Logo courtesy of Excalibur Sports
In honor of Bentley University’s men’s ice hockey team’s first round Atlantic Hockey Association playoff series, which starts tomorrow against Canisius College, we thought we’d check in with the team’s play-by-play announcer Dan Rubin, who provided some insight on the team, as well as their chances this weekend.
Make sure to follow Rubin for updates on the team this weekend on Twitter (@DanRubin12) and visit his sports blog Excalibur Sports, too.
Noontime Sports: You’ve been the voice of the Bentley Falcons men’s ice hockey team for the past few seasons. What’s been one of your fondest memories in the booth? Also, what do you enjoy most about calling games?
Dan Rubin: This is a great brand of hockey and I’m right in the middle of it. The hockey is up-tempo, fast, and skilled. There’s a good amount of hitting, a good amount of chirping, and the teams really play each other hard every single night and it’s just as entertaining as any other league. Their rink is small, but reflects something grittier about the game. I’ve been able to immerse in the whole experience from setting up equipment to interacting with players, coaches, and fans, too.
In terms of my fondest memories, though, it would have to be the games that I broadcasted with others. Rory Duyon and I developed great chemistry over the last four or five years that is really hard to find in a ‘broadcast team,’ and the back and fourth banter is something I miss. We really balanced each other out on the air, and people still ask me about when will we broadcasting again, but this year I’ve worked with a new partner, Steve Brouillard, who brought a wealth of knowledge and identical humor and banter to the air. After a long workday it’s the perfect release to call a game that I genuinely love with someone who can have fun with me.
NS: What particular games or moments from this year stick out to you most? How have those games/moments defined the Falcons season?
DR: There are a couple of games that really stuck out. The first game of the year against Sacred Heart was an extremely emotional night for all the right reasons. After a successful 2011-12 campaign, Bentley commenced their season by honoring Mike Eden, who was a teenager from Framingham that suffered from a certain form of cancer. He was tied to the Bentley team through Team IMPACT, which is a local organization that links children with illness with collegiate sports teams. Mike passed away after their previous season, and the team had his family on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop. They displayed ‘EDEN’ nameplates on their sweaters prior to their 7-1 victory. That was just one of those nights that felt so different and special, but it certainly gave the impression that this season could be different.
The second game would be earlier this winter in January against Northeastern University. It was a really intense game and Bentley beat the Huskies, 6-3. They shut down Kevin Roy for most of the game, too, but this game proved that Bentley could hang with skilled Hockey East teams.
NS: What player or players have improved from last season?
DR: I’d say Brett Gensler, who won the conference’s scoring title for the second consecutive year. He’s the first guy in Bentley’s history to post back-to-back 40-point seasons, which hadn’t happened since the team’s coach Ryan Soderquist did it during the club’s Division II era. When Gensler’s on he’s probably one of the six or seven best forwards in the nation. But the guy that’s really standing out to me is Steve Weinstein. The defensive unit was completely ravaged by graduation departures and Weinstein stepped into the top defender’s role. He can play a great two-way style and he’s got major skills. This year he added a little bit of physicality to his game while still recording 25 points (six goals, 19 assists). The entire defensive unit has continually been a work-in-progress, but he’s the centerpiece, as well as the only sophomore, so to think what might happen with him over the next two years has me really excited.
Some other players include Alex Grieve, who posted a 30-point season with seven power play goals and Brett Switzer, who recorded 20 points after struggling to score in the first half of the year. Grieve is destined to wear a letter on his jersey based off his attitude, but when you add the skill of Switzer and guys like Justin Breton and Andrew Gladiuk, this is a team that can make things happen. Gladiuk, who won the freshman scoring title, should also win Rookie of the Year, too.
NS: Looking ahead to this weekend’s first round series, what are three things Bentley needs to do to win their series?
DR: First, they need to forget how the regular season ended. The team lost some of their key players to injuries down the stretch and couldn’t recover. And after beating Holy Cross in the front end of a home-and-home series, they limped down the stretch with only one win. They left points on the board despite rallying against Sacred Heart two weeks ago for a 6-6 tie, and against AIC they led 3-1, but would up losing in overtime, 4-3.
The second thing they need to do is commit to playing two-way hockey. This team proved that when they’re clicking nobody can stop their offense. They never won a game this year where they didn’t score three goals, so they have to commit themselves to that physical defensive style. They have to get ‘nasty’ in the playoffs and play a Bentley-style game. That means sacrificing into the dirty areas, sacrificing to block shots, and relishing the roles of picking up defensive assignments. Branden Komm has game-breaking ability in net, and he’s a returning all-conference goalie, but that doesn’t mean the defense can simply rely on him to win tournament contests.
Finally, they’ll have to capitalize on power plays. At one time, the power play unit was ranked first in the nation, but they recently fell to 27th, so if they’re going to get those opportunities they must convert. If they convert even on one out of every four chances, they should get a couple of extra goals over the weekend and be in a position to move onto the second round.
NS: What types of challenges does Canisius pose and how will Bentley defend them?
DR: Canisius is a good defensive team that doesn’t make mistakes. They’re a Top-20 defensive unit that kills power plays at a 90% rate. Bentley scored seven goals against that unit earlier this year, but that has to be considered an anomaly for a team that pitched shutouts against Connecticut, Holy Cross, and Niagara. Their goaltending has a ‘rock’ in Tony Capobianco, which means their offense is going to need to limit mistakes. Bentley’s going to have to use skill and speed and work their system to get quality breakouts into the Griffin third of the ice. The rink at Canisius has the same dimensions as the rink at home, but the ice will be a little bit faster with a little bit larger neutral zone, which will allow the team to get those wingers set up and get them broken out faster for odd-man rushes.
NS: Who is one or two players that’ll need to step up this weekend for Bentley?
DR: A team really hates to rely on freshmen, but one name that will play a huge role this weekend is Matt Blomquist. Blomquist and Weinstein emerged as a great defensive pairing before the first-year suffered an injury against Niagara, but he’ll return to the lineup this weekend, which means the defense can stabilize its pairings. That also means that Matt Maher won’t have to skate on the top unit and it’ll allow flexibility to push Michael Reardon to a fourth-line forward’s role if necessary. Blomquist’s return provides Bentley with a lockdown defensive pairing that seemed to energize their second unit. It might also allow Soderquist the opportunity to pair Zach Ledford and Zach Marginsky together again, which gives them a decent top four.
Another player to watch is Andrew Gladiuk, who was sidelined the last couple of games with an injury and like Blomquist, he could’ve skated against AIC last weekend, but was held out for the playoffs. Gladiuk was a dynamo in the British Columbia Hockey League and has experienced a great deal of success as a top line skaters for Bentley. Gladiuk’s return allows Soderquist the opportunity to create some interesting pairings and get the special teams cranking, too.
NS: Last season, they won their first round series, but fell in the quarterfinals. What do you think Bentley learned from that experience and how will it help them this weekend?
DR: Last season hurt and I know the guys left RIT feeling like they could’ve won that series, especially after they creamed the Tigers in the first game and rallied to force double overtime in the second. Last year’s pain is something that drove the Falcons this year, but things fell apart down the stretch and they lost the advantage of playing at home. But at the same time they were three points away from home ice, and they’ve beaten everyone in front of them at least once except for Air Force. Bentley can fight with these teams and will head into the playoffs with some big game experience under their belts.
NS: What’s your prediction for this first round series? Who wins and why?
DR: If Bentley doesn’t find their mojo that they had for most of this season, they could be in trouble. They’re playing a Canisius team that just swept RIT and this is a battle-hardened unit that’s had to play in the Western Division of the AHA, a schedule structure with more games against tougher teams. Bentley is getting back a full complement of skaters for the first time since they split with Holy Cross in late January, so if they can rediscover their magic, they’ll win in three.
NS: Finally, what’s one thing you’ll remember most about this season?
DR: Well, I’m excited for next year because the coaching staff has been phenomenal in opening the doors of the program to my work and to me personally. The guys on the team are a great group that come from excellent families. I’ve always said for people to come by the press box and stop by to say, ‘hello,’ and they’ve responded, but I’m very fortunate to have worked with a great group of young men and experience the highs and lows with them. The students have turned out in droves for games this year and their enthusiasm for the game is great. I always say that because of the people I’m a Bentley guy. However, I never took a single class on campus, but that doesn’t stop me from being a Bentley Falcon for life. They’ve really opened up and welcomed me in and each year brings the same excitement to me personally for every game. That said, we still got some hockey left, and I’m really hoping on a personal level to see these guys play one more time up in Rochester at Blue Cross Arena for the conference final four.