NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — When we last left Quinnipiac and Iona, the two rivals played over 86 minutes of intense playoff hockey before Chris White’s goal in double overtime eliminated the Gaels from the MAAC quarterfinals on March 9, 2002.
It should come as no surprise to see the two teams head to overtime in their first meeting of the 2002-2003 season — some 10 months later.
This time it was Matt Froehlich’s turn to play the hero as the sophomore’s goal 1:45 into overtime lifted the Bobcats to a 2-1 victory. Also unsurprisingly, Quinnipiac played yet another tight game; its last seven games have been decided by one or two goals.
“It’s always hard to play in these scenarios,” Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. “You always want to win these games, but hopefully we’re not getting some false confidence because we keep winning these games. We’ve been fortunate to get some good bounces, and obviously, some great goaltending.”
Jamie Holden supplied the goaltending as he stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced. So how does he prepare himself for the likely prospect of a close game?
“It’s just a matter of everybody going out doing their job,” the native of Telkwa, B,C., said. “I know that I have to go out and play my best, and if I let in a bad goal, I know it might cost us the game. I go out and try to make all of the saves I should and a few of the ones I shouldn’t.”
“[Holden] had a good game. He was fighting [the puck] a little bit at times, and he is still trying to find his rhythm again since the break,” said Pecknold. “He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league and he finds ways to win.”
Pecknold was also quick to praise the rebuilding Gaels. ” I was very impressed with the way Iona played,” he said. “For a young team, they played hard … and I was impressed with some of the decisions they made. I thought the kid [Ian] Vigier was excellent in net.”
Iona’s freshman netminder turned aside 40 shots — the seventh time in 16 games that Vigier has made at least 40 saves, including two games where he has stopped at least 50 shots.
The Bobcats opened the scoring at the 7:34 mark of the first period as Iona’s double overtime nemesis struck again. Vigier stopped Ty Deinema’s mini-breakaway attempt, but White was able to slip home the rebound for his fourth goal of the season. Rob Hammel received the secondary assist.
As it has done of late, Iona kept riding the V-Train as Vigier kept his team in the game until it could rally to tie the score 8:43 into the second period when Tim Krueckl’s backhander from the slot slipped between Holden’s pads. Chris Martini and Brent Williams recorded the assists on Krueckl’s fourth goal of the season.
Quinnipiac nearly regained the lead two minutes into the third period, but the Bobcats had a goal waved off because the net was knocked off its moorings.
Eight minutes later, the Bobcats had another golden opportunity to take the lead back, but Vigier robbed Hammel with a glove save off a point-blank shot from the slot.
“I thought we controlled the first [period] and they controlled the second,” said Pecknold. “I thought the big difference would be who was hungrier — who would compete harder. I don’t know if we really did that, but we got the big play when it counted and were a little fortunate that they rang that one off the crossbar.”
Pecknold was referring to Williams who hit the crossbar with 30 seconds left in regulation time with a sharp-angle shot to the left of Holden.
The Bobcats registered all four shots in the overtime period with Froehlich converting on Matt Craig’s outlet pass. Froehlich received the pass in stride at the red line and skated down the slot as he beat Vigier high to the glove side for the game-winning goal. Ryan Morton received the secondary assist.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Iona coach Frank Bretti accentuated the positives.
“I was pretty happy with our team’s play. The bottom line is that we didn’t finish our opportunities, but that is also a reflection of very good goaltending on their part,” Bretti said. “I thought Ian played well, but at the same time, I’m not sure if I would have traded our chances for theirs.”
With Quinnipiac and Iona playing a home-and-home series, both coaches realized how important getting that first game is.
“It’s always huge,” Pecknold answered. “You get the monkey off your back and you put the pressure on the other team. The most important thing for us is the fact now we’re going home [to finish the series].”
Bretti echoed his counterparts’ sentiments.
“It was a playoff-like type of game with good goaltending on both sides. We’ve always had these types of games [against Quinnipiac],” Bretti responded.
The Iona coach also realized that his team needed the win, not only get a leg up in the home-and-home series, but to build some momentum for the second half.
“I think over the last five games we have been playing very well, but we are still trying to find ourselves at home — which is something that we are not used to doing,” said Bretti. “I told our guys at the end of the game that we are going to have a little bit of fire in us for tomorrow night’s game, and that if play a similar type of game, hopefully we can turn this around. We’ll have to see what our character is like tomorrow night.”
Iona (4-14-1; 4-8-0 MAAC) and Quinnipiac (13-4-1; 11-1-1 MAAC) conclude their home-and-home series Saturday night at the Northford Ice Pavilion in a 7 p.m. game.