Clash of the Titans
MAAC Games of the Week Quinnipiac Braves at Mercyhurst Lakers Friday and Saturday, January 7-8, 2000 Mercyhurst Ice Center
Is it too early in the season to call a two-game weekend series "crucial" to the regular-season championship?
I don’t think so.
Okay, so maybe it’s not like last year’s UNH-Maine weekend series that decided the Hockey East title in the last weekend of the season, but this week’s series between MAAC frontrunners Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst may carry equal weight when the season ends in March.
"This could be a big series," said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. "If one team sweeps the series, they’ll be in the driver’s seat. But if we split, then it doesn’t mean too much."
And a split might make Pecknold happy, as both of the games are played in Erie, Penn. Due to a glitch in the MAAC schedule, all three games in the series between these two clubs are being played at Mercyhurst, something that definitely does not bring a smile to Pecknold’s face.
"I’m not happy with the fact that I’m competing with Mercyhurst on the road for first place," Pecknold said. "But those are the breaks and you have to deal with it. You can’t cry over spilled milk."
And according to Pecknold the only true advantage that Mercyhurst gains is in travel.
"They have the advantage playing at home but it’s not a major advantage," Pecknold added. "There isn’t a large crowd to affect the game. It’s not like playing at Maine like we did, or playing at Ohio State like they did."
The series will be the first games back for Quinnipiac since the winter exam break. Mercyhurst played one game at Colgate last week. Though both teams would have to be considered "hot" going into the break, each coach had a different take on the advantages and disadvantages.
"The break was good for our guys," said Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin, whose club has yet to lose a conference game. "It was good for the players to get away from the rink for a while and get away from me. It was a chance to refocus, I think."
Pecknold was not as excited about the time off.
"It’s nice to get away from them but it’s a hassle to leave for a while," said Pecknold. "It’s felt a little bit like October all over again this week and that’s what’s tough."
Break or no break, each coach will have his 21 players focused when they hit the ice of Friday night. Ironically, both of the frontrunners enter the game having lost their last contest. Quinnipiac dropped a 7-4 decision to the defending national champion Maine Black Bears back on December 12. Mercyhurst fell 3-0 to Colgate last Friday, a game that Gotkin believes strengthened his club.
"We played very well at Colgate, better than at Ohio State (a 5-2 loss — the club’s only other game against a team from the major four conferences)," Gotkin noted.
"At Ohio State our guys were in awe of the building and the team and whatnot. And that intimidated them. Last week at Colgate, we were more relaxed. We played well, but Colgate has a good team."
One difference between the two clubs right now is injuries. Mercyhurst is Ont. Quinnipiac is missing standout Chad Poliquin, who is out for the season, and according to Pecknold, a number of other players are questionable for the weekend.
The Braves and the Lakers have met once already this season, with the host Lakers making one of their near-patented third-period comebacks, overcoming a 4-1 deficit to win 6-4. In a penalty-filled game between two physical clubs, special teams had a large impact. Quinnipiac scored early both shorthanded and on the power play before surrendering two power play goals to the Lakers to ignite the late-game comeback.
With Mercyhurst’s power play clicking at 26.4 percent and Quinnipiac slightly higher at 26.5 percent, neither team wants to give its opponent the chance to execute with an extra man.
"We’re a physical team and we’re going to take penalties," Pecknold said. "But our goal against every team is to limit our penalties. That’s especially true because our penalty kill isn’t as good as last season."
Gotkin agrees saying, "This Quinnipiac power play isn’t one you want to put out on the ice that often. It comes down to the same basics every coach stresses to his team, one of them being if you take bad penalties you’re not going to win."
If you’re looking for a player to watch this weekend, you might want to take a look at Quinnipiac’s Shawn Mansoff. The defensive-minded transfer forward from the University of Maine has certainly opened the eyes of his own coach.
"The thing with Shawn is we knew he was going to be a good player defensively," Pecknold said of Mansoff, who currently ranks third in overall MAAC scoring with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists). "We never thought he’d produce the way he has offensively. He’s a real leader out there."
So on Saturday night, when all is said and done, it will be interesting to see just how much impact this series had on the MAAC standings. Regardless, when mid-March comes and it’s time to seed for the tournament, there’s a good chance many eyes will look back to these two games when they talk about the regular-season champ.
Coming to a Station Near You…MAAC Hockey
The MAAC took a major step recently toward establishing itself as a conference that is in it for the long haul, signing a deal with three major cable television networks — MSG, Empire Sports, and NESN — to broadcast the championship game of this year’s MAAC tournament.
The game will be played on Saturday, March 18 at noon at the UConn Ice Arena in Storrs, Conn. Empire Sports and MSG will broadcast the game live, allowing viewers to watch without missing tournament action in the four established conferences. NESN will broadcast the game on tape delay later during the weekend.
In addition to the television contract, the MAAC completed a deal with Easton, a major equipment supplier to college hockey as well as many other sports, to be the title sponsor of this year’s MAAC Championships. Hocks Apparel will be a presenting sponsor for the event along with corporate supporters Budget Rent-A-Car, Mazda, Chase Manhattan Bank, Bob’s Stores and Fox 40 Whistles.
"Having MSG, Empire Sports and NESN on board with our championship will allow all of the MAAC viewing audiences an opportunity to see the game," said MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor. "With these three networks involved, we believe the 2000 Easton/MAAC Hockey League Championship will ultimately reach more homes than any other conference championship game."
Additionally, broadcast.com has an agreement with the MAAC to cybercast 17 hockey games, including the semifinals and final. Listeners can visit www.broadcast.com/sports to hear live MAAC hockey action throughout the season, brought to you by Jason Patton and Tony Piscotta.
"Our first-time involvement with the MAAC and its men’s ice hockey league has proved to be the right strategy for our company," said Easton Sports Supervisor of Ice Hockey Promotions Dan Mecrones. "We believe in this partnership and the exposure provided us, particularly through the added benefit of MAAC relationships with MSG, Empire, NESN and broadcast.com."
In another league note, the MAAC has changed its website. Information and statistics for MAAC hockey and all other MAAC sports can now be found at www.maacsports.com.
UConn Captures SNET/UConn Classic Title
Connecticut captured the SNET Hockey Classic in Storrs, CT last week, defeating Sacred Heart, 6-4, in the championship game on the strength of five unanswered goals.
The Huskies, who advanced to the championship by virtue of a 3-0 victory in the first round over another MAAC foe, Holy Cross, relied on the power play both nights, converting on five of nine opportunities.
Senior goalie Marc Senerchia made 34 saves to earn tournament MVP honors and be named MAAC Player of the Week.
In Thursday’s championship game, UConn erased a 2-0 deficit against Sacred Heart, who beat Findlay, 3-1, in the other semifinal.
Championship Rematch, Parts II and III It’s only been eight months since the Crusaders of Holy Cross defeated the Canisius Ice Griffs to capture the inaugural MAAC playoff title, but a lot has changed in that time. One year ago, Canisius possessed a record of 4-7-3 and was fighting for wins and home ice, while Holy Cross was in a battle for first place with a 6-4-2 overall record.
This season, it’s a little different, as Canisius is 8-4-3 with an impressive 5-1-2 record at home, while Holy Cross is a dismal 3-11-1. But that’s something you’d never realize by talking to Canisius head coach Brian Cavanaugh.
"They’re the defending MAAC Champions," Cavanaugh said of the Crusaders, who lost 10 seniors from last season’s squad. "I don’t care where they are in the standings, we are going to have to play awfully well to be successful this weekend."
After a slow start, the Griffs were playing their best hockey right before the Christmas break, going 5-0-1. Their last loss was November 12, a 5-2 road loss to Sacred Heart. According to Cavanaugh, the break couldn’t have been any more poorly timed.
"From a coaching standpoint, the break came at the worst time, because I really felt like we were playing our best hockey in that stretch of the two Findlay games and the two games prior to that," Cavanaugh said. "Now we take a three-week break and have to get back to the rhythm we had in December. We need to pick the ball up and run with it like we did back then.
"We’ve dusted off the equipment and cleaned the rust off the bottom of our skates this week in practice. We’re going to play with a lot of heart and emotion, but we may not be at the top of our game simply because we’ve had a long period off. Hopefully we can overcome the little mistakes and come away with a positive outcome this weekend."
On the other side of the coin, it may be very easy to be deceived by Holy Cross’ dismal record. Six of Holy Cross’ losses were in non-league contests, and their 3-5-1 MAAC record leaves them in seventh place, but only four points behind third-place UConn.
Translation: a sweep by the Crusaders this weekend would actually launch them past current fourth-place team Canisius and position them nicely in the race for home ice.
Think each series is important now? Drop the puck!
MAAC Weekly Honors
MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK : Marc Senerchia, Connecticut Sr., G, 5-7, 180, Greenville, RI/Kimball Union
Senerchia led UConn to the UConn SNET Hockey classic with two solid performances in net. On Wednesday, he stopped 14 shots as UConn shut out Holy Cross 3-0 in a key MAAC league game. In Thursday’s championship game he stopped 20 shots, including 12 in the third period, as UConn knocked off Sacred Heart 6-4. On the season he is 5-8-1 with 3.68 goals-against average and a save percentage of .860.
MAAC GOALIE OF THE WEEK: Alexis Jutras-Binet, Sacred Heart Jr., G, 5-8, 145, Quebec, PQ/Cougars De Chitcoutimi
Binet led Sacred Heart to a second-place finish in the UConn SNET Hockey Classic. On Wednesday he stopped 24 shots against Findlay as the Pioneers edged the Oilers 3-1. With the win, Binet set a school record for career wins with 23. Saturday he made 30 saves in 6-4 loss at UConn. On the season Binet is 6-5-2 with a 2.68 goals-against average and a save percentage of .904.
MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK: Martin Paquet, Sacred Heart Fr., F, 6-1, 195, St. Catherine, PQ/Melfort Mustangs
Paquet registered three assists in the championship game of the UConn SNET Hockey Classic, though Sacred Heart was knocked off by UConn 6-4. Paquet, who earned all-tournament honors for his performance, leads Sacred Heart in scoring with eight goals, seven assists and 15 points. He also ranks second in the MAAC in freshman scoring.
USCHO covers Men's D-I all week long on the Men's D-I Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.