College hockey notes: Air Force climbs rankings, Serratore savoring championship
Falcons ranked 15th in national poll
Air Force climbed up to No. 15 in Monday's national poll for its highest rating since reaching No. 11 during the 2008-09 season. It is the seventh-straight week in the poll and eighth this season for the Falcons (26-9-5).
More importantly, the Falcons are the 12th overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and a third seed in the East Regional in Providence, R.I. where they face eighth-ranked Western Michigan at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Friday.
Denver repeated as No. 1 in the poll used by The Associated Press and The Gazette. East regional top seed Harvard is ranked second while its opponent, Providence, is 13th.
Air Force player of the week
Atlantic Hockey Conference tournament Most Valuable Player Shane Starrett is also this week's Gazette Air Force player of the week.
The Bellingham, Mass., native recorded his fifth shutout this season (second in the playoffs) in Friday's 1-0 semifinal win over Army and made 24 saves in Saturday's 2-1 championship victory.
Serratore: Tougher Atlantic Hockey makes this title one to savor
After a five-year hiatus from the NCAAs, Air Force coach Frank Serratore appreciates Saturday's championship even more now that the 11-team league is no longer as top-heavy.
"It's so much harder now," Serratore said. "In the past, we knew if we finished in the top four, we'd probably get (to the league semifinals), but now getting out of the quarterfinals is much tougher."
"We won so many so quickly," he said of the five tourney titles in six years from 2007-12. "This one is special, especially after you haven't won in years."
That is more than just coach speak. This season, Atlantic Hockey's nonconference record moved up to fifth out of six leagues for the first time by passing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with a better record (17-40-2, .333 wins percentage) to 17-47-5 (.283) for the WCHA, which went 3-3 against Atlantic teams. Air Force was 3-3-2 against nonleague foes during the regular season.
"It's not going to get any easier," Serratore said. "But one thing I know with service academy kids, they'll never let you down when it comes to effort. It's a big reason we are 6-0 (in AHC title games in Rochester, N.Y.)."
Five teams have no players with NCAA Tournament experience entering this weekend, including Air Force and Western Michigan. The other three rookie squads are Cornell, Ohio State and Penn State, which is coached by Colorado College alumnus Guy Gadowsky. . Only three senior classes - Denver, defending NCAA champ North Dakota and Providence - have made the NCAAs all four years. . Half the tournament field (eight of 16 teams) played in the NCAAs last spring. . Hockey East and the NCHC both qualified four teams for the NCAAs followed by three each for the ECAC and Big Ten. Both the Big Ten and NCHC (combined 14 teams) had half their teams make it. The WCHA and AHC (23 teams total) both qualified one.
JOE PAISLEY, THE GAZETTE