Michigan has no answers for Volkening
Air Force goalie shuts Wolverines out of NCAA men's hockey tournament
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Michigan got Volkenized.
The Wolverines, the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, got to play in the first game of the 2009 NCAA men's ice hockey tournament. But the maize and blue left the Arena at Harbor Yard dazed and through after a 2-0 loss to No. 4 seed Air Force on Friday afternoon.
The Falcons (28-10-2) advanced to Saturday's regional championship game (ESPNU, 6:30 p.m. ET) thanks in large part to the performance of goaltender Andrew Volkening. The junior made 43 saves in posting his third consecutive shutout, a streak which dates back to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals against Bentley on March 20.
It was Volkening's fourth shutout of the season and with it he extended his scoreless streak to a stratospheric 218:08 minutes of play. He has not allowed a goal since the second period of an Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal against Sacred Heart on March 15.
"Everything happened that needed to happen for us," Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. "We got several bounces our way, we found a way to get a lead and we had an incredible game in goal from Andrew Volkening."
The Air Force win proved three can be a charm, as the Falcons won an NCAA game in their third try. The first two trips to the national tournament were thisclose to wins as Serratore's club held third-period leads over Minnesota in 2007 (3-1 turned into a 4-3 loss) and Miami (Ohio) in 2008 (2-1 turned into a 3-2 OT loss) before being sent back to Colorado Springs.
And the upset win was the second NCAA tournament victory for Atlantic Hockey to go along with Holy Cross' 4-3 victory over Minnesota in 2006's first round.
Friday afternoon was the Volkening Show for the 8,478 in attendance from start to finish.
The 6-foot-2 Volkening, from the hockey not-so-hotbed of Genoa, Ill. -- in the cornfields about an hour west of Chicago -- by way of the NAHL's Wasilla (Alaska) Spirit, made his presence felt from the drop of the puck.
His pad saves, glove saves, blocker saves and stick saves came in all shapes and sizes. He used his big frame and was always in the right place at the right time with the minimum amount of effort. He never got rattled, and with each successive save you could feel Michigan's frustration grow.
"We give their goalie a lot of credit," Michigan junior captain Chris Summers said. "He played a heck of a game. That's how the tournament happens sometimes. It just shows you how precious goals are."
Michigan blistered Volkening to the tune of 16 shots in the first period, nine of which were of the Grade A variety. Eleven more shots (two Grade A) were turned away in the second. And a bookend 16 saves in the third (three Grade A) completed his afternoon of spotless work.
Sixteen of Volkening's 43 saves were on the penalty kill as he frustrated a Michigan team that came in scoring 3.62 goals a game (fifth-best in the nation). The Wolverines ended up 0-for-7 with the man-advantage -- including a lengthy 5-on-3 opportunity early in the first that help set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
"When you are going to build a successful team, you need a solid goalie," Air Force sophomore center Jacques Lamoureux said. "We build off his confidence, and he makes those saves early and we build off it. His confidence helps the team's confidence."
Keep in mind that Michigan's roster is loaded with NHL draft picks -- 11 of them, to be exact, dressed on Friday afternoon. Suffice it to say that Air Force's roster is loaded with players who, well, aren't drafted players.
The Falcons scored what turned out to the be the game-winner on a wrister from the right circle by sophomore right wing Derrick Burnett at 15:18 of the first period that beat Michigan sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan high to the stick side. Lamoureux, a Hobey Baker finalist, scored his 33rd of the season at 7:02 of the second when he took a pass from Matt Fairchild and beat a sliding Hogan before he could get across the crease from left to right.
Hogan didn't have a bad game in net, but when you face only 13 shots, you can't give up two goals.
"This wasn't a game to blame anyone," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "As a goalie, you are the final result. It was a tough game to play that position because he didn't see many shots.
"We had our chances and we needed to score. This was a disappointing loss for our team. We expected a tough game and got one. But this was not an upset. This was a very tough Air Force team."
The Wolverines (29-12-0) head back to Ann Arbor after making their 19th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, but they haven't won a title since 1998.
Michigan's loss opens the door for No. 2 Yale or No. 3 Vermont to advance from the East Regional to the Frozen Four, to be played April 9 and 11 in Washington, D.C. But the Bulldogs and Catamounts would be smart to not look past Air Force, especially with The Volkenizer in net. You can be sure that Michigan won't forget about him any time soon.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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