The night began with the unmatched roar of 2,000 fans, all clad in Bentley blue and black. Their chants rang from wall to wall as their home team took the ice, one-by-one, through the tunnel. In the second period, when Brett Orr’s puck trickled through goaltender Cole Bruns, it became a fever pitch.
Unfortunately for Bentley, the final score didn’t hold out in that favor. Army West Point scored five unanswered goals to win the opening game at the Coach DeFelice Ice Rink, 5-1, over the host Falcons.
“Our penalty kill was really good,” Black Knights head coach Brian Riley said. “The first two periods, we had to kill back-to-back penalties that could’ve flipped the switch for (Bentley). Then we come out and get that goal early, and the energy in the building zapped a little bit. Then we got the next one (after that).”
In killing all six of Bentley’s power plays, the Black Knights were able to push back and eventually ride down in the third period. They scored four goals in that period, including three within five minutes of game time. It started when Alex Wilkinson ripped a shot past goaltender Jayson Argue at the 1:27 mark.
It continued when Tyler Pham did the same. His slap shot attempt was, at first, handled by Argue, but it trickled past the goal mouth and into the net for a 3-1 West Point lead. A power play goal by Conor Andrle sealed Bentley’s fate, while Zach Evancho put the finishing touches on the score.
It was a surreal night highlighted by one of the most electric atmospheres in recent Atlantic Hockey history. The sold-out crowd at Bentley Arena took the game by storm and only petered out when the Black Knights started to put distance into the scoreboard. Despite being a late-season game, it took on a Super Bowl-type feeling.
“It was a great environment to play a college hockey game,” Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist said. “As tough as it was to swallow that loss, it was a one goal game heading down the stretch into the third. So I was really proud of the way our guys battled, and I was really proud of the way that the community came out and supported us. It’s something we’ve been waiting on for a long, long time.”
The game pretty much gave both teams exactly what they could’ve wanted. For Army West Point, it’s a critical two points that push the team closer to a first round bye. Mercyhurst’s win over Robert Morris sends the Black Knights into fourth place, which in turn would give them a home series in the quarterfinals.
For Bentley, the loss stings in the standings, but they can still control their destiny for home ice in the first round. At the same time, the Falcons enjoyed a breakthrough and watershed moment, one that resonated with many of the 2,200-plus fans in attendance.
“This (night) was great for college hockey,” Riley said. “I’m really happy for Ryan, his program, and his players. Obviously it’s great for their program, but it’s great for our league and it’s great for college hockey. I was honored that we were able to be here, and it was a special night (for everyone).”