Ryan Manitowich’s goal at 7:36 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie and powered Iona to a 4-2 victory over Connecticut. While the Gaels finished off the weekend sweep of the Huskies, more importantly, Iona took sole possession of the eighth and final MAAC playoff spot.
Despite the victory, Iona coach Frank Bretti continues to look at the big picture with his developing team.
“There is one side of us that is looking at the standings, but there is another side that is looking at our work and progress — where we want to go and what kind of culture we want to set for our players,” Bretti stated.
“I’ve been very happy with the approach we have been taking towards winning the majority of periods we have played. That has been more important to me than where we are in the standings.”
The Huskies fell behind before they even had a chance to shake off their bus legs as Iona scored in the opening seconds of the first period. Jean-Paul Chaput’s shot from the left point beat a screened Artie Imbriano between the pads at :27. Mark Hallam and Jamie Carroll assisted on Chaput’s first of the season.
Surprisingly, Chaput did not believe that the early goal was a huge factor in the game — perhaps showing some growing Iona confidence.
“I don’t think [the first goal] was all that important. We knew that if we were going to be down or up after the first period we had to keep playing the same way,” the St. Anne, Manitoba native said. “It helped us out a little bit, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if they would have [scored first].”
In a repeat of Friday night, Iona ended the first period with a 2-0 lead as Chad Van Diemen notched his fourth goal midway through. Defenseman Eric Nelson collided with Imbriano, thus allowing Van Diemen to pinch in and convert on the easy rebound attempt at 11:33. Chad Nordhagen and Chris Martini were credited with the assists.
UConn coach Bruce Marshall agreed that Saturday’s first period was similar to Friday night, but with one major difference.
“I think it was deja vu in that we were down by two goals, but I thought our effort was 10 times better [tonight],” he said. “Their first two goals were broken plays that went in, but I thought our effort was there and our intensity was there.”
The major difference between Saturday and Friday night was the fact the Gaels were not able to open up a three-goal lead. Instead, the Huskies responded with two goals in less than six minutes to tie the game.
Matt Owens got the visitors on board when he converted on a rebound of a Beau McLaughlin wraparound attempt at 4:20. Michael Hoffman received the secondary assist on Owens’ fourth of the season.
UConn tied the game midway through the second period as it converted on a mini-breakaway. Iona netminder Ian Vigier got a piece of D.J. Miller’s shot, but was unable to prevent the puck and himself from crossing the goal line. Linemates Kurt Kamienski and Matt Grew assisted on Miller’s team-high 13th goal.
So what was the difference for the Huskies?
“It is called heart and work ethic,” Marshall replied. “Those were the two different things that we didn’t have last night that we had tonight.”
Bretti and his Gaels were experiencing a little deja vu of their own as they headed into the third period.
“Tonight we were in a similar circumstance as we have been in most of our home games — tied going into the third period. I think we have learned enough lessons coming into this game where every possible scenario that could hit us has happened before,” Bretti explained.
“Give the players credit for [the strong third period]. We are just going out there and making some minor adjustments. We talked of wanting a repeat of last night.”
Iona nearly regained the lead moments as Brent Williams stormed down the slot, but was stopped by Imbriano. Off the ensuing faceoff, Williams won the draw back to Chaput at the left point. Imbriano made the initial save on Chaput’s point shot, but was unable to recover in time to prevent Manitowich from slotting home his team-high 11th goal.
Chaput was a rock for the Gaels, both offensively and defensively.
“J.P. is one of those guys who has been around for a long time and he pays attention to detail and plays with a certain calmness about him,” Bretti said.
UConn continued to press for the equalizer, but Vigier stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period — including two off a flurry in front with 2:38 left.
Marshall pulled Imbriano with 1:10 left in the game, but it was Iona that capitalized as Tim Krueckl scored into the empty net to seal the victory with 4.7 seconds remaining. Carroll and Hallam recorded the assists on Krueckl’s sixth goal of the season.
The Gaels’ CHecK Line (Carroll-Hallam-Krueckl) continued their scoring ways as they have racked up nine goals and 12 assists in their last five games — a streak that has seen Iona go 3-1-1.
The captain put Saturday night’s victory into perspective.
“It was a pretty huge win. Last weekend we were in the same situation — won the first game on the road and came up two goals on AIC and blew that one,” Hallam said. “We had the same scenario tonight, but we showed some character in the third period and gutted it out. Ian made some big saves for us and we were able to get that third one and pop that fourth one for insurance.”
UConn (6-17-3; 5-10-3 MAAC) visits Massachusetts on Friday night in a nonconference matchup set for 7 p.m. at the William D. Mullins Center. Iona begins a home-and-home series with Bentley on Friday when it visits the John A. Ryan Arena for a 7:30 p.m. game.