WATERTOWN, Mass. — One year ago, Sacred Heart headed into the Atlantic Hockey playoffs as the second-ranked team in the conference. Saturday night, CJ Marottolo’s boys entered the postseason as the second-worst ranked team in the AHA, but they didn’t seem to mind. They earned a spot in the quarterfinals with five third period goals and a 6-3 win at Bentley.
Sacred Heart entered the playoffs with their only road win during the regular season coming at Bentley’s John A. Ryan Arena, a come from behind 6-3 win on February 4. On Saturday night they would have to fight out of an early hole again.
Bentley senior Dustin Cloutier started the scoring in the first period on a give-and-go with linemate and classmate Erik Peterson. Cloutier lunged to a knee and directed the puck past senior netminder Olivier St. Onge just 6:14 into the contest.
Just 27 seconds later, Justin Breton was whistled for a hooking penalty and Sacred Heart capitalized as Evan Mladenoff redirected a blast from the point by captain Patrick Knowlton for a power-play goal.
The second period belonged to the Falcons. Ryan Soderquist’s squad outshot Sacred Heart 19-5 and lit the lamp twice. Jamie Nudy scored his fifth goal of the season and Cloutier scored his second of the game, 10th of the year.
Bentley went into the dressing room for the second intermission with momentum and 1:10 left on a penalty to Sacred Heart’s Chris Brown for hooking. As was the story all night long, the extra man did not help against the much maligned Sacred Heart penalty kill, which surrendered goals on just over 30 percent of opponents’ power plays.
“We had two power plays in a row when we were up 3-1 and I don’t think we got a single shot on net,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist after the game. “The power play was an Achilles’ heel all season.”
Bentley was 0-for-7 with the extra man on Saturday night.
With just under 13 minutes left in regulation, Sacred Heart killed a sixth Bentley power play, and just six seconds after getting back to even strength, Mladenoff’s forechecking forced a turnover in the Bentley defensive zone. Mladenoff then tucked a wrist shot underneath the crossbar, cutting the lead to 3-2.
“The second goal was a big one,” said second year Sacred Heart coach CJ Marottolo. “We talked about getting that at the second intermission. From there, we were able to build momentum. You have to keep playoff hockey simple. We’re not the Harlem Globetrotters. Just get pucks and skaters to the net.”
Sacred Heart did exactly that. Just 2:47 seconds later, junior Matt Gingera scored the first of his three goals in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“[Coach Marottolo] just told us to stay positive and stay out of the box,” said Gingera. “[Mladenoff] got it started and we capitalized.”
Before goaltender Joe Calvi had a chance to even dig back in, the Pioneers grabbed their first lead of the night. Just nine seconds after the first Gingera goal, Ben Ketchum beat Calvi off the top of his shoulder for the eventual game-winner.
Sacred Heart wasn’t done scoring. Gingera added a goal with just under eight minutes to play and an empty-netter with 23 seconds left, his 19th of the season. They scored four goals in a four-and-a-half minute span, and five in just less than 12 minutes, three of which belonged to Gingera.
“I’ve never done that in college; I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my linemates,” said the humble junior.
“He scored a quiet 16 goals coming into tonight,” said Marottolo. “A lot of people probably didn’t know he had 16 because of the season we had, but he has been tremendous and he played big time tonight when we needed it.”
Senior Olivier St. Onge had a big night after a rough start. The Sacred Heart goalie stopped 42 of Bentley’s 45 shots. He’s made 78 saves while allowing just four goals in the Pioneers’ last two games, both victories.
With AIC’s win over Army, Sacred Heart earns a trip to Colorado to play a best of three series with Air Force in the quarterfinals, where they will be a heavy underdog, but the Pioneers are okay with the underdog label.
“We’re underdogs everywhere we play,” said Marottolo. “Air Force is a great team, but it’s a role we like. We relish in it.”
A tough loss for Bentley is even tougher with the upcoming graduatation of a talented senior class with key contributors goaltender Joe Calvi and forwards Erik Peterson and Dustin Cloutier. Peterson and Cloutier finished their careers with a combined 188 points.
“Dustin and Erik have been fabulous for four years,” said Soderquist. “They have been special players in this program and they will be difficult to replace. They gave us a lot.”
Soderquist finishes his ninth season on the Bentley bench as the school’s all time winningest coach. He passed Jim McAdam on November 19th for his 102nd career win.