Veterans return to try to get Bentley to heights they expected a year ago

Brett Gensler is back for his senior year at Bentley after back-to-back 40-point seasons (photo: Melissa Wade).

Coach Ryan Soderquist and his band of Bentley Falcons entered the 2012-13 season with heightened expectations and the thought that they were in for what might’ve been the best season since a record 19 wins in 2008-09.

They had arguably the league’s best player in Brett Gensler, one of the best goalies in Atlantic Hockey in Branden Komm, the 2012 league rookie of the year in Alex Grieve and multiple all-AHA honorees. Despite a defense gutted by graduation, they had the potential to make a move toward the AHA elite.

Yet when the season ended, an inexperienced defense led way to a season unraveled and a 10th-place finish. A prediction to finish in the top four of the league gave way to one win after Jan. 25, a road series at Canisius in the first round and a weekend sweep that ended the season and careers of their three seniors.

“I think we had a lot of growing pains defensively,” Soderquist said. “We graduated our top defensemen, and some freshmen got some valuable time. We got caught on Christmas break where we were the top scoring team in the country and then kind of had a defensive lapse.”

That does nothing to damper the optimism on campus, however. The team returns virtually its entire roster from a year ago and will add a couple of impact freshmen who should compete for valuable playing time. They’ll have Gensler back for his senior year after back-to-back 40-point seasons, Komm again in net and Grieve up front.

Andrew Gladiuk spent his offseason in development camp with the Vancouver Canucks after winning the Falcons’ second straight AHA rookie of the year award.

“Obviously, we return nine of 10 top goal scorers from last year,” Soderquist said. “Gensler and Gladiuk will chip in for us. We have a lot of depth in our scoring, and when I go through the third and fourth lines I think we have some guys that can produce more. We just need to be more responsible defensively. If the whole team helps out on the back, we’ll be successful because our offense is going to be there.”

Defensively, the team looks to junior Steve Weinstein to lead the way. The Los Angeles native has 43 career points and developed into a two-way threat as the team’s top blueliner. Joining him will be senior Zach Marginsky, sophomore Matt Blomquist, sophomore Kyle O’Brien and a host of players looking to make an impact in front of their netminder.

Komm, the top goalie, spent his offseason in the Ottawa Senators’ development camp and is on pace to become the winningest goalie in Bentley history.

“We have the tools to be a great team,” Soderquist said. “We return guys who really worked hard in the offseason and gained valuable experience. All we need to do is continue to work and invest the time to do the right things on both ends of the ice. Teams that win in the playoffs always get strong defense and good goaltending, so that’s an area we need to make sure we continue to improve upon and get strong at.”

About the Falcons

2012-13 overall record: 12-20-3

2012-13 AHA record: 10-14-3

2013-14 predicted finish (coaches poll): Ninth

Key losses: F Dan Koudys, F Joe Campanelli, F Brett Hartung

Players to watch: F Brett Gensler, F Alex Grieve, F Andrew Gladiuk, D Steve Weinstein, G Branden Komm

Impact rookie: Max French scored 89 points, including 46 goals, over the last two seasons in the BCHL while amassing 162 penalty minutes in 87 games. His speed is going to be a factor for teams to contain on odd-man rushes.

Why the Falcons will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: This team is too talented and has essentially the same roster picked by many to contend for a league title a year ago. The defense will jell, eliminating their biggest hole and returning their swagger.

Why the Falcons will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: The defense won’t jell, the scoring will run into the power outage that killed the second half last season, and last year’s poor finish will bleed bad karma into their 2013-14 season.