NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Exactly one year ago, Quinnipiac and Iona staged a memorable opening night as the Gaels scored three goals in the final 64 seconds to secure a 5-5 tie.
While the opener to the 2001-2002 season was not quite as dramatic, Iona could not breathe a sigh of relief until Rob Kellogg’s empty-net goal with nine seconds remaining helped seal the Gaels 3-1 victory over the Braves at the Skate Nation Arena on Saturday night.
Iona (1-0) continues to show that there is no place like home as it raised its home MAAC record to 17-1-3 in its last 21 conference games. Quinnipiac (0-1) continued its struggles in season openers under coach Rand Pecknold as its record fell to 2-4-2.
The two teams spent the majority of the first period trading power plays as Iona’s Scott Galenza and Quinnipac’s Justin Eddy thwarted the man advantages. The Braves would get the game’s first break late in the first period when they received a two-man advantage for 1:44. With Matt Whitehurst in the penalty box for interference, Trevor McCall joined his teammate when he was whistled for a charging penalty just 16 seconds later.
Quinnipiac spent the first 59 seconds in the Iona zone and nearly capitalized as Matt Craig’s sharp angle shot rolled through the crease. Prior to an ensuing faceoff in the Iona zone, Pecknold used his timeout in order to rest his first power-play unit. While they could not capitalize on the two-man advantage, the Braves would have one final chance to score on the power play as they broke in on a 3-on-1 rush but defenseman Paul Fisher sprawled to the ice to break up the rush with 12 seconds remaining in McCall’s minor.
After a scoreless first period, Galenza and Eddy continued to pitch shutouts until just past the four-minute mark when the Gaels drew first blood. Defenseman Trevor Aubie kept a back pass in the Quinnipiac zone at the right point. He then took a couple of strides before wristing a shot past a screened Eddy at 4:23 of the second period. Ryan Carter and Rob Kellogg received the assists.
Less than two minutes later, Quinnipiac scored, capitalizing on one of the many undisciplined penalties Iona would take. With Kellogg in the box for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Brian Herbert tipped in a Neil Breen wrist shot at 6:20 to tie the game at 1-1. Chris Tarr received the secondary assist on the power-play goal.
The specter of undisciplined penalties would rear its ugly head again less than two minutes later. This time it would be Quinnipiac receiving the short end of the stick as defenseman Dan Ennis received two separate holding penalties at 7:58. It would take Iona all of 19 seconds to capitalize on the four-minute power play as Nathan Lutz converted a Carter pass into a one-timer from the middle of the ice at the blue line to give Iona a 2-1 lead. Jean-Paul Chaput was credited with the secondary assist.
Lutz made good on gaining a bit of revenge from last year. “We sort of owed them one from last year, ” Lutz said in reference to Quinnipiac’s 4-1 victory in the 2001 MAAC Semifinals. Lutz, one of the Gaels’ tri-captains, is enjoying the added incentive of being a team leader. “I play better with the added pressure,” he said.
After the Lutz goal, it was time for both goaltenders to get back to the business of keeping their opponents off the board. Eddy, a member of last year’s All MAAC Rookie Team, ended the game with 28 saves while Galenza stopped 27 shots to earn the victory in his first collegiate game.
Coach Frank Bretti was impressed with his freshman’s play on opening night. “Scott is definitely a player we were expecting to impact our lineup, ” Bretti said. “We gave him the start based on what was earned [in practice].”
Despite both goaltenders’ heroics, the game was still on the line when Pecknold pulled his goaltender with 87 seconds remaining and the faceoff deep in Iona territory. The Gaels nearly iced the game with one minute remaining as Fisher’s shot from his zone hit the right post. Kellogg was able to ice the game away with his unassisted goal from just inside the Quinnipiac blue line along the left wing boards.
Pecknold believed the key to the game was Iona’s second period. “I thought in the second period that Iona outworked us and out competed us,” he said. Despite the loss, there was still a silver lining in the clouds for Pecknold. Quinnipiac faces the daunting task of mixing 15 freshmen and four sophomores into the lineup.
“I thought the freshman did alright from the standpoint of being in the right spot, ” Pecknold said. “It’s a lot more difficult than I thought [playing the freshman] … some of my veterans are not playing up to the level they may be capable of.”
Despite the young Quinnipiac lineup, Bretti was not too quick to dismiss his opponents. “Some people get the impression you have to win the home opener,” he said. “We beat a good hockey team tonight. … You can’t discount the fact we beat one of the top teams in the MAAC.”
The two rivals will get a chance to become old friends as they will meet two more times in the next month — At Quinnipiac on Oct. 27 and on Nov. 15 at Iona.
Quinnipiac returns to action on Oct. 19 when it hosts MAAC rival Bentley in the opening round of the 2001 Quinnipiac Cup. Iona returns to action the same night as it hits the road for a conference game at Connecticut.