It’s been an upward climb this year for Metro Atlantic hockey.
When the league was formed, its founders knew it would take time to establish respectability for the nation’s fifth Division I league, but coming into last week they had probably hoped for a little better than a 1-8-1 nonconference record against fellow Division I members, especially since those games have all been against D-I independents such as Minnesota State-Mankato and Air Force.
No disrespect is meant to those programs — heck, D-I indie Niagara has been the bane of Eastern hockey most of this season. That said, MAAC-leading Quinnipiac struck a blow for its brethren by rallying to upend the Cadets of Army, 3-2, on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
That result gave the MAAC its second victory against a nonleague D-I opponent (the first also came at Army’s expense, a 4-2 win by Connecticut back on Nov. 24), and came at a propitious moment, just as the league prepared to forward a proposal to the NCAA championships committee that would expand the D-I men’s hockey tournament from its current 12 teams to a full 16.
If approved, such a proposal would represent a step toward one of the MAAC’s primary goals: an automatic bid to the national tourney, much like the ones currently enjoyed by the ECAC, WCHA, CCHA and Hockey East.
(Actually, each of those conferences has as many as two autobids, one for….All right, let’s not start that here.)
Why is that, you say? Simple — the established four conferences are unlikely to approve of losing even one of the existing 12 slots to a MAAC squad. However, expanding to add four more teams to the mix makes the addition of a MAAC autobid much more palatable, since then the move can be sold as "three-for-you-and-one-for-me."
Seems fair enough, no?
Anyway, back on the ice it wasn’t all roses for the MAAC’s eight teams last week. Quinnipiac scored the aforementioned 3-2 win over Army last Tuesday, but simultaneously, inconsistent American International took its lumps from Division III Hobart, 5-2. Ouch.
AIC and Quinnipiac then faced off Friday at QC’s East Haven Rink, with the hosts getting the better of it despite a gutty performance by their guests, 6-4. Those same guts proved too much for Quinnipiac the next night, as the Yellow Jackets snapped a five-game winless skein with a 5-4 victory.
The Braves then ran their league record to 12-2-0 with a 5-1 win in the completion of the infamous monoxide-suspended game at Fairfield, which began Nov. 7. Only the third period remained to be played, and the Braves scored three goals to win going away.
For second-place UConn, the news wasn’t nearly as good. The Huskies claimed only one point on the weekend, that coming from a 2-2 tie Friday at Sacred Heart. Since the teams played again Saturday, that must mean — you guessed it — that the surprising Pioneers pulled off the upset, 4-1.
UConn’s unsatisfying weekend leaves the Huskies three points behind Quinnipiac for the league lead, even though the Braves still have a game in hand.
Holy Cross, sitting in third place in the conference, also opened a mixed bag last weekend. The Crusaders dropped an ugly decision, 6-2, to Iona Friday before recovering to post a 7-3 home win the next night. Meanwhile, Fifth-place Iona now stands at 2-4-0 in its last six conference games.
As mentioned above, AIC both won and lost surprises last week, and is still just one point out of third in the league standings. Next down the list is Canisius, which made short work of cellar-dwelling Fairfield, 8-2 and 7-3. The Ice Griffs are still trying to recover from the effects of a deadly midseason slide, which saw them go 0-6-1 in MAAC play between Oct. 30 and Nov. 21.
Finally, Sacred Heart put forth three creditable efforts last week. As previously noted, the seventh-place (and still-Division II) Pioneers took three of four points from Connecticut, then gave Army all it could handle Tuesday before bowing 2-1.
On to the games!
Quinnipiac (14-2-0, 12-2-0 MAAC) at Canisius (6-9-3, 4-7-3 MAAC) Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, N.Y. Sunday, 2:00 pm ET, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, N.Y.
This series features the MAAC’s undisputed leader against a team that was expected to contend, but has mystified.
Quinnipiac has to be just a little tired, having played four games since last Tuesday. The Braves’ big nonconference win over Army came courtesy of John Delorenzo, who recorded his first goal of the year at 18:23 of the third period to snap a 2-2 tie.
That tie had come courtesy of reliable sophomore Chris Cerrella (8-12–20), who beat Army netminder Corey Winer from the right circle at 6:03 of the third. It also came thanks to Brave goaltender J.C. Wells, who leads the MAAC in both save percentage (.912) and goals-against average (2.04).
After winning Friday’s contest 6-4, Wells would split time with backup Dan DiLeo in Saturday’s game against AIC, yielding the second period to DiLeo after allowing two goals on six shots in the first. DiLeo, however, was victimized for three Yellow Jacket tallies, including the eventual game-winner, and Wells was reinserted to start the third. Although he turned away all seven AIC shots in the final 20 minutes, a disappointing 5-4 defeat was the result.
Sophomore Jed Holtzman (5-16–21), the team leader in assists, had 1-4–5 on the weekend against AIC, while Dennis Palaia notched two goals Friday, including the game-winner.
Ever a danger for the Braves is super freshman Neil Breen (11-13–24), who stands fourth in the MAAC in points.
At the other end of the ice will be Canisius, a team many — including the MAAC’s coaching braintrust — expected to challenge for the league title this season. That outcome is now out of the question, thanks to a disastrous slide through November, but the Griffs have shown a little magic lately, going 4-1-1 in their last six games.
The downside? Those four wins came against flyweights Sacred Heart and Fairfield, who sport a combined 3-24-1 league record. The other two games were with Connecticut, which put up a brisker fight, to say the least.
Last weekend, though, it was Fairfield in town, and the Griffs did what every other MAAC opponent has done to the Stags this season — beat them.
For Canisius, the offense starts with Chris Duggan (11-15–26) and David Deeves (12-7–19), and that’s exactly where it started Friday. Duggan, the MAAC’s second-leading scorer with 24 league points, assisted on the Griffs’ first goal, Deeves scored the second and assisted on the third, and then Duggan stepped back in and recorded his team’s fifth, sixth and seventh goals for his first collegiate hat trick — and a natural, at that.
The duo picked right up where they’d left off Saturday, with Duggan notching two goals and two assists to complete an impressive 5-3–8 weekend, and Deeves tallying two goals to put the game away in the second period.
Number-one goaltender Bob Janosz made 21 stops Friday to earn the win, while Sean Weaver stepped in on Saturday, saving 22 Fairfield shots for his first victory.
Picks: Canisius hasn’t had too much trouble scoring goals this year — its total of 54 is fifth in the league. Nor has the Griffon defense been outmatched. In fact, Canisius’ league woes may be more a matter of timing than anything else.
Case in point: the Griffs are just 1-5-3 in MAAC games decided by two goals or less.
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac has overcome middling preseason expectations to dominate Metro Atlantic play, losing only twice all year, both times by just one goal. The Braves have the league’s most explosive offense (69 goals in 14 league games, a 4.9 average), and its stingiest defense, led by Wells, the MAAC’s top netminder.
In short, Canisius is better than its record suggests — but Quinnipiac is every bit as good as its record indicates. The games may be in Buffalo, and the Braves could be tired, and the Griffs might be on a mini-roll, but none of that is enough to swing the balance. Quinnipiac 5-3, 4-3
Holy Cross (8-7-3, 8-4-2 MAAC) at Sacred Heart (3-12-1, 3-10-1) Friday, 7:30 pm ET, Milford Ice Arena, Milford, Conn. Sacred Heart at Holy Cross Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, Hart Center, Worcester, MA
Holy Cross, the preseason coaches’ pick for the MAAC championship, looked every bit the part in the season’s early going, starting out 5-0-1 in league play. Since then, the Crusaders are just 3-4-1, a turnaround which has at least as much to do with the twists of the schedule as it does with the play of the Cross itself.
The Crusaders’ first six MAAC games were against Sacred Heart, Fairfield (see above, under "Canisius") and Canisius, the current bottom-feeders of the MAAC. Since then, the Crusaders have been playing only contenders, and the difference has shown. After one full turn through the league schedule, Holy Cross sits a somewhat-disappointing third.
Last weekend, Holy Cross did what it could to right the ship, mowing down a respectable Iona squad Saturday after getting clobbered Friday. The Cross was in Friday’s contest early before falling behind in the second period and getting blown out late.
Saturday was a different story. The Crusaders came out with guns a-blazin’, burying Iona with four goals in the first 22 minutes. Seven different players scored Holy Cross’ seven goals, with Pat Rismiller (5-13–18) notching a goal and an assist to go with his two goals in Friday’s losing effort.
Also contributing was the team’s leading scorer, Chris Fattey (9-12–21), who tallied 1-2–3 on the weekend. Meanwhile, Ben Brady continued his generally-solid play in place of Scott Ormondroyd, stopping 28 of 31 shots Saturday after getting hammered the night before.
Opposing the Crusaders is the league’s Jekyll-and-Hyde team, Sacred Heart. The Pioneers lost their first 11 games this season, including embarrassing blowouts at the hands of Iona (7-3, Nov. 6) and Canisius (10-1, Dec. 2).
Lately, however, SHU suddenly looks like a contender, sporting a very nice 3-0-1 league streak, intermixed with the above-noted 2-1 loss to Army, which had beaten Sacred Heart 6-3 earlier in the year. That is to say, things are looking up for the Pioneers.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s still plenty to be worried about, including the MAAC’s second-most anemic offense (after Fairfield) and its second-most generous D (…again after Fairfield). But last weekend, neither of those flaws were in evidence against Connecticut, which was stunned 2-2 and 4-1 by the previously-lowly Pioneers.
It could have been even better for SHU, which led in the final minute Friday, courtesy of a Lloyd Marks score, before UConn tied it up. The Pioneers left nothing to chance the next day, getting up 2-1 before scoring two empty-net goals to secure the win.
The shocker? Shots on goal for Saturday’s contest: UConn 44, Sacred Heart 12.
Doing most of the work on offense was Sacred Heart’s all-underclass top line: Eric Drake (4-12–16), with three goals and an assist for the series, and Chris Mokos (3-11–14) and Peter McRae (8-5–13), who notched two assists apiece.
And don’t forget — you heard it here. Ignore the 3-10-1 record and the 5.00 goals-against average. Sophomore Alexis Jutras-Binet is one of the top goaltenders in the league. I repeat, Alexis…well, you get the point.
Want proof? Jutras-Binet stopped a total of 83 shots against the potent Huskies, allowing only three goals. You do that in the WCHA and you’re the U.S. College Hockey Online defensive player of the week, no ifs, ands or buts.
And Jutras-Binet has played that way all year, though the results haven’t usually been as nice. With an undermanned defense in front of him, Jutras-Binet routinely faces 40 shots a night. Bear in mind that even in victory Saturday, the Pioneers were outshot by a margin of over three to one.
Picks: Sacred Heart is improving, but there’s still quite a ways to go. Holy Cross pummeled the Pioneers the first time they played, and the odds may be that the Crusaders still have enough gas in the tank to win these, as well. However, if Jutras-Binet keeps his glove hand limber, the Pioneers might just steal one. Sacred Heart 3-2, Holy Cross 5-2
Fairfield (0-17-0, 0-14-0 MAAC) at American Int’l (8-6-3, 7-4-3 MAAC) Friday, 7:00 pm ET, Olympia Ice Center, W. Springfield, Mass. American Int’l at Fairfield 8:00 pm ET, Wonderland of Ice, Bridgeport, Conn.
American International is coming off its biggest win of the year, a 5-4 upset Saturday of league-leading Quinnipiac. The Yellow Jackets took a 3-1 lead in the early going before the Braves rallied to tie the game late in the second period. But Mike Peddycord (1-5–6) assisted on Todd Bassler’s (5-3–8) goal, then scored one of his own 16 seconds later to give AIC the win.
Also contributing to the upset were leading scorer Tom Cogan (7-9–16), who put in the third AIC goal, and Joe Wlodarczyk (6-6–12), with two assists. The AIC offense the previous night came mainly from senior Mike Sowa (7-1–8), who notched two goals in the losing effort.
Despite the offensive numbers last weekend, American International is doing it with defense. The Yellow Jackets’ 38 league goals against are second-best in the league (though UConn, with 39 goals against, has played one more game). That the AIC blueliners can score a little is evidenced by Aaron Arnett (2-7–9) and Rob Murphy (1-6–7), who had two assists Friday night.
In nets for the Yellow Jackets is reliable Chance Thede, who has parlayed a sound all-around D into a 7-4-3 record, .907 save percentage and 3.02 goals-against average. Thede faced a total of 81 shots against Quinnipiac last weekend, stopping 71 of them.
Opposing AIC this weekend is Fairfield, which…well, maybe the Stags weren’t as ready for the season as some of their fellows.
The Stags started the year with two drubbings in the Q Cup, the first from future MAAC member Bentley (7-3) and the second a horrible 12-3 beating by Iona. But as early as November, there were murmurs from league coaches that this Stag team wasn’t as bad as its record suggested, and that a win was just around the corner.
More than anything else, those comments now appear to have been an attempt to stay off the Fairfield locker-room blackboard. The Stags have fallen to 0-17-0 overall and 0-14-0 in the MAAC. Much worse, of those 17 losses, just two have come by three goals or fewer.
Tied for the team lead in scoring are seniors Rob Curtis (7-4–11) and Bill Coughlin (8-3–11). Curtis has scored all 11 of his points in league play, putting him 28th in the conference. That’s as high as any Stag sits.
The defense is even more outmatched, having allowed a whopping 121 goals in 17 games overall. Goaltender John True (0-15-0, .837 SV%, 7.23 GAA) is facing an average of 31 shots per game, and that’s even though he’s been pulled several times in favor of sophomore backup Derek Saunders.
Picks: There’s not much you can do to put a positive spin on Fairfield’s figures, but let’s try anyway. The Stags’ opponent this weekend, American International, is the team against which they have played their best hockey, including a narrow 3-2 loss back in November.
Still, that’s just so much chaff in the breeze when you look at Fairfield’s current woes. At this point, there’s probably nothing more to do than chalk up 1998-99 to a learning experience and hope for better next year. AIC 5-2, 6-1
Iona (9-9-0, 8-7-0 MAAC) at Connecticut (10-6-3, 9-3-3 MAAC) Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, UConn Ice Arena, Storrs, Conn.
With most of the MAAC having now gone through the league once, the two teams with an extra game under their belts play an unusual single contest this weekend.
Both Connecticut and Iona have been pleasant surprises this year. The Huskies, who were expected to land in the middle to upper reaches of the conference, have been even better than that, compiling a solid 9-3-3 league record, good for second place in the standings.
The Huskies, much like Quinnipiac, are playing all-around hockey, beginning with a quality two-way defense led by junior Marc Busenburg (4-5–9), senior Rob Martin (1-8–9) and rookie Matt Herhal (2-6–8). Those three anchor a blueline corps which has allowed just 2.6 goals per game in league play. They even scored two of UConn’s three goals last weekend against Sacred Heart.
In net is the MAAC’s second-ranked goaltender, junior Marc Senerchia. Although he gave up the first two SHU goals on only 10 shots Saturday (the next two were empty-netters to seal the Pioneers’ 4-1 win), Senerchia is second in the MAAC in goals-against average and third in save percentage. His glove hand will be crucial to getting the Huskies back on track this weekend.
Up front for UConn are seniors Geoff Angell (9-10–19) and Dan Sheehan (4-13–17, including the third UConn goal last week), as well as sophomore Ciro Longobardi (9-6–15). The Huskies don’t overpower you with offense, though they score enough to do the trick; they mainly wait and watch, relying on Senerchia and the D, and then take advantage of the inevitable openings.
Their opponents have been a much bigger surprise. The Gaels of Iona were picked dead last in the coaches’ preseason poll, and evidently took it personally. Like the Huskies, Iona has a solid offense, although the character of that O can change dramatically depending on who’s at the other end of the ice.
Example: against the MAAC’s second division of Canisius, Sacred Heart and Fairfield, the Gaels have put up 38 goals in six games, winning all six. Against the rest of the league, Iona has just 25 goals in nine games, and a 2-7-0 record.
Six of those 25 goals came against Holy Cross last Friday, as the Gaels swept over the Crusaders with a late charge. Freshman Rob Kellogg (15-17–32) scored two goals, including the game-winner, while fellow rookie (and the MAAC’s leading scorer with 27 league points) Ryan Carter (20-14–34) notched his 20th goal of the year overall.
Three other Gaels also had multiple-point games, but looking at the Iona scoring list it becomes clearer why the Gaels have been so inconsistent — over 40 percent of their goals are coming from Kellogg and Carter. Shut down those two, and you’ve got a great chance.
Pick: Iona is a decent team, but its defensive shortcomings will be its downfall against the opportunistic Huskies, who know how to keep a team off the scoreboard. UConn 5, Iona 3
Next week in the MAAC:
Friday, Jan. 29: American Int’l at Connecticut Holy Cross at Canisius Iona at Sacred Heart Quinnipiac at Fairfield
Saturday, Jan. 30: Connecticut at American Int’l Holy Cross at Canisius Sacred Heart at Iona Fairfield at Quinnipiac
Tuesday, Feb. 2: Sacred Heart at Quinnipiac