WATERTOWN, Mass. — Freshman Brandon Komm stopped 26 Army Black Knight shots, and Brett Hartung and Erik Peterson scored second period goals as the Bentley Falcons won their second consecutive Atlantic Hockey game with a 2-1 decision at the Ryan Skating Arena on Friday night.
The win improved Bentley to 7-13-4, 6-9-3 in Atlantic Hockey, now just two points behind newly-minted first place Holy Cross in the eastern scheduling pod.
The winner of the pod receives an automatic first round bye under AHA postseason rules. Army, meanwhile, surrendered a two point lead for third place in the pod over Bentley, falling to 7-15-3, 6-9-3 in Atlantic Hockey.
“A couple of bounces went the wrong way for us,” said Army head coach Brian Riley. “We worked hard, but Bentley’s a team that also works hard.”
After a disjointed, scoreless first period that saw just 16 combined shots, the teams erupted in the second frame. Almost immediately off the opening faceoff, Bentley’s top line of Peterson, Dustin Cloutier, and Brett Gensler nearly put the Falcons on top.
Using the entire ice surface, Cloutier went cross ice to the left for Peterson, who found Gensler back on the right. The two passes knifed through the Army defense, going from inside the Bentley end to inside the Army end. Gensler made a deke, but goalie Ryan Leets made an incredible save to keep it scoreless.
Two minutes later, however, Leets fell victim to Gensler’s tally. Gensler received an outlet pass from Jamie Nudy, gained Army’s blue line, and uncorked a snap wrist shot. The shot went top shelf over Leets’s glove, lighting the lamp for a 1-0 lead at the 2:11 mark.
Army tied the game on Mark Dube’s 6th goal of the season in the 6th minute of the frame, but Peterson redirected a shot into the slot by Leets three minutes later to close out the game’s scoring. From there, it became a back-and-forth grind, as the team’s registered a combined 25 shots on goal in the second.
The game then devolved in a goaltending chess match, as Leets and Komm went head-to-head making acrobatic and seemingly improbably saves. Both teams had a number of scoring opportunities, but each rose to their respective challenges throughout the game as Bentley clung to the lead late.
When the game settled, Komm stopped 26, while Leets saved 24 in a relatively even matchup.
“Leets played well enough to put us in a position to win the game,” said Riley. “He was a victim of a couple of bad bounces. But he’s always out there competing, and he makes some great acrobatic saves. He’s been coming into his own (this year).”
Where Leets has been coming into his own over the course of the year, Komm registered just his third start and appearance in a Falcon uniform.
After playing in a nonconference tilt earlier in the year, he incurred a lower body injury that kept him out the entire months of November and December. He returned to play on New Year’s Eve against Air Force, but once again was injured and missed significant time. On Friday, he returned to the lineup and recognized the gravity of the moment.
“Another injury can happen at any moment,” he said following the game, “so you can’t take anything for granted. I’ve learned to live in the moment. Our team played great tonight, and it felt great to get that win.”
For Komm, he is credited with his first career win.
As the team even up in the standings, they now take to the ice for their final regular season matchup on Saturday at 7:05. Both squads were mum about who will start, as Army has the option of Leets or senior assistant captain Jay Clark, and Bentley has the choice of Komm, senior Joe Calvi (who holds the all-time Bentley career save percentage), and junior Kyle Rank.
“Clark has been there for us,” said Riley. “He’s won some huge games, and he’s been a big presence for us, while Leets has really come into his own this year and worked very hard.”
“On the ice,” said Komm, “(the Bentley goalies) all want that spot and all want to get better and play. Off the ice, we have a great relationship and are really helpful. Joe (Calvi) and Kyle (Rank) are always there to help me, and I look to them for that advice.
“I just try to read the plays and react. I just try to live in the moment and get aggressive. Every game at this point is a ‘must-win,’ and this is when the season really counts. We just have to bear down and come together.”