By Dan Rubin
WATERTOWN, MA—For the past four months, Bentley Falcon head coach Ryan Soderquist preached the virtues of “blue collar” hockey. He stressed to his team the advantages of selfless play, sacrifice and teamwork.
On Friday, his squad came together in their finest team effort of the year, pushing all the right buttons in a hard-fought, 4-2 victory over the Connecticut Huskies at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena.
“This was a complete team effort,” said Soderquist. “Over the last couple of weeks we’ve really stressed being team players and not worrying about individual accomplishments. I’m really proud of how our team put it together this week, and we did all those little things that teams need to do to win games.”
Bentley took a 1-0 lead early in the first period, when senior captain Dustin Cloutier potted a rebound on an Erik Peterson shot on the power play. Peterson’s initial shot came from the right wing, but UConn net-minder Garrett Bartus made the save off his chest protector. Unable to smother the puck, it fell to Cloutier’s stick that put the rebound top shelf, glove side at 6:38. Peterson officially got credit for an assist, as did freshman Brett Gensler.
“We’ve really tried to simplify the powerplay,” said Soderquist. “It’s really started to come together by putting Peterson up top on the point. He has some great ability to distribute the puck to the other guys on the ice.”
After the teams skated to the break at the 1-0 tally, UConn tied the game on Justin Hernandez’s third goal of the season. Mike Switzer tried to clear the puck from the Bentley end, but he lost control of the puck when it caromed in front of goalie Kyle Rank. Rank went for the cover up, but Hernandez stuffed it through the five-hole to tie things up.
But Peterson responded on the powerplay again ten minutes later. The top unit once again worked the puck through the UConn zone until they found Brett Gensler in the corner. Gensler fed the puck through a screen to Peterson, who one-timed into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.
“Brett does a great job to look off the point, then go across ice,” said Peterson. “When he has time to move the puck, it can be scary (for defenses).”
UConn responded after the goal by tying it up again in less than 90 seconds. On a 2-on-1 break, Brant Harris cut into the Bentley zone with Cole Schneider. Harris chose to wrist the shot, electrifying his bench with a strong tally to make it 2-2.
“They pounded it all night,” said Soderquist. “UConn had great shifts after we scored goals, and we had some let downs after we took the lead. That’s something we definitely need to improve into (Saturday night).”
In the third period, the game remained tied until Justin Breton scored what some will consider the goal of the year. Intercepting the UConn pass, the freshman sliced up the left wing and worked a deke to the right. At that point, Tom Janosz made his only move, hooking Breton for a penalty. But Breton fought through the hook, putting the deke onto his back hand and sliding it past Bartus’s left leg pad to give the Falcons a 3-2 lead.
“That was a fun goal to watch,” said Soderquist. “(Breton) had some tremendous effort, and he really grinded it out. He’s been poised to breakout, and he’s put in some phenomenal shifts.”
The game remained a one-goal game as the waning minutes ticked down. With less than a minute, UConn pulled Bartus in favor of an extra attacker and nearly tied it with 15 seconds on the clock. But Rank made a game-saving glove save that kept the one-goal lead. Off the ensuing faceoff, UConn won the draw back to their senior captain, Andrew Olson. Olson uncorked a howitzer shot that Peterson got in front of. He blocked it with his foot, and the puck slid up ice. After barely missing the open cage, Gensler collected it and potted the empty net tally to give Bentley the 4-2 decision.
The win improved Bentley to [10-15-5, 9-11-4 in Atlantic Hockey], while UConn fell to [10-17-4, 10-12-2]. Both teams now stand tied for 7th place in the overall standings with 22 points, while also tying for second place in the Eastern Scheduling Pod. Bentley also clinched the season series against UConn, effectively giving the Falcons the inside track for the second bye slot through the first round in the eastern division. They both stand one point ahead of 9th place Canisius and two points ahead of 10th place Army heading into their final head-to-head on Saturday.
“We need to take the season day-by-day, but we just lost a day,” said Huskie head coach Bruce Marshall. “Bentley did what teams need to do to win, and now we have to come back and try to take it to them at home.”
Saturday’s game time is 7:05pm eastern at the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs, CT.