During his four-year tenure at Bentley, Brett Gensler was the go-to guy on offense.
He racked up 167 points in 145 games, an average of 1.15 per contest. He was the face of the Falcons and received many accolades, given that he set the Atlantic Hockey record for career points and the school’s Division 1 record for points and goals (73).
But the program has moved on from Gensler. Instead of trepidation about where the offense will come, the squad is full of excitement and possibilities.
Coach Ryan Soderquist said this year’s edition is all about spreading around responsibility.
“We have a great group coming back,” said Soderquist, who is entering his 13th season behind the bench. “We have two guys who played on Brett Gensler’s line for the last three years in Brett Switzer and Alex Grieve, who are phenomenal players.
“We were well-prepared, knowing we were going to lose some point production from Brett, so we felt we did a good job in trying to do that through depth.
“Instead of trying to replace Brett Gensler
Soderquist said there is no obvious person to put in Gensler’s slot. That is something that will emerge over time.
“Certainly we’re not going to put that responsibility on anybody,” said Soderquist. “We may or may not have the same production out of that one big line this year. We’re going to have to do it through two or three lines.”
Soderquist intends to keep Grieve and Switzer together and will play sophomore Max French with junior Andrew Gladiuk on the second line.
“It’s just going to be [figuring out] who will play with those guys and round out the top six,” said the coach. “There are a bunch of guys who have the potential to do that right now.”
Soderquist wouldn’t rule out breaking up Grieve and Switzer. It all depends on how it goes early in the season.
“[The Gensler line] was a special line,” said Soderquist. “They were for a three-year period. We’re not going to rule out keeping it fresh and trying some new [combinations]. We’re going to be very patient through the process, specifically through October.
“I’m excited for that. I am going to challenge myself to keep an open mind every single day about the possibilities we have on the roster.”
Soderquist said it was that openmindedness that led to the formation of the Gensler line.
“We stumbled upon that,” he said. “They certainly weren’t recruited to play together.”
Ironically, Gensler wasn’t even recruited as an offensive powerhouse.
“He wasn’t recruited to come in and be a 150-point kid,” said Soderquist. “He was recruited to be more a grinder. It ended up, it just happened.”
Because of that, Soderquist is hoping lightning can strike twice.
“We brought in three or four guys, specifically in this freshman class, too, and maybe the next Brett Gensler is there,” he said. “Even if not, we’re going to have great depth and be able to round out three or four lines this year.”
In that scenario, everyone will be counted on to chip in, whether at even strength or during the man advantage.
“It has the ability to create a lot better team chemistry and a team atmosphere if, as a committee, we get it done,” said Soderquist. “They believe in that, they are rooting for the guy next to them. By committee, we’re going to figure this thing out.”
Grieve seconds that opinion.
“Obviously, both Bretts and I had great chemistry the last three years and it was fantastic playing with them,” said Grieve, who holds the Bentley Division 1 record for goals in a season with 25. “But I’m excited for the new challenges we have this year.
“We can have a more balanced attack and really have four lines that can score. We will definitely miss [Gensler’s] contributions to our line and our team, but I think scoring by committee will help our team in the long run.”
Grieve acknowledged that because of Gensler’s abilities, other forwards felt left out of the mix. Now, the opportunities to contribute are more wide open.
“He had a different style of game and we were fine with it because he produced,” said Grieve. “I think we’re mature here but obviously the headlines were going to be on him. I think some guys felt overlooked, obviously, in the amount he spent on the power play and stuff like that.
“Obviously, there is a big door open this year for someone to take that role and we’ll do it more by committee, which I think will be better for us.”
Soderquist believes a balanced offense will be complemented by an improvement on the blue line.
“We’re a bit tougher and stronger on the back end,” said Soderquist. “We still return Steven Weinstein and Matt Blomquist as our first pairing but we’ve added a couple of physical shutdown defensemen [Chris Buchanan and Bill Eiserman] who can be good [penalty killers]. That was an area we needed to improve on, physicality on the [defensive] end and the ability to get our PK percentage up a little bit higher.”
If there is one big question mark, it’s in goal, but the coach expects that to work out as well.
“We had Branden Komm, who played three years straight and did a great job,” he said. “But much like the losing of Gensler, I’m going to go into October being very excited about it.
“All three guys on our roster [senior Blake Dougherty, junior Gabe Antoni, and freshman Jayson Argue] are going to get an opportunity through October and November to prove themselves.”
And if other Atlantic teams are thinking Bentley will be hurting because of the loss of Gensler and Komm, they might want to reconsider.
“I would assume some coaches are looking at our team and [seeing] we lost a lot,” said Soderquist. “From the culture of what I have in our room, I think we gained a lot this year, so I’m actually pretty excited.”
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.