This Week in the MAAC: January 29, 1999

Ever notice how much Metro Atlantic hockey resembles the TV series The Simpsons?

First, The Simpsons is set in the mythic town of Springfield…and there’s a town called Springfield in New England, where most of the MAAC schools are located. Coincidence? I think not.

Next, how often does The Simpsons come on? Every week. And when do the MAAC teams play hockey? Every week. The plot thickens.

Plus, if you hunt around the various MAAC hockey teams, you’re sure to find players, coaches and staff named Homer, Bart…Marge and…um…Apu…


I gotta start writing these earlier.

All right, enough of that foolishness. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled foolishness.

Last weekend in the MAAC could be described as the Week of Ties, or maybe just the Week of Fairfield. The Stags rebounded from a Friday loss to American International to stop the Yellow Jackets 6-3 to claim their first victory of the season.

Meanwhile, three of the remaining five MAAC games last weekend finished as 3-3 ties, including both games between Quinnipiac and Canisius. Iona and Connecticut likewise tied, and Holy Cross made up some ground on the conference leaders by taking two games — both by the score of 4-2 — from Sacred Heart.

With last weekend in the books, Quinnipiac retains the MAAC lead with a 12-2-2 record and 26 league points, but Holy Cross has now pulled into a second-place tie with UConn, just four points behind. The Braves may still be in the driver’s seat, but with 12 games to go in league play, a four-point lead is nowhere close to safe.

AIC, despite giving up Fairfield’s first win, stayed ahead of Iona for fourth place, while Canisius holds in sixth with 13 points. The MAAC’s cellar-dwellers, Sacred Heart and Fairfield, now have seven and two league points, respectively.

Quinnipiac (14-2-2, 12-2-2 MAAC) at Fairfield (1-18-0, 1-15-0 MAAC) Friday, 8:30 pm ET, Wonderland of Ice, Bridgeport, Conn. Fairfield at Quinnipiac Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, East Haven Rink, East Haven, Conn. Sacred Heart (3-14-1, 3-12-1 MAAC) at Quinnipiac Tuesday, 7:00 pm ET, East Haven Rink, East Haven, Conn.

That rush of air felt throughout the Northeast last Saturday was a collective sigh of relief from Fairfield’s hockey players, coaches and fans. After getting mauled 9-3 on Friday, the Stags recovered to post a 6-3 win for their first league points.

The victory came courtesy of linemates Rob Curtis (11-6–17) and Conal Barbuto (5-6–11), each of whom scored two goals in the contest, and netminder Derek Saunders (1-2-0, 6.11 GAA, .829 SV%), who stopped 33 AIC shots. Barbuto and Curtis scored 17 seconds apart early in the third to break open a tie game, and Saunders played Saturday’s game in place of number-one goalie John True, who was pulled halfway through the third period Friday after giving up eight goals.

Rookie Bryan Cairns (1-0–1) also scored Saturday for the Stags, his first career tally.

So — the proverbial monkey may be off the Stags’ backs, but this is still a team with a long way to go. Fairfield is giving up three times as many goals as it is scoring in MAAC play (105-35), and a lot of the trouble seems to be in net.

Whether it’s going to be True, Saunders or Charles Fitzpatrick, who played the final 9:12 Friday, someone has to step up for the Stags to improve.

Meanwhile, the Quinnipiac Braves played a so-so pair of games against homestanding Canisius last Saturday and Sunday, ending in two 3-3 ties. Saturday’s action saw Canisius score first and never trail, but Chad Poliquin’s (7-14–21) goal one minute into the third period knotted it up for the Braves. Chris Cerrella (9-13–22) notched a goal and an assist for Quinnipiac.

The next night it was Canisius’ turn to play catch-up after blowing an early lead. In a game which featured a hefty 15 power plays, the only actual power-play goal was by QC’s Mike Ruggiero (5-6–11), who scored at 13:50 of the second period to give Quinnipiac its only lead.

Like its predecessor, Sunday’s game went to OT, where despite 11 shots on goal in the five extra minutes, neither team could pull out the win. Both netminders played well to preserve the tie, with Quinnipiac’s J.C. Wells stopping 30 shots.

Wells, by the way, continues to lead the MAAC in league wins (11), goals-against average (2.15), save percentage (.895) and minutes (890). He backstops a defense which is tops in the conference in goals against (just 36 in 16 games, a 2.3 average).

The Brave offense is hardly less dominating, as four Quinnipiac players stand in the top 12 in MAAC scoring. Oddly, one of those, super freshman and leading conference scorer Neil Breen (11-13—24), was held without a point against Canisius.

Shows what my praise will do to you, and with that in mind, contributions are now being accepted for keeping my mouth shut about hot players.

The third game of the week for Quinnipiac is an odd game against Sacred Heart Tuesday — odd because it’s the front end of a home-and-home series in which the games are separated by two weeks. The Braves and Pioneers play the back end at Sacred Heart on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Sacred Heart is profiled below, in its series with Iona.

Picks: On paper, this looks like a mismatch, and despite Fairfield’s heartening win Saturday, that’s probably what it will be on the ice, too. Quinnipiac is not likely to show the Stags the same generosity that it did the Griffins last weekend. Quinnipiac 7-2, 4-0

Then, on Tuesday, the Braves make it three wins for the week against the tenacious, but outmatched, Pioneers. Quinnipiac 5-2

Holy Cross (8-7-3, 8-4-2 MAAC) at Canisius (6-9-5, 4-7-5 MAAC) Friday, 8:00 pm ET, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, N.Y. Saturday, 2:00 pm ET, Dann Memorial Rink, Buffalo, N.Y.

The Crusaders of Holy Cross made their move last week, winning two games with Sacred Heart and sliding into a tie with UConn for second place in the conference. That means the preseason favorites are now 4-1 in their last five league games, and sit just four points behind league-leading Quinnipiac.

For the series, the Crusaders outshot the Pioneers 94-48, but were held comparatively close by Sacred Heart netminder Alexis Jutras-Binet. On Friday, Holy Cross got two goals and an assist from Paul Cavanaugh (10-8–18) and three assists by Mike Maguire (3-11–14) as the Crusaders scored three goals in the third period — on a monumental 20 shots — to erase a 2-1 deficit.

Holy Cross had trailed after 40 minutes of play despite outshooting Sacred Heart 31-17.

The next night the win was more straightforward, as Pat Rismiller (6-16–22) netted 1-2–3, including the game-winner, a power-play goal at 16:35 of the second period. Scott Simpson (4-3-1, 2.87 GAA, .889 SV%), who played both games in the Crusader nets in place of Tom Ormondroyd, then held off the Pioneers to gain his second win of the series.

This weekend, Holy Cross takes on Canisius, fresh off a solid, if only somewhat satisfying, series with QC. The Ice Griffs skated to two 3-3 ties with the Braves in Buffalo, coming back in one and losing a lead in the other.

In the first game, the MAAC’s second-leading scorer, Chris Duggan (13-15–28), notched Canisius’ first two goals to stake the Griffs to a 2-1 lead early in the middle frame. The victory was not to be, however, as the Braves stormed back from that deficit as well as a later 3-2 margin to draw the contest.

Even with that in mind, the Griffs couldn’t have been too upset with the tie, seeing as they were outshot 38-24 by Quinnipiac for the game. Bob Janosz (3-8-4, 3.79 GAA, .889 SV%) earned most of the credit there, stopping a total of 35 shots (and 64 shots on the weekend) for the hosts.

Sunday’s game was more back-and-forth, with each team holding one-goal leads before settling for the tie again. Seth Wiener (3-4–7) tallied the game’s final goal for the Griffs, while Todd Bisson (3-6–9) notched two assists.

The two ties, though well-played, continued the Griffs season-long pattern. They have now tied three of their last five games, and have recorded five draws in just 16 MAAC games in 1998-99.

Picks: Both teams look sharp right now, Canisius’ odd tie-happy string notwithstanding. But Holy Cross, in particular, has shown a pattern this season of alternating good and bad performances, so let’s say that happens again. Canisius 4-3, Holy Cross 5-2

American Int’l (9-7-3, 8-5-3 MAAC) at Connecticut (10-6-4, 9-3-4 MAAC) Friday, 7:30 pm ET, UConn Ice Rink, Storrs, Conn. Connecticut at American Int’l Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, Olympia Ice Center, W. Springfield, Mass.

"It had to come sometime, and it just happened to be us."

That’s probably the rallying cry this week on the campus of American International, which was victimized by Fairfield last Saturday for the Stags’ first win of the year. Now, the MAAC hockey league is too young, and rivalries too nascent to call that loss embarrassing, but getting beat 6-3 by a team which was 0-18 up ’til then is not the way to improve morale.

So the question now is, what will the Yellow Jackets do about it? Their next opponent, Connecticut, is also coming off a disappointment, so there’s no shortage of motivation for these teams in what could be an excellent weekend of hockey.

AIC’s collapse against Fairfield Saturday was even more surprising when you consider that the ‘Jackets had just pummeled the Stags 9-3 the night before. In that game, Dan Curran (11-3–14) scored two goals, including the shorthanded game-winner, and Mike Peddycord (4-5–9) continued his recent scoring streak by adding two tallies of his own. Though Fairfield actually scored the first goal of the night, it was never a contest after that: the ‘Jackets quickly returned three-for-one in the first period, and built a 6-2 lead after two.

Saturday’s game, as already mentioned, was a whole different ball of wax. Peddycord got his third goal of the weekend, but there was little else to cheer if you were an AIC fan, as the Stags hammered normally-reliable Chance Thede (7-5-3, 3.22 GAA, .901 SV%) for six goals on 34 shots.

Nevertheless, the Yellow Jackets remain in fourth place in the league standings, but just two points ahead of Iona. And AIC will need a return to form by its defensive corps (47 goals against in MAAC play, fourth-best in the league) to gain any ground against UConn.

That’s because the Huskies have an axe of their own to grind. UConn outshot Iona 42-22 last Saturday in its lone game of the week, but let the Gaels back into the contest by blowing a 3-1 second-period lead.

Ryan Murphy (1-1–2) scored the third UConn goal, an unassisted even-strength marker at 2:05 of the second, and added an assist. That goal looked like insurance at that time, but ended up as the difference between a tie and a loss as the Gaels stormed back to knot it up.

The game was also notable for what it didn’t have — scoring from UConn’s trio of Geoff Angell (9-10–19), Dan Sheehan (4-13–17) and Ciro Longobardi (9-7–16). That group was held to one point (a Longobardi assist) on the evening, and that will have to change against AIC for the Huskies to make up ground.

The 3-3 finish also meant that UConn has tied three of its last four, the fourth decision being a 4-1 loss to Sacred Heart. That’s alarming for Husky fans, who watched their team jump out to a 9-2-1 start in the MAAC before the current troubles. Now, Connecticut will need to hustle to maintain a share of second place, let alone challenge Quinnipiac for the lead.

UConn still sports a solid D — the Huskies are second in the league in goals against — and Marc Senerchia (9-5-4, 2.56 GAA, .894 SV%) trails only Quinnipiac’s J.C. Wells in most key goaltending categories. Frankly, though, the defense has kept the heat off Senerchia for most of the season: he has faced just 282 shots in 850-plus minutes of MAAC play. His performance could be the key to UConn rejoining QC atop the league, or sliding as far as fourth.

Picks: The Huskies really, really need two wins here, but don’t count on it. AIC has been one of the league’s best home teams this season (a 6-1-2 league record), and the Yellow Jackets need these points at least as much as the Huskies do. UConn 3-1, AIC 3-2

Iona (9-9-1, 8-7-1 MAAC) at Sacred Heart (3-14-1, 3-12-1 MAAC) Friday, 7:30 pm ET, Milford Ice Pavilion, Fairfield, Conn. Sacred Heart at Iona Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, The Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, N.Y.

This series pits the MAAC’s seventh-place team against the team picked to finish last in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Iona has baffled the pundits, churning out its fair share of conference wins en route to a fifth-place standing and the respect of its league mates. That has been accomplished largely as a result of prodigious scoring; the Gaels have notched 66 goals in MAAC play, good for second in the league.

The O is led by Ryan Carter (21-15–26) , who leads the conference in goals, points and power-play markers; Rob Kellogg (15-17–32) , who sits second to Carter in goals and third in points; and, ofttimes, defenseman Tim Kyrkostas (6-11–17), the MAAC leader in blueliner scoring. Think about this: Carter alone has accounted for nearly one-fourth of Iona’s league goals this year.

Carter notched his 16th goal of the MAAC season last Saturday to get the draw for the Gaels against UConn. He was assisted by Erik Nates (9-10–19), who tallied a goal of his own to start the comeback from a 3-1 second-period deficit.

In nets for Iona, Dan McGuire (5-3-1, 3.79 GAA, .875 SV%) claimed credit for the tie, replacing Ben Brady after the first period (which saw UConn take a 2-1 lead) and allowing just one goal on 27 shots in the game’s final 40 minutes.

Oddly enough, Iona is the only team in the MAAC to sport a significantly better record on the road than at home. The Gaels are 5-3-1 in league games away, versus just 3-4-0 in home tilts.

Across the ice from the Gaels this weekend will be Sacred Heart, led by goaltender Alexis Jutras-Binet (3-12-1, 4.87 GAA, .886 SV%). Apart from being one of its best (don’t let the numbers fool you), Jutras-Binet is certainly the league’s busiest keeper — the porous Pioneer D has allowed 543 shots on him this year. That’s 190 more than any other goaltender in the league has faced.

I repeat: that’s 190 more than any other goaltender in the entire league.

Not helping the Sacred Heart cause is an anemic offense which sits seventh in the MAAC in goal production. SHU scored just four goals against Holy Cross last weekend, although the Pioneers did hold the lead (2-1) at one point Saturday. Lloyd Marks (4-3–7) managed 1-1–2 in that contest, while team scoring leader Erik Drake (4-13–17) (the only Pioneer among the MAAC scoring charts, at 4-7–11) notched an assist on Marks’ goal.

That is, the Pioneer offense is sleepwalking right now, but all it would take is a little boost to make this a competitive team. The Pioneers showed their firepower with four goals to beat UConn two weeks ago, and before that with 12 goals in a two-game sweep of Fairfield.

Picks: Iona doesn’t play a whole lot of defense, which could be inviting for the stagnant Pioneers. But Iona does score a whole lot, which won’t help Jutras-Binet revive the blueline corps of Sacred Heart. With two teams that are such opposites, this call is tough. I gave SHU the benefit of the doubt last week, but Holy Cross was too strong. Iona is probably the same — but not by much. Iona 3-2, 4-3

Next week in the MAAC:

Friday, February 5: Canisius at Iona Fairfield at Holy Cross Sacred Heart at American Int’l Connecticut at Quinnipiac

Saturday, February 6: American Int’l at Sacred Heart Canisius at Iona Holy Cross at Fairfield Quinnipiac at Connecticut