper, we’ll have a young team next season and we won’t have a pile of older players.”
Still, even with the Falcons’ lack of experience, Serratore isn’t trying to “paint a gloom-and-doom picture.”
“On the ice, we’ll be expecting a lot from our freshmen and sophomores and that’ll be fun in terms of the building process,” said Serratore. “Like always seems to be the case, I think we’ll be a better team in the second half, but when you look at next season, it’ll be one where we start to lay the groundwork, to establish ourselves once again as a championship contender.”
With Air Force not presenting the typical college experience, both on and off the ice, school starts for the cadets in early August. Then, the hockey season kicks off in October and runs into the spring.
“I think the rigors of the Academy itself far outweigh the rigors of the hockey here,” Serratore noted.
Overall, Serratore is optimistic about the Falcons’ chances in 2015-16.
“Once the freshmen fill in and identify their roles, we’ll hopefully all be on the same page,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but right now we have one eye on the present and one eye on the future.”
– Matt Mackinder