Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
When AIC talks about everyone on the team mattering, they live by those words, no matter the time or place. Goaltender Jarett Fiske being a big part of the group is integral to that, and he has an important view of everyone on the team. As Fiske’s team earned a trip to the Atlantic Hokey Finals against Mercyhurst, Fiske had some great things to say about the star of the game for AIC, Blake Bennett, who put up a hat trick for the Yellow Jackets. Fiske said, “I think Blake’s commitment to getting in great physical shape is an awesome achievement. Additionally, he has become more confident on the ice, improving all the facets of his game and embracing our team culture. I think he has become one of the most elite shooters in our conference.”
Bennett, who notched his second hat trick in as many games to become the first in program history (in the Division One era) to do so in the postseason, said as much. He saw that Kyle McClellan, the goaltender for Mercyhurst’s feet were not always set on shots in warmups. That is a piece of info that Blake had in his mind when he scored his hat trick goal in the third from a sharp angle. McClellan could not close the angle down, and Bennett made him pay. The hat trick for Bennett helped AIC push for a hard-fought 5-4 win over the Lakers. Mercyhurst played an opportunistic game and deposited the first goal after AIC had double-digit shots. The first three goals of the night for Mercyhurst all came on AIC defensive zone turnovers. Dante Sheriff, Austin Heidemann, and Rylee St. Onge twice all scored for the Lakers. The game-winner for AIC came from Elijah Barriga on an empty net. Mercyhurst brought the deficit to one after that and nearly tied things against Alec Calvaruso, who added 17 saves in the win. His counterpart, Kyle McClellan made 44 saves, putting the Lakers on his back at points throughout the night.
On the night, Head Coach Eric Lang called it a “very exciting college hockey game.” Lang talked about all of what Bennett has overcome. Some of these things include redshirting his freshman season, getting in better shape after failing his mile test, and not making the postseason roster, sitting at home when the team went to Fargo to face North Dakota in the postseason. Lang also praised his entire roster for their grit and resolve, having to push throughout the game to get the chances they did. Along with Bennett and Barriga, Zak Galambos found twine on a nice feed from Chris Van Os-Shaw.
Lang also credited Alec Calvaruso, noting that his graduate-transfer goalie apologized to the team after the first period where he gave up the goal to Sheriff on the first shot he saw. Lang did not worry about it and rightly told his goaltender to focus on the rest of the game, knowing Calvaruso would have to make some big saves for the Yellow Jackets. Alec did just that the rest of the way.
This was a game where he had to be ready in big moments, not facing a barrage of shots, but only quality shots. On the night, AIC established their presence in Mercyhurst’s zone, putting up 92 shot attempts to 37 for the Lakers. Lang was happy with the physical presence of his team, made even better by having Brett Callahan back in the lineup. He added two assists, including the pass to Bennett on his goal, a breakaway. On that play he credited Julius Janhonen for winning the defensive zone faceoff back to him, and then Brett found Bennett, and sent him off to the races. Callahan was impressed with the confidence of Janhonen, as Julius drew up the idea with his team on the ice, assuming he would win the faceoff as he did.
One note for AIC, forward Austen Long limped off the ice near the end of the game. On his status for tomorrow, Lang said that he will be looked at in the morning. He did call Long a “warrior” as he very much played like one tonight.
Now the Yellow Jackets get ready to face the winner of Air Force and RIT, the second semifinal in Atlantic Hockey. Both teams play a physical brand of hockey, and both have strong goaltending, lead by rookie Tommy Scarfone for RIT, and senior Alex Schilling for the Falcons. Mercyhurst looks ahead to a bright future with most of their top scorers returning. In addition, the Lakers are going to build on the strong legacy of their graduate transfer Captain, Pierce Crawford. His leadership and personable style on the ice will forever be a part of the Lakers program, and he is excited to watch this team get back to the Semifinals next year, as a graduate of this program, and go further.
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