WATERTOWN, Mass. — Army head coach Brian Riley said he felt like it was Christmas in the fact that his team tried to gift wrap Friday night’s game against Bentley. Truly, it was more like Groundhog’s Day.
In their first trip to Bentley’s John A. Ryan Rink since losing, 4-3, in double overtime in last year’s Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals, a game in which the Black Knights held a late 3-2 lead only to surrender a shorthanded goal while Bentley served a five-minute major. The rest is history as Bentley would finally score the game-winner in double overtime to end the longest game in league history.
Friday, Army once again held a late lead, this time as big as 4-1 with less than six minutes remaining. But unable to close the door, Bentley scored twice, the second time after the Falcons were once again assessed a major penalty.
Keeping the dj vu gods away, though, Army staved off Bentley’s late pressure, snatching a 4-3 victory for the Black Knight’s first victory at Bentley since October 24, 2003.
The difference this year? Junior forward Luke Flicek summed it up best.
“This time we had a two-goal lead,” laughed Flicek, cognoscente of the fact his team finished off Friday’s win with more of a whimper than a bang.
Still, as the sports clich goes, a win is a win, and the revenge factor – as small as it may – be isn’t lost on Riley.
“When I came to the rink this morning, it brought back bad memories,” said Riley of last year’s season-ending loss. “I thought I was having a bad dream, but our guys, it didn’t really seem to faze them. They came in here thinking it was our next game and our next game is always our biggest.”
Though the game wasn’t pretty for either team, Army’s success and ultimate win came from executing the little things, particularly in the neutral zone. According to Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist his club’s lack of ability to finish plays and take hits was detrimental and right now part of a distributing thread.
“Anything that requires us to work hard right now, we’re unwilling to do,” said Soderquist.
The opening period was territorially controlled by Army thanks in part to five power plays to Bentley’s one. Though the Black Knights couldn’t connect with the man advantage, they still managed to take a 2-0 lead thanks to some solid work in front of the net.
At 4:32, junior Jeff Fearing picked up a loose puck at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and quickly snapped a shot over the glove of Bentley’s Ray Jean (21 saves) picking the top right corner for a 1-0 lead.
Late in the frame, Bryce Hollweg redirected a centering pass through the legs of Jean. Referee Matthew Smith originally waived the goal off, saying Hollweg intentionally directed the puck in with his skate. After conferring with his assistant referees, though, the decision was made to allow the goal, giving Army a 2-0 lead through one.
Early in the second, Bentley drew within a goal when Anthony Canzoneri deflected a Mark Zarbo shot that squeaked just over the shoulder of Army netminder Josh Kassel (27 saves) and under the crossbar 3:58 into the second.
Army, though, answered right back at 5:23 when Owen Meyer finished off a perfect pass on a three-on-one from Hollweg pushing the Black Knight lead back to 3-1. That’s the way things would stand through two, despite Bentley being the beneficiary of four power plays on which it could not score.
Army would jump out to a three-goal lead at 7:39 of the third when Robb Ross fired a shot the eventual game-winner from behind the goal line that deflected off the left hip of Jean and into the net.
Though Bentley pulled back within two on Jeff Gumaer’s sixth goal of the season with 5:39 remaining, Marc Zwicky’s five-minute major with 4:44 to play seemed it would be the nail in the coffin. But back-to-back Army minors to Eric Sefchik and Lyle Gal put Bentley on the power play and allowed Jaye Judd to pull the Falcons within a goal with 1:51 remaining. Unlike a year ago, that’s as close as Army would allow the game to get.
The win improves the Black Knights to 6-0-1 in Atlantic Hockey (6-2-1 overall) the best conference start since joining Division I. Bentley drops to 3-4-1 and 2-3-0 in the league. Both teams will faceoff again at Bentley on Saturday night.