NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Brent Williams’ power-play goal late in the third period erased a 3-2 deficit as Iona and Sacred Heart skated to a 3-3 tie — thus allowing the Gaels to salvage a point out of the home-and-home series with the Pioneers.
“It’s a tough situation. Being 4-10 in the MAAC and coming into this game, it was a must-win situation,” Iona winger Chad Nordhagen said. “Coming out of here and battling back from 3-1 down to tie it up is a great point for us. We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied because we didn’t win. Still, I think it took a little weight off our shoulders.”
Iona coach Frank Bretti concurred with Nordhagen’s appraisal of the game.
“There was pressure because we needed some points, but as important as the points are, the process of trying to find [our game] was more important than the point tonight,” he said. “I am happy with the result, not for the point and standings, but more for the mental psyche of our team. We have been fighting some tough circumstances lately. I was really proud that our players had no quit in them.”
While relief might describe Iona’s reaction to the game, disappointment is the word that described Sacred Heart’s mood after failing to hold a one-goal lead heading into the third period.
“We are not happy with three points at all this weekend,” Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah said. “We went in and our goal was to get four points — we didn’t get it and we are disappointed. I give Iona a lot of credit [because] they really battled back hard tonight and battled right to the end and steal a point.”
The two teams seemed poised to play a scoreless first period until Sacred Heart struck for a pair of late goals. Mike Reagan scored the first of his two goals on the night when he beat Iona goaltender Mike Fraser on a rebound try at 15:26. Martin Paquet and Garrett Larson drew the assists on the power-play goal.
Iona’s penalty killing, once a strength of the team, continued to struggle. Reagan’s power-play marker was the seventh in 15 chances allowed by the Gaels.
The Pioneers doubled their lead less than three minutes later. They took advantage of an Iona turnover in the defensive zone as Rocco Molinaro scored his fourth goal of the season with a shot from the slot at 18:12. Paquet and Marc-Andre Fournier assisted on the goal. Paquet ended the weekend series with a goal and four assists.
The Gaels finally solved the mystery of Eddy Ferhi early in the second period as they capitalized on a delayed penalty call. Mark Hallam’s pass found Jamie Carroll in front and the freshman winger redirected the pass between Ferhi’s pads for his sixth goal at 4:30. Tim Krueckl, who drew the penalty, picked up the secondary assist.
The goal not only cut the lead in half, it also ended Iona’s season-high scoring drought that had reached 164:10.
Sacred Heart regained their two-goal lead at 13:10 when Iona was unable to clear the zone after a faceoff in its own end. Reagan made it 3-1 with a wrist shot from the high slot. Peter Giatrelis and Brad NcFaul assisted on Reagan’s fourth of the season.
Reagan admitted that his two goals were tempered by the team’s missed opportunity for the weekend sweep as the D-word came up yet again.
“I think we let down. We had them down 2-0 and it’s been the same story all year where we let teams back into games and it’s really disappointing,” the Flin Flon, Manitoba, native explained.
“I think we are not playing desperate enough. It comes down to the second part of the year; we are getting [closer] to the playoffs here, and we are not focused when we have a lead and not bearing down on our chances.”
Indeed, the Gaels battled back to cut the lead in half a little more than two minutes after Reagan’s second of the night. Nordhagen scored his first goal of the season with a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that beat Ferhi high to the near post. Freshmen Andrew McShea and Chris Connerty were credited with the assists.
If the point took some weight off the Gaels’ shoulders, getting his first of the season took some off the native of Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
“Tell me about it. I’ve just been more frustrated [this season] than I ever have been in my life. Finally getting my first one really lifted the weight off my shoulders — hopefully they can keep coming for the rest of the year.”
Bretti surprised everyone by pulling Fraser in favor of Ian Vigier to start the third period.
“It was a tough call because I have a great deal of respect for Mike,” explained Bretti. “Under the circumstances, we took a little bit of a gamble but we needed to put ourselves in the best position to win the game.”
While Iona would not go on to win, it did eventually draw even by cashing in on its sixth power-play opportunity of the game — five seconds after it started. Williams won the ensuing faceoff to the right of Ferhi. Kelly Bararuk got the puck back to the left point to Chad Van Diemen. Ferhi stopped the freshman blueliner’s shot, but Williams pounced on the rebound for his sixth of the season at 15:31
The teams each had chances to win the game in overtime as Vigier stopped Paquet with three minutes left to play and the Gaels were unable to capitalize on their seventh power play a minute later.
Sacred Heart (7-8-3, 7-5-3 MAAC) hosts Quinnipiac in the front end of a home-and-home series on January 31 while Iona (4-17-2, 4-10-1 MAAC) visits American International as the two schools play a home-and home series of their own.