This Week in the MAAC: October 30, 1998

So the Griffs can show where they stand with a good showing at Quinnipiac Friday and Saturday. Or can they? There have been grumblings that the Braves’ 19-3-1 record last year was a soft one. Then, in last week’s Quinnipiac Cup, they struggled to get by an allegedly weak Iona squad in the first round, and beat Division II Bentley in the final.

But how is Iona, really? With a talented core of freshmen, Iona took Fairfield out to the woodshed and delivered a 12-3 whipping in the Q Cup consolation game. Can a team with that sort of explosive potential be as bad as some have been led to believe?

Then there’s the X-factor, the three MAAC teams that have yet to hit the ice — Sacred Heart, UConn, and American International. Sacred Heart and AIC were both picked to finish in the bottom half of the league, but as the coach of the team predicted to finish first pointed out, polls don’t mean a thing if you’ve yet to play.

“Preseason polls are bull,” said Paul Pearl of Holy Cross. “They picked us first and we haven’t won a single game yet.” The Crusaders opened at Air Force last weekend and came away with a 5-5 tie and a 5-2 loss.

This is exactly the sort of intrigue expected in the MAAC’s inagural season, as a slew of new rivals experience a feeling-out process. This weekend’s action should only lead to a whole new set of questions.

Note for trivia buffs: The first goal in MAAC history was an unassisted one, netted by Quinnipiac senior forward Matt Goodrich at 4:11 of the first period of the Braves’ 5-1 win over Iona Friday. On to this weekend’s matchups:

Sacred Heart (0-0-0, 0-0-0 MAAC) at Holy Cross (0-1-1, 0-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 p.m., Hart Center, Worcester, MA Holy Cross at Sacred Heart Saturday, 7 p.m., Milford Ice Arena, Milford, Conn.

If Holy Cross is going to live up to its preseason hype as the team to beat in the MAAC, the Crusaders have to learn to play more consistently.

Last weekend’s trip to Colorado serves as the case in point. Friday, the Crusaders took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission, then went on cruise control for a period and a half and fell behind, 5-3. Two late goals salvaged a 5-5 tie.

Saturday the Cross slumbered through the first two periods and found itself in a 4-0 hole, eventually falling to a 5-2 defeat.

So a potential two-win trip turned into a one-point weekend. “Our guys aren’t happy with the way the weekend went,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “Coming back we felt the weekend was a missed opportunity. If we had played our A game, we would have had two wins.”

The Crusaders may be angry and looking to vent their frustrations, but Sacred Heart doesn’t plan on playing the role of patsy. “Our team’s fired up and ready to go,” said third-year Pioneer coach Shaun Hannah. “We know we’re going to have to outwork them and make fewer mistakes. They don’t have superstars but they’re hardworking.”

Keys to the games:

Holy Cross’s defense needs to step up. Tom Ormondroyd is one of the finest goaltenders in the MAAC, but he had to face 75 shots last weekend. You don’t win too many games that way.

Sacred Heart needs a big weekend from sophomore goaltender Alexis Binet. The Pioneers’ roster is laden with underclassmen (nine freshmen, seven sophomores), and one of their two seniors, defensman Neil Welch, will miss the weekend with an undisclosed injury. With the Cross featuring a balanced offense (six players scored the Crusaders’ seven goals last weekend, with only Joe Cavanaugh netting two), the Pioneers need someone to step up. The goaltender from Quebec City may be that player.

Picks: Look for the fiesty Pioneers to give HC’s veterans all they can handle before faltering towards the end. The Crusaders take 7-2 and 6-3 decisions in the sort of games that are closer than the scores indicate. Canisius (2-2-0, 0-0-0 MAAC) at Quinnipiac (2-0-0, 1-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 p.m. ET, East Haven Rink, E. Haven, Conn. Canisius at Quinnipiac Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, East Haven Rink, E. Haven, Conn.

The most intruiging matchup of the weekend pits two teams that feel they have a lot to prove. Canisius, of course, is looking to rebound from a dreadful weekend in Minnesota in which they were outshot 94-39 in dropping 6-0 and 11-3 decisions to MSU-Mankato.

For their part, the Braves have no doubt heard the cries from detractors who called their stellar record last year soft, and they did little to rid themselves of that tag, despite wins over Iona and Bentley in last week’s Quinnipiac Cup. Canisius should provide the Braves with their first tough test of the season.

“We haven’t seen them, but we know they’re a tough team and they’re going to rebound [from last week’s losses],” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “As for us, I think we’re going to be a stronger team in the second half of the season. We’ve got a lot of freshman and sophomores and we’ll need to make adjustments along the way.”

Two of those underclassmen have come through already for the Braves. Sophomore Chris Cerrella, the preseason MAAC player of the year, came through with a goal and three assists in the Braves’ 7-4 Q Cup final win over Bentley. And freshman forward Neil Breen may just be the diamond in the rough among MAAC rookies. The ex-Omaha Lancer had three goals and an assist last weekend, including the game-winner against Iona.

Keys to the games:

The Braves’ leading defenseman, Matt Goodrich, went down with a shoulder seperation during Quinnipiac’s 5-1 win over Iona. The rest of the defensive crew will have to step up or it will be two long nights for goalie J.C. Wells.

The Griffs need to come out strong in the first game to shake off last week’s shellackings. Freshman forward Todd Houston, who gave Canisius a spark with four goals two weeks ago against Bentley, has the potential to do it again.

Picks: With both teams playing with something of a chip on their shoulders, expect two knock-down, drag-out affairs. And look for the home team to come out on top both night, 8-6 and 7-4. UConn (0-0-0) at Iona (1-1-0; 0-1-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, NY UConn at Iona Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, NY

Maybe Frank Bretti had everyone fooled. Maybe he knew different when his fellow coaches overwhelmingly voted his team last in the MAAC and just kept his mouth shut.

A team that’s supposed to be so poor wouldn’t have the type of games that Iona had last weekend. In the opening round of the Quinnipiac Cup, the Gaels held the host school to a 1-1 tie well into the third before falling, 5-1. Then in the consolation game, Iona showed some serious firepower, with nine players scoring, including seven freshmen, in a 12-3 route of Fairfield.

So this weekend’s set with UConn should be a test of how far along the Gaels have really advanced. “I think our attitude and work ethic are there. We’ve gotten some players to deliver on offense; now the rest of our game has to come around if we’re going to get the job done.”

Even with the home ice, that will be a daunting task for the young Gaels. Bruce Marshall’s Husky teams have developed a a reputation over the years as perhaps not the most explosive squads, but ones that will play a tight, disciplined game.

“Iona’s got 14 good young kids coming in there,” said Marshall. “But we’ve got a veteran crew that won a lot of close games last year. I think that will carry over. If we’re in a tight game late, we know how to win.”

Keys to the games:

UConn needs to shut down Iona’s all-freshman first line of Ryan Carter, Rob Kellog and Erik Nates. The trio tallied five goals and six assists in the Q Cup, including a natural hat trick from Carter in the first period of the consolation game.

Special teams. The Gaels were a combined 2-for-20 on the power play last weekend. They can’t do that against UConn and expect to win.

Goaltenders. Iona senior goalie Dan McGuire needs to play more consistently. He held the fort for much of the Quinnipiac game, but gave up four goals in a span of 11:20 of the third period. UConn has tested leadership in Marc Senerchia, who started 27 of the Huskies’ 28 games last season.

Picks: Iona, in its home opener, pulls out a 4-4 tie on Friday, but the more experienced Huskies rebound for a methodical 4-1 win in the rematch.

AIC (0-0-0, 0-0-0 MAAC) at Fairfield (0-2-0; 0-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Wonderland of Ice, Fairfield, Conn. Fairfield at AIC Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Olympia Ice Center, W. Springfield, MA

This matchup is probably the most difficult to gauge of all the weekend series. AIC has yet to play. And it’s hard to fathom that Fairfield is as bad as the team that showed up to the Q Cup, lost by four goals to Bentley, and nine to Quinnipiac.

If the Stags are looking to avoid a repeat of last weekend, they’re going to have to show more resiliance. Fairfield and Bentley played a scoreless first period Friday, but after Bentley scored its first goal of the second, the floodgates opened, as the Falcons put up five goals in six minutes and finished the period with a 7-2 lead.

It was a similar situation Saturday, as Iona peppered beleaguard Fairfield goalie John True with 25 first-period shots and six goals.

If AIC is to win, they need their two leading scorers from last season, Joe Wlodarczyk and Peter Szymanski, to play up to their 1996-97 form.

Picks: Each team chalks up a win on home ice, with a 4-3 victory for Fairfield and a 6-0 whitewashing for AIC.