NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Ever since Army joined the MAAC, the Black Knights and Iona Gaels have played some wild offensive games. That is why it was so surprising that both teams were scoreless after the first two periods on Friday night.
The game did not stay that way once the third period started as Chris Garceau sandwiched a pair of goals around a Chad Mayfield tally and Army defeated Iona 3-0 at Skate Nation Arena in front of a crowd of 730. The win runs Army’s all time record against Iona to 24-4-1.
The difference in the game was the play of Army freshman goaltender Brad Roberts, who stopped all 27 shots he faced in earning his first collegiate win and shutout.
“In the first period, he made some great saves and even in the second period – especially at the buzzer. He really gave us a chance to win this game,” Army Coach Rob Riley said. “For a guy that only [has] limited experience in the college game, he was great on the road. He was the difference.”
Iona coach Frank Bretti agreed with Riley’s assessment.
“It was very frustrating because I felt we played as close to a complete game as we have all year,” Bretti said. “We just didn’t capitalize on what I thought was a good amount of opportunities. [Roberts] was the difference for Army tonight.”
Bretti was quick to praise his own goaltender as well.
“This wasn’t a case of us not getting equal goaltending. I though Ian [Vigier] played well, but it was just a case of Army breaking through and getting a couple of goals.”
The teams played the first two periods as if it was early March and a playoff spot were riding on the outcome — a point not lost on Riley.
“[Bretti] has a lot of young players and we have a majority of young players [10 freshman and seven sophomores],” Riley said. “I think both of us realize the importance of early season games and getting points early in the season because it is going to be a dogfight just like last year.”
This time Bretti disagreed with Riley’s assessment.
“I thought Army came out and played a little conservatively. Actually, we wanted to bring the tempo up in the game, but I thought Army did a pretty good job of playing at their pace,” Bretti said. “We really didn’t want to play defensive out there.”
While the teams were scoreless, they did have golden chances to break through during the first two periods. Both teams were unable to capitalize on odd-man rushes to the point where they were unable to get shots off these rushes.
Even when the teams managed to get shots off, they were unable to get shots on goal. Midway through the first period, Tim Krueckl was alone in the slot but shot high and wide. Chad Mayfield hit the crossbar at the 13-minute mark of the second period. A couple of minutes later, Ryan Manitowich also went high and wide, as the Gaels were unable to finish off a 2-on-1 rush.
With 20 seconds remaining in the second period, Krueckl sprawled to the ice to thwart a Garceau wrap-around attempt and Roberts made a glove save on Iona captain Mark Hallam right before the buzzer sounded ending the second period.
Did playing on the road in such a tight game place any extra pressure on Roberts?
“No, it doesn’t really put that much extra pressure on me. I felt good before the game started. We had a good ride [down] here and we were all focused and ready to come out and play hard,” the Cassville, N.Y. native said. “We knew they were a hard forechecking team. The defense played really well — clearing out the rebounds and not letting too many screen shots get through.”
The Black Knights scored the only goal they would need just 55 seconds into the third period after forcing an Iona turnover in the neutral zone. Army broke in on a 3-on-1 rush with Vigier stopping Chad Mayfield’s original shot, but Garceau pounced on the rebound to slot home the eventual game-winning goal.
“It’s good to have a win on the road, especially against a team like this when you get in the league. Hopefully we will bounce back tomorrow and get a win at home and see what happens from there,” Garceau said.
Army nursed its one goal lead until late in the third period when Garceau set Mayfield up for an insurance goal at 18:54. Garceau capped off the night with an empty net goal at 19:09 on an assist from Justin Fagan.
Despite his three points, Garceau knows that playing defense is a key for the Black Knights.
“We base our team around our defense. Hopefully we’ll be able to get offensive opportunities,” said Garceau. “As you can see from the shutout from Brad, our team is strong on defense and that’s what we are hoping for — a good defensive team.”
While Garceau spoke of defensive responsibility, Riley realizes that he needs his big guns to be firing on all cylinders if the Black Knights are going to win,
“Garceau, Mayfield and [Chris] Casey have been getting chances, but pucks haven’t really been bouncing for them,” said Riley. “Those are our go-to guys and they have to win these games for us [because] they are going to be close.”