“I think we were happy with our team last year.”
That may sound crazy coming from a coach whose team finished in seventh place despite the feeling the club could compete for a top-four spot, but Ryan Soderquist means it.
Okay, so maybe “happy” wasn’t the right term. There was plenty for Soderquist to pick apart. But when you talk about the pure talent of his players, the ability to get things done, last year’s club had potential.
“We lost eight one-goal games because we weren’t focused on playing 60 minutes of hockey and we weren’t determined enough to win those games,” said Soderquist, now in his third year at Bentley after a four-year playing career there in the mid-1990’s. “I don’t think it’s a talent issue. We have enough talent on our roster to be mid-pack.
“If we play hard and stay focused we can come out the top two, three or four. If we do what we do last year and not stay focused and be in the [penalty] box the whole game we’ll be in the bottom two, three or four.”
Those aren’t happy words, now, are they?
Maybe Soderquist is happy because he realizes that his team can do better. The question, though, is will they?
“We were lucky enough to only graduate two starters last year,” Soderquist said. “We return nine of our ten leading scorers from last year. We return all five of our starting defensemen. And we return Simon St. Pierre in net for his senior year, who we think is focused and ready to go.”
In addition, the Falcons will bring in a group of five freshmen led by forward Anthony Pellarin, whom Soderquist thinks will have an immediate impact.
“[Pellarin] led his led the team in power-play goals and we think that he can help us a lot in something we really lacked in last year, which was scoring goals.”
Bentley averaged only 2.29 goals per game in league play last year. Their power play clicked, as Soderquist put it, at an “embarrassingly low” 11.3 percent.
“There were plenty of those one-goal games where we were tied or ahead by a goal and we’d have two or three power plays in a row and we wouldn’t score and put them away or take the lead,” said Soderquist. “Our power play was just pretty disturbing last year.”
To help the offensive cause, Soderquist hopes that the team that came to play in the second half of the season (Bentley won eight games after Christmas compared to just one before) is present this year from day one.
“We have a number of guys who need to step up and play to their potential. Even our leading scorer last year, Brendan McCartin, he had a great second half even though he struggled in the first half,” Soderquist said. “He needs to continue to play the way he played at the end of last year.
“I’ve been in this league for a long time and I know he’s one of the best players to ever play in this league, and he needs to continue to play that way.”
In addition to McCartin and the top two lines, Soderquist’s team’s offensive depth is critical: the third and fourth lines have to be relied upon for offense.
“We had 12 games in a row where our third line scored one goal,” said Soderquist. “When you have a third line that scores one goal in 12 games, that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on your first and second lines.
“Sometimes I’d come out of the game screaming at the first two lines because they didn’t get it done and then realize the third and fourth line need to score a goal here and there.”
Right now, Soderquist wants his team focused on one thing only: October. He doesn’t want to arrive at Christmas break with that horrid feeling of having just one win. He says his seven-game October slate is the most important part of his season.
“We want to take care of October right now and not look at the big picture. In the past years we’ve gotten off to a slow start and you get down early and think you can’t win. It’s hard to come back from that.
“We’re looking at coming out of October with a winning record and if we can do that, we’ll be ready to roll from there.”