Seven minutes into the third period of their game against Bentley on Friday night, Army West Point’s Brendan Soucie scored his second goal of the game. It was a power play goal that came at the end of a long shift in the Bentley zone, and for the third time in the game, it staked the Black Knights to a three-goal lead.
At that point, anyone would’ve bet the house on the Black Knights walking away with a split. The first place team in Atlantic Hockey entering the weekend, they had allowed five goals or more only once this season. Boasting the league’s best goaltender in Parker Gahagen, Army’s formidable defense had to just hang on and they would leave Boston with a hard-earned two points.
As sure of a bet as it seemed, the betting man also would’ve lost all of his money.
Bentley scored three goals in the game’s final 10:43, two of which came on power play goals, as the Falcons rallied to earn a 5-5 tie and a three-point weekend.
“I think we just didn’t do a good job regaining our focus after our win (on Thursday night),” Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist said. “Coming off of a loss, you knew Army would be extremely focused. They’re well coached and they have a lot of pride in their program, so we knew they would be ready, and we didn’t answer that intensity. On the flip side of that, the fact that we stuck together to get the point and three out of four on the weekend, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
On Thursday, they defeated the Black Knights at Fenway Park on an emotional night, kicking off the Frozen Fenway event with a 3-1 victory. It was a night full of fanfare, one where Bentley took a 2-0 lead behind goals by Alexey Solovyev and Drew Callen, the latter on the power play.
After hanging on, the Falcons found themselves trailing 2-0 after the first on Friday before Conor Andrle made it 3-0 less than 20 seconds into the second. Bentley’s Connor Brassard cut the lead to 3-1 at the 7:29 mark before Alex Wilkinson extended the Black Knight lead back to three less than two minutes later. Bentley would add a physical goal from Tyler Deresky to make it 4-2 before Soucie opened it back up in the third.
“We just kept saying on the bench to keep plugging for 60 minutes,” Soderquist said. “I don’t think our guys ever quit. It was nice to see our power play get some goals, which was a huge boost.”
The tie gave the Falcons a huge three points and thrust them right back into Atlantic Hockey’s postseason push. They only moved up one slot into eighth place, but they’re now only three points behind a three-way tie for fifth spot. That puts them right in line to compete for one of the coveted first round byes and potential home ice advantage.
“We’re going to take this weekend as a huge positive,” Soderquist said. “Three out of four is the most amount of points we’ve had over a weekend this season, and it came against a very good hockey club. And to score five goals against the best goaltender in the league will give our offense a tremendous amount of confidence moving forward.”
New Names Atop the Leaderboard
By virtue of their weekend sweeps, Air Force and Robert Morris now stand atop Atlantic Hockey’s leaderboard.
On Friday night, Jordan Himley’s 10th goal of the season was the middle of a three-goal sandwich in the second period as Air Force defeated Mercyhurst, 3-1. Francis Marotte, meanwhile, recorded his first career Atlantic Hockey shutout and second clean sheet of the season as the Colonials scored a 3-0 win over AIC.
The next night, both teams saw much tougher roads to two points. The Colonials watched AIC rally from 1-1 and 3-1 deficits to tie and cut the lead to one, respectively, heading into the third. Matthew Graham scored 11:17 into the third to give the Colonials a 4-2 lead, but Johnny Mueller scored late to bring AIC back in by one before time ran dry.
Air Force, meanwhile, spotted Mercyhurst a 1-0 lead after one and a 2-1 lead after two. But given a five minute major thanks to a game misconduct penalty against Philippe Drouin, the Falcons scored three times in three minutes. Erik Baskin tied the game before AJ Reid gave the cadets the lead, with Matt Serratore tacking an insurance goal on for good measure in a 4-2 victory.
The Falcons are now in first with 21 points while Robert Morris slid into second with 20. Even with Army’s one point against Bentley, they still sit two points out of first and only three points separate fourth-place RIT from a shot at the top seed in Atlantic Hockey. This will change more and more over the second half of the year.
The Bulge Is Back
Mercyhurst lost twice to Air Force and Canisius was idle in a non-conference series against St. Lawrence. As a result, the door opened for Holy Cross, who swept Niagara to create a three-way tie for fifth place. The Crusaders piled 67 shots on the Purple Eagles in picking up a 3-1 win on Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday.
The logjam in fifth place is always the most tenuous spot. Remember that fifth place earns a bye but has to go on the road to the fourth place team with even more downstream impacts. Just two points separate 10th place from eighth, meaning there’s virtually everything still in play. It also once again emphasizes, as every weekend tends to do, that every game has massive importance and impact not only on the team in question but teams elsewhere throughout the standings.
The season still has a long way to go, but this is going to be the norm and something that we’ll want to watch as we continue the march to March.