November 17, 2011

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Young Falcons starting to spread wings

By Allen Lessels

A young man’s game. 

Sophomore forward Brett Gensler of Bentley (photo: Bentley Athletics)

Sophomore forward Brett Gensler of Bentley (photo: Bentley Athletics)

Bentley, one of a few very young teams in Atlantic Hockey, won a pair of 4-1 games last weekend to make an early move in the league standings.

The Falcons knocked off AIC at home on Friday night and then went to West Point and beat Army on Saturday.

Bentley was the only team that managed to win both of its games for the weekend and as a result jumped into a tie for second place in what is quickly looking like a wide-open Atlantic Hockey race.

To add to the intrigue, Bentley is at Mercyhurst for a pair this weekend.

“It’s a big test, back on the road against a good team,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “It’s our biggest test within the league so far. It’s exactly what we need — a big test on the road to see how we stack up.”

Mercyhurst, like Bentley, is 4-1-0 in the league, and both teams are a single point behind Air Force. Air Force came back to the pack a bit with losses at RIT and Mercyhurst last weekend. Besides the win over Air Force, Mercyhurst has already beaten RIT and Cornell, too.

Also like Bentley, Mercyhurst has a young team.

Six of the top eight scorers for the Lakers are freshmen or sophomores.

Bentley has three freshmen and three sophomores among its top seven scorers.

Sophomore Brett Gensler and freshman Brett Switzer each has three goals and seven assists for 10 points to lead the Falcons.

“One of the reasons we’re able to get away with all the youth is we’ve got a couple of senior defensemen playing terrific hockey,” said Soderquist, citing the play in particular of Trent Bonnett and Mike Switzer, Brett’s big brother. “You get a couple of defensemen like that and you can make a few mistakes.”

The Falcons are also getting solid goaltending from Branden Komm, another member of the youth brigade and a sophomore out of Williamsville, N.Y., and Northfield-Mount Hermon. Komm stopped 71 of the 73 shots he faced last weekend and has a 2.55 goals against average and .929 save percentage for the season.

It was expected that Komm, highly recruited out of prep school, was going to play a fair amount as a freshman, but an ankle he injured, and then reinjured, limited him to seven games.

“Now he’s got something to prove and he’s off to a good start,” Soderquist said.

The same might be said overall for the young Falcons, who won nine Atlantic Hockey games all of last year and are almost halfway to that total already.

Games of the Week

Holy Cross at RIT, Friday and Saturday

Last year’s home series with RIT set the Crusaders off on a nice run. Holy Cross lost the first night, 4-0, and came back the next, on Jan. 22, for a 3-3 tie. That started the Crusaders on a 12-game undefeated streak during which they won nine games, tied three and steadily climbed in the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Now, the teams each have six points in the standings. Last week, RIT welcomed back senior goalie Shane Madolora, who had been sidelined the last five games because of an NCAA eligibility issue.

Atlantic Hockey power ratings

1. Mercyhurst (5-5-0, 4-1-0 AHA). . . . Lakers close out six-game homestand with two against Bentley.

2. Air Force (5-4-2, 4-2-1). . . . Seven-game unbeaten string ends with losses at RIT, Mercyhurst.

3. Bentley (4-6-1, 4-1-0). . . . Falcons top AIC and Army by identical scores of 4-1.

4. RIT (3-3-2, 2-2-2). . . . Shane Madolora returns after NCAA issues with 25 saves in 3-1 win over Air Force.

5. Holy Cross (4-4-0, 3-2-0). . . . Brandon Nunn scores two in 6-4 win over Sacred Heart.

6. UConn (4-4-2, 3-2-1). . . . Junior defenseman Eric Gerke gets five points (three goals, two assists) in 8-3 win over Sacred Heart.

7. Canisius (2-5-2, 2-1-2). . . Dan Morrison stops 31 in 1-1 Tuesday tie against Niagara.

8. Niagara (2-4-3, 1-2-2). . . . Cody Campbell saves 21 in 1-1 deadlock with rival Canisius.

9. Robert Morris (4-6-0, 2-2-0). . . . Colonials off until pair at home with Army on Nov. 25-26.

10. AIC (2-8-1, 2-3-1). . . . Bounces back from 4-1 loss to Bentley for 2-2 tie with UConn.

11. Army (1-5-2, 1-3-1). . . . Marcel Alvarez collects assist on brother Maurice’s first career goal against Sacred Heart.

12. Sacred Heart (0-11-0, 0-7-0). . . . UConn went 5-for-5 on power play against Pioneers on Wednesday.

Allen Lessels can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.