WEST POINT, N.Y. — Army and Iona’s home-and-home series can be summed up in two words — Brad Roberts.
After stopping 27 shots in Army’s 3-0 win at Iona on Friday, Roberts stepped up his play with 34 saves as the Black Knights finished their weekend sweep with a 3-1 victory over the Gaels in front of a crowd of 1,447 at Tate Rink.
Army coach Rob Riley was quick to praise his freshman netminder. “We have to attribute most of the weekend to Brad Roberts. That was some unbelievable goaltending two nights in a row against a lot of good shooters,” Riley said.
Riley was pleased with is team’s performance, especially in the light of a hectic schedule. “This is a tough stretch for us — five games in nine days. Four were against teams that finished ahead of us last year. There is a lot of pressure on our guys,” Riley explained.
The night did not get off to a good start for the Black Knights as Iona finally solved the Roberts mystique early in the first period. Kelly Bararuk put the Gaels ahead at the 2:51 mark when he came from behind the net to pick up a loose puck and backhand it past Roberts. Tim Krueckl and Chris Martini recorded the assists.
Bararuk’s goal would be the last bright moment for Iona, as undisciplined play on the Gaels’ part turned the game in Army’s favor. The home team capitalized on two power-play opportunities late in the first period.
Chris Casey evened the game at 15:12 when his one-timer from the top of the right-wing circle beat Iona’s Ian Vigier. Nic Serre picked up the first of his three assists as he set up Casey with a cross-ice pass from the left point. Matt Field picked up the secondary assist.
A little more than two minutes later, Iona’s penchant for penalties jumped up to bite it as the Gaels found themselves on the short end of a 5-on-3 power play. Chad Mayfield pounced on a loose puck off a scramble in front and put Army ahead for good at 18:25 with Serre and Field drawing the assists.
“Give Army credit because they hung in there after we came out and got off to a good start. We took some bad penalties and the game went south on us from there,” Iona coach Frank Bretti said.
Iona’s best chance for getting back into the game occurred in the opening minutes of the second period, as the Gaels swarmed Roberts in the closing seconds of their second power play of the game. However, Roberts was nothing short of brilliant as he made four big-time saves on point-blank shots.
“That was maybe the best flurry of saves I’ve seen since we have been here since 1985. It was incredible, one after another, point-blank. That really sparked the team because Iona had been outplaying us pretty good up until then,” said Riley.
What was Roberts thinking during that flurry? Nothing, according to him.
“It was all a blur,” Roberts said. Blur or not, Roberts made 30 saves in the final two periods — including 17 in the second period.
Serre summed up Roberts’ weekend. “[As a] freshman goalie, he stood on his head. He’s a good goalie; you see that in practice. He had two good games — a shutout last night and one goal against tonight. I think he had five point-blank shots and stopped them all. It is a good thing we had him tonight because it could have been turned around the other way,” Serre said.
For his part, Roberts was looking at the bigger picture. “It was a big weekend for us because we have five games in nine days so we really wanted to start it off good,” he said.
Roberts’ superb goaltending overshadowed the play of Iona’s Vigier. After stopping 20 of 22 shots on Friday, Iona’s freshman goaltender stopped 30 of 31 shots on Saturday.
In a season darkened by a slow start, Vigier is Iona’s one shining light. “Ian Vigier has basically been the only bright spot for us this season,” Bretti said.
Derek Hines capped off the scoring at 6:21 of the second period when he batted home a puck that was waist high. Serre and Brett Osness received the assists.
“[Serre] can do a lot of things. He plays the point on the power play and he has been a good four-year guy for us,” Riley said. “Similar to [Iona], we only have three seniors. [Joe] Dudek made the big plays, Serre set up some goals and Hines got the big goal. You can’t rely on your freshman and sophomores all the time. You need some senior leadership.”
With a tough part of the schedule yet to come, Riley realized the importance of picking all four points this weekend.
“Iona is different than in years past. They have a lot of younger players. It is probably to our advantage to get them twice now,” Riley said. “Any points you can get in this league at any time are important and we dug ourselves a hole in the last couple of years early on and it puts a lot of pressure on you in the second half.”
As the losses pile up and the offensive woes continue, Bretti is left contemplating the state of the Gaels. “We haven’t been used to being in a scoring rut. We’ve had other problems in our program [in the past], but scoring wasn’t a problem. Right now it is,” Bretti said.
Why is the once-potent Iona offense sputtering?
“We haven’t really practiced all that well as an offensive team and it is carrying over into games,” Bretti said.
Army (2-2-0; 2-1-0 MAAC) faces a quick turnaround, traveling to play Quinnipiac on Tuesday night, November 5, in a 7 p.m. start. Iona returns to action on Friday night, November 8, hosting Bentley at 7:30 p.m.