NORTHFORD, Conn. — As the minutes ticked away in third period of Friday night’s MAAC contest between American International and Quinnipiac, the Yellow Jackets could have easily panicked.
Yet even though it was facing a 3-2 deficit with under 10 minutes to play, the AIC bench remained calm, on its feet and into the game with every pass, shot and save.
And, after wearing down the undermanned Braves for the first two-and-a-half periods, the deeper Yellow Jackets let their emotions carry them through the final 10 minutes. AIC received the tying goal from Alex Walsh with 6:40 remaining, then watched as Andy Luhovy tucked home the game-winner with 1:33 left to hand the visitors a 4-3 win over Quinnipiac in a pivotal league contest for both teams.
“We’ve been playing pretty well lately, and our players are feeling pretty good about themselves,” AIC coach Gary Wright said. “We played with a lot of energy and emotion tonight, especially in the third period.”
Luhovy’s sixth goal of the season capped off a three-goal third period for the Yellow Jackets. They faced a 2-1 disadvantage entering the final frame, but netted the equalizer at the 3:58 mark on Walsh’s first of two goals.
However, that 2-2 deadlock proved to be short-lived. Quinnipiac responded with the go-ahead score just under a minute later on a blast from Wade Winkler.
The Braves were severely hampered by injuries coming into the contest, and skated only three forward lines and two defensive pairings during the course of the night. But Quinnipiac was still in a position to win the game late in regulation and failed to capitalize. As a result, the hosts dropped their fourth league tilt in the last five games.
“It’s par for the course right now,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said.
“You can’t win hockey games when you don’t execute.”
Of course, part of the reason for the Braves’ offensive woes against the Yellow Jackets was the play of AIC senior goaltender Chance Thede. He made 40 saves on the evening, including a handful of point-blank opportunities in the third period when the issue had not yet been decided.
“He’s really been doing it for us all year,” said Wright of Thede. “He’s having the best season of his career. There’s no question that he’s the backbone of our team. He seems to thrive when the game is on the line, and that’s really a reassuring feeling for the team.”
Added Thede: “Even after the first two goals, I just kept my head in it. I knew that the last four games, in the third period, the team has been going crazy and outshooting teams. This is a big win for us, possibly the biggest [since going to Division I].”
AIC (7-14-1, 7-9-1 MAAC) jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a goal from senior captain Aaron Arnett. The Braves (12-8-3, 9-5-1 MAAC) matched that marker with one of their own from Matt Erhart at 15:07, a low bullet from just inside the blue line that beat Thede low to the stick side.
Despite his brilliant play for most of the night, a blunder by Thede resulted in the second Quinnipiac goal late in the second period. A dump-in from defenseman Mike LaRocca ended up on net, and Thede tried to scoop up the puck. Instead, the disc tipped off the edge of his glove and ended up on the stick of Chris Maniatis, who knocked it home for a 2-1 lead.
In the third period, fatigue seemed to set in on the Braves, and the fresher Yellow Jackets put forth an outstanding 20 minutes to secure the one-goal win.
“The bottom half of the league is pretty tough,” said Luhovy, who finished with a goal and an assist. “Any time you can pick up two points, especially on the road and against Quinnipiac, it’s a big win.”
Said Wright: “We don’t have a dominating line, but I think that we’ve got some pretty good balance. Coming into the year, we felt our strengths were our defense and our goaltending, but now our forwards are starting to pick it up a bit too.”
Defenseman Mike Bujdos enjoyed a stellar night from the blue line for AIC, notching three assists. Matthieu Abiad joined Walsh and Luhovy with two point nights as well.
J.C. Wells made 36 saves in goal for the Braves, yet ended up a hard-luck loser when the final horn sounded.
Quinnipiac will look to put Friday night’s game behind it quickly, as the Braves host Connecticut on Saturday night. AIC will enjoy a few days off before hosting Holy Cross next Friday.