While most people would embrace the idea of getting a couple of weeks off around the holidays, Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist could be forgiven if he’d rather keep working. After all, the Falcons have won six in a row, including three non-conference games at UMass Lowell (Hockey East), Brown and Dartmouth (both ECAC) as the Falcons are off until after the new year.
“We’ve played some pretty good hockey the last few weeks,” said Soderquist. “It’s pretty exciting for the guys to see some response to the hard work that they’re putting in.”
The season certainly did not start out that way, as Bentley won just once in its first 11 games. Yet Soderquist was optimistic his team would bounce back.
“We had four overtime games. We tied three of them, we lost one of them. We lost three other games by one goal,” said Soderquist of his team’s start to the season. “We weren’t far off, we were just finding ways to lose, whether it was not scoring on a power play or getting a save when we needed it. In the locker room, we knew we were close, but when you look at it as an outsider, and you see 1-7-3, you feel like it’s a long ways away.”
Soderquist anticipated some growing pains coming into the season. The team was picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Hockey preseason poll.
“Coming into the year, I knew that the talent we had on the roster was good,” said Soderquist. “We didn’t return the first two lines, so to find some chemistry and some guys that could play together, it took us a good month to kind of get rolling and on the same page.”
A slow start can send a team into a tailspin, but Soderquist credits the guidance of captain Kyle Schmidt for keeping the team focused.
“Our leadership did a great job of not hitting the panic button and a good job in the locker room where we were just building to get better everyday, and still believing in ourselves,” said Soderquist. “Then one win led to two, and two to three, and three to four, and now we’re at six.”
The Falcons are now in eighth place in the league and are hoping to move up into one of the top four spots, where they would have home-ice for the quarterfinals. Just five points separate the third place teams and the ninth place teams. Sophomore Aidan Pelino was named Atlantic Hockey League’s goalie of the week two weeks in a row, while junior Tanner Jago took defensive player of the week honors last week.
“When you’re on a roll, you want to keep going, but at the same time, we do have three or four guys that have been battling injuries over the last month, so as much as we’d like to keep rolling, sometimes a couple of weeks off can help us get healthy as well.
“We’ve challenged our guys to do what we need to do to stay focused, to stay in shape and be ready to go. So I feel very positive heading into the second half.”
Adding to the excitement around the program for the second half of the season is the opening of the Falcons’ new arena. Since 1977, the Falcons have played at John A. Ryan Arena in Watertown. A new, multipurpose arena is being built on campus in Waltham. Part of the amenities included are a luxury box, and a high definition video scoreboard at center ice.
Soderquist, who has been associated with the Falcons since 1996, is particularly enthused about the new arena. After starring at Arlington Catholic, he played four years at Bentley before graduating in 2000, then served as an assistant at his alma mater before being named head coach in 2002.
“We didn’t just build a rink, it’s a full arena,” said Soderquist, now in his 16th year at the helm. “What we are getting downstairs in terms of a weight room, training room, hot tub, cold tub, players’ lounge, dry room, equipment room, storage room is legitmately on par with any Division 1 program in the country.”
The Falcons will return from break with a home-and-home series against Northeastern on Jan.5. However, they are not expected to begin play in the new arena until February.
Northeastern climbs to No. 8
In a battle of the top two teams in Hockey East, Northeastern prevailed 5-2 at Boston College last weekend. With the win, the Huskies improved to 10-5-1 and are ranked eighth heading into Saturday’s game at Merrimack. It’s been a nice bounce back for NU, which has won three in a row since a disappointing loss at UConn.
“I think we’ve got a good mind-set,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “After we lost the UConn game, I think our kids realized that we had a short turnaround. We challenged them. We chased them for a couple of days. We got back on the ice and went at them, and they responded. Credit to the leadership of our team in Nolan [Stevens] and Dylan [Sikura] and the seniors for responding.”
As the Huskies get set for the second half of the season, Madigan wants the team to stay focused.
“We’ve just to keep getting better, because we can get better,” said Madigan. “We can get better in our zone, we can still get better in the neutral zone and defense and the offense. We’re still a work in progress.”
BC (9-7-2) had entered the game having gone 8-1-1 in its previous 10 games and was hoping to keep the momentum going heading into the break. Despite the loss, Eagles coach Jerry York feels good about the second half of the season.
“I think we’ve got a good club,” said York. “We’re playing better hockey than we did earlier in the season. So there’s a lot of positive vibes from our coaching staff and our locker room that we have a pretty good club.”
The Eagles will be off the next three weeks before facing UConn on Dec. 30.
“The meat of the schedule is in front of us,” said York. “You look at the scores every night, it’s going to be very competitive down the stretch in Hockey East. I like our club. I think it’s a nice club.”Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney