Soured by last season’s finish, Bentley appears to come back stronger

Last season, Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist walked out of the Atlantic Hockey awards banquet with an armful of trophies including coach of the year, rookie of the year (Alex Grieve), regular season scoring champion (Brett Gensler) and four players on various all-league and all-rookie teams. But Soderquist was there without his team, which fell just short of a trip to Rochester.

It happens all the times in sports: A team comes close to winning a big series, falls short in heartbreaking fashion and then comes back stronger the next season.

The Bentley Falcons could be that team. Picked to finish eighth last season, Bentley flirted with a playoff bye and then took Rochester Institute of Technology to three games in a quarterfinal series that saw the Falcons dominate Game 1, stage a huge comeback in Game 2 before falling in double overtime, and then run out of gas in Game 3.

“It left a sour taste in our mouths but there were some positives to take away,” Soderquist said. “We were one play away and it showed how important one play, one blocked shot, one goal can be.”

Bentley’s top six scorers last season were underclassmen, as well as starting goaltender Branden Komm (.923 save percentage as a sophomore).

“Komm was injured his freshman year, so he was almost like a new recruit last season,” Soderquist said. “We were excited to see him healthy.

“Brett Gensler had the season we knew he was capable of, and we had good leadership and the rookies really stepped up.”

Soderquist is even more optimistic going into this season.

“This is the deepest team I’ve coached,” he said. “We really can roll four lines. In the past we’ve had one or two lines that were a scoring threat. It’s historic for us.”

It starts with Gensler, who put up 50 points last season in a league dominated by goaltending. The then-sophomore won the Walter Brown Award, presented annually by the Gridiron Club of Boston to the best American-born college hockey player in New England. He was the first Atlantic Hockey player to win the award.

Another AHA coach said that Gensler is masterfully intelligent on the ice. “You don’t notice him until he’s about to score,” the coach said. “Then the puck’s in the net.”

“He doesn’t have to work very hard to score,” Soderquist said. “Not that he doesn’t work hard on defense. But he’s got great anticipation.”

The Falcons’ main uncertainty is leadership, thanks to the departure of defenseman Mike Switzer and penalty killers Jamie Nudy and Ryan Kayfes.

“Those guys led by example with their hustle,” Soderquist said. “This year we’re looking to leaders like [Joe] Campanelli and [Brett] Hartung.”

The Falcons have games at Michigan and Massachusetts-Lowell this season, continuing Soderquist’s philosophy of playing a tough non-conference schedule.

“It helps us in the long run,” he said. “It helped us last season. If you get a chance to play the top teams in the country, you take it.”

About the Falcons

2011-12 overall record: 16-16-8

2011-12 AHA record: 13-7-7 (Sixth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fourth

Key losses: F Jamie Nudy, F Ryan Kayfes, D Mike Switzer

Players to watch: F Brett Gensler, F Alex Grieve, F Brett Switzer

Impact rookie: Defenseman Mike Reardon had 42 points last year for the South Shore Kings of the EJHL.

Why the Falcons will finish higher than the coaches poll: The Falcons are young but experienced thanks to several great rookie seasons and an intense playoffs.

Why the Falcons will finish lower than the coaches poll: Only a sophomore (or junior) slump by several players will keep the Falcons out of contention for home ice.