HAMDEN, Conn. — It was dj vu all over again at the Northford Ice Pavilion on Saturday night as Iona and Quinnipiac played for the second time in two weeks. And for the second time, the game’s outcome was in doubt until John Gilbert scored into an empty net with 50.7 seconds remaining to ice Iona’s 4-2 victory.
While the return match’s final act played out the same as Iona’s 3-1 opening night victory, Saturday’s game told a much different story. Rather than a fluid up-and-down game, the two teams played a chippy game from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer.
Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold said the difference stemmed from his team’s improved attitude and play.
“The first time we played then I think we were really tentative,” he said. “There were a lot of kids who were nervous and didn’t play as aggressive as they normally would. I didn’t think in the first Iona game we competed that hard.
“I think in the last four games we keep getting better and that’s the focus.”
Pecknold thought the Braves were the better team except for the fact his squad ran into the great equalizer — a superior goaltender.
“Scott Galenza was fantastic — I thought he won the game for them,” Pecknold said of Galenza’s 37 save effort.
Galenza’s coach echoed Pecknold’s feelings.
“I was very pleased with Scott. Again, this was another great outing for him. He has been very impressive. Anybody who has watched this kid play has to be impressed,” Iona coach Frank Bretti said.
Iona opened the scoring late in the first period after the chippy play really boiled over. With the teams skating four aside, Ben Blais was whistled for a cross-checking penalty. The Gaels’ power play went by the wayside as Paul Fisher was assessed a five-minute major for slashing.
Quinnipiac would eventually go on a three-minute power play, but not before the teams skated 3-on-3 for 1:26 and 4-on-4 for 34 seconds.
While Quinnipiac had the man advantage, it was Iona that scored first as Kelly Bararuk converted a 3-on-2 rush for the first of two goals on assists from Trevor Aubie and Nathan Lutz at 16:59.
The Gaels lead lasted less than a minute as the Braves tied the game off a faceoff win by Ryan Olson. Matt Erhart took the back pass and fed it to Wade Winkler who beat Galenza from the high slot.
Quinnipiac took the lead early in the second period as Todd Bennett converted on a rebound of a Ryan Morton shot at 1:58 of the second period. That lead lasted a little more than four minutes as Bararuk and linemates Rob Kellogg and Brent Williams cycling down low left Bararuk open in the slot for his fifth goal of the season at 6:06.
Iona took the lead for good early in the third period as Matt Whitehurst went from defensive stalwart to offensive catalyst on the same shift. Whitehurst blocked a shot in his own zone and, as Gaels assistant coach Rich Dimondo said, got a well-deserved reward by setting up the game-winning goal on the ensuing trip down ice. Whitehurst and Stephen Frappier caused a turnover deep in the Braves’ zone with Whitehurst centering the puck to Chad Nordhagen who beat Justin Eddy from the slot at 2:52.
The game still hung in the balance when Whitehurst was assessed an obstruction holding call at 16:08. With 38 seconds left in the power play, Pecknold used his timeout. Seven seconds later, not only was Quinnipiac’s power play erased, but they would face the final 1:52 shorthanded.
Off a scrum after the ensuing faceoff, Chaput and Brian Herbert received matching ten-minute misconducts. In addition to those penalties, Bennett received a roughing minor. After skating 4-on-4 for 31 seconds, Iona would have a power play for the remainder of the game. With 1:35 left in the game and a faceoff deep in the Iona zone, Pecknold pulled Eddy for an extra attacker.
After winning the faceoff, the Gaels took their time and played it smart and looked to take time off the clock rather than turn the puck over or ice it. The Gaels did ice the game as Ryan Carter set up Gilbert for a slapshot from just inside the blue line as Iona scored an empty net power play goal.
Bretti was proud of the way his team fought back their sluggish start.
“We had a good talk at the end of the first period,” he said. “I thought Quinnipiac was clearly the better team in the first period. I issued a challenge to our team. If you want to be a championship caliber team in this league, you’ve got to go win big games like this on the road and I thought in the second and third periods we played to that level.”
Galenza and his teammates were ready for Quinnipiac’s physical play.
“They crashed the net and they looked to get the puck back to the points and look for rebounds and deflections. We did a pretty good job of keeping them contained and to the outside and letting me see the puck,” Galenza said.
Despite the loss, Pecknold sees light at the end of the tunnel after lamenting his veterans’ poor play in their first game at Iona.
“I think we’re definitely making progress so I am happy. There are some freshmen that are playing better and some of my returners have really stepped up,” Pecknold said. “Todd Bennett has been fantastic. Here’s a kid that for three years has really paid his dues and not gotten a lot of ice time. He’s been a solid kid for us and has really elevated his game.”
Iona (3-0-1, 3-0-1 MAAC) returns to action when they host their New York State rivals, the Black Knights from Army at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night. Quinnipiac (3-2-0, 1-2-0) returns to action Friday night as they visit the Stags of Fairfield in an 8 p.m. contest.