This Week in the MAAC: February 5, 1999

Well, here I am — sitting in front of my computer, realizing that I’ve got the crystal ball now. And it’s time for me to gaze into it for the first time as the new MAAC correspondent here at USCHO.

And what a week to do it!

This week we have the two best teams in the MAAC squaring off for what showed be two exciting games.

At the same time, teams like Canisius, Iona, and AIC are battling it out for home ice in this year’s inaugural tournament.

And I’m the guy who gets to predict what’s going to happen.

Remember, don’t take my word for it (and especially don’t bet the farm on what I say). I’m just an observer like each one of you.

So here goes — my chance to keep my record unblemished (at 0-0-0, its the only time of the year I haven’t been wrong!)

Connecticut (17-2-2, 15-2-2 MAAC) at Quinnipiac (12-6-4, 11-3-4 MAAC) Friday, 7:00 pm, East Haven Rink, East Haven, Conn. Quinnipiac at Connecticut Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, UConn Ice Rink, Storrs, Conn.

A very smart person once said that good teams find ways to win tough games.

For the University of Connecticut hockey team that sentiment rang true not once, but twice this past weekend.

On back-to-back nights against AIC this past weekend, UConn found itself tied in the third period.

On Friday night, UConn scored the final four goals of the game, three of them in the third period, to overcome a 2-1 deficit and win 5-2. Junior forward Mike Narotski scored just 10 seconds into the third period to break the 2-2 deadlock.

The next night was similar, as UConn again broke a 1-1 tie with three third-period goals, the last an empty-netter, to win 4-2.

UConn’s senior forward Geoff Angell continues to lead the Huskies in scoring with eight goals and 17 points. His goal on Saturday night gave UConn a lead it never relinquished.

Angell came down the right side, shot the pack across his body and the and lifted it over the goaltender to give UConn at 2-1 lead.

"I can’t say enough about the play of my three seniors: Geoff Angell, Dan Sheehan and Rob Martin," said Husky coach Bruce Marshall.

"Geoff’s goal was as nice as you see."

The four points on the weekend allowed UConn to remain six points behind league-leader Quinnipiac in the MAAC, which sets up this weekend’s matchup with the Braves.

"This weekend’s series with Quinnipiac will show whether us, Holy Cross and AIC can stay with (Quinnipiac) or if they are going to pull away from the pack," said Marshall.

"We are a hard-working, blue collar team who has to play a blue-collar game to beat Quinnipiac," he added. "Last time we played, that’s how the first game went. We played hard and got the lead. Then we did a good job of holding the lead.

"The second night we let them get one, two, three goals. You don’t want to be playing catch-up to a team like that."

This series is the end of a five-games-in-eight-days stretch for Quinnipiac. Last weekend saw a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance against Fairfield that pushed the Braves to the limit on Friday night for a 3-1 Quinnipiac win. That was before the Stags’ no-show performance on Saturday that led to a 10-0 romp for the hosts.

Tuesday night, Quinnipiac used six goals from six different scorers to beat a pesky Sacred Heart squad, 6-1.

Leading scorer Neil Breen (10-15–25) was Friday’s hero, scoring Quinnipiac’s first two goals and assisting on the third.

"We came out flat in the first," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. "That has been indicative of our team of late."

Pecknold points to youth and lack of experience as why his team hasn’t always come to play.

"Since we beat (Army) a few weeks back, the team hasn’t had a lot of focus. (The win) was a big positive for the program but the (lack of) focus has been negative."

Backup goalie Dan DiLeo got the win for the Braves on Friday, stopping just 17 shots.

Saturday night saw the Quinnipiac offense soar to life, finding the back of the net a season-high 10 times.

At the same time, freshman goalie Jim White was stopping all 20 shots that came his way and not only picked up his first shutout, but also his first career win.

Chad Poliquin notched a hat trick in the game while John Guerriero and Anthony DiPalma each picked up two tallies.

On Tuesday, Poliquin and Mike Ruggiero each tallied three assists to help pace the Braves over Sacred Heart.

J.C. Wells returned between the pipes after his two-game rest to pick up his league-leading 12th win of the season.

The game was close until Quinnipiac broke it open late in the second with two goals 25 seconds apart.

"It was a matter of time before the puck went in the net for us," said Pecknold.

As far as this week’s games against the Huskies are concerned, Pecknold says it shouldn’t be hard to focus.

"We were picked fourth in the preseason poll, so being in first place was overachieving," Pecknold added. "But now teams are gunning for us. We can’t sneak up on teams anymore."

Picks: The home team has the advantage in this series. Quinnipiac wins Friday 4-3 before UConn exacts revenge in Storrs on Saturday, 5-3.

Fairfield (1-20-0, 1-17-0 MAAC) at Holy Cross (11-8-3, 11-5-2 MAAC) Friday, 7:00 pm ET, Hart Recreation Center, Worcester, Mass. Holy Cross at Fairfield Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, Wonderland of Ice, Bridgeport, Conn.

The Crusaders of Holy Cross made their only trip of the season to Canisius last weekend to meet the Ice Griffs, who entered the series unbeaten in five games (2-0-3).

Holy Cross, similarly, entered Friday’s game on a three-game winning streak, with only one conference loss since the break.

After a scoreless first period in the series opener, the Crusaders blew the game open with three second-period goals by Joe Roache, Pat Rismiller and Chris Fattey in a span of 4:25.

The Griffs answered 32 seconds later to close to 3-1 after two. But Holy Cross iced the game when Roache netted his second of the night, at 2:48 of the third.

On Saturday afternoon, Holy Cross couldn’t contain Griff forward Brad Kenny, who provided his first career hat trick to end the Crusaders’ four-game unbeaten streak.

On the stat sheet, it was a contest totally dominated by Holy Cross, which outshot the Griffs 28-14. But there seemed to be no solving goalie Stephen Fabilli, who posted 26 saves for Canisius.

Roache finished the weekend with three goals, his first three of the season in 12 games played.

"Joe Roache had a great weekend for us last week," said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. "Joe is a good fourth-line player who saw some ice time last weekend because we were a little bumped up and he took advantage of it."

Roache will have a chance to see even more ice time this weekend as the Crusaders will be without Paul Cavanagh, Joe Cavanagh, Phil Barner and Rismiller, all of whom received game-disqualification penalties as result of a fight at the end of Saturday night’s game. All four received automatic one-game suspensions as a result of the altercation.

As far as this week’s opponent, Fairfield, is concerned, Pearl is optimistic but cautious.

"Fairfield is a pretty good team," said Pearl. "They beat us last year and almost beat Quinnipiac last weekend.

"(Remembering the loss) will help get our team fired up for this one."

Meanwhile, Fairfield gave everything it had to try to follow up its only win of the season — which came the week prior, against AIC — with an upset of first-place Quinnipiac.

In Friday night’s game in Hamden, Conn., the Stags found themselves down just 2-0 in the second period when Michael Shaheen blasted a shot to the left corner of the net to pull Fairfield within a goal.

That put the Stags in a position to complete its comeback and pull one of the biggest college hockey upsets of the season. And Stag goalie Derek Saunders was hoping to keep the team there.

Unfortunately for Saunders and the Stags, Braves forward Terry Harris had different ideas. He snapped home a power-play goal at 12:30 of the third period to take the wind out of Fairfield’s sails.

Worse for Fairfield, the wind never came back, not even after the game.

Saturday night, Fairfield fell behind Quinnipiac 2-0 early in the rematch, and that was only a preview of things to come.

Stag goaltending surrendered 10 markers on the night: two in the first, five in the second and three in the third.

"For us to be in any game, our team has to pay attention to the little things," said second-year Fairfield coach Mike Doneghey. "We have to play the system.

"On Friday night we played that system and it showed. Saturday was a totally different story."

If the Stags want to compete against Holy Cross, they will surely need to play within that system, or reap consequences similar to Saturday’s.

Picks: Holy Cross has no problem at home, winning 5-2. The Stags do their best back on home ice, but come up short, 3-2.

Sacred Heart (5-15-1, 5-13-1 MAAC) at American Int’l (9-9-3, 8-7-3 MAAC) Friday, 7:00 pm ET, Olympia Ice Center, W. Springfield, Mass. American Int’l at Sacred Heart Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, Milford Ice Pavilion, Fairfield, Conn.

Folks down in Bridgeport, Conn., must be wondering — where are the masked men who stole their hockey team, and who are these guys playing in their place?

The Pioneers of Sacred Heart are coming off of their best offensive output of the season, having registered 7-3 and 8-4 wins over Iona.

Coming into the weekend, the Pioneers had scored just 46 goals in their first 18 games. That means their 15 goals last weekend represent 25 percent of the season’s offense.

Freshman Chris Makos notched the first hat trick of the season for the Pioneers, and that in his first game back in the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury that had him sidelined.

Makos matched those three goals on the weekend with three assists and was a plus-6 overall for the series.

Pioneers coach Shaun Hannah credits the offense but doesn’t want to forget about his goaltender.

"We’ve had balanced scoring from all of our forwards this season — (but) goaltending has played a large part of our success".

"(Goaltender Alexis Jutras-Binet) has stood on his head for us all season long," said Hannah.

Indeed, Jutras-Binet was a key both nights, stopping 17 shots in the third period and 27 in the game on Friday, as well as 36 shots in Saturday’s contest.

The second period seemed to be the frame of choice for the Pioneers last weekend, as they outscored the Gaels 10-1 over the two games in the middle 20 minutes.

Tuesday night, the Pioneers played the first of two Tuesday-night games this month against southern Connecticut rival Quinnipiac.

The Braves broke a 1-1 deadlock late in the second period with two goals just 25 seconds apart and went on to a 6-1 victory.

Jutras-Binet continued to face plenty of rubber in net, stopping 32 Quinnipiac shots while taking the loss.

AIC enters this weekend on the heels of two tough losses to second-place UConn last Friday and Saturday.

Friday night saw the Yellow Jackets jump out to an early 2-1 lead on goals by Mike Liebro and Todd Bassler in the first stanza. Unfortunately for AIC, that was all the offense they could muster that night.

UConn stormed back in the second and third with four goals while at the same time outshooting the Yellow Jackets, 29-7.

Much of the same happened on Saturday night when the Yellow Jackets traveled to Storrs, Conn., for the rematch.

Mike Sowa put AIC out in front late in the first period before UConn tied the game early in the second.

But, much like the night before, UConn owned the third period, scoring the next two goals to take a 3-1 lead.

Dan Curran got the Yellow Jackets within a goal with 55 seconds left, but it was too little, too late. The Huskies added an empty-net goal for the 4-2 final.

Picks: Sacred Heart needs to rebound from Tuesday night, but AIC is blood-hungry. AIC takes the first game, 4-2, before Jutras-Binet stops the show on Saturday for a 3-1 Pioneer win.

Canisius (7-10-5, 5-8-5 MAAC) at Iona (9-11-1, 8-9-1 MAAC) Friday, 7:00 pm ET, The Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, N.Y. Saturday, 7:00 pm ET, The Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, N.Y.

For the Iona Gaels, the status of their season may best be described as "critical."

Last weekend, needing two wins to perhaps gain ground on third-place Holy Cross, the Gaels instead dropped two decisions to a surging Sacred Heart club.

Two wins would have given Iona 21 points, three fewer than HC. Instead, the Gaels have just 17 points, just two more than sixth-place Canisius, whom they host for two games this weekend.

So to say the least, this could be do-or-die for the Gaels in the race for home ice in the playoffs.

At the same time, Canisius has to be licking its chops with the opportunity to play a team that has struggled since the Christmas break (1-4-1).

For Iona, rookie Ryan Carter continues to lead the team and the MAAC in scoring (23-17–40). Fellow freshman Rob Kellogg isn’t too far behind Carter — he’s second on both lists with 32 points (15-17–32).

Carter’s two goals on Friday night against Sacred Heart were enough to keep the game tied through one. But the second period was a nemesis for the Gaels, who were outscored 10-1 in that period.

Special teams were also a problem for Iona last week. The Iona power play was 1-for-11 on the weekend, and the penalty kill allowed a goal to the SHU power play on Friday. The Pioneer power play has clicked at an anemic 8.8 percent (last in the MAAC) this season.

Iona, on the other hand, is 5-2-3 in its last 10 games.

That includes two hard-fought games last weekend with Holy Cross, which were good enough to earn a series split with the Crusaders.

After losing a tough 4-1 game on Friday, the Ice Griffs bounced back on Saturday to earn a 3-2 victory, the 250th of head coach Brian Cavanaugh’s 18-year career at Canisius.

Brad Kenny provided the offensive punch for the Ice Griffs on Saturday night, notching a hat trick that accounted for all three Canisius goals.

Canisius goalie Steve Fabilli improved his record to 3-1-1, making 26 saves en route to the win.

Coach Cavanaugh realizes the importance of the upcoming weekend.

"These two games will be important for our team as far as hosting the first round of the playoffs is concerned," Cavanaugh said.

He also remembers that the Gaels came into Buffalo and took two games from the Griffs earlier in the season.

"Iona played us tough at our place and they will be tough on the road."

Picks: Iona plays well on home ice on Friday, winning 4-1. The Ice Griffs make the sweep too difficult, winning a barnburner on Saturday, 3-2.