Gophers ground Falcons' season in third period rally

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNEWS) -- For 56 minutes and 24 seconds David outplayed Goliath. 

But, it took Goliath, a.k.a., No. 2-ranked and top West Region seed Minnesota, only the remaining time to regroup and repel the 2007 NCAA Hockey Tournament's David, Air Force.

The Golden Gophers, (31-9-3) appearing in their NCAA-record 31st tournament, rallied from a 3-1 deficit with three unanswered goals in a 3:36 span of the third period to down the Falcons 4-3 before 11,161 fans March 24 at Denver's Pepsi Center and a national television audience on ESPNU. 

The loss snapped the bluesuiters season-high six-game winning streak, a run that earned them an automatic bid in college hockey's "Big Dance," for the first time in service academy history.

"We want to be the most difficult team in the country to play against. We were that today," Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said. "We were determined not to let them beat us with their tremendous speed and skill. They were going to have to get their noses dirty. Two of the three goals they got to get back into the game were blue-collar goals."

The Falcons opened the scoring at 9:55 of the first period when freshman Jeff Hajner's wrist shot beat Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs to the post on his stick side. It was Hajner's 12th goal of the season and one of 11 shots by Air Force in the period. 

Gopher Jay Barriball got the equalizer at the end of a 3-on-1 break when he powered a shot through the pads of Falcon freshman goalie Andrew Volkening at the 9:00 mark of the second period.
Air Force reclaimed the lead with just 37 seconds left in the stanza. While on a 5-on-3 power play, Andrew Ramsey was camped alone on the crease to bury his 23rd goal of the campaign past Briggs. Michael Mayra and Mike Phillipich assisted on the play.

"We had the game in our hands for such a good amount of time it's tough to turn the page," said Ramsey, one of eight Falcon seniors who played in their last Air Force game. "Emotionally, it's draining, but awesome at the same time to have been part of something special these past few weeks. We we're so in this game."

Brett Nylander gave Air Force (19-16-5) some breathing room at 5:32 of the third period when he broke down the left wing and circled the net for a wraparound goal, his third on the season. The two goal advantage lasted for 6:18.

Minnesota's comeback started with a Ryan Stoa power play goal, continued with a Jim O'Brian tip in and was capped by tally credited to Mike Carman after it went off an Air Force player's leg into the net.

Volkening was pulled for an extra attacker with 2:08 left in regulation.

"We pulled him with that much time left because the way Minnesota was playing I felt we might not get another chance to pull him cleanly," Serratore said. "We feel very confident in those situations. We don't back off."

Minnesota went on to play the other West Regional first round winner, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, who won a wild 8-5 game over the Michigan Wolverines.

Serratore was quick to credit his longtime friend and Gophers' head coach Don Lucia for his team's performance and that of his own club.

"Academy kids don't quit, that's not what they're about," he said. "They overachieve and battle. They do special things. They may not be the biggest, fastest or most talented, but they're full of heart. Our players will join a bigger team in the armed services. When they do they won't be the underdog."