WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Iona was in seventh heaven as Brent Williams, Mark Hallam and Jamie Carroll each scored their seventh goals of the season in the third period of the Gaels’ 3-0 victory over American International on Friday. Freshman Ian Vigier stopped 23 shots to earn his first collegiate shutout.
“I was real happy with our effort right from the start of the game,” said Ioan coach Frank Bretti. “I was a little concerned that we didn’t finish some [scoring] opportunities early in the game. I knew the game was going to get tighter, but we never stopped playing the way we started the game.
“It’s a great feeling for our guys because this was a major win for us given the circumstances.”
Iona and AIC entered the game as teams desperate for a victory, both sitting on the outside looking in at the MAAC playoff race. The Gaels were 2-7-1 in their last 10 games, while the Yellow Jackets entered the game 1-8-1.
The teams skated through a scoreless first period that featured five shots apiece. Business picked up at the start of the second period when Jamie Carroll registered the first of his seven shots on the night, walking out from behind the net in the opening minute, only to be denied by a Chad Davis glove save.
The Yellow Jackets had a golden scoring chance of their own four minutes later, as an Iona defensive lapse allowed Ryan Robin to walk in alone, but Vigier made a pad save.
Vigier stopped Alex Walsh with 30 seconds remaining in the period, doing a split to make a left pad save on the shot from the slot.
While the teams were still scoreless after two periods, Iona was having the better of the scoring chances — something that was not lost on Bretti.
“Outside of some very minor adjustments, we just talked about bearing down and looking to shoot to score,” he said. “I was real happy with our speed and we had good jump and we just didn’t want to change anything that would disrupt [us]. It was just a matter of finally cashing in on some opportunities. I thought our positional play in the offensive zone helped up us to pin AIC throughout the course of the game.”
The Gaels had some opportunities early in the third period, but Davis turned aside close-in shots from Ryan Manitowich and Brent Williams. Carroll matched his second period three-shot output in the opening five minutes of the third period.
Eventually, Iona’s perseverance paid off, as Williams gave the Gaels the only goal they would need at the 6:24 mark. Manitowich dove head first in the neutral zone to head man the puck to Williams. The Iona center skated down the slot, deked to his forehand, and beat David upstairs.
“We battled all night. Our line [Williams, Manitowich and Kelly Bararuk], in particular, had about five or six good chances, but didn’t score,” said Williams. “When you get good chances, you’re doing something right and finally the puck went in. It was nice.
“With our team, getting one goal is kind of big — especially in a tight game like this one. We needed to get [the first goal] and I’m pretty sure it lifted a big monkey off our backs.”
King Kong nearly reclaimed his spot on the Gaels’ backs midway through the final period, but defenseman Jeff Valdes’ shot from the slot rang of the left goal post.
After having dodged the tying bullet, Iona added a much-needed insurance goal less than a minute later when Mark Hallam poked in a rebound off a scramble in front at 11:06.
AIC Coach Gary Wright later used his timeout with six minutes to play in an attempt to rally his troops.
What did Wright tells his team?
“Just that there were still six minutes [remaining] and [that] we still had a chance to win,” he said. “If we could get that first goal, we could get right back into it.”
With 1:45 left in the game, Wright pulled Davis for an extra attacker, but it only led to an empty-net goal by Carroll.
While Vigier was happy with the shutout, he was able to put the win in perspective.
“I’m really happy to get [the shutout] under my belt and out of the way. It was a big night for us because we needed the win,” the native of Notre Dame des Lourdes, Manitoba said. “It was really [an] easy night compared to some other nights. The guys played unbelievably well tonight.”
Despite being pleased with his team’s efforts, Bretti was quick to point out that Iona still has some unfinished business.
“The win is crucial in so many ways because we got the first one [of the home-and-home], but it is only going to be a good win if we come back tomorrow night and get the job done at home. It’s going to be a tough game,” said Bretti.
“We’re still not a team that has shown enough consistency. There has to be a demeanor about us for the next 24 hours until we take care of Saturday night’s game.”
Wright searched for the right words to sum up the state of the Yellow Jackets following the game.
“I’m sure there are some positives, but right now we are a little bit disappointed,” Wright said. “We’ve been working hard, but there’s no magic formula. We mixed up our lines a little bit after last weekend. We’re hoping we can rebound and get a split this weekend.”
Iona (5-17-2, 5-10-1 MAAC) and AIC (5-15-2, 4-11-1) complete their home-and home weekend with a 7:30 p.m. game at the New Roc Ice Skating Center on Saturday.