Bentley Not Just Another Face in the Crowd
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
Boston is undoubtedly a college town. And it has a rich college hockey history with four area schools, Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern, combining to win 11 Division I national championships and appear in 89 NCAA tournaments.
For the most part, tiny Bentley, with only two ECAC Division III playoff titles to its name, has been overshadowed by its more powerful and storied neighbors. Sure, the Falcons have had their moments since going D-I in 1999. A trip to the Atlantic Hockey finals in 2006. A D-I-era team record 19 wins in 2009. Brett Gensler’s Walter Brown Award in 2012. But tradition isn’t built overnight.
“Bentley as a program is building, and we’re trying to contend with the BCs and the BUs,” Gensler said. “We want to play anyone, any night, and win and not just be another team around Boston. We want to be the team in Boston.”
So far, Bentley has succeeded in capturing Boston’s attention this season. The Falcons are currently on an eight-game unbeaten streak, going 7-0-1 since Nov. 15 to move into a tie with Mercyhurst for first in the AHA. And they’ve also had a few signature wins.
The Falcons didn’t just contend with BU in their first-ever meeting with the Terriers on Dec. 14. They upset them, 4-1, at always hostile Agganis Arena, bolstered by Branden Komm’s 42 saves and three power-play markers.
Over the course of the unbeaten streak, Bentley also took three points from Air Force at Cadet Ice Arena and defeated rival Holy Cross twice, including at Frozen Fenway on Dec. 28.
“Every player has his own role on the team,” Bentley captain Jared Rickord said. “Some guys are goal scorers; some guys are penalty killers; some guys are offensive defensemen; some guys are defensive defensemen. Everyone is sticking to their role and what they bring to the team that makes them valuable.”
Bentley hasn’t had to rely as heavily on its top line of Brett Switzer, Alex Grieve and Gensler as it has in the past. The long-time linemates have combined for 27 goals and 25 assists in 17 games. Meanwhile, second liners Justin Breton, Andrew Gladiuk and Max French have contributed 17 goals and 19 assists.
“We actually do have a top six that can score on any shift,” Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist said. “This year, we have a lot more scoring depth. Bleeding into our third line, we have a top nine that can score.”
The offense is ticking, and so is the defense. The Falcons have bought into Soderquist’s defense first philosophy, and Komm has been solid in net, posting a .929 save percentage and a 2.40 goals against average. He has faced the second-most shots (561) in the nation but maintains that the majority result in low-quality scoring chances.
“I’m not getting 30 breakaways a game,” Komm said, with a laugh. “My defensive and my offense do a great job of making my job a lot easier. They do a great job of forcing shots to the outside of the house, giving me time, if there is a rebound there, to cover it up or clear it out the front of the net and letting me see all the pucks.”
Soderquist is the first to point out that goaltending and special teams win games. Bentley’s penalty kill percentage (.851) is currently the best in the AHA and ranked 14th in the NCAA.
The Falcons have been deadly with the man advantage, boasting the nation’s fifth-best power play percentage (.254). During their unbeaten streak, they have converted on 12-of-30 power play opportunities (40 percent). Steven Weinstein has proven to be an adept power play quarterback. The junior is the only defenseman in the top 30 in the nation in scoring. Of his NCAA-best 23 assists, 12 came with the extra attacker.
“He’s our go-to guy and runs our power play,” Soderquist said. “He’s done a phenomenal job of reading and making the right play, whether it be shooting or making a pass.”
Last season, the Falcons were 9-7-1 in conference play at the end of January and in good position to earn a first-round bye. But they stumbled down the stretch, going 1-7-2 to close the regular season before falling to the eventual AHA champion, Canisius, in the first round of the playoffs.
This year’s team endured six straight losses before embarking on its current unbeaten streak so Soderquist has been stressing the importance of consistency as the Falcons enter the second half.
“First-half teams aren’t championship teams, second-half teams are,” Soderquist said. “Our league has shown, historically, that the most important time period is going to be January and February. We know there’s a lot of hockey left, and we know we have to end the season strong.”
Even though it’s a founding member, Bentley has never captured an AHA tournament title, and the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament it brings. The Falcons have not been back to the finals since 2006, when they fell to Holy Cross, 5-3. They last made it to the semifinals in 2009.
The seniors, in particular, won’t be satisfied with anything less than the Atlantic Hockey crown. Beating BU caught Boston’s attention. Playing at Fenway, and celebrating their victory in the Red Sox locker room, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something that they’ll tell their kids about one day.
But they know that the next step Bentley must take to build a winning tradition, and earn Boston’s respect, is to qualify for the NCAA tournament. And they believe that they have the team to make it happen.
“It’s every person’s goal to come into a program and leave it better than you came into it,” Komm said. “A lot of seniors have that same goal where we really want to put Bentley on the map. Not just bring awareness, but bring the first Atlantic Hockey championship to the school. That’s our intentions, and that’s our mindset.”