NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Chad Van Diemen’s goal with less than five minutes left in the third period proved to be the game winning goal in a 4-3 Iona victory over Fairfield at the New Roc City Ice Arena – but not before the Gaels had to fend off a furious Stags rally in the closing moments.
The freshman blueliner’s goal gave Iona a two-goal lead that the Gaels nearly lost at the final buzzer. Iona managed to hold on as senior Mike Fraser stopped three shots from in close as the final seconds of regulation ticked away.
“Mike has played a few games well in a row for us. We needed this good goaltending from him,” Iona coach Frank Bretti said.
Despite opening the season with a 1-6-0 record in the MAAC, Bretti refused to characterize the Fairfield game as a “must-win”.
“I did not want to put that kind of pressure on our team before the game,” Bretti explained. “We just concentrated on the fact that we thought we practiced well [on Friday], we thought we played well at UMass (a 5-3 loss) and our spirits were up after our win at Mercyhurst (5-4 in overtime). That was the really the most important thing for us.”
While the Gaels’ spirits might have been up before the game, their spirits sagged just 33 seconds into the game when Jamie Carroll received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting-from-behind.
Fairfield took advantage of the Gaels’ misfortune when Dan Cotter deflected a Steve Calderara shot from the left point over Fraser’s left shoulder at 2:51.
With over half the five-minute major remaining, the Stags had a golden opportunity to break the game wide open. It was an opportunity they squandered – something that has hurt Fairfield this year.
“That’s kind of been the problem for us this year. [We don't have] that killer instinct – that ability to put them out of the game” Fairfield assistant coach Pat Nugent lamented. “[It's] a little bit of immaturity with some of our younger players. We just need to figure out a way to win. We’re doing everything but win and we’re a little frustrated.”
Frustration reared its ugly head about four minutes after the Stags’ power play goal as Brent Williams tied the game. Ryan Swanson’s centering pass found Williams all alone at the right side of the net and the sophomore scored as Fairfield goaltender Craig Schnappinger was unable to recover in time.
It did not take Fairfield long to recover as the Stags regained the lead just 27 seconds later when Casey LaFlamme threaded a centering pass from the left wing boards to a streaking James Lubinski who redirected the puck past Fraser at 7:15. Freshman Sammy Vatrano was credited with the first of his two assists on the night.
The second period featured some good old-fashioned one-on-one battles along the boards as Iona gained a territorial advantage without producing a tying goal until the closing seconds of the second period. Swanson drew the Gaels even when his shot from the top of the right wing circle beat Schnappinger high to the glove side at 19:54.
“I got a nice pass from Mark and I took the shot and it got us going in the third period,” said the Maple Grove, Minnesota native.
Swanson’s goal proved to be teaser for the Gaels’ two third period goals as the defensemen led the way – something Bretti expected.
“We thought our defense was going to win the game for us offensively because of Fairfield’s down low pressure, which left our point men open,” Bretti said. “We talked at the end of the second period [and said] that we were going to win the game at the blue line. It turned out that Chaput got off the shot to get us the lead.”
Bretti was referring to defenseman Jean-Paul Chaput’s shot from the point that hit the inside of the left goal post and bounced to an open Manitowich for the easy tap in at the 8:00 mark of the third period
The Gaels added an insurance goal that came off a failed Fairfield four-on-two rush that did not produce a shot on goal. Swanson cleared the puck along the right boards to Hallam at center. The Gaels’ captain poked the puck ahead for the rushing Van Diemen who walked in on a breakaway. Van Diemen deked Schnappinger before backhanding the puck home at 15:06.
“Hallam passed the puck and I just picked it up. I thought there was a man on me, but I guess he must have gone to the bench or something. I just skated in and went to the backhand,” Van Diemen said.
The Kamloops, British Columbia native spoke of just how important the victory was for the struggling Gaels, especially with nearly two weeks until their next game.
“We don’t want to think about a loss for two weeks. It was good to come in and win the game and get some momentum. We’ve won two in a row in the conference, so it’s good to go into the break with some momentum,” Van Diemen said.
The only problem is that someone forgot to tell Fairfield that the game was over. With Schnappinger on the bench for an extra attacker, the Stags drew to within a goal when Tom Palladino banged home a rebound with 27 seconds left in the game. Lubinski and Vatrano drew the assists on the goal.
The Stags still would not go gently into that good night as they swarmed the Iona net in the closing seconds before Fraser stopped three shots off a mad scramble in front of the Gaels’ net.
Fairfield (1-7-1; 1-4-1 MAAC) and Iona (2-10-1; 2-6-0 MAAC) do not play again until their rematch on December 6, 2002 at the Wonderland of Ice.