Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Bentley

With a non-conference schedule as difficult as the one the Engineers have put together for the upcoming season, it's usually important to have at least a few games that are comparatively breathers for the team to get some confidence going forward. In this year's schedule, Bentley probably falls into that category better than any other - they're the only Atlantic Hockey team on the docket for the entire year, after all. But even Bentley presents RPI with at least a decent challenge, as the Falcons produced nationally relevant numbers on offense last season and established themselves as one of the AHA's top teams.

Nickname: Falcons
Location: Waltham, MA
Founded: 1917
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: None
Coach: Ryan Soderquist (13th season)
2013-14 Record: 19-14-4 (16-7-4 AHA, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 3-1-0
First Game: October 9, 2007 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: October 16, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last Bentley win: October 18, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: October 24-25, 2014 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Alex Grieve, sr.; F Alex Kubiak, sr.; D Matt Maher, sr.; F Brett Switzer, sr.; D Steve Weinstein, sr.; F Derek Bacon, jr.; D Matt Blomquist, jr.; F Andrew Gladiuk, jr.; D Mike Berry, so.; F Tyler Deresky, so.; D Charlie Donners, so.; F Max French, so.; G Jayson Argue, fr.; F Vincent Russo, fr.; F Matt Sieckhaus, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
A 3-0 victory for RPI in Troy was the last time these teams faced each other, and both sides are now feature 100% different personnel from that encounter, but it's fair to say that the Engineers, especially at home, should be favored against the Falcons.

Since the last KYE, Bentley has endured three middling seasons before breaking out last year with one of the best years the program has ever seen. They finished second in Atlantic Hockey on the back of a superior offensive attack, but had their potential run through the league tournament to what would have been their first NCAA appearance squelched by the defending league champions, Canisius. The Falcons fell in a three-game series that saw Bentley taking Game 1 in overtime, followed by a 2 OT loss in Game 2 and a blown lead in Game 3.

Sure, Bentley plays some of the weakest teams in the nation during their Atlantic Hockey schedule, and yes, the 2nd place AHA team had a record of just 3-7-0 in non-conference games last season, which somewhat diminishes the luster behind the 3.43 goals per game that the Falcons scored. Nonetheless, a team that knows how to score is a team that knows how to score, and Bentley returns much of the core of that offense in the coming season.

The top five spots in goals per game in the nation last year were held by juniors, and with the early departures of BC's Johnny Gaudreau, RPI's Ryan Haggerty, and Nebraska-Omaha's Josh Archibald, Grieve returns for his senior season with the second-highest goal scoring rate from last season, and Gladiuk is tied for third. Weinstein, meanwhile, led the entire nation among defensemen in points per game, the only blueliner in the country last season who managed more than a point per contest, keyed by 37 assists in as many outings.

Bentley's defense was fair last season, allowing 2.68 goals per game, but that is an area that will see distinct changes coming into 2014. The Falcons' goaltender last year was a senior, and the amount of time his two backups saw last year combines for just over 60 minutes. Those two backups, now a senior and junior, have played a combined 9 games in their career for under 350 total minutes. Whether one of them, or incoming BCHL freshman Argue gets the lion's share of the playing time, Bentley is very raw between the pipes. Two graduating defensemen who played regularly doesn't help that much.

Teams always need to be wary on defense when playing against a team that has shown they are able to put the puck in the net, but Bentley's testable defense provides an opportunity for the Engineers to gain a bit of confidence heading into the ECAC schedule when they meet the Falcons. Even if Bentley is able to repeat their accomplishments from last season, this is still a team that RPI compares better against.

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