Since the first announcement of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s existence, people around the college hockey circles have questioned, "Can this league compete?" By the end of last year’s inaugural season, folks bellowed that question even louder as four teams, Quinnipiac, Holy Cross, UConn and Canisius, were all under consideration for the NCAA tournament.
But for the first season of the MAAC, the only Division I non-league opponents that appeared on member teams’ schedules were Air Force, Army, and Niagara. There were no games schedule against next-door neighbor conferences Hockey East and ECAC, so most people, including some members of the NCAA selection committee, felt that the league was untested.
And rightfully so. But beginning this weekend, all of that changes, as two of the league’s top clubs — defending tournament champion Holy Cross and defending regular season champion Quinnipiac — play non-league games against established Division I programs. On Friday night, Holy Cross will take on an always-improving Merrimack College from Hockey East, and Saturday night, Quinnipiac faces off against longtime ECAC powerhouse Rensselaer.
When asked about the matchup with Merrimack, Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl downplayed the game.
"I don’t think this game really means too much," said Pearl. "Win or lose, it’s just another game — it’s not a playoff game."
Pearl, as most of the coaches in the league do, realizes that some will use these games as a measuring stick. But this early-season matchup, Pearl feels, isn’t a good way to judge the team or the conference.
"We’re just trying to get familiar with each other," Pearl said. "We’ve got so many new players we’re simply trying to teach them the system. At the same time we’re trying to get in shape and at the same time trying to win a game.
"Maybe that’s a lot to do in just 14 days, but we’re ready to go out and do our best."
Hopefully the "best" for the league’s first two ambassadors will start earning the MAAC whatever respect it is due.
Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst begin a two-week span in which six of the MAAC team will participate in invitational tournaments. The Braves travel to Albany, N.Y., to join Niagara, Boston University, and host RPI in the ECAC/Crowne Plaza Faceoff…Mercyhurst, meanwhile, will host the Hamot Hockey Classic, bringing in Canadian schools Windsor and Waterloo, and Findlay from the newborn College Hockey America…Next weekend, MAAC members Quinnipiac, Fairfield and Iona join Army in the Quinnipiac Cup in New Haven, Conn., while UConn and Canisius will face off in Orono, Maine, with the winner playing either Maine or New Brunswick for the J.C. Penney tourney championship…Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin begins his first season in the MAAC just 13 wins shy of 200. He can only add to that total this weekend if his team faces Findlay in the finals of the Hamot Classic, as games against Canadian universities do not count toward career coaching totals…Canisius College is the only MAAC club with any type of game under its belt — a 6-3 exhibition victory over Brock University last Saturday…The Ice Griffs host first-year program Wayne State this weekend, marking the first game between MAAC and CHA clubs.