By Jacob Messing / FloSports.com
Last season, Air Force Academy was the youngest program in Atlantic Hockey and concluded the spring with a loss to AIC in the conference championship.
But the ‘Willpower’ is back for another run, and you can catch Air Force live in action all season long, right here on FloHockey.
Led through the 2021-2022 season by sophomore Will Gavin and junior Willie Reim, the pair finished as the leaders in team scoring, lifting the Falcons to a 16-17-3 overall record and a tie for their most wins in a season since the 2017-2018 season.
Gavin is a former Northern Cyclones NCDC captain, and he also played with the South Shore Kings and former Syracuse Stars (now Utica Jr. Comets) as part of a three-year NCDC career. He also played in the USPHL 16U and 18U levels.
Coach Frank Serratore’s program showed an impressive maturity for a team whose lone senior was goaltender Alex Schilling.
Over the final 11 games of the 2021-2022 campaign, the Falcons lost just two regulation contests and skated in seven overtime games, where they went 4-2-1. Time was on their side.
In their quarterfinal sweep of Army West Point, the Falcons scored the game-tying goal in the third period of both games, before capping each victory in overtime. Gavin and Reim combined for three goals and five points in the series.
Gavin added another goal and assist against RIT to clinch a spot in the championship, where only AIC sat between the Falcons and a berth in the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship for the first time since 2018.
AIC would ultimately clinch its fourth-straight conference title and third-straight trip to the national tournament after a decisive 7-0 win.
Time remained on the Falcons’ side, with a large returning cast, and a lesson in learning to lose could be the recipe for 2022-2023.
The cast is doing its part.
Through six games, Gavin and Reim are on pace to eclipse their offensive totals from last season and are skating on separate lines, showing a distribution in scoring threat.
Each skater has tallied four goals and four assists, while Gavin’s 35 total shots on goal is second to only Northern Michigan’s A.J. Vanderbeck (51 SOG) across the NCAA.
Early conclusions can be dangerous, but through the Falcons’ first six games this season, the Wills have carried them to the second-most goals per game in Atlantic Hockey, which ranks 12th nationally.
Throw in the current 16th-best powerplay, and offense clearly is an early strength, led by Gavin and Reim.
A 2-3-1 overall record doesn’t jump off the page, but a 5-5 tie with No. 11-ranked Notre Dame at the Ice Breaker Invitational, and both wins coming over their past three games, helps paint the picture of the Falcons’ capabilities. After all, they’ve got time.
On the backend, defensemen Luke Rowe, Brandon Koch and Sam Brennan each sit at, or above, the point-per-game mark and have combined for 17 points (3 G, 14 A). More impressive, is that none of the three defensemen are among the Falcons’ 10 current players with a negative plus/minus rating.
The trio is pushing offense and maintaining their expectations as defenders. It has helped sophomore goaltender Guy Blessing to a 2-1 record, .910 SV%, and 3.06 GAA.
Despite a below-average GAA, the Falcons are outscoring early mistakes, while finding their stride and looking to establish themselves early this season.
The Wills and company are back in action this weekend for a non-conference home-and-home with Colorado College.