NORTHFORD, Conn. — Matt Craig’s hat trick paced Quinnipiac to a 7-4 victory over Iona at the Northford Ice Pavilion as the Bobcats finished off their sweep of the home-and-home series with the Gaels.
Unlike Friday night’s game that featured playoff-like hockey, Saturday night’s matchup seemed more like a group of guys getting together to play pond hockey. In other words, defense was not high on the list of priorities.
The Bobcats capitalized on the momentum of their overtime win by taking the lead in the opening minute of play when Craig stormed down the left wing and beat Iona netminder Ian Vigier to the short side with a shot just below the left faceoff circle only 52 seconds into the game.
Less than two minutes later Quinnipiac doubled its lead when Tom Watkins scored an unassisted goal with a sharp angle shot from the left wing boards at 2:43.
The Gaels drew even just past the five-minute mark as freshman Chris Martini scored on a sharp angle shot of his own that beat Bobcat goaltender Justin Eddy to the short side.
Iona tied the game at 13:21 of the first period when Andrew McShea collected his first collegiate goal when his shot from the top of the right circle beat Eddy. Ryan Swanson set up the play with a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone.
The one bright spot for Iona coach Frank Bretti was the way his young team responded after falling behind 2-0 minutes into the game.
“We put ourselves in a deficit early and we showed some character by coming back,” he said.
The Gaels would get a couple of more opportunities to come from behind because Quinnipiac regained their lead on a goal that drew the ire of the Iona bench.
Vigier stopped Ty Deinema’s original shot, but was unable to corral Chris White’s rebound attempt as the goaltender was knocked backwards, dislodging the net. Referee Glenn Richitelle allowed White’s goal to stand and the Bobcats had a 3-2 lead at 12:38 of the second period.
What irked Iona was the fact that a similar play happened early in the third period on Friday night, but referee Thomas Parece waived off the goal.
Iona once again rallied back to tie the game less that three minutes later as it capitalized on the game’s first power play. Some fine one-touch passing by Ryan Manitowich and Mark Hallam set Kelly Bararuk up in the slot and the native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan one-timed the puck past Eddy at 15:27.
The Bobcats gave the partisan crowd something to cheer about during the final minute of the second period as they took their third lead of the game when Craig deflected home a Wade Winkler shot from the left point at 19:18.
“From last night to tonight, we changed all the lines,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold explained. “I thought Matt Craig has been flat the last four or five games. Last night he played with [Matt] Froehlich and [Ryan] Morton. Tonight he played with Herbert and White and obviously it paid immediate dividends. Matt responded tonight. I challenged him a little bit because he has not been competing at that high of a level.”
Pecknold’s line juggling went beyond just trying to jump start his players.
“We juggled the lines to try and get a little bit more fire for 60 minutes,” he said. “I think we’ve been playing good hockey, but we haven’t been doing it for 60 minutes – and I don’t even know we played for exactly 60 tonight, but we are getting a little bit closer.”
The Bobcats third lead did not last long as the Gaels tied the game for the third time when Hallam took a centering pass on his forehand, switched to the backhand, and beat Eddy from the slot just 20 seconds into the third period.
“We talked in the [second] intermission about having the one-goal lead and trying to bear down and come out hungry,” said Pecknold. “Then in the first shift of the third period they score and the guys were down a little bit. It is the sign of a good team that we were resilient and battled through it and took it to them in the third period.”
Quinnipiac took command of the game by scoring the games final three goals — including two in less than five minutes.
Brian Herbert scored the eventual game-winning goal at 5:43 as his one-timer from the slot squeezed between Vigier’s blocker and his body.
The Bobcats regained their two-goal lead as the nation’s second best power play unit scored on their only chance of the game. Craig finished off his hat trick at 10:04 off a faceoff to the right of Vigier. The London, Ontario native caught the Iona defense off guard as he went forward with the faceoff and scored an unassisted goal.
Sophomore Bobby Acropolis capped off the scoring with his first collegiate goal as his shot from his own blue line found its way into an empty net with 58 seconds left in the game.
“We made some major mistakes in the defensive zone in the last three goals. We let up and it flat out cost us the game,” Bretti lamented. “I think our work ethic is there, but for us not to come away this weekend with any points is very disappointing.”
Quinnipiac (14-4-1; 12-1-1 MAAC) returns to action on January 17, 2003 when it hosts Mercyhurst for a pair of games. Iona (4-15-1; 4-9-0 MAAC) does not return to action until January 21, 2003 when it play their final non-conference game of the year at Brown.