Sioux Falls – Air Force hockey coach Frank Serratore, who’s right up there with Rodney Dangerfield when it comes to dropping one-liners, had a doozy earlier this week.
“Ya know what? It’s pretty obvious to me,” said Serratore, whose fourth-seeded Falcons face No. 1 seed St. Cloud State in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional that also includes No. 2 Minnesota State Mankato and No. 3 Minnesota Duluth. “They put the three Minnesota teams in with Air Force. They’ve got the Frozen Four in St. Paul. It’s pretty obvious to me that they’re doing everything in their power to make sure a Minnesota team doesn’t make it.”
Don’t laugh. As sly as Serratore might be, Air Force is no slouch when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Last year, the then-No. 3-seeded Falcons knocked off No. 2 Western Michigan 5-4 in the Northeast Regional before falling 3-2 to top-seeded Harvard in the regional final. In 2009, the Falcons beat top-seeded Michigan 2-0 in the East Regional before losing 3-2 in double overtime to Vermont for a trip to the Frozen Four.
“That’s what we are. We’re a very difficult team to play against,” Serratore said during Thursday’s news conferences at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. “… Not only are we a tough team to play against, but we’re playing our best hockey right now.”
St. Cloud State knows not to take the Falcons lightly. In 2016, the Huskies were the West Regional’s No. 1 seed in St. Paul but lost 5-4 in overtime to No. 4 Ferris State.
“We can’t take anything for granted. All the four teams that are here deserve to be here,” Huskies defenseman Jimmy Schuldt said. “… It’s one game, and in college hockey anything can happen. We watched Mankato as a one seed lose to RIT [in 2015].”
Kudos to Sioux Falls
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who was the coach and general manager of the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede from 1998 to 2001, is impressed with the growth of hockey in Sioux Falls to the point where it has a state-of-the-art arena that seats more than 10,550.
“That’s what this sport does,” Motzko said. “It’s an addicting cult sport, and when it gets in a community, you can feel it. … Am I surprised? No.”
MSU Mankato senior forward Zeb Knutson, a Sioux Falls native, circled this regional on the calendar.
“When I heard the regional was going to be here, we kind of had it in the back of our minds all year and, hopefully, we could do what it takes to get here,” said Knutson, one of five Mavericks who played for the Stampede.
“And now we’re here, and it’s exciting.”
Nearly half of the players in the regional — 49 of 109 — are from Minnesota.
Minnesota Duluth has the most with 17, St. Cloud State has 14, MSU Mankato 11 and Air Force seven.