NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — The New York Rangers had the GAG Line. The Philadelphia Flyers had the Legion of Doom. You can add Iona’s CHecK line to the list of inventive hockey line nicknames.
The trio of Jamie Carroll, Mark Hallam and Tim Krueckl combined for three goals and two assists as Iona defeated Connecticut 5-2 in what appears to be the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the MAAC. The teams are tied for eighth, each with 13 points in 18 MAAC games.
Carroll, Hallam and Krueckl have combined for eight goals and eight assists in their last four games.
“This group is a legitimate first line in the MAAC,” Iona coach Frank Bretti explained. “We feel very comfortable with that line. I believe you are going to see a lot of exciting things from them. I think we are putting guys in the spot that gives us the best chance to win.”
Iona opened the scoring midway through the first period as they cashed in on their first power opportunity of the game. Carroll notched the first of his two goals when, as he was falling to the ice, he flicked home a rebound at 9:33. Chad Van Diemen and Hallam recorded the assists.
UConn nearly tied the game up a few minutes later as Michael Hoffman broke behind the Iona defense for a breakaway, but goaltender Ian Vigier kept the Huskies off the scoreboard.
The Gaels took a two-goal lead late in the period when Kelly Bararuk’s rush down the right wing set Carroll up for a one-timer in the slot as the ITECH/MAAC Rookie of the Week beat Jason Carey low to the glove side for his 10th of the season. Ryan Swanson picked up the secondary assists — the first of two helpers on the night.
“I’ve been jumping around from line to line, but finally I am playing [regularly] with Hallam and Krueckl and I think we are really clicking,” said Carroll. “Playing with those two guys, they have a sense of where I am going to be and I am getting use to where they are going to be.”
Huskies coach Bruce Marshall was disappointed that his team broke slowly from the gate.
“I don’t think we came out ready to play in the first period, “he said. “We had a very sub par first period and Iona came out with a little more jump and put us in a 2-0 hole.”
That 2-0 hole turned into a three-goal deficit early in the second as Iona scored its second power-play goal in as many chances.
Ryan Manitowich redirected Brent Williams’ centering pass between Carey’s pads at 4:27 for his 10th goal. Aaron Kakepetum received the secondary assist.
A little more than two minutes later it was UConn’s turn to capitalize on the man advantage as the Huskies scored on their first power play. Jon Ames skated through the slot and deflected home Michael Hoffman’s shot from the left point to make it 3-1 at 6:50. Tim Olsen also assisted on Ames’ third of the season.
The Huskies whittled the lead down to one when Jonathan Jepson’s shot from the left point handcuffed Vigier at 15:47. D.J. Miller and Eric Nelson drew the assists on Jepson’s second tally of the year.
UConn nearly tied the game with 45 seconds remaining in the second period as Kurt Kamienski got behind the Iona defense for a breakaway, but the his shot rang off the crossbar.
With Iona’s third period collapse against AIC still fresh in the back of their minds, Bretti wanted to make sure his team would have no regrets this time.
“We did not want to come into the locker room at the end of the game talking about blowing leads or not winning the third period,” he said. “We bared down and took care of business in the third period — something we are all excited about.
The Gaels received some much needed breathing room early in the third period as Chris Martini tallied his second goal of the season at 3:16. Chad Nordhagen and Chris Connerty worked the puck free along the boards. Martini walked out from the right wing corner and beat Carey high to the glove side.
“I was happy to get that one. It’s been a long year for me. The linemates made two picks there and gave me some open ice. Coach [Eric] Silverman told me to go high before the game,” Martini said. “Our line did a good job of giving [the team] some momentum.”
Bretti was pleased with the way freshman Connerty responded to the extra responsibility of additional ice time.
“Chris was moved up to the third line slot. He did a good job and paid attention to detail,” said Bretti. “He is going to play more of a safer game. Chris took care of business tonight and he took care of the little things away from the puck.”
Less than four minutes later, Hallam kept the Gaels’ momentum rolling as he deked a UConn defender, slipped the puck between the defender’s skates, and beat Carey on a backhander at 7:01 with both teams skating four aside. Swanson and Krueckl drew the assists on Hallam’s eighth goal.
“In the third period, maybe we expended too much energy in the second period, or, we let them get going [in the third period]. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t react the way we needed,” Marshall lamented.
“Coming off the circumstances of last weekend, I thought we showed a great deal of character coming out and winning two of three periods on the road in a series that means a lot for both teams,” Bretti stated.
“I’m really excited for the guys. We’ve had some ups and downs. I think our guys have maintained their high work ethic level. We’re just learning how to win.”
Iona (6-18-1; 6-11-1 MAAC) and UConn (6-16-3; 5-10-3) continue their battle for the playoffs Saturday night at the New Roc Ice Skating Center in a 7:30 p.m. contest.