Providence — On a team known for its depth and lack of super stars, it was the leading scorers who stepped up in a big way on Friday night.
Jordan Himley had a goal and two assists and Kyle Haak scored twice to lead Air Force to a 5-4 upset win over Western Michigan in the second semifinal at the NCAA Tournament East Regional.
“Your best players have to be your best players in big games,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore.
Tyler Ledford and Phil Boje also tallied goals for the Falcons who advance to Saturday’s East Regional Final against top-seeded Harvard.
Himley wasted no time, just 56 seconds into the game, giving the Falcons a 1-0 lead. After a flurry in front of the Western net, the puck squirted out towards the left circle. Himley roofed a shot into the net with the goaltender down.
Haak extended the lead to 2-0 midway through the first period with a shorthanded tally. He picked the pocket of defenseman Taylor Fleming at the WMU blue line before collecting the puck and burying a wrist shot low glove side.
“I’ve been working on low glove the past week just because I was feeling that. It’s where I put it,” Haak explained.
It was the eighth shorthanded goal of the season for the Falcons. All night long they did a good job of disrupting the flow through the neutral zone and killed both WMU power plays.
“It starts with structure. Turn the puck over in the neutral zone. We have our one-three unit coming back. We try to use the blue line as a fifth defender to force offsides. We forced a lot offsides tonight,” Haak said.
A WMU goal by Frederik Tiffels cut the lead in half before the first period ended, but Air Force regained the two-goal lead at the 5:05 mark of the second. Haak struck again with a low wrister that came out of the net almost as quick as it went in. The shot from the right wing circle came after a forced turnover in the neutral zone that turned the possession back to the Falcons.
Haak had been held off the score sheet in four consecutive games before Friday’s two-goal outburst.
“I’ve been a little dry. The opportunities have been there in the previous games. I’ve hit some posts and missed the net, but it was good to come out tonight and hit the back of the net,” said Haak.
Both of Haak’s goals came off turnovers, something that the team had been emphasizing in its lead up to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve been preparing to hunt and pressure their defensemen. We try to get in on the forecheck as quick as we can. We use a five-man unit to turn the puck over. When you get your opportunity, shoot the puck,” Haak commented.
“Tonight was an example of one team being on top of its game and the other not being as sharp,” began Western Michigan coach Andy Murray. “They were quick. They were on the forecheck. We weren’t quick enough to move pucks by their pressure.”
Boje, the second leading scorer among defensemen in Atlantic Hockey, staked the Falcons to a 4-1 lead 3:58 into the third period. With Air Force on the man advantage he blasted a one-timer into the net from the right circle. Himley picked up the primary assist.
There was no quit in Western Michigan. Griffen Molino and Sheldon Dries scored 23 seconds apart to cut the Air Force lead to 4-3. Tyler Ledford’s seventh goal of the season with 11:15 left in the third period gave the Falcons a 5-3 lead.
Air Force and Harvard will drop the puck at 8:30 ET with a trip to the Frozen Four in Chicago on the line. It would be the first time reaching college hockey’s pinnacle event in program history.
“Everybody knows what they need to do to perform for the team. We’re halfway done. We came here to win. That’s what we’re going to try and do [Saturday night],” said Himley.