NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Freshman defenseman Preston Cicchine’s goal at 11:41 of the third period proved to be the game-winner in American International’s 2-1 victory over Iona. The loss snapped Iona’s 11-game winning streak against the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s funny. I didn’t know it was 11, but I knew it had been a lot. I like the way they play and, for whatever reason, we just haven’t matched up that well against them. They’ve given us fits in the past. It was certainly nice to finally beat them,” AIC coach Gary Wright said.
“I think it was a good recovery from last [a home loss to Quinnipiac]. In my opinion, it was a great college hockey game. Both teams played well.”
One coach’s great game is another coach’s misery — especially when that coach is looking for his team’s first win of the season.
“Tonight really hurt because I really thought our guys wanted it. I thought we were coming out looking for a win. Again, it was just one of those situations in the end,” Gaels’ coach Frank Bretti lamented. “On that last goal it looked like the puck was going to get out of the zone, but it was the same story. Their defenseman comes in and takes a whack at it and the puck goes in the net.”
Guillaume Caron nearly broke a scoreless tie late in the first period, but his shot from the slot hit the inside of the left post with 2:15 left in the period.
The Gaels had their best chance at taking the lead three minutes into the second period when Brent Williams beat Chad Davis with a sharp angle shot from the right wing corner, but his shot hit the near post and bounced away.
Less than a minute later, Caron would not be denied. Ryan Robin picked up a loose puck in the right corner and centered it to an open Caron in the slot and the native of Saint Nicholas, Quebec redirected the puck past Ian Vigier at 3:38 to give AIC a 1-0 lead.
Iona responded to tie the game nine minutes later. After the Gaels had killed off their fourth penalty, Ryan Manitowich scored his first goal of the season from the slot to tie the game at the 12:33 mark. Tim Krueckl and Mark Hallam drew the assists.
During the second intermission, Wright stressed the need for his team to continue playing solid fundamental hockey.
“We felt that we had to keep shooting the puck and also have good balance defensively and gain the zone,” Wright said. “They’ve got quick forwards and are creative with the puck [so] we wanted to make sure we had plenty of checkers back to counter that.”
The Gaels offensive woes have left them little margin for error as every game seems to come down to one play or situation — a fact that other teams are noticing.
“It goes to show you that what we talked about during [the MAAC] Media Day is true. The reality of it is these games are tight. The majority of our games haven’t been decided until late [in the game],” said Bretti. “Teams sense that we are a little vulnerable and you can’t blame them. We are going up against some good teams.”
The teams traded power play chances before AIC took the lead for good midway through the third period.
Cicchine pinched in from the point and let loose with a shot from the left half-boards that beat Vigier over his left shoulder as the Iona netminder dropped to the ice. Caron and Ron Miller were credited with assists.
“It feels great coming back [to win] after playing Quinnipiac last night. It brings team spirit a lot higher now — all of the work finally pays off,” Caron said after having a hand in both AIC goals.
Wright realizes how important Caron is to the Yellow Jackets. “He has been one of our mainstay players. He has been playing very well of late — jumping on the loose pucks and scoring big goals for us,” the AIC coach said.
Wright also praised the way his sophomore goaltender bounced back after a couple of rough starts.
“We were particularly pleased about that. [In] his two previous outings, he hadn’t put in as strong a performance, but we know him to be a really good goalie,” Wright said. ” I was really impressed with the way he played.”
For his part, Davis realized how important getting two points against the Gaels was — especially after losing at home on Friday night.
“We just had to rebound tonight. We’ve had a couple of tough weekends, but we were able to pull the game out — one out of two [games] — that’s what we have to do to make the playoffs,” Davis said.
“After the last couple of weekends, I’ve played against Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac and I haven’t had the chance to make the big save in the third period. Tonight, the team played really well in front of me and gave me a chance to hold them in there.”
As the Gaels continue to search for their first win on the season, Bretti is not ready to press the panic button — despite being winless in their last 11 games (0-10-1).
“I’m not ready to change our systems or philosophies. I thought tonight we had a couple of opportunities that could have put us over the top,” Bretti said. “We still need to develop this team.”
Iona’s development will need to accelerate because 11 of its next 13 games are on the road. The Gaels (0-8-1; 0-5-0 MAAC) start that stretch on November 15 when they visit Canisius for a 7 p.m. game at the Buffalo Sports Arena.
AIC (3-3-0; 2-2-0 MAAC) faces a similar stretch, with eight of 11 on the road. The Yellow Jackets return to action on Friday night when they host Holy Cross at 7 p.m. at the Olympia Ice Center.