Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eagles to Have Hands Full with Falcons

Considering last year's shocking 8-4 defeat to Colorado College in the first round of the NCAA West Regional in St. Louis, don't expect top-seeded Boston College to be looking past first-round foe Air Force on Saturday afternoon at the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.

The Eagles (29-10-1) are on a 15-game wining streak that has included claiming both the Beanpot and two Hockey East titles; but everybody, though, is even as the 2012 NCAA Tournament kicks off this weekend. The opposing Falcons (21-10-7), winners of Atlantic Hockey, and a former Division I independent, have now posted six straight winning seasons. AFA is 1-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, but could just as easily have won each of those contests.

Air Force beat Michigan, 2-0, in 2009, and then were just a double-overtime goal against Vermont away from the Frozen Four. They've also come up one goal short in NCAA overtime setbacks to Miami (2008) and Yale (2011), and also fell to Minnesota by a single goal in regulation after jumping out a 3-0 lead in 2007.

Junior forward Kyle De Laurell leads the Falcons this season with 15 goals and 38 points, while senior defenseman Tim Kirby is third with 12-16–28 points and is also a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Senior goaltender Stephen Caple has posted a 13-5-5 record this year with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, while sophomore netminder Jason Torf (8-4-2, 1.72, .928) backstopped the Falcons to a 4-0 win in the Atlantic Hockey title game over RIT and has recorded five shutouts in all.

BC leads the all-time series with Air Force, 5-0, with the two schools having last faced off in an 8-2 Eagle win in Minnesota in 2007. Following last season's early NCAA exit, though, the Eagles' earliest in the NCAAs since falling to Alaska Anchorage in the first round in 1991, don't expect BC to take Air Force lightly.

The DCU Center in Worcester has been good to the Eagles, who have posted an 8-1 record there in NCAA Tournament play, and have used the venue as a springboard to their national championships in 2001, 2008 and 2010. BC had two tough games in Worcester two years ago, though, edging Alaska Fairbanks, 3-1, before outscoring Yale, 9-7, the next night to move on to the Frozen Four in Detroit.

They'll need a similar effort on Saturday to give themselves a shot at doing so again in 2012. The reward for topping Air Force will be a second-round meeting on Sunday with either conference foe Maine, whom BC just beat for the Hockey East playoff title, or defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, for the right to go to the Frozen Four in Tampa in April.

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