The Bentley Falcons continued a three year trend in 2016-17, seeing their win total slip lower than the previous season. After winning a program best 19 wins under current head coach Ryan Soderquist in 2013-14; the Falcons have followed that up with win totals of 17, 14 and 13 in the subsequent seasons. The Falcons who have been a program since 1977 (and Division I since 1999-2000) are still seeking their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in any division. With nine of the top ten scorers from last season returning for the Falcons, improvement is very possible but it would be very unlikely to see the Falcons reach their first tournament this year.
Recruiting can be difficult in Atlantic Hockey where until 2020-21 teams competing in the league were unable to offer the full allotment of 18 scholarships. Recruiting can also be unique at Bentley as the school offers very few majors outside of the business school and is a private school that has to split scholarships among players. Bentley may be one of the schools to watch the most when they are allowed to have 18 scholarship players, however they must still recruit with a limited scope of majors. Bentley announced in 2016 they will be building a new 2,000 seat arena slated to open in early 2018, showing a commitment to this program to elevate it’s play. The question is will they ring in a new arena with a better on-ice product?
The Falcons are welcoming just two forwards in their class set to enroll this fall, so they will be a team reliant on their returning scoring. The Falcons lose their leading scorer from last season, Max French who recently signed with the Texas Stars of the AHL, a two-time All First Team AHA player. French was a huge leader for this program the last couple of seasons, but there is an obvious leader waiting in the wings to take over in 2017-18. Kyle Schmidt returns to Waltham, Mass. after leading the Falcons with 18 goals, a second consecutive season with more than 15 goals scored. The Menomonie, WI native will likely have pro hockey options like French if he can continue his development this year when he is counted on as THE guy.
All in all the Falcons return return 75% of their goals scored from last season and could see a benefit in losing a program leader like French as other players can increase their roles and opportunities. The Falcons need to improve on the 2.59 goals per game (42nd nationally) and their bottom quadrant power play (47th- 14.97%). In Atlantic Hockey where a graduating class can mean rebuilding ahead, especially in the middle of the standings, Bentley has opportunity this season to move from 8th place into fighting for hosting a first round playoff series.
The Falcons could have a bit of a goaltender controversy brewing this season. Last season freshman goaltender Aidan Pelino had appeared in just 5 contests before January 1st. Junior Jayson Argue had been given every chance to win the job and hold to it but he had held a team to under 2 goals in just 7 of 16 appearances. Argue started the season with back-to-back 1 goal games but lost his strong play and Pelino took full advantage. Pelino posted the 5th best save percentage nationally (.930) and had two shutouts something that Argue could not do once. Pelino came in for Argue during game one of the AHA Quarterfinal series against Air Force and was given the start in game 2 making 37 saves in a 2-1 loss. This is a battle that should be interesting to watch and could have a huge say on the success of the Falcons this year.
On the blue line the Falcons return six defensemen with each seeing at least 10 games last year. Junior Alexey Solovyev of Russia had a breakout season last year posting 7 goals and 16 points in 31 games but needs to improve on his -17 plus/minus. Chris Buchanan is also a defensemen to watch who is strong in his own zone but also found a way to add 3 goals this past year. Buchanan has been a plus player every year in NCAA hockey and he will be leaned on this season.
Player to Watch- As mentioned above this team will be led by Kyle Schmidt. As he goes this team will go. Can he return to the 45 point season he had in 2015-16 while also improving his goal total as he has each season in Waltham? If Schmidt can do this that bodes well for Bentley on improving their place in the league standings.
Breakout Player to Watch- This again is a player that we focused on earlier, Aidan Pelino. Pelino will have the chance to earn the net early, one presumes coach Soderquist will be splitting starts at the beginning of the season. Pelino saw his GAA improve by close to .60 his second season in the BCHL from his first year (when he made the All-Rookie Team) and saw his save percentage improve also. If that same type of progress is made this year Pelino could be in the running for AHA Goaltender of the Year.
Freshman to Watch- Michael Boyle, of Phoenix, AZ, is an exciting defender joining the Falcons this season. Boyle is the only Falcons recruit coming from the USHL, and he comes from the excellent Dubuque Fighting Saints. Boyle is a physical specimen, 6’3″ 194 pounds before reaching college strength training, and plays with an edge (114 PIMs last season).