ERIE, Pa. — What started as a club team in 1967 ended on March 15, 2002, as the Iona hockey program came to an end in a 5-4 loss at Mercyhurst.
The Lakers (20-12-2) advance to their fourth consecutive MAAC semifinal and will play Bentley in the 5 p.m. game on March 21, 2003.
One week ago Iona visited Fairfield in the Stags’ final hockey game. Little did the Gaels know seven days later they would be facing the same situation.
In Friday’s press conference, Mercyhurst Rick Gotkin summed up the sentiments of the Iona faithful.
“It’s a sad day for Iona. It’s a sad day for the MAAC, and it’s a sad day for college hockey,” he said. “I thought we’d lose some teams. [But] if you told me it would be Iona, I wouldn’t believe it. Hearing the news about Iona is numbing to me.”
The Lakers opened the scoring in the opening minutes of the game as Dave Borelli scored the first of his two goals at 2:26 with David Wrigley and Adam Rivers assisting on the freshman’s goal.
“I came out of the corner and the puck just came loose and I popped it into the empty net,” the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, native explained.
The Gaels would take the lead midway through the first period as they cashed in on a pair of play chances just over two minutes apart.
Hallam evened the score at 8:54 on a set up from Jamie Carroll and Ryan Swanson as he slipped home his 11th goal of the season beating Andy Franck between the pads. The point was Hallam’s 100th of his career as he became the 32nd Gael (fourth in their Division I history) to hit the century mark.
Tim Krueckl put Iona ahead at 11:12 as he scored his 11th of the season, and fourth in three games against Mercyhurst, on assists from Hallam and Jamie Carroll. The Gaels CHecK Line finished up with 21 goals and 31 assists in their last 13 games.
The Gaels’ good fortunes did not last long as Borelli scored again just 24 seconds later as he beat Ian Vigier from the high slot for his seventh of the season and third against Iona in as many games.
Mercyhurst took the lead for good with less than five minutes as it converted off a set play on a faceoff in the Iona zone as Wrigley tipped home Mike Muldoon’s centering pass at 15:04. Borelli received the secondary assist on Wrigley’s 14th of the season and third against Iona.
Franck made a pair of dazzling saves in the final minute to keep Iona from tying the game. He stopped Hallam on a partial breakaway and later made a sprawling save on Ryan Manitowich. Franck’s late-period heroics were just a preview of what he would do in the third period.
The Lakers extended their lead to three, as it was their turn to capitalize on a pair of consecutive power-play opportunities.
T.J. Kemp extended the lead to 4-2 as he slid down from his left point position to deflect home Rich Hansen’s cross-ice pass at 9:58. Adam Tackaberry, returning to the lineup after missing the last 10 games, also assisted on Kemp’s 10th goal.
Mercyhurst struck again on the power play as they scored six seconds into their man advantage when Peter Rynshoven one-timed Hansen’s pass into the net for his 10th goal at 12:02.
Down three and watching their season and Iona careers slipping away, the Gaels dug in deep and decided they would not go gently into that good night.
Iona thought it had narrowed the lead with 58 seconds left in the second period, but referee Jeff Fulton ruled the puck did not cross the goal line.
The Gaels finally cut the lead to two at 6:30 of the third period when Neil Clark tipped home Aaron Kakepetum’s shot from the point. Brent Williams drew the secondary assist on Clark’s third goal.
Five minutes later it was Williams firing home his 13th of the season and breathing life back into the Iona hockey program. Williams hustled off the Iona bench to keep the puck in at the right point. The sophomore skated into the high slot and beat Franck high to the glove side.
Iona had the Lakers back on their heels as they threw everything at Mercyhurst — including the proverbial kitchen sink. The eighth-seeded Gaels had the number-one seed content just to ice the puck to relieve the pressure.
The Gaels nearly tied the game with two and a half minutes left, but Franck’s toe save of a Manitowich redirection in front proved to be the best, and most important, of Franck’s 43 saves.
“Andy Franck won us this hockey game. There is no question in my mind,” Gotkin said. “The game [is] 5-2 and we come out and have four or five chances. If one of them goes in, I think we win the game going away. They didn’t go in and I think there was some magic in Iona’s situation. The next thing we know, it’s 5-4 and we are hanging on by our thumbnails.”
“We had to try and overcome everything in a three-day period and had to play the most formidable opponent in the league on the road,” an emotional Iona coach Frank Bretti said. “I am proud of my guys. They gave it everything they had. We took the game to the last few seconds. My guys showed a lot of class going into the third period.”