|Coming off a season where his 64 points ranked second in the nation in scoring,
Air Force senior captain Eric Ehn is once again the leading scorer for the Falcons.
Last season, Eric Ehn came out of the blue to lead his Air Force Academy Falcons all the way to a first-ever NCAA postseason appearance, while also being named a first-ever service academy Hobey Baker finalist.
After graduating this spring, Ehn may find himself up in the blue next hockey season, defending his country.
"The hockey stuff after I graduate is starting to get involved a little bit," said the senior captain after touching down in Boston a few weeks ago for two games against league rival Bentley. "I've always known I wanted to coach. As far as playing after I graduate, I never imagined that would be an option."
Not until he had the biggest year in service academy history in 2006-07. In addition to almost winning the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top player, Ehn was named Atlantic Player of the Year; he ended second in the nation in scoring with 64 points (24-40) in 40 games with a plus-28 rating, and established the Atlantic scoring record for conference games with 45 points.
The final three games were tournament battles, all etched in Air Force Academy and NCAA lore.
The Falcons took out Atlantic tournament favorite Sacred Heart, 5-4, in the semifinal, setting up a first-ever Division I meeting between two service academies in the championship game. Ehn and company proved a nightmare for the Army Black Knights in a 6-1 final.
That set the stage for what 11-year head coach Frank Serratore calls; "The best 53 minutes of my coaching career."
No. 16-seed Air Force had No. 1-seed Minnesota on the ropes, leading 3-1 with eight minutes left in the West Regional until the Gophers struck for three goals in less than four minutes to end the Falcons’ Cinderella season.
"You kind of just want that again," said Ehn, who exudes intelligence, maturity and leadership with every syllable. "Win or lose, the drive is to get back there in the NCAA Tournament. There's definitely a more chemically induced performance; the testosterone is going and the adrenaline. It's an intensity I hadn't seen so far."
What are the roots of the Ehn DNA?
"I grew up in Ann Arbor (Mich.), so I kind of wanted to play D-I hockey my whole life," he said. "I watched the Wolverines and all that good environment at Yost (Arena). I'd (public) skate there Sunday mornings with my dad and friends. Watch Michigan practice weekdays. You do get addicted. But I don't know when I thought I could make it at this level. I had a hard time making a midget major team."
"He sees the game in slow motion," said Serratore. "He's a poor-man's Wayne Gretzky. He's not big and powerful (5-foot-10, 175 pounds), but he has great hands and vision, an artist on the ice."
Serratore's mosaic at Air Force also includes the ready-made intangibles on and off the ice.
"We're a leadership laboratory," he smiled. "Our guys don't look at everybody else to get things done. We have all the work-ethic pieces in place here, but we do need an Eric Ehn to bring that level of talent. He's never too high and never too low. That allows him to balance school and hockey."
And what a balancing act it is for Ehn and every other service academy player who embody the essence of the "student-athlete" definition.
"A lot of it is the team environment," assessed Ehn, who also was a squadron leader last season and majors in systems engineering. "I don't think any one of us could get through it by ourselves. You get down to the rink everyday to escape, refresh and then get back up to study. It takes a lot of work at school – a lot more than people realize. There are a couple of these entities pulling on you, so it gets tough. But with the team you can get through anything."
Why the Air Force Academy after playing for USHL Green Bay Gamblers?
"I like the checkbox approach: 'What do you want out a school?' Once you put the Air Force Academy in there, it starts checking off the little boxes. At the end of the day, it had almost all the little boxes checked. Hockey, the reputation for academics, then the military part is like the trifecta. I like the culture; it seems to fit me well."
And Ehn fits quite well at Air Force where he again leads his 5-3-0 team in scoring at a point-per-game clip.
"He's the straw that stirs our drink," quipped Serratore. "We have had all the supporting ingredients; we needed an impact ingredient. Eric Ehn is our impact ingredient."
How does Ehn describe the AFA potion for success?
"Coach calls it the 'it' factor," Ehn said. "You can't grab it, but ..." he trailed off, looking at his two rings: One the school ring given in his junior year, the other for the Atlantic championship. "Last year's individual numbers were kind of extreme. I'm not sure that's even possible again. I'll do my best to get there, but the real meat of it is filling up fingers."
|"Last year's individual numbers were kind of extreme. I'm not sure that's even possible again." -- Eric Ehn
In several months, all of Ehn's fingers will be on decision-making buttons.
"We'll see at the end of the year what the climate is like with the (Iraq) war," said Serratore. "There are professional scouts inquiring about him and a few other guys, as well. He'll be a free agent and we'll work with the administration to see what can be worked out. There are a lot of different scenarios that could play out; none can be defined right now."
"There's five years of active-duty service," said Ehn. “That's pretty much the meat of it, but the Air Force has some options for professional development. One of their present policies is after two years of active duty, if you have a chance to try out for a professional team, they'll let you try that and rework your commitment into that depending on how it goes.
"I'd definitely give that a try. I'd be 26 after two years of active service. I might be a little old to break into any league as a rookie. It's been done, I think, but I'm not sure how it all works."
No service academy graduate ever has played in the NHL. Dan Hinote left Army after one year to pursue a successful pro career, predominantly with Colorado, where he won a Stanley Cup, and currently is with St. Louis.
What Ehn is sure about is that the site of the 2008 Frozen Four is in Denver, 50 miles from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
"We're definitely deeper this year," he said about another postseason run. "The fourth line is producing a goal a game, so what does that say about the third, second and first? It's easy to play hockey when you have four lines producing."
And easier for Air Force to play with Ehn stirring the team's potion.
"I don't know what comes after," he said in a serious tone. "But I can't get away from hockey – and I'm a terrible flyer."
On Campus Clips -- ECAC's Union College renamed its Unsung Hero Award in honor of Scott Richardson (Class of 1986), who passed away suddenly this summer. Fundraising efforts Nov. 3 raised over $3,600 to benefit the college funds of Richardson's two young daughters, Sydney and Hallie. ... Alaska Nanooks alum and left wing Aaron Voros (2001-04) made his NHL debut Sunday for the Minnesota Wild at Colorado, becoming the fifth school player to make it to the NHL. ... The national champion Michigan State Spartans have won eight-straight games, sharing the longest winning streak in the nation with arch-rival Michigan. ... Colorado College coach Scott Owens recorded his 200th career win last weekend. ... Providence College swept Maine on the road last weekend for the first time since 1985. ... League leaders at the season's quarter-pole are Colorado College in the WCHA, Bentley in Atlantic Hockey, Miami in the CCHA, Robert Morris in CHA, Clarkson in the ECAC. Five teams are tied for top dog atop Hockey East: New Hampshire, Providence, Northeastern, Boston College and Massachusetts. ... The nation's leading scorers are the St. Cloud Huskies’ Ryan Lasch (8-9-17) and Garrett Roe (7-10-17). ... Tim Kennedy (Michigan State) and Kevin Porter (Michigan) lead in goals with nine apiece.
NHL.com's Top 10
1. Michigan (9-1-0)
2. Miami (9-1-0)
3. Michigan State (8-1-0)
4. North Dakota (5-3-1)
5. Denver (6-2-0)
6. New Hampshire (5-1-1)
7. Colorado College (5-3-0)
8. Wisconsin (5-3-0)
9. Notre Dame (7-4-0)
10. Clarkson (7-3-0)