NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Nic Serre’s goal at 1:31 of overtime powered Army to a 6-5 victory over Iona as the Black Knights twice rallied from two-goal deficits.
“Nic kind of needed that. He’s a very unselfish player [and] he doesn’t shoot the puck very much. Tonight he let some good shots go and it’s great for him because he’s been a good, unselfish player for three years,” Army coach Rob Riley said.
“We’ve put ourselves in games like this all year where we’ve been down two or three goals in the third and come back and tie it only to lose in overtime or tie [the game]. We’ve had nine overtime games and we were 0-5-4, so it’s kind of nice to finally come out on top.”
Army’s victory extends its winning streak to three games; the Knights have won six of their last eight. The Gaels are in the midst of a season-high five-game losing streak. The defeat marked the first time Iona has lost a game this season when it has scored four or more goals, after running off a 10-0-2 streak.
Not only did Army clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the MAAC, but it also pulled within one point of seventh-place Iona in the race not to face Mercyhurst in the opening round of the playoffs.
Iona coach Frank Bretti struggled for the right words to describe his team’s plight.
“We were hoping that Friday would be a turnaround game. We’ve looked to get away from the run-and-gun hockey. I feel for our team right now because things don’t seem to be going our way. It’s got to start from the goaltending on out. We have to look to bounce back tomorrow night and play a complete game,” he said.
The night started on a positive note for the Gaels, as they struck for the first goal just 2:34 into the first period. Rusty Ruhl pounced on the rebound of a Brian Schroeder shot and beat Army goaltender Scott Hamilton.
The lead lasted all of 35 seconds before Joe Dudek beat Mike Fraser off a scramble in front to tie the game.
Less than a minute and half later, the Black Knights took a 2-1 lead as Matt Field’s shot from the right mid-boards slipped between Fraser’s pads at 4:31.
Field was one of the many rookies Riley praised after the game.
“We’ve had a great year out of our freshmen,” said Riley. “We had three defensemen getting a lot of ice time — Nick Cahill, Matt Field and Justin Fagan. We have a line with Chris Casey and Chris Garceau, and Timmy Quinlan jumped in there tonight for Chad Mayfield, who broke his collarbone and is out for the season. With these six or seven freshmen, they got some key ice time in crucial spots and it gives us a lot of hope for the future,” Riley said.
The Gaels tied the game midway through the second period when Schroeder rushed down the right wing, cut to the net, and beat Hamilton at 10:19.
Iona recaptured the lead at 2:18 of the second period. Off a faceoff to his right, Hamilton stopped Kris Swinney’s shot, but Michael LoCicero slipped home the rebound.
Iona garnered its first two-goal lead on its first power-play opportunity late in the second period. Jean-Paul Chaput’s shot from the top of the right faceoff circle made it 4-2 at 16:51 as Iona capitalized on Derek Hines losing his stick.
Just as in the first period, Army stormed back to score 44 seconds later on its third power play of the game. Serre’s shot deflected off the stick of Nathan Lutz and into the net.
Iona regained the two-goal lead as Ryan Manitowich beat Hamilton to the stick side at 9:32 of the third period.
Less than four minutes later, Army sliced the lead in half as Tim Fisher and Jon Boyle combined to force a turnover and set up Mike McLean, who beat Fraser five-hole with a shot from the left circle.
The Gaels hung onto the lead until a faceoff to the right of Fraser with 1:55 left in the third period. Riley called time out and rallied his team. “You put yourself in that situation so many times that, sooner or later, you have to break through. I think our guys were believing that something good was going to happen here, and we just tried to get the right guys out there.” Riley said.
Riley found the right guys, because Army tied the game five seconds later. Serre won the draw back to the left point to Boyle. His shot was blocked in the slot, but Joe Carpenter swatted in the tying goal at 18:10 of regulation — thus setting the stage for Serre.
“Coach Riley said to get the puck on net and you can’t go wrong in overtime. That’s pretty much what I did. The puck was kind of up on its end and I think it was kind of a knuckle-puck and it tricked [Fraser]. He thought it was going to come in harder than it did,” Serre said of his game-winning goal.
Despite his team’s losing streak, Bretti refuses to sound the alarm of urgency. “I thought our players had a good week of practice. We played well, but Army made the best of their opportunities. It was just going to be hard fighting back. I thought territorially we played okay. It just was when they had an opportunity, it was in the net — and it happened more than once,” he said.
So where do the Gaels go from here?
“It’s going to come down to focus in practice and, possibly, getting some guys back in our lineup. We’re not really worried about the points or where we end up [in the standings]. We have to start feeling good about ourselves, but a win would help. We really thought tonight we played good enough to win. The bounces just didn’t go our way,” Bretti lamented.
Army (8-15-5, 8-10-5 MAAC) and Iona (11-16-2, 10-11-2 MAAC) conclude their home-and-home series with a 7 p.m. matchup at Tate Rink on Saturday night.