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Army hockey splits with Air Force

Photo provided by Army West Point Athletics

The warning was given hours before the puck dropped for Army’s second and final game against Air Force.

Army coach Brian Riley predicted Saturday morning that Air Force would come out with a desperation after a 3-1 loss to the Black Knights before a sold-out Tate Rink crowd Friday night.

Riley’s prediction was spot on. Air Force scored the first three goals in a three-minute span of the first period Saturday afternoon. Joey Baez answered with a first-period, power-play goal, his 11th of the season, but the Black Knights gave up a score 26 seconds into the second period.

The chase continued for Army’s second straight win over Air Force but the deficit was too much to overcome as the Falcons skated away with 6-4 victory and a split of the series in front of another sellout crowd.

“Disappointing, the result today because we were in a position to get a sweep against our rival and we didn’t get it done,” Riley said after the game Saturday.

Riley added, “If somebody would have told me before the game that we were going to have four goals, I would have our chances to win a game. But, again, all of the credit goes to Air Force. They were the desperate team tonight. They were the better team tonight and they deserved to win.”

Baez added another power-play goal, Army’s second, Freshman Sean Vlasich followed with his first career goal and defenseman Thomas Farrell closed the Black Knights’ scoring in the third period.

Freshman Max Itagaki and captain Anthony Firriolo each had two assists and are tied for the team lead with 19.

Army (8-14-3, 7-9-1 Atlantic Hockey) shifts to a weekend series at Niagara (Feb. , which is two points ahead of the Black Knights for fifth place in the conference standings.

“I’ve been telling these guys, it’s about living in the moment,” Riley said. “This week, it was about Air Force and now, it’s about Niagara.”

Army junior forward Eric Huss returned to action Friday night for the first time since an inadvertent skate cut his neck against Sacred Heart Jan. 5 and emergency surgery to stop the bleeding.

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