This is it — the final week of the regular season. We know now who the regular season champion is, so a hearty congratulations to Mercyhurst. The Lakers grabbed their first regular season title, ending the two-year streak of Quinnipiac, by virtue of wins over Iona and Army at home last weekend.
But that’s pretty much all that is decided. Quinnipiac and Iona will look this weekend to decide their battle for second and third seeds in the Easton/MAAC Hockey League Championships. Canisius needs just a tie this weekend against Sacred Heart or Fairfield to wrap up the final home playoff spot over Sacred Heart and Connecticut. And Army, AIC and Fairfield will fight for their playoff lives, with two of those three teams moving on and one heading home.
As the non-stop excitement continues, it’s time for me to give a bit of a review session here, and award my choices for the top players in the MAAC league.
I will say, first off, that this is easily the toughest it has been in three years to decide who the creme de la creme among MAAC players is. The talent pool continues to improve every year, particularly between the pipes, making goaltender selections even tougher.
But, alas, here are those who I believe deserve a tip of the fedora. Fan mail and hate mail, as always, are still welcome.
First-Team MAAC All Stars
Chris Cerrella, Quinnipiac Cerrella has had the pressure of being one of the most hunted players in the MAAC all three seasons of its existence. But with that pressure has still been able to perform night-in and night-out. With 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) Cerrella leads the league this season in points and points per game and is second only to Iona defenseman Nathan Lutz (30) in assists. If Quinnipiac is to make a run for the MAAC Championship and the NCAA auto-bid, Cerrella will be the shoulders that will carry the load.
Ryan Manitowich, Iona In last year’s MAAC Championship tournament, the Iona Gaels showed that they were a contender — upsetting Canisius and Quinnipiac before losing to Connecticut for the championship. Ryan Manitowich scored only a goal and two assists in the tournament for Iona and was held off the scoreboard in the championship game. But anyone that watched the tournament knew that this was a top-prospect player. This year, as a sophomore, Manitowich netted 21 goals with 17 assists and is currently second in MAAC scoring, four points behind Cerrella. Iona has to be happy that they have two more years of the phenom — especially if he produces as he has this season.
Shawn Mansoff, Quinnipiac When Shawn Mansoff came to Quinnipiac in 1998 after spending two season with the University of Maine, a college powerhouse, it was evident that he had one thing in mind — to be an impact player. That he did immediately, leading the MAAC is scoring last year winning him the Chase Manhattan Bank Offensive Player of the Year award a season ago. Though point production has fallen off, Mansoff’s impact has not. When on his game, he is the best player in the league. This year, he ranked fifth in scoring with 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists), and will be another top player to watch in this year’s playoffs.
Jody Robinson, Mercyhurst Mercyhurst proved one thing this season to the entire college hockey world — they don’t make it easy to score goals. With a 2.17 overall goals against average and a stingy 1.88 GAA in league play, Mercyhurst is one of the NCAA’s best defensive clubs. And leading that defensive corps all year has been senior Jody Robinson. Listed a 6-foot-2, Robinson has been on of the best impact defensemen in the league. He is a key part of Mercyhurst’s league-best penalty killing unit, working at 90.6 percent efficiency in league games. Robinson has only scored 14 points (two goals, 12 assists), but when you play defense like he and his Lakers do, who needs offense?
Nathan Lutz, Iona Iona entered the season known for its offensive potency. With marquee names like Ryan Cater, Manitowich and Adam Bouchard all returning, its no surprise that Iona’s offense is averaging 4.71 goals per game in MAAC play. What is surprising, though, is that Iona’s defense has lowered its goals against per game by nearly half a goal from a year ago, and for much of the season was ranked among the top three defenses in the league (currently stands tied for fifth in MAAC games). Nathan Lutz has been a key to Iona’s defensive improvement. At the same time, he’s chipped in 35 points (five goals, 30 assists) and is the only defensemen among the top ten in overall scoring in the league. Best part for Iona, he’s only a junior.
Peter Aubry, Mercyhurst
With all the great goaltenders in the MAAC, it still isn’t that hard to choose the goaltender of the year. Mercyhurst’s Peter Aubry has been not only a brick wall for the Lakers, but a work horse and has guided his club to the MAAC regular season title. Standing at what the roster says is 6-foot-3, Aubry takes up plenty of net, but is still fast to recover for rebound saves. With a 2.10 goals against average, Aubry ranks fourth in the NCAA, and his .924 save percentage ranks him fifth in the country. As a junior, Aubry has recorded the decision in all but four of the Lakers games this year, posting a 16-8-2 overall record (16-4-1 record in the MAAC), top in the league.
Offensive Player of the Year: Cerrella, Quinnipiac
Defensive Player of the Year: Lutz, Iona
Goaltender of the Year: Aubry, Mercyhurst
Second-Team MAAC All-Stars
F Ryan Carter, Iona
F Louis Goulet, Mercyhurst
F Chris Duggan, Canisius
D Matt Erhart, Quinnipiac
D Aaron Arnett AIC
G Eddy Ferhi, Sacred Heart
Honorable Mentions –
Forwards: Eric Ellis, Mercyhurst; Rae Metz, Fairfield; Adam Tackaberry, Mercyhurst; Defense: Les Hrapchak, Sacred Heart; Mike Boylan, UConn; Steve Tobio, Bentley; Goaltender: Chance Thede, AIC; Justin Eddy, Quinnipiac
MAAC All-Rookie Team
Adam Tackaberry, Mercyhurst When Adam Tackaberry arrived at Mercyhurst College from Neapan, Ont., head coach Rick Gotkin knew that he could make a bit of an impact in his first season. Gotkin noted his ability to handle the puck long before the season ever started. What Gotkin didn’t know was that this 21-year-old center would be the top rookie scorer in the MAAC. With 13 goals and 22 assists, Tackaberry has helped pace the Lakers offense that captured its first regular-season title, grabbing the top seed in the all-important MAAC Championship tournament. Tackaberry is the only rookie in the top ten in scoring in the league, tied for third with Mansoff and Lutz.
Greg Kealey, Holy Cross Holy Cross will probably not write in its hockey archives that the 2000-2001 season was one of the most memorable. The MAAC tournament champion just two years removed, the Crusaders struggled from day one, and missed the MAAC tournament for the first time in the young history of the league. But to find a silver lining for Holy Cross’ future, you have to look no further than rookie Greg Kealey. With 29 points, Kealey is tied for the team lead in scoring with junior Pat Rismiller heading into the final weekend. He is one of only sic Crusaders to appear in all 30 games entering this weekend. In addition, Kealey has led the Holy Cross power play charge with 10 power play goals on a unit that is second overall in the league with a 23.2 percent efficiency.
Guillaume Caron, American International Gary Wright’s AIC Yellow Jackets have been the surprise of the league this season. Picked to finish ninth by MAAC coaches in the preseason poll, the Yellow Jackets can finish as high as sixth place entering the final weekend. But that’s not the only surprise at AIC this year. Rookie forward Guillaume Caron has been a bright light for the Yellow Jacket offense, scoring 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) to lead the AIC offense entering the final weekend of play. He was named MAAC Rookie of the Week in November for his hat-trick in a 7-4 win over Canisius.
Eric Nelson, Connecticut After winning the MAAC tournament championship a year ago, there were very few people who thought that UConn could be an impact team in the league this year. Having lost eight of 26 letterman to graduation, most felt the only way UConn would compete for a top playoff spot would be for their rookie class to have an immediate impact. Defenseman Eric Nelson is certainly one rookie who has. Offensively, Nelson has contributed 17 points (nine goals, eight assists), while defensively, Nelson has helped the Huskies keep things respectable. Their 3.42 goals against average in league play tied them for fifth with improved Iona — not bad considering between the pipes UConn had little to no experience after graduating workhorse Marc Senerchia.
Daryl Pierce, Canisius In one of the closest voting one could imagine, the Canisius College Ice Griffs were picked by the MAAC coaches to finish seventh in the league this season. But remembering back to MAAC Media Day in early October, I remember the look on head coach Brian Cavanaugh’s face when asked what he thought of the pick. Though his response to the question was diplomatic, his face registered an expression of, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Maybe he knew that his rookie class was excellent. And also that rookie defenseman Daryl Pierce could be the top scoring defensemen on his club? Maybe? Well, that’s exactly what has happened, and with two games left, the Griffs are but a point away from capturing the home ice with a fourth place finish. That’s a far cry from seventh!
Justin Eddy, Quinnipiac Quinnipiac has enjoyed more riches in the MAAC league than any other club. But with two regular-season titles and a top three finish guaranteed, the Braves still feel a little empty from two playoffs losses in the past two years. Entering the year, many eyes were on J.C. Wells, the goaltender who carried Quinnipiac for the last two years. His numbers have been pretty good once again — a 6-2-1 record with a save percentage just below .900. But what few knew, was a second goaltender, Justin Eddy, would compliment Wells perfectly. Eddy has stepped into the Braves lineup and proved himself on of the top goalies in the league. His 2.74 goals against average ranks third behind Aubry and Ferhi. As the season has drawn on, Eddy’s play has led coach Rand Pecknold to give him a more permanent nod, with the chance to possibly bring home the first MAAC title for QU and a trip to the NCAA Championships.
Honorable Mentions –
Forwards: Trent Ulmer, AIC; Tim Krueckl, Iona; Jeff Dams, Holy Cross; Defense: R.J. Irving, Holy Cross; Wade Winkler, Quinnipiac; Goaltender: Jason Carey, Connecticut
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Tackaberry, Mercyhurst
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Eddy, Quinnipiac
MAAC Coach of the Year
Rick Gotkin, Mercyhurst With so many teams performing above expectations this season, it’s difficult to pick a coach whose team finished second last year as coach of the year — unless that coach is Mercyhurst’s Rick Gotkin. Sure, maybe the Lakers did what everybody expected them to do — dominate the league for much, if not all, of the season, and be crowned regular season champion. But the fact of the matter is that no team had even come close to knocking off Quinnipiac in the first two seasons. So for a second-year MAAC member from Erie, Penn., the ability to win the MAAC regular season title makes Gotkin an easy selection.
The Lakers, similar to Canisius, are faced with a challenge that few teams in the MAAC face. Pretty much every other week, both Mercyhurst and Canisius are forced to travel 400 to 500 miles to play road games. Mercyhurst, under Gotkin, has funded the team to fly to many of its road games, allowing the students to gain an extra day of classes on Thursday, to skate on their home ice Thursday afternoons and the fly out Thursday evening.
Gotkin is in his 13th season at Mercyhurst. Over that time, the Lakers have gone from a Division III program, to Division II and eventually to Division I last season upon entering the MAAC. The Lakers three times qualified for the NCAA Tournament at the Division II and Division III level, and are three wins away in the MAAC playoffs from adding a Division I appearance to that repertoire.
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