2022 Army vs Air Force - Men's

Air Force Hockey "Orchestra" Quickly Gaining Experience In Atlantic Hockey

Air Force Hockey "Orchestra" Quickly Gaining Experience In Atlantic Hockey

The youngest team in NCAA hockey is also among the hottest as the Air Force Falcons sit at 5-2-1 since the beginning of December.

Jan 26, 2022 by Jacob Messing
Air Force Hockey "Orchestra" Quickly Gaining Experience In Atlantic Hockey

The youngest team in NCAA hockey is also among the hottest as the Air Force Falcons sit at 5-2-1 since the beginning of December.

“We’ve got the youngest team in the country, we have one four-year senior,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “We’ve got an extremely young team in a year where college hockey is extremely old; college hockey has never been older than it is right now.”

Pandemic-based changes altered NCAA eligibility rules and offered a revamped transfer portal that was utilized by programs nationwide, allowing teams to bring back fifth-year players, immediately eligible transfers, and graduate transfers.

“[The NCAA] granting the student athletes a fifth year did not help Army or Air Force, it did nothing for Army or Air Force,” Serratore added.

As academies, Army and Air Force didn’t have the same access to pursuing transfers—in fact, they had no access, while other programs had what Serratore called free agency without the need for compensational bidding.

In what Serratore alluded to as the perfect storm, his program features just one fourth-year senior, goaltender Alex Schilling. Serratore removed three of Schilling’s former classmen from the program two years ago, placing standards ahead of standings.

As a result, his young team finds itself on the lighter side of the experience scale every game, but they are eager to tip that scale back by series’ end.

Serratore knows that recruiting at an academy doesn’t offer the same type of talent national powerhouses like NHL-prospect-packed Michigan or North Dakota tend to snatch up. But he’s built “orchestras” during his 25 years at Air Force, including seven teams that earned national tournament berths and went instrument-to-instrument for stunning upsets and hard-fought battles with both Frozen Four programs and national champions.

“It takes a lot of different instruments to make up an orchestra and we’ll recruit a kid with Division I speed to forecheck, maybe he’s got Division I vision to make a play, maybe he’s got a scoring touch, maybe he brings a physical presence,” Serratore said. “We take all these players and put them together and pair them on lines, even our lines are a collection of players that have Division I attributes.”

The youth of the Falcons has been evident at times this season, specifically with a 1-3 start to the season due to an overwhelming sweep by No. 11 Denver by a combined score of 12-1. But the attributes have come together of late, with a 5-2-1 record since December 1 and a 4-2 record in 2022—their two losses coming to an AIC team with a nation-leading 10-game winning streak.

Serratore’s orchestra has been playing in tune as the offense finds some consistency, scoring at least five goals in three of its past four games. 

That offense will host struggling Army this weekend, which has gone 2-3-1 since the turn of the calendar and has surrendered at least three goals in six of its past eight outings. This time ‘the perfect storm’ could see some offensive outbursts for the Falcons, but Serratore knows the military rivalry won’t be that easy.

The pair haven’t faced each other in more than two years, with Army taking a 5-2 win and 3-3 shootout win on home ice back in mid-January of 2020.

“They were in the process of building the team that they have right now,” Serratore said of Army’s roster this weekend. “They have 13 juniors and seniors…we’re going to be playing six guys that played in those games two years ago.”

It will be just another testament to Serratore’s program as the instruments continue to mature together and find a cohesive sound to build upon. The immediate points on the table won’t be easy to ignore as one weekend scenario could put the Falcons in second place in the conference by the end of Saturday.

“Our number one goal for the season right now is to finish in the top six and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. I would be shocked if [Army’s] goals aren’t the same,” Serratore said.

“We’re looking at this as an Atlantic series, yea it’s Air Force-Army, it’s a service academy…but first and foremost we need these points to be able to take another step in accomplishing our goal.”

Don’t miss the military rivalry, catch the series live right here on FloHockey this weekend when the Falcons host the Black Knights with six conference points on the line.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.