February 4, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Bentley

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Anthony Canzoneri centers the team's top line, and leads the team in assists.

Anthony Canzoneri centers the team's top line, and leads the team in assists.

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The first thing that pops to your mind when hearing the word Bentley, is usually a car, and not a hockey team.

For so long under the radar, even in the relatively tiny college hockey landscape, Bentley — located in Waltham, Mass., is always fighting against those perceptions. But slowly but surely, things have been changing.

There is plenty of time to go this season — and surely, they don't need to be jinxed by talking too much about it — but the Falcons are in line to finish above .500 for the first time in the program's history since moving to Division I in 1999.

"Obviously, you look at your record, but we're doing a good job preparing and keeping it simple," Falcons head coach Ryan Soderquist said. "In past years, we got ahead of ourselves. At once point we were second in the league at the beginning of December, and little by little, it fell apart. We learned a lesson, specifically myself in dealing with the team. We've broken the season down — win the and the record will take care of itself."

With two road wins at Army last weekend, the Falcons have won five of six, and are 13-12-1. The season includes wins at Rensselaer and Maine, and an overtime loss to Ohio State. And at 11-8-1 in the very tight Atlantic Hockey Association, the Falcons are tied for third with Mercyhurst.

"The Maine game really slammed home that, if we play as a team, and play simple, we can win big games," Soderquist said. "We hadn't gotten over the hurdle. But that game gave us a tremendous amount of confidence. ... To beat Maine at Maine, with the big crowd, in their arena — we could've gone one of two ways with that. We could've had that win and said, 'Hey, we're good now,' then dropped a few in a row. But we built off that and let it catapult us. We've been practicing even harder since then."

Bentley — or most Atlantic Hockey teams for that matter — doesn't have the resources or lengthy college hockey tradition that other programs enjoy. So it stands to reason that things would be more difficult.

After the dissolution of Division II hockey, Bentley faced a tough choice, like some other schools — whether to play Division I or perhaps not at all. The Bentley administration decided it wanted to get the school more exposure, so it moved up, and was part of the nascent MAAC hockey league — which later broke away and became Atlantic Hockey.

But the program did so at a time when it wasn't ready to devote many resources. The league had a wide range of programs in it, and compromised with a scholarship limit of 11, well below the NCAA maximum of 18. Bentley was not ready to even reach 11.

"We probably weren't ready yet, but we didn't want to pass on the opportunity to get into the league," Soderquist said.

He was a young assistant at the time to Jim McAdam, who won just 15 games in three seasons before he was let go. Soderquist, who had only just graduated in 2000, was asked to take over as the youngest coach in NCAA Division I, by far. Seven years into the job, he's still the youngest.

To the outside observer, his hiring seemed like a stopgap for a school not willing to put much more effort into finding someone else.

Soderquist, just a couple years removed from playing at Bentley, didn't come here from some other school with a lengthy tradition, like say Shaun Hannah at Sacred Heart (who played at Cornell), or RIT's Wayne Wilson (Bowling Green).

Between that, and his age, it was a complete trial by fire. But Soderquist has proved he was the right person for the job. That he has learned without the built-in network of mentors, from hockey factories like Cornell and Bowling Green, to lean on is, is remarkable. He's since had win totals of 15, 16 and 12.

"I take a tremendous amount of pride in learning from all coaches across the country," Soderquist said. "I like to watch the game film, see what works great for them. I take pleasure reading the articles on CHN, reading about what (Northeastern coach) Greg Cronin likes to say, for example, and relating that to our team."

Soderquist said he was able to quickly fit into the hockey community.

"Hockey guys are friendly and good people. The egos aren't really there," Soderquist said, relaying a story about being in Naples, Fla., for the annual coaches convention. "I was in line getting a rental car with (Boston University coach) Jack Parker, and had a great conversation with him. It was like he's your best friend for life."

And now, the program is on solid footing all around. Soderquist even hopes there will soon be an on-campus rink, instead of playing home games in a nearby community facility.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for our school," Soderquist said. "I dreamed about where we could go. But how to get there, is just starting to come around now. There were a lot of learning curves — dealing with the team, dealing with the schedule, preparing to play good teams. I've grown a tremendous amount.

"Now we have more support. We've added additional staff members, assistants, we have more scholarship money. We didn't have the luxury of that at first."

As for the team, a trio of seniors play together on the top line, and are among the top four scorers on the team. Dain Prewitt leads with 13 goals and 27 points, and plus-9. Center Anthony Canzoneri is the playmaker, with 17 assists. And on the other side if Jeff Gumear. Sophomore Dustin Cloutier is third on the team with 11 goals.

This senior group was there as freshman went Bentley shocked everyone by making the Atlantic Hockey final, where it lost to Holy Cross. In fact, that run led to the "Bentley Rule," a change in the Pairwise criteria in regards to the definition of a Team Under Consideration.

In net, sophomore Joe Calvi had 32 of the team's 38 decisions a year ago, but freshman Kyle Rank was brought in to push him, and has since edged out Calvi for the No. 1 job.

"(Calvi) had to play too much, and the second half last year, he didn't do (well)," Soderquist said. "We looked for a guy to push him, and (Rank's) done more."

There's a ways to go to this season, but the Falcons' stock is noticeably rising.

"We've had the opportunity to play against better opponents," Soderquist said, noting his team has gone all over the country to play in big-time buildings, and rise the profile of the program. "Early in the year — I know RPI is down, but we won at RPI, it was a sold out alumni weekend, and we won in overtime. (And) specifically our league — to see the success of the other teams non-conference wise, we realize we are a legit league, and we are a legit team in our league."

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