MILFORD, Conn. — Sacred Heart’s 6-3 victory over Iona bridged the gap between the importance of team success and the satisfaction of personal goals.
The Pioneers’ victory moved the team two points closer to a potential home playoff game in the MAAC Quarterfinals. It also proved to be a special night for senior Martin Paquet.
The senior from Ste. Catherine, Quebec broke the school record for career goals (63) when he scored late in the second period, and his second assist of the game midway through the third period gave him the three points he needed to break the overall points record (133) at Sacred Heart.
“Marty has been great for us for four years,” Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah said. “He has really developed into a complete player. To see him achieve at this level and break these scoring records is a testament to his hard work and dedication.”
“I really didn’t know I set the record for goals. I knew I broke the points record,” said Paquet. “It was exciting. At the beginning of the year, one of my objectives was to break the records.”
Not to be outdone, linemate Garrett Larson added three goals and an assist.
“It felt really good [to get the hat trick]. I’ve been struggling putting the puck in the net lately. Tonight I was getting the bounces and putting the puck in the net,” the Rycroft, Alberta native said.
“It was an important win tonight, especially coming off a big emotional weekend we had with that loss and big win on Saturday [at Miami]. Now coming back in our division, we need to win these last five games and hopefully get home ice for the playoffs.”
Larson opened the scoring midway through the first period as he pounced on a loose puck in the slot and beat goaltender Mike Fraser off a scramble in front. Paquet and Rocco Molinaro (the first of three helpers) assisted on the goal at 10:25.
The Gaels drew even less than two minutes later when Ryan Manitowich scored the first of his two goals as he deflected home Ryan Swanson’s shot from the left point.
Manitowich put the Gaels ahead in the seventh minute as he walked out of the right corner and beat goaltender Eddy Ferhi high to the glove side.
Iona did not enjoy their lead for long; the Pioneers answered back 14 seconds later as Larson beat Fraser from the left dot at 7:20, with Paquet and Molinaro assisting.
Larson’s second of the game opened up the floodgates, as the Pioneers reeled off five unanswered goals to salt the game away.
Late in the second period, Sacred Heart pulled away from Iona with two goals in just over two minutes as Paquet and defenseman Bernie Chmiel stretched the lead to 5-2. Iona coach Frank Bretti pulled Fraser with 2:04 left in the second period after the fifth goal and replaced him with Ian Vigier.
“We took a 2-1 lead in the game, but we didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy it,” a disappointed Bretti said. “That’s been our downfall throughout the season. It just seems like over a three or four minute span we break down and teams capitalize.”
The Pioneers’ offensive onslaught continued as Larson finished off his hat trick at 11:59 of the third period when he took a centering pass and beat Vigier low to the glove save for a power-play goal. Paquet and Marc-Andre Fournier assisted on Larson’s 12th of the season.
Iona finished off the scoring 46 seconds later when Mark Hallam redirected Jamie Carroll’s centering pass for his 10th of the season. Tim Krueckl drew the secondary assist.
Despite the Pioneers’ six goals, both coaches pointed to the solid play of Ferhi (38 saves) as the difference in the game.
“I thought we capitalized on our scoring chances when we had them,” said Hannah. We were a little bit loose defensively in the first part of the game, but we got good goaltending from Eddy when we had breakdowns defensively.”
Bretti was even more outgoing in his praise for the senior from Charenton, France.
“It is obvious what a team can do with a player like Eddy Ferhi in net,” he admitted. “He was flat out the difference in the game tonight.”
Hannah viewed the Pioneers victory as an extension of the momentum they built with their road trip at Miami.
“Our team played a real solid game [at Miami] in all three zones and they really stuck to the game plan we’ve been working on for many weeks,” Hannah said.
“They worked hard within their systems and maintained their composure and focus. That’s the type of thing you need to do down the stretch and into the playoffs. We needed this win given our position in the standings. It was a solid effort from the guys.”
Entering the game, the Gaels controlled their playoff destiny. The loss means Iona needs help if it is to secure the final playoff spot.
“It was a real difficult loss coming off a weekend where I felt we played pretty well,” Bretti said. “We were looking forward to this game, but we just can’t seem to get over the hump when need to.”
“The bottom line is that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the lead. I would have liked to see what we could have happened if they didn’t come right back to tie the game up. We had some defensive zone breakdowns that cost us.”
Sacred Heart (11-13-6, 10-9-3 MAAC) hosts Army on Friday at the Milford Ice Pavilion (7 p.m.). Iona (9-21-2, 7-14-1) does not return to action until March 6 when it plays Connecticut at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport in the first game of the second round of the MAAC Challenge Cup (5 p.m.).