Atlantic Hockey: French paces Bentley as Falcons force Game 3 with Sacred Heart

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As the senior captain of the Bentley Falcons, Max French had done most everything for his team. The third-leading scorer in the program’s short Division I history, his accomplishments already stood tall for a long and distinguished legacy few players would be able to touch.

On Saturday, he added another chapter.

French scored a hat trick for the Falcons, leading a charge from the team’s seniors that rallied the hosts with a four-point night to defeat Sacred Heart, 5-2. The Bentley win evened the Atlantic Hockey first-round series at one apiece and forced a deciding third game on Sunday.

“You have to have senior leadership,” Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist said. “Max certainly did that in terms of the goals. I spoke to him last night, and he wanted a chance to redeem himself, and he did.”

Early on, it was Sacred Heart’s night. In the first period, Vito Bavaro broke in on a two-on-one, but chose to shoot himself on Falcons’ goalie Jayson Argue. The goal rocketed past the netminder, rattling the water bottle to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.

However, Bentley responded after the first with two second-period goals. At the 6:39 mark, French scored his first, tying the game at 1-1. Less than a minute later, his faceoff win back to Chris Buchanan set up a shot that beat goaltender Brett Magnus to give Bentley a 2-1 lead. That lead stood up through the second period and sent the Falcons into the third.

In the third period, however, things turned against Bentley early. The Pioneers tied the game, as they did on Friday, with an early goal. Jeff Carroll knocked a rebound by Argue just over a minute into the period to tie the game, but Bentley grabbed an opportunity with three straight in the period, beginning with a close-range rebound opportunity by Kyle Schmidt. After Ryan McMurphy’s initial shot bounced off Magnus, Schmidt put one in the back of the net to give Bentley a 3-2 lead.

With about two minutes remaining, the Falcons gained valuable insurance with French’s second of the night, then capped it with the hat trick goal into an empty net to send the series to the third game. On his second goal, a centering pass from Schmidt in the slot found French trailing the play, allowing him to pot the eventual game-winner.

In net, Argue and Magnus both turned in gems, answering their respective bells with highlight-reel opportunities. Magnus finished with 27 saves, while Argue turned in 32. Both teams had offensive opportunities throughout the night, with the Pioneers outshooting Bentley, 13-7, in the first before the Falcons led a 14-9 advantage in the second. The third was dead even at 11-10 in favor of the hosts.

“I thought we got better as the game went along,” Soderquist said. “I thought our heart and desire were there from the start, and it took us a period to get our heads into it by working together and communicating.

“I think the whole team brought more energy,” he continued. “Jayson always brings energy; he’s a light goaltender and he likes to have fun on the ice. He likes to joke with the guys (when he’s playing), and I think that brought a great amount of energy (to our game).”

Key to the Falcons’ victory was the play of their special teams. While the power play went 0-for-6, two of those were abbreviated when five-on-four Sacred Heart advantages were negated. Sacred Heart, however, went 0-for-5 on a night where the Falcons’ penalty kill stepped up.

“Tyler Deresky and Will Suter stepped up with some big penalty kills,” Soderquist said. “And on the back end with Mike Berry and Charlie Donners on defense, I thought our seniors did a great job.”

The series now heads to a deciding third game for the second straight year. After playing twice during last year’s regular season and three times in the playoffs, Sacred Heart and Bentley played four games in the last month before this postseason series. Sunday will mark the 12th game between the two squads in the past season, and will be the final postseason game in John A. Ryan Arena history.

Atlantic Hockey roundup

Mercyhurst 5, AIC 0
The Lakers rode a 21-8 shot advantage to a 4-0 lead in the second period as they eliminated the Yellow Jackets in a two-game sweep. Mercyhurst, the No. 7 seed in the tournament, now waits to determine who they will play in the quarterfinals.

RIT 5, Niagara 0
The Tigers outshot the Purple Eagles, 39-19, including a 16-2 advantage in a first period where they opened up a 3-0 lead. Five different Tigers scored, setting up a deciding third game in the Atlantic Hockey first-round series.

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