For the Bentley Falcons, the past two seasons rewrote the program record books.
They won 36 games, broke nearly every individual or team scoring and goaltending record, in some cases rebreaking records set in the past five years. They’ve finished in the top four of the league, and their star-studded lineup brought home all-conference selections like candy given out at Halloween. Still, they enter 2015-16 with some serious unfinished business.
After experiencing playoff disappointment against Canisius in 2013-14, Bentley forced a third game by winning Game 2 against Mercyhurst last season. Leading 2-0 in the third period, the Falcons surrendered two goals in 14 seconds, then gave up the game-winning goal with 4.5 seconds left to miss out, once again, on their first trip to the conference semifinals since 2009.
“We were certainly sour at the way [last season] ended,” said coach Ryan Soderquist. “But we discussed it in the offseason and started this year hungry. This is an extremely mature team, and we know that we are not going to think about [the loss] ever again. We’ve talked as a unit about what we would do differently in that situation and learn from it.”
Bentley once again returns one of the more prolific rosters in the league. Even though Andrew Gladiuk scored 20 goals and 42 points last season, 16 different players who scored goals last year return this season, including junior Max French and sophomores Andrew McDonald and Kyle Schmidt.
Defensively, the team will need to replace Steve Weinstein, but seniors Matt Blomquist and Billy Eiserman return. Goaltender Jayson Argue posted a program-best GAA of 2.00 last season, leading a defense surrendering just 2.45 goals per game.
In addition, Bentley added size in the form of defensemen Andy Chugg (6-foot-4) and Alexey Solovyev (6-foot-2).
“Our strength is definitely going to be our depth at all positions,” said Soderquist.
A rising star in the New England hockey landscape, Bentley will play an unprecedented amount of nonconference games at home. The Falcons play an early home-and-home series against Northeastern and will entertain Merrimack and Rensselaer this year.
After they play New Hampshire in November, they’ll take a short bus trip to Boston University for the second time in three years.
“We’re finally getting some nonconference home games,” said Soderquist, “and that’s well-deserved for the program and for Bentley.”
17-15-5, 14-9-5 (fourth) in Atlantic Hockey. Lost to Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals.
Names to know
Bentley’s roster is consistently loaded with talent. Andrew Gladiuk put up 40 points last year and is in striking range of Brett Gensler’s goals record. He returns with Max French. Rounding out Bentley’s “big three” is goalie Jayson Argue, who broke his predecessor Branden Komm’s records in his first year as starter.
1. Is it (finally) Bentley’s time? The most obvious question is if the Falcons can get through to the semifinal round. As the preseason selection to finish third in AHC, the coaches seem to think so.
2. Who emerges as the next star? Bentley moved even further away from the Gensler/Komm era when Alex Grieve, Brett Switzer and Steve Weinstein graduated. Look for someone to emerge as the next point machine this season.
3. Does size matter? Every Falcons freshman is 5-foot-10 or taller except for one: 5-foot-5 Cody DePourcq. For a team built on playing tough defensive hockey in the dirty areas, it’ll be interesting to see how the new players integrate into the game plan.
Bentley commands attention because it has the punching power to compete with any team on any surface on any night. Third place may be a little optimistic in a compacted league’s regular season, but the Falcons have to be considered a contender to win Atlantic Hockey if they can finally get over the hump and get to Rochester.