NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — With play-making center Mark Hallam out of the lineup for at least the first half of the season due to surgery to remove scar tissue caused by past concussions, the Iona College Gaels needed someone to step up and take his place. Brent Williams has answered that challenge the last two games.
The freshman from Prince George, B.C., followed up his two-assist night last week at UConn with a hat trick as Iona defeated American International 6-3 at the Skate Nation Arena on Friday night. Williams’ three goals overshadowed a two-goal night by Ryan Carter and a three-point night from Ryan Manitowich.
Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright was impressed with the Gaels offensive display. “They are one of the best teams I’ve seen at doing those creative things at entering the [offensive] zone.”
Iona opened the scoring four minutes into the first period when Manitowich started a 2-on-1 break after blocking a shot in the defensive zone. Manitowich used linemate Carter as a decoy before beating goaltender Chad Davis high to the glove side for the unassisted goal.
The two Ryans would team up twice more before the first period ended.
The Gaels made it 2-0 off an AIC turnover deep in their own zone as Carter roofed a Manitowich pass over Davis at the 14:53 mark.
Carter and Manitowich struck again with 39 seconds remaining in the opening stanza as Iona capitalized on a George Durso holding penalty late in the period. Carter notched his second of the game when he turned the rebound of a Nathan Lutz point shot into a 3-0 Iona lead. Manitowich drew the secondary assist.
Coach Frank Bretti was impressed with the performance of his two Ryans. “This was the first time this season we’ve put them together. I think they were really excited this week and I think they were a dominant line for at least two-thirds of the game.”
If the late first-period power-play goal didn’t break AIC’s spirit, then Williams’ first goal just 31 seconds into the second period did. Williams took a feed from Kelly Bararuk and Jean-Paul Chaput and beat Davis high to the stick side from the right wing faceoff dot.
AIC managed to cut into the Gaels’ lead as Ron Miller closed the gap to 4-1 at the 4:57 mark when Miller’s shot from the high slot beat Iona goaltender Mike Fraser. John Levesque and Kevin Fournier drew the assists.
Iona regained its four-goal lead as the Gaels struck for yet another late goal when Williams was left alone in front of the net and he calmly slipped the puck past Davis. Rob Kellogg and Erik Nates recorded the assists. Kellogg just missed scoring himself as he rang a shot off the right post prior to the goal.
AIC battled back to cut the lead to 5-2 as Trent Ulmer’s back-hander eluded Fraser, who dropped to the ice to make a blocker save rather than drop into the butterfly. Alex Walsh was credited with the lone assist on the goal at 3:40
The Yellow Jackets almost drew to within two goals, but Miller’s shot hit the underside of the crossbar at the 15-minute mark.
With the teams skating four aside after coincidental roughing penalties, Williams finished off the hat trick as Lutz used a power rush down the right side to set Williams up for his third of the game. Kellogg, a natural center who was shifted to left wing for the game, drew the secondary assist at 16:09.
Williams was pleased with his effort, but realizes there is still more work to do. “I know tonight I wasn’t great defensively and there are lots of things in my own end that I have to do to get better. This [collegiate hockey] is a faster game and when I get used to that I will be okay.”
Although he acknowledged the need to continue working, Williams did see the bright side of his performance. “I came in here and it was a very frustrating start. I pulled my groin and I had to miss the first game. Last weekend I was really ready to play and I played well and worked hard. Tonight was one of those games where things went my way.”
Despite being down four goals for the third time, AIC did not give up as the Yellow Jackets scored one final goal two minutes later. Guillaume Caron’s shot from the high slot ended the scoring on assists from Olivier Gagnon and Anthony Rufrano.
Wright was pleased to see his team battle back in the third period. “We didn’t want to get into that area where you get a little bit frustrated, running around, and not taking care of business.”
Bretti saw two reasons for the late AIC surge. “I think it was a combination of AIC trying to come out and win the third period and our guys thinking they can be a little more offensive than usual,” he said.
The AIC coach was pleased with the effort of his freshman goaltender. “On the road against Iona, that is quite a baptism. But, [Davis] is mentally tough, he’ll be all right.”
AIC faces the difficult task of alternating two freshman goaltenders.
“There is an inherent risk with that … there is a little bit of the unknown there, but in the same token we feel real good about the two freshman we have,” Wright said.
The coach has every reason to feel good, especially with the work Frank Novello put in at the Quinnipiac Cup last weekend. He stopped 87 shots en route to being named MAAC Goaltender of the Week.
AIC (1-2-0, 0-1-0 MAAC) returns to action Saturday night as the Yellow Jackets host Bentley in their home opener at 7 p.m. at the Olympia Ice Center. Iona (2-0-1, 2-0-1) travels north for a rematch with Quinnipiac in a 5 p.m. matinee at the Northford Ice Pavilion.