NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Recap by: Anthony R. Mastantuoni
Friday night’s Sacred Heart-Iona game was not for the faint of heart.
The two teams combined for 73 minutes in penalties that covered two fighting majors, two 10-minute misconducts and two game disqualifications. In the end, the Pioneers kept pace in their race for second place with a 4-1 victory over the Gaels.
“It wasn’t a pretty game. It was kind of a physical, ugly, play-along-the-boards type of game. The guys responded and did what they need to do to win,” said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah. “It was a huge game for us — being able to find a way to win on the road is a step we needed to take.”
The game turned ugly for Iona in the opening seconds when goaltender Mike Fraser was caught off guard by Richard Naumann’s sharp angle shot from the left wing corner. Naumann’s shot slipped between Fraser’s pads to give the Pioneers the lead just 25 seconds in.
Fraser settled down after the goal and stopped 50 of Sacred Heart’s 54 shots. Iona coach Frank Bretti said, “I thought Mike got the job done tonight. Goaltending was not the issue tonight.”
The issue for the Gaels was depth — or their lack of it. Despite the loss, Bretti was not too disappointed with his team. “I just told our guys not to give up. The reality of the situation is that we are not a very deep team. With the injuries we are facing right now, Sacred Heart was clearly the better team.”
Iona played the game without John Gilbert, Rob Kellogg, Trevor McCall, and Mark Hallam who is sitting out this season following surgery due to post-concussion syndrome.
The Gaels played their way back into the game by playing a more physical style of play and causing some traffic in front of goaltender Eddy Ferhi. Iona’s work paid off when Brent Williams picked up a loose puck in the slot and wristed a shot by a screened Ferhi at 11:27.
Five minutes after Iona tied the game, the rough play started to reach its boiling point. As Ferhi came out of his net to play the puck at he left mid-boards, he was bumped by Tim Krueckl. That brought Nick Nutcher to his goaltender’s defense.
“It was actually physical for me and that doesn’t happen too often. I got hit two or three times. I got tripped and stuff like that, so they tried to take me off my game. My teammates were there to take care of the dirty stuff,” Ferhi said.
The rough play reached critical mass at the 4:27 mark of the second period. It was fight night at Skate Nation Arena as Iona’s Chad Nordhagen and Sacred Heart’s Noel Henck received five-minute fighting majors and game disqualifications. Iona’s Rusty Ruhl and Sacred Heart’s Lloyd Marks received two-minute roughing penalties and 10-minute misconducts. The Pioneers ended up with a power play after the melee as Nordhagen was assessed an additional roughing minor.
Sacred Heart wasted little time as Martin Paquet scored the eventual game-winning goal just 31 seconds into the man advantage as his shot trickled along the goal line before finding its way into the Iona net as it deflected off defenseman Nathan Lutz’s skate.
“Our game plan was to go out there and finish our checks. We know that they don’t like that physical game that much. If we can keep them in their zone, they are not going to be able to use their transition [game],” Paquet said.
“You’ve got two teams that are really battling for position in the playoffs. It was intense, [with] tempers flaring, as you are fighting for every inch you can get,’ Hannah said.
Iona nearly tied the game in the opening minute of the third period, but Krueckl’s backhander with Ferhi down went over the Pioneers’ net. The junior goaltender shut the door on the Gaels as he stopped 32 of the 33 Iona shots.
The Gaels continued to forecheck, but their inability to score merely proved to tire themselves out.
Sacred Heart scored an insurance goal at 4:37 of the final period when they took advantage of an Iona turnover in the neutral zone. Fraser stopped a Chris Mokos shot from the left circle, but Barclay Folk pounced on the rebound and slid home the rebound.
Down two goals, Iona would pull Fraser for an extra attacker with 61 seconds remaining in the third period. Just 14 seconds later, controversy reared its ugly head when Lutz prevented a certain empty-net goal by throwing his stick at the puck.
Rather than award Sacred Heart the goal, referee Rob Melanson called a delay of game penalty against Lutz and awarded the Pioneers a penalty shot. Garrett Larson made the point moot as he slipped the puck between Fraser’s right pad and the right post to seal the 4-1 victory.
The rough and tumble pace of the game exemplifies how intense MAAC games are as the conference approaches the stretch run. “It’s been pretty tough. Everybody is finishing their checks and everybody is working hard. We have tight games, so we have to go out there and not take any nights off or we are not going to win — and every game means so much,” Paquet said.
Despite a three game losing streak, Bretti is not about to panic about his team’s lack of success. “I don’t think [success] is going to come down to motivation or urgency. I think it is about getting some guys back into the lineup. [As for tonight], Sacred Heart is too good of a hockey team to beat without those guys,” he said.
Sacred Heart (12-11-4, 12-6-3 MAAC) and Iona (11-14-2, 10-9-2) get ready to rumble as they return to the ice with a five p.m. rematch at the Milford Ice Pavilion