This Week in the MAAC: November 6, 1998

No need to dance around it — this week’s themes in the MAAC are pretty straightforward.

Canisius, a preseason pick to contend for the MAAC title, is on a four-game slide after dropping two games to Quinnipiac last weekend. It doesn’t get any easier this week as the Ice Griffs head out to Holy Cross. It’s too early to call it desperation time for the Griffs, but they need a strong performance in Worcester this weekend to get back on track.

As for Quinnipiac, the Braves look to be in a good position after sweeping Canisius. If they play as well against in-state rival Fairfield, they should find themselves still atop the top of the MAAC come Monday. For Fairfield, at 0-4, this weekend’s series is a chance to right the ship.

The MAAC’s two other in-league unbeatens square off as AIC and UConn meet in a home-and-home set.

And the two youngest teams in the Metro Atlantic face off when Iona and Sacred Heart go head-on. It may not be the smoothest brand of play when the two underclassmen-laden teams take the ice, but when these two teams of the future collide, it should be the most competitive series of the weekend.

Canisius (2-4-0; 0-2-0 MAAC) at Holy Cross (2-1-1; 2-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, Hart Center, Worcester, MA Canisius at Holy Cross Saturday, 4:30 pm, Hart Center, Worcester, MA Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh knew the task he was undertaking when the Ice Griffins agreed to join the MAAC. The move would mean a long grind of a season on the road.

And now he faces the challenge of getting the team through a road losing streak. Canisius dropped a lopsided set to Minnesota State-Mankato two weekends ago, and last week lost a set at Quinnipiac, including a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker on Saturday. And it doesn’t get any easier as Cavanaugh prepares his troops for an invasion of Holy Cross.

But Cavanaugh, a 17-year veteran, is taking things in stride. “It’s been a challenging couple weeks of travel,” he said. “As a young team, we’re suffering through some growing pains, and Holy Cross will be as difficult a challenge as we’ve faced all season.”

The Crusaders rebounded from a rough weekend at Air Force two weeks ago with workmanlike home wins over Sacred Heart, 4-1 and 7-3. Holy Cross again displayed the balance on offense that is becoming its trademark. This time out, seven players accounted for the school’s nine goals, with Paul Carroll and Joe Cavanaugh (for the second straight weekend) the only players to score two.

Keys to the games:

Get on the board first. This one’s pretty cut-and-dried. The Cross is 2-0-1 when scoring first, 0-1 when the opposition scores the opening goal. Canisius is 2-0 after getting the first strike and 0-4 otherwise.

The Ice Griffs need to get to Tom Ormondroyd early. It’s a simple equation. If the junior goalie shuts you down early, you won’t beat Holy Cross. Ormondroyd gave up no goals in the first period in last weekend’s wins over Sacred Heart and one in a tie at Air Force.

Canisius absolutely has to step up on defense. Capable goalie Bob Janosz had had to make an astronomical 153 saves in his last four games. Keep up that pace and the losing streak continues.

Picks: If Canisius can pick up the pace on D, it should be an entertaining weekend of hockey. If not, the Cross’s balanced offense can eat the Griffins alive. HC, 3-1 and 5-3.

UConn (2-0-0; 2-0-0 MAAC) at American International (2-0-0; 2-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 7:30 pm, Olympia Ice Center, W. Springfield, MA AIC at UConn Saturday, 7 pm, UConn Ice Arena, Storrs, Conn.

It’s a new twist on an old rivalry this weekend as two schools that have been antagonists for 30 years face off in the MAAC for the first time.

UConn hasn’t beaten AIC in four years, including a 3-2 home loss last year. It’s big weekend for the Huskies, who open the brand-new UConn Ice Arena on Alumni Day Saturday, but coach Paul Marshall hopes to have the AIC hex off his back by Friday.

“I’m glad the home opener’s on Saturday,” said Marshall, whose team swept Iona last weekend. “If the opener was first, I think there would be a danger of overlooking the road game. This way, it’ll be just like last weekend, getting on the bus and focusing for a road game.”

For AIC’s part, the weekend is an opportunity to build some serious early-season momentum. The Yellow Jackets played a balanced series last weekend, taking a 3-2 road win at Fairfield on a late goal by sophomore defenseman Aaron Arnett, then having five players score in a 5-0 home win Saturday.

AIC coach Gary Wright insists the score of last year’s UConn game was deceptive. “They outplayed us in every category except scoring,” said Wright. “They bottled us up in our end, and possessed the puck better. We won’t beat them again if that happens. They’re pretty quick and have some good skill guys.”

Keys to the games:

UConn has to solve Chance Thede. The AIC netminder shut down Fairfield Saturday, making 21 saves in a 5-0 win and earning MAAC defensive player of the week honors. But the sophomore still displays the inconsistency one wold expect from an underclassman at times.

The Huskies have to put in a more consistent effort. UConn let Iona creep back into both games last weekend, making the job more difficult than it had to be.

Picks: Thede carries last week’s momentum into Friday’s home game with a 3-0 AIC win. But UConn rebounds and christens the UConn Ice Arena with a 5-2 victory Saturday.

Sacred Heart (0-2-0; 0-2-0 MAAC) at Iona (1-3-0; 0-3-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, NY Iona at Sacred Heart Saturday, 7 pm, Milford Ice Pavilion, Milford, Conn.

If you’re looking to see games with heavy implications for this year’s Metro Atlantic championship, then head up to Worcester for this weekend’s Canisius-Holy Cross clash.

But if you’re looking for a glimpse at the MAAC’s future, then you might want to check out the series between Iona and Sacred Heart.

Both young teams are still looking for their first MAAC win, with Iona playing UConn tough before falling twice last weekend, and Shaun Hannah’s Pointers dropping two to Holy Cross.

“Our kids realize this is one of those games that whoever wants it the most will win,” said Iona coach Frank Bretti. “We’re still looking to climb that hurdle of getting our first MAAC win. We feel like we shouldn’t be 0-3.

“Shaun does a great job getting his kids ready to play, and this will be no exception." Keys to the games:

Goaltending. Both teams boast talented young sophomore goalies, and whichever one comes out better-prepared will give his team a huge boost. Sacred Heart’s Alexis Jutras-Binet made 66 saves against Holy Cross last weekend. Iona’s Ben Brady filled in for senior Dan McGuire and made 44 saves, earning him another start Friday.

Sacred Heart has to shut down Iona’s top line of Ryan Carter, Rob Kellogg and Erik Nates. Forget that they’re all freshman, this is a line that has jelled in a hurry, accounting for 18 of the team’s 47 points over the first two weekends. “They realized their responsibilities. I expected them to come in and make an immediate impact,” said Bretti. “They’re comfortable with their roles.”

Iona still needs to improve its power play, which now rests at 4-30 (.133) on the season.

Picks: This looks to be the type of series where the home team comes out on top each time. Look for a 6-4 Iona win in New Rochelle and a 7-6 slugfest in Milford.

Fairfield (0-4-0; 0-2-0 MAAC) at Quinnipiac (4-0-0; 3-0-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, East Haven Rink, E. Haven, Conn. Quinnipiac at Fairfield Saturday, 8 pm, Wonderland of Ice, Fairfield, Conn.

Quinnipiac freshman forward proved he had the skills to make things happen out on the ice in the season-opening Q Cup, with a goal and three assists.

Last week, he proved he can get the job done in the clutch, coming through with 22 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Braves a 2-1 win over Canisius.

But Quinnipiac won’t be able to beat Fairfield with Breen alone. The Stags need some sort of motivation to keep the wheels from falling off the wagon early; a shot at their intrastate rivals should be more than enough to get the team up.

Keys to the games:

Fairfield needs to eliminate defensive breakdowns. There were no seven-goal periods allowed against AIC, like there were in the Q Cup. But after playing AIC tough early on Saturday, the Stags allowed two goals in less than a minute in the middle of the second period, making a reachable 2-0 deficit a 4-0 hole and ending their chances in a hurry.

The Stags need someone to step up on offense. Anyone.

Quinnipiac has to improve on the power play, which went 0-for-14 last weekend.

Picks: Quinnipiac rolls, 7-2 and 6-1.