NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — What a difference a day makes — just 24 little hours.
Iona used a three-goal third period on Friday night to defeat American International College 3-0. On Saturday night it was AIC’s turn to score three goals in less than three minutes to turn a two-goal deficit into a 3-2 victory as the Yellow Jackets salvaged the home-and-home weekend.
It’s amazing [how] one night you can find yourself so low and the next night so high,” AIC coach Gary Wright commented. “I guess that is the lesson of sports.”
The Gaels opened the scoring early in the first period as they connected on their first power play opportunity of the game. Jamie Carroll’s deflection of a point shot from Chad Van Diemen found its way onto the stick of Tim Krueckl. The left winger backhanded the puck over a prone Chad Davis for his fifth goal of the season at 6:49.
At times Iona looked like the Gaels of old as they moved the puck in the offensive zone and put AIC back on their heels. However, much like Friday night’s game, Davis managed to keep his team in the game — this time long enough for the offense to click.
“Chad gave us a great a great game last night. Obviously we didn’t score any goals to help him out [on Friday night],” Guillaume Caron said. “He’s been coming up big for us lately. Frank Novello is injured right now so Chad is going to have to come up big for the rest of the season.”
Wright agreed with Caron’s assessment of Davis’ big play, “particularly in the first period when Iona had intense pressure on us.”
“I thought he played with confidence. He’s really been emerging and that’s nice to see,” Wright said.
The Gaels nearly added to their lead early in the second period on a delayed penalty, but Ryan Swanson’s shot from the right circle hit the inside of the far post and bounced out at the four minute mark.
Iona added that second goal early in the third period when captain Mark Hallam’s centering pass from the right wing found Carroll in front as the freshman backhanded the puck over Davis at 5:21 for his eighth goal of the season.
Rather than give Iona an insurance goal, Carroll’s tally spelled the beginning of the end for the Gaels as AIC proceeded to score three times in 2:51.
The Yellow Jackets began their rally on the very next shift after Carroll’s goal. C.J. McConnell’s sharp angle shot from below the right dot beat Ian Vigier high to the glove side just 17 seconds after AIC fell behind by two goals. Troy Johnston and Andy Luhovy assisted on McConnell’s fifth goal.
Less than a minute later, Ryan Rubin sent Andy Walbert free on a breakaway. The freshman from Ford City, PA skated down the slot, deked to his forehand, and beat Vigier to tie the score at 6:20. Alex Walsh drew the secondary assist on Walbert’s sixth of the season.
As the partisan Iona crowd sat in stunned disbelief, the Yellow Jackets finished off their comeback when Caron’s innocent shot from the top of the left circle deflected off Vigier’s glove and into the net at 8:29. Ron Miller had the lone assist on Caron’s 10th goal.
Caron confessed that AIC had done their homework after Vigier’s shutout on Friday night.
“From Friday night’s game, [we noticed] he was covering down low a lot. Of course, you noticed, on two of the goals we shot up high. That was the word for us tonight — shoot up high,” Caron admitted.
Iona coach Frank Bretti pulled no punches in describing how the two-goal lead, and more importantly, the two points slipped away.
“The bottom line is that we let up two weak goals in the third period and it flat out cost us the game. There is no padding it. There is no other way to put it. Two of the goals they scored are unacceptable at this level of hockey,” he said.
“Give AIC credit. I don’t want to take anything away from their victory because those guys battled back. When we made it 2-0, they came right back on the next shift and scored.”
Wright believed that his team’s ability to stick to their game plan was the key to their come-from-behind victory.
“We thought we were playing pretty well at that time (when they trailing 2-0). Iona is very creative coming into the zone and we really kept emphasizing the backchecking aspect,” explained Wright. “I thought we stuck to the task at hand and that first one spurred us a lot — particularly coming so quickly after their second goal.”
Davis, who made 30 saves on the night, talked about the mood of the team after the victory.
“It feels really good because we’ve been working hard and some of the bounces haven’t been going our way, but tonight they did. Hopefully, we are just going to take the momentum into the rest of the season,” he said.
Wright thinks his team is set up well for a run at the eighth and final playoff spot in the MAAC.
“We are in a dog fight, as is Iona. I think this is a tribute to the MAAC. We are two of the teams in the bottom third and it’s still awfully good hockey out there. To salvage a split this weekend was very important for us. Had we lost tonight, we would have dug ourselves a pretty deep hole,” said Wright.
“There’s not much margin of error for us. We have to bring our ‘A’ game if we want to have a chance to win. We have to find that consistency.”
AIC (6-15-2; 5-11-1 MAAC) returns to action on February 7 when they host Holy Cross at 7 p.m. at the Olympia Ice Center. Iona (5-18-2; 5-11-1) also returns to action on Friday night when they visit the UConn Ice Arena to play the University of Connecticut at 7:30 p.m.