WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The puck was in the net just long enough for the officials to signal a Quinnipiac goal. Yet in a matter of a split-second, the complexion of Tuesday night’s contest between the Braves and American International College was altered dramatically.
A hooking call on Yellow Jacket forward Anthony Rufrano at 16:37 of the third period handed Quinnipiac its fourth power play of the night. Up to that point, the Braves had failed to generate anything on the offensive end with the man advantage. That is, until sophomore forward Brian Herbert lofted a shot from the right point that made its way through traffic and rattled into the AIC cage before quickly caroming back into play.
Herbert’s 11th goal of the season with 3:09 left in regulation snapped a 1-1 stalemate and sent Quinnipiac on its way to a 3-1 win. Senior captain Shawn Mansoff sealed the victory with an empty-net marker at the 19:58 mark.
The Braves moved to a mere one point behind second place Iona with the win, while AIC remained in a tie for sixth place as a result of the loss.
“Coach stressed the screen in front, and that was the objective,” said Herbert of the game-winner. “I saw it open up in front and I just flipped it on net.”
Added Braves coach Rand Pecknold: “There’s a lot of goalies in this league who, if they see the puck, will make the saves. So you’ve got to go in and compete. If you’re in front, you probably won’t get an assist unless you win a face-off, but Dennis [Palaia, who set the screen on the game-winner] stepped up tonight.”
After the two teams traded goals in the opening seven minutes of the game, neither team could find the back of the net until the final few minutes of regulation. Both teams had chances to net the go-ahead marker, but the Braves finally broke through on Herbert’s goal and distanced themselves from the Yellow Jackets.
“When it’s been that tight throughout a 1-1 game, and then you get down after giving up a power play goal, it’s very frustrating,” AIC hockey coach Gary Wright said. “And it’s something that’s even more dramatic when it’s low scoring. That just makes it stand out louder.”
Quinnipiac struck first on a tally from Chad Poliquin only 3:07 into the contest. Mansoff won a battle in the right-wing corner and threaded a pass to a streaking Poliquin down the slot for the first goal of the evening.
The Yellow Jackets evened the score just under four minutes later when sophomore defenseman Mike Bujdos finished off a two-on-one rush with his third goal of the season. Unfortunately for the home team, that would be the only score that it could muster against Braves goaltender Justin Eddy.
“I was pretty disappointed in our defense early in the first period,” Pecknold said. “They gave up two two-on-ones on one shift, and one of them resulted in a goal. But after that, we buckled down and played well.”
Said Eddy: “I thought that we came out a little slow in the first, and that’s been happening a lot lately. Things went better after that. We played more organized hockey, kept our systems tight and our defense tight. Then in the third period, we just put the pressure on them.”
Once the puck was dropped for the final 20 minutes, the Braves slowly grabbed the momentum away from AIC. During one sequence, they kept the puck in the Yellow Jackets zone for 90 seconds before Rufrano committed the infraction that resulted in the game-winning goal. All in all, Quinnipiac held a 13-3 advantage in the shot department in the third period.
The Braves also made amends for a 4-3 loss at the hands of AIC in the last meeting between the two clubs. In the process, they claimed the season series, 2-1, and moved one step closer to securing home ice advantage in the MAAC quarterfinal round.
“That was a big loss for us, because we had UConn the next night and lost that one too,” reflected Eddy. “That whole weekend was a bust. We beat them 10-3 in the first game, so wanted to come back tonight and show them that we could win again.”
AIC returns to action on Friday night for a home contest against the team directly ahead of it in the standings, UConn. The Braves will then take on the Huskies on Saturday night in Storrs.
“As far as the implications that this loss could have, it feels like a negative right now because this is such a dramatic loss,” Wright said. “But in the long run, I think that it’s only going to make us better.”