FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Sacred Heart extended its unbeaten streak to four games (3-0-1) with a 4-0 shutout of Iona. Goaltender Eddy Ferhi’s 33 saves and senior tri-captain Martin Paquet’s goal and two assists paced the Pioneers’ effort.
The loss extends the Gaels’ losing streak to five straight games and marks the second time this season that they have suffered back-to-back shutouts. Iona has not scored since Mark Hallam’s goal 20 seconds into the third period at Quinnipiac on January 11, 2003 — a drought of nearly 140 minutes.
Along a similar theme, the four goals were the most Sacred Heart has scored since defeating AIC 4-2 on November 23, 2002.
“We did a lot of work on scoring goals [in practice] and building a mentality of being hungry around the net — and I think tonight that helped a lot,” Pioneers coach Shaun Hannah explained. “We scored when we had chances — something we haven’t necessarily been doing the last few games.”
Hannah stressed the need for his team to get ahead early.
“It was important. [Iona has] had a difficult time finding wins this year and we wanted to get on them early and get a couple of goals up on them,” he explained. “It’s tough to be in that situation when you’re looking at a lot of losses throughout the year.”
Sacred Heart opened the scoring midway through the first period after killing off an Iona power play. A Gael turnover at the Pioneers blue line turned into the only goal Ferhi would need on the evening. Marc-Andre Fournier’s shot from the left circle beat goaltender Ian Vigier low to the short side at 9:59. Barclay Folk and Paquet drew the assists on Fournier’s fifth of the season.
A little more than two minutes later, Sacred Heart converted on the first of two power-play goals as Paquet pounced on a rebound of a Mike Reagan shot at 12:17. The goal was Paquet’s ninth of the season and leaves him seven shy of breaking the Pioneers’ record.
“He’s been outstanding for us all year,” Hannah said of Paquet. “His whole four-year career has been outstanding. He had a great night tonight. Things fell into place for him. He had three points and was a big part of the win.”
The solid goaltending of Ferhi was another big part of the Pioneers’ victory. However, the senior netminder was upstaged by a goalie’s favorite piece of equipment — the post. Iona’s Tim Krueckl beat Ferhi with four and a half minutes left in the first period, but his shot from the high slot rang off the right post.
Jumping out to the 2-0 lead in the first period played an important part in Sacred Heart’s victory, in Paquet’s eyes.
“We haven’t been scoring many goals this year [and] we haven’t scored the first goal too often,” said Paquet. “It was good to get out and have a lead, and then the guys got a little more comfortable and built on it.”
Sacred Heart took a commanding 3-0 lead early in the second period, scoring nine seconds into a two-man advantage. Garrett Larson notched his seventh goal of the season on assists from Paquet and Fournier at 6:20.
Iona had a golden opportunity to climb back into the game just 11 seconds later when it was awarded a penalty shot after Brad McFaul pulled down Ryan Manitowich on a shorthanded breakaway.
The senior winger skated down the slot, deked to his backhand, before Ferhi made a glove save to preserve the three-goal lead and his shutout.
“[Manitowich] is a pretty good player, but he didn’t try to deke too much,” explained Ferhi.
The Charenton, France, native was quick to point out the contributions of his teammates.
“Maybe outside of one or two scoring chances, I didn’t have to work too hard. It was a pretty good game [because] my team worked well,” Ferhi said. “The guys played well defensively, so it’s not like I had to jump all over the place to make saves. We’re solid [defensively], it’s just a tight game, and that’s how hockey is supposed to be played.”
Much credit for the shutout must go to Sacred Heart’s penalty killers, who blanked the Gaels on 10 power-play chances, while the power play cashed in two times in their first four man-advantages.
“We killed some big penalties and stuck to the system. We played good defense and Eddy obviously made some big saves,” said Paquet. “The power play didn’t set up that well [at first], but once we got it [set up], we just scored real quick. On the PK, Eddy made some big saves and we got the puck out of the zone.”
Hannah echoed his tri-captain’s sentiments. “We played pretty strong defensively — a lot of that due to the play of Eddy Ferhi. I thought Eddy had an outstanding game tonight,” he said. “We had a lot of penalties, but our penalty killing was effective tonight. We did everything we needed to do to win.”
Sacred Heart closed out the scoring with 50 seconds left in the game when Folk redirected Richard Naumann’s centering pass past Vigier. Chuck Metcalfe picked up the secondary assist on Folk’s third goal of the season.
Paquet described the importance of drawing first blood in the weekend series.
“It is always big because we play well at home. Last year, we always had the Saturday night game at home and we won just about every one of them. It’s good because, obviously, the other team is thinking about it and you get momentum going into Saturday night’s game.”
Sacred Heart (7-8-1; 7-5-2 MAAC) and Iona (4-17-1; 4-10-0 MAAC) conclude their home-and-home series on Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. game at the New Roc Ice Skating Center.
Saturday night’s rematch will be broadcast by Iona College’s WICR 610AM and can be heard over the Internet by following the links at Iona’s sports website at http://www.iona.edu/gaels.