This Week in the MAAC: November 20, 1998

After three weekends of Metro Atlantic play, it’s clear there are two major surprises in the conference.

The first is Canisius, predicted to finish second in the MAAC preseason poll. Despite the hype, the Ice Griffins are on an 0-7-1 skid and find themselves in sixth place.

The second is Iona. The freshman-laden Gaels, a runaway pick to finish last in the preseason poll, have won their last four games and sit alone in fifth in the MAAC, just three points behind first-place Holy Cross.

The two teams’ paths crossed last weekend, when Iona traveled to Buffalo for a weekend set. Friday night was a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong for the Griffs so far this season, as a disputed goal by Iona forward Adam Bouchard at 15:28 of the third lifted the Gaels to a 3-2 victory.

Despite Canisius’ vehement protests that the puck never crossed the line, the referee awarded the goal after conferring with his linesmen and the goal judge, and Iona held on to win.

Saturday, Iona got help from freshman Ryan Carter, who had a hat trick, including the game-winner, in a 6-4 win. Carter is second in the MAAC in scoring with 8-5-13 totals in league games; freshman linemate Rob Kellogg leads the league at 4-10-14.

According to Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh, whose team has three one-goal losses, a two-goal loss and a tie in its last five games, patience is the watchword.

“Basically, we’ve lost five one-goal games in the MAAC [this season],” he said. “We need to work at playing a complete 60-minute game. We’ve had breakdowns in every area and have to eliminate them in order to get in the win column.”

American International (4-1-1; 4-1-1 MAAC) at Canisius 2-7-1; 0-5-1 MAAC) Friday, 8 pm, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, NY Saturday, 2 pm, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, NY

This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend. Canisius, as has already been discussed, is looking to break out of what is turning into a protracted slump. AIC, on the other hand, is still tough to gauge.

The Yellow Jackets have four wins in the MAAC, two over Fairfield in the season’s opening weekend, and two last week over Sacred Heart. Their only battle with an upper-echelon team came two weeks ago, and they looked less-than-stellar in a loss and tie to UConn.

Friday’s game marks the second-ever meeting between the two schools, AIC took a 4-3 overtime decision in the first meeting in 1992.

Keys to the Games:

Canisius will have to solve AIC’s stingy defense, which has a league-low 1.75 goals-against per game, and superb sophomore goalie Chance Thede, who leads the MAAC in goals-against average (1.72) and save percentage (.941).

Canisius also has to do a better job getting out of the gate. The Griffs have been outscored 15-4 in the opening stanza this year, and have scored the game’s first goal in only two of 10 games.

Picks: The Yellow Jackets ride Thede to a 2-1 victory Friday, but Canisius rebounds to finally end its losing skein with a 4-3 win in the rematch.

Fairfield (0-7-0; 0-5-0 MAAC) at Iona (5-4-0; 4-3-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, The Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, NY Iona at Fairfield Saturday, 8 pm, Wonderland of Ice, Fairfield, Conn.

It’s beginning to look like a long season for Fairfield. The Stags are at the bottom of the league in goal production, with five in five league games and 11 in seven games overall, and don’t have a single player among the MAAC’s top 40 scorers. Defensively, the Stags rank last, allowing 6.60 goals per game.

But it’s not time for Fairfield to give up the ship just yet. While Iona is a team capable of giving every team in the league a run for the money, the Gaels also have their down games, evidenced in an embarrassing 6-4 loss to Division II Hobart Sunday afternoon.

Keys to the games:

Fairfield has to come up with a way to stop the freshman line of Rob Kellogg, Ryan Carter, and Erik Nates. Yep, we say this every week, but the stats bear it out: This line has scored 17 of Iona’s 28 MAAC goals and place 1-2-4 in the league in scoring.

Iona goalie Dan Maguire has to prove his senior leadership skills once and for all. Iona coach Frank Bretti has split time between Maguire and sophomore Ben Brady so far, and Maguire, who has looked solid at times and shaky at others, has to step up his game.

Picks: Iona all over Fairfield at home Friday, 9-2. They also take the Saturday game, but the Stags put up a better battle before falling at home, 5-3.

Sacred Heart (0-6-0; 0-6-0 MAAC) at Quinnipiac (6-1-0; 5-1-0 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, East Haven Rink, East Haven, Conn. Quinnipiac at Sacred Heart Saturday, 7:30 pm, Milford Ice Arena, Milford, Conn

Sacred Heart looks to be in a similar position as Fairfield, as thus far the Pioneers have shown a porous defense and have dropped six straight to begin their season.

But the Pioneers look to have a tougher path this weekend in search of their first victory, as they take on an explosive Quinnipiac squad. The second-place Braves come off a weekend in which they fell to their first loss of the season, a tough 2-1 decision at UConn, but responded with an 8-3 shellacking of the Huskies Saturday.

Keys to the games:

Sacred Heart has to find a way to shut down Neil Breen. The freshman sensation is second in the MAAC in league goals with six and in plus/minus at plus-10, and is the type of player who always seems to have a hand in the game’s big plays.

The Pioneers still have yet to come out with a solid 60 minutes of defense, and they’ll be hard-pressed to do so against a team averaging 5.20 goals a game.

Picks: Quinnipiac sweeps, 8-2 and 6-3.

UConn (4-1-1; 4-1-1 MAAC) at Holy Cross (5-1-2; 5-0-1 MAAC) Friday, 7 pm, Hart Center, Worcester, Mass. Holy Cross at UConn Saturday, 7:30 pm, UConn Ice Arena, Storrs, Conn.

This one looks to be the weekend’s marquee matchup, as two points separate the Huskies from Holy Cross and the top of the MAAC.

The Crusaders have yet to be really tested in the MAAC, with sweeps over Fairfield and Sacred Heart and a win and a tie with struggling Canisius. UConn, on the other hand has been the tight, feisty team the Huskies were expected to be, and has played a disciplined game all season except for last Saturday’s 8-3 loss to Quinnipiac.

Keys to the games:

If you like hard-nosed, tight-checking, grinding hockey, this is the series for you. Neither of these teams has anyone who would be mistaken for a sniper. Other than the Cross’s Joe Cavanaugh, who has six goals, neither team has a scorer with more than three.

Both teams have solid, dependable junior goalies (Marc Senerchia for UConn and Tom Ormondroyd for HC). Both teams like to hit and generally are sound on defense. This series will come down to the simple matter of who wants it more.

Picks: Holy Cross firmly establishes itself as the best of the MAAC with 5-4 and 3-2 wins.

Upcoming: Thanksgiving week sees a light schedule in the MAAC, but an important one nonetheless. UConn hosts Army on Tuesday, Nov. 24, then heads to Minnesota State-Mankato for a weekend series on the 27th and 28th, and Holy Cross goes to West Point for a clash with Army Friday night.

MAAC teams are 3-5-1 against non-conference foes, but that record drops to 0-3-1 against Division I schools. That is, it’s imperative for the Metro Atlantic to put up a decent performance Thanksgiving week for the sake of the conference’s respectability.