PRINCETON, N.J. — Perhaps Bentley should play more of its home games in the Garden State.
Down by a 3-1 count with less than six minutes remaining in regulation on Friday at Codey Arena at South Mountain, the practice home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, the Falcons fought back with two scores in just 53 seconds to seal a 3-3 tie with Princeton, the sole NCAA Division I hockey school in the state.
Bentley wore its white uniforms and was designated as the home team in the First Annual “Hockey for Hope” game, with the proceeds to benefit the Cheer Me Up Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to sick and underprivileged children.
Bentley also goes to 1-2-1 on the season with the tie, while Princeton was playing its first true contest of the 2006-07 campaign after a 3-2 exhibition win over visiting McGill last weekend. Princeton outshot Bentley, 45-33, and was scoreless on five power plays, while the Falcons converted one of their five man-advantage opportunities.
Sophomore forward Jeff Gumaer redirected home a wrist shot from the left point by freshman defenseman Bobby Preece at 15:20 of the third period for his second goal of the night to complete Bentley’s comeback from a two-goal deficit after two periods of play.
Freshman forward Anders Olson had brought the Falcons within a goal at 14:27 when he one-timed a pass by sophomore forward and Boston University transfer Pat Percella from behind the Princeton net past the outstretched glove of Tiger sophomore netminder Thomas Sychertz. It was the first goal of Olson’s collegiate career, while freshman forward Kane Osmars also picked up his first-ever point on the play.
Sychertz came on halfway through the game in relief of Princeton freshman starter Zane Kalemba, one of five New Jersey natives involved in the contest along with teammate Christian Read and Bentley skaters Joe Cucci, John Hooks and Percella. Both Princeton netminders finished with 15 saves apiece, while Bentley senior goaltender and UMaine transfer Ray Jean made 42 stops, including 17 in the second stanza alone and 12 more in the third period.
The Falcons carried the play early on and had two chances to break on top in a penalty-filled first period as sophomore forward Tom Dickhudt fired the puck over the Princeton net on a power play opportunity, before hitting the right post on a wrister from the left circle several minutes later.
Princeton then took its first lead of the fall with the teams skating four-on-four as freshman blueliner Brad Schroeder accepted a pass by Princeton senior captain Darroll Powe from the left corner and skated straight down the slot before shelving a shot past Jean at 10:17 for his first career goal in a Tiger uniform. Rookie forward Mark Magnowski had the other assist for his first collegiate point.
The one-goal advantage stood up into the second stanza before Princeton, wearing its black road uniforms just 45 miles away from campus, went up by two at 2:10. Senior forward Grant Goeckner-Zoeller carried the puck over the Bentley blueline on a 3-on-2, veered left and then broke to center before leaving the puck in the left circle for junior linemate Landis Stankievech, who went upstairs on Jean’s stick side for a 2-0 lead. Sophomore forward Brandan Kushniruk also drew an assist for the Tigers. It became a 3-0 game at 10:36 when Powe pushed the puck ahead to Magnowski, who powered in from the left side and cut across the goal mouth before pushing a backhander past Jean.
“I felt very good about the second period,” said third-year Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky. “I’m not certain about our mental play in the third period. I need to see some of the goals on tape, but I would like to see us do a better job with our mental attitude in close games. I thought we had an excellent second period and a poor third period.”
He was pleased with the play of the Princeton freshmen in their first real collegiate contest.
“On the whole they played fairly well,” said Gadowsky, who is carrying 10 rookies on this year’s roster. “Schroeder scored a heck of a goal, and Kalemba, you can’t get any better than allowing no goals.
“You can’t chalk this up to (freshman) inexperience at all. They played well.”
Bentley finally got on the board on the power play with 5:27 left before the second intermission when Gumaer one-timed classmate Anthony Canzoneri’s cross-ice feed from the left side past a lunging Sychertz. Fellow sophomore forward Dain Prewitt picked up the other assist on the play.
The teams traded opportunities in overtime, with Princeton having perhaps the best chance with a minute left in the extra session when the puck squirted loose from the right wing boards and into the slot, where freshman forward Dan Bartlett wheeled and slapped a rolling puck straight towards the cage, only to see Jean make the save.
“We know we have to learn to play 60 minutes,” said fifth-year Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist, whose team came within an Atlantic Hockey championship game victory of the NCAA Tournament last spring. “We have a young squad, and we have to learn to play one shift at a time and watch the emotional highs and lows.
“We came back tonight against a solid team, and I’m happy our guys didn’t give up.”
He was also happy to see the stands filled with a sizable throng of Bentley supporters adorned in white t-shirts and Falcon tattoos, and brandishing inflatable stick-shaped noise makers in a home game set some 225 miles south of the Bentley campus in Waltham, Mass.
“It was great to see those white shirts,” said Soderquist. “It was great to host such an event with the Cheer Me Up Foundation, as a parent of one of our players is part of the committee. We have a lot of alumni in New Jersey, and we appreciate them coming out and Princeton for helping us out.”
“I think it’s an excellent cause,” seconded Gadowsky. “I hope we gave them an exciting game. It’s an excellent charity, and I’m glad we were a part of it.”
The Tigers won the first-ever meeting between the two programs, 4-2, back in January 2005 at Hobey Baker Rink in Princeton. The two teams will meet there again on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. to close out this season’s series.