Four third-period goals powered Iona past Fairfield 4-1 in a hard-fought game at the Wonderland of Ice on Friday night. The Gaels are now 14-1-0 against Fairfield since the start of MAAC play — including victories in their last six games against the Stags.
The term “hard-fought” is a literal description of a game that featured 140 minutes in penalties — including an altercation midway through the second period that saw the ejection of five players. Such is life in the MAAC when Iona and Fairfield square off.
The teams played a scoreless first period as they spent the opening 20 minutes shaking off the rust of nearly a two-week layoff. Iona’s Ian Vigier was solid in goal as he stopped all 10 shots in his first action since November 16 when he was hurt at Mercyhurst. Fairfield’s Craig Schnappinger was just as strong as he made seven saves.
Eight minutes into the second period, tempers boiled over after Vigier stopped Dan Cotter’s shot from below the right-wing circle. All ten skaters paired off as skirmishes broke out in the Iona zone. When the ice chips finally settled, it was up to referee Paul Simeon and linesmen Chuck Waimon and Bill Tomassi to sort out the punishment.
Fairfield’s Cotter, Lee Tormey and Jonathan Wyson all received five-minute fighting majors and game misconducts. Stags captain Rae Metz received a roughing minor. Iona’s Chad Van Diemen received a roughing and slashing penalty while Neil Clark received a five-minute fighting major and a game misconduct. The biggest winner (or loser) of the altercation was Gaels freshman Jamie Harrington, who received a double five-minute major for fighting and a double game misconduct.
When all was said and done, Iona was assessed 49 minutes in penalties while Fairfield received 47 minutes and a power play. While Fairfield did not score on the ensuing power play, it was just a matter of time.
The Stags opened the scoring at the 10:34 mark of the second period when sophomore Cody Wojdyla scored his second goal of the season on a wrap around attempt that beat Vigier to the glove side. Nick Stead recorded the lone assist.
Despite coming out of the second period with the lead, Fairfield coach Jim Hunt saw the altercation as a turning point because of the manpower issue.
“They lost a couple of fourth line players and we lost three first liners,” Hunt responded.
Although the Gaels were down a goal and in danger of losing their first MAAC game at the Wonderland of Ice, Iona assistant coach Jason Fairman believed his team was right where they wanted to be. “We had confidence going into the third period. There was no panic,” he said.
Fairman also believed that the second period altercation helped light a fire under the Gaels. “Any time you have adversity, it brings teams together. Guys have to stick up for each other,” he said.
For his part, Bretti thought it was just a matter of time before his team finally capitalized on some chances.
“We thought we had grade-A chances in the second period. We were hoping to get those opportunities back in the third period and get a couple of goals,” said Bretti.
Iona did not have many chances in the third period, but they almost made them all count. The Gaels scored three goals against Schnappinger on only four shots.
The visitors tied the game less than two minutes into the third period when Chris Martini’s centering pass from the right wing found Brent Williams alone in front. The sophomore forward deked Schnappinger to the ice and beat the Fairfield goaltender to the top shelf at 1:39.
Bretti pointed to Williams’ tally as the key point in the game.
“The turning point in the game for us was to get on the board. We needed to validate our effort in the second period and cash in on some of our opportunities,” explained Bretti. “I thought that goal took a lot of pressure off of us. We were really concerned about falling behind by two goals.”
Less than two minutes later, Iona took the lead for good when Jamie Carroll made good use of the lively boards at the 3:06 mark. Ryan Swanson’s shot from the left point was wide to the stick side of Schnappinger, but the Fairfield netminder was out of position as the puck bounced right to Carroll who slotted home the eventual game-winning goal. Chad Van Diemen received the secondary assist.
Much as he did in Iona’s 4-3 win over Fairfield on November 23, Van Diemen would give the Gaels a two-goal lead in the third period. In that game, the freshman blueliner scored on a partial breakaway. Friday night, he produced a highlight-reel goal.
Van Diemen intercepted a pass at center ice and carried it into the Stags’ zone. As the defenseman started backing up, Van Diemen slid the puck between the Fairfield defenders legs and walked in on goal to beat Schnappinger at 10:17.
Kelly Bararuk iced the game with an empty-net goal at 19:11 as he scored from the left mid-boards. Mark Hallam drew the lone assist.
Fairman believes there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Gaels after their disappointing and frustrating 0-9-1 start.
“If we can climb out of the hole we dug ourselves, we’ll be a dangerous team in the second half,” said Fairman.
Fairfield (1-8-1; 1-5-1 MAAC) returns to the Wonderland of Ice when the Stags host the Black Knights of Army on Saturday night at 8 p.m. Iona (3-10-1; 3-6-0 MAAC) is finished with conference play for 2002. The Gaels return to action on Sunday night when they travel north to Schenectady, N.Y., to play Union at Achilles Rink in a 7 p.m. start.