This Week in the MAAC: November 10, 1999

Comebacks and Upsets

The third week of MAAC action was chock-full of excitement — highlighted by high-character comebacks and nail-biting overtime victories.

There were some firsts as both Bentley and Sacred Heart broke through with their first wins of the season. For Bentley, its come-from-behind, 3-2 win over defending tournament champion Holy Cross was also the club’s first win in MAAC and NCAA Division I play.

Fantastic comebacks have highlighted the young season, as MAAC teams have erased three or more-goal deficits seven times already; the largest was Mercyhurst’s four-goal comeback in a 6-4 win over Bentley two weeks ago. Iona also impressed in the first week of MAAC play, overcoming two three-goal deficits to tie Quinnipiac, 7-7.

At the same time, the MAAC has been no stranger to overtime. Nine games involving league members have already gone to extra time, with three games this past weekend playing long. The Sacred Heart Pioneers, riding the back of MAAC Goalie of the Week Alexis Jutras-Binet, played two overtime contests this week, The Pioneers upset UConn on Friday night, 2-1 in overtime, and skated to a 2-2 tie with AIC on Saturday night.

Zeroes All Around

It’s not too often that in a game in which the final score is 9-5 that you can talk about the number zero. But in last weekend’s game between Canisius and Fairfield, this was the case.

Unfortunately, the zeroes referenced here are not the kind that put smiles on a coach’s face: in each of the three periods, one of the two goaltenders finished the frame without a save.

In the first and second periods it was Canisius’ netminder Sean Weaver was without a save. Weaver allowed two goals each period. In the third period, Fairfield’s David Hines did not stop any of the four shots he faced.

The two goalies combined for 25 saves while allowing 14 goals.

MAAC Game of the Week

Mercyhurst at Iona Friday, November 12, 1999, 7:00 P.M.

About five weeks ago, as I sat writing the season preview, the phrase "X-factor" kept running through my head. Reason being, with the youth that makes up this MAAC league, there is and was pretty much no way to predict who could do what.

And two teams, Mercyhurst and Iona, have played their roles perfectly.

Mercyhurst, in its first year of Division I hockey and first season in the MAAC, has come out of the gate with a blazing start, winning its first four league games. Moreover, the team has shown the character usually reserved for national champions.

In three of the four league games, Mercyhurst has rallied from at least a three-goal deficit to win. They fell behind 4-0 to Bentley before winning 6-4, and were behind 4-1 to both Fairfield and Quinnipiac this past weekend before going on to win both games, 5-4 and 6-4, respectively.

According to head coach Rick Gotkin, now in his 12th season behind the Mercyhurst bench, he’s happy but concerned with his team’s comebacks.

"We wanted to get out of the gate strong this season. And we’ve found a way to win our first four," Gotkin said. "[The comebacks] have helped our kids’ confidence and building character, and all those cliches. I’d just like to get a better start.

"It’s great that we show the ability to come back. But I told the team that sooner or later, this [falling behind] will catch up with you."

Offense has not been a problem for the Lakers, who are averaging 5.5 goals per conference game. Junior left wing Eric Ellis leads the league in scoring with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in four games, and junior center Jeff Gould leads the MAAC in goals with six .

Truly, the only downfall for the Lakers is their slow starts, and as Gotkin says, over the course of a 35-game season, that will take its toll. But it is an advantage come playoff time, knowing that no matter how big a deficit you face, if there is time left on the clock, the game is never over.

"The game is just so wide-open and teams have so many talented kids," Gotkin said. "The message to take from this is that this is why we play 60 minutes. You never give up because a lot can happen. I am excited that we won, but concerned with the fact that we’re falling behind."

When asked if Gotkin believed his team would meet Iona this early in the season with first place on the line, the coach humbly downplayed his club a bit.

"I could believe that Iona would be [on top] but I wouldn’t have believed that we’d be [there also]," Gotkin said laughingly. "It’s nice to be in first place, and I’m not complaining, but it’s a long year. I’m sure there’ll be a point in the season when we struggle.

"My philosophy is that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you handle what happens to you. So far we’ve handled it pretty well."

On the other side of the fence, the Gaels of Iona College have made a 180-degree turnaround over the course of about a year and a half. Only 13 months removed from being picked dead last in the inaugural MAAC preseason coaches’ poll, the Gaels have lost only one of their first five games this season, and stand in second place in the MAAC at this early juncture.

Iona is coming off of what they might consider a big upset — a 4-3 overtime win over UConn (which was predicted right here at USCHO in last week’s column). It was the Gaels’ first win ever against UConn, and it came before a packed house last Saturday night at the Ice Hutch in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Head coach Frank Bretti is pleased with his team’s start and even more pleased with the play of his younger players.

"I felt very strongly about the recruiting class that we brought in," Bretti said. "In terms of what they can deliver, they’re off to a good start. Also, our returning players are a little bit better than last year. And their experience is basically what has carried us to this point."

The Iona offense is without a doubt one of the most potent in the league. With the MAAC’s leading scorer from last season, Ryan Carter, returning, plus the addition of a solid crop of seven hard-working recruits, Bretti’s team is beginning to open eyes.

"A major part of [our offense] is our practice, preparation and philosophies," Bretti added. "We’re a team who goes over a lot of options. Our philosophy is based on puck control in the offensive zone. So far it’s been successful."

Bretti says he’d still like to improve his defense, though he has received solid goaltending from rookie Mike Fraser (3-1-0, .933 SV%, 2.24 GAA). He also notes that his defense is suffering from a couple of injuries right now.

The Gaels have already been warned by their coach that things will only get harder.

"I’ve told the club that the more you win, the tougher it gets and the more you have to prepare," Bretti said.

One fact that Bretti acknowledged is that he and everyone else around the league could never have predicted that this weekend’s matchup with Mercyhurst could be a "big game" only a month into the season.

"Mercyhurst becomes the biggest game for us," Bretti said. "A month ago, no one knew what Mercyhurst is like. And a month ago, we didn’t know where we’d be at this point."

MAAC Weekly Honors

The MAAC honored Eric Ellis of Mercyhurst as Player of the Week. A junior from Hamilton, Ont., Ellis led two dramatic comebacks as Mercyhurst erased deficits against Fairfield and Quinnipiac. Ellis chipped in three assists on Friday night and scored two goals in the third period on Saturday night.

Alexis Jutras-Binet of Sacred Heart was named the MAAC Goaltender of the Week. Now in his third season with the Pioneers, Jutras-Binet stopped 27 shots both Friday and Saturday night as Sacred Heart posted a win over UConn and a tie against American International. The junior allowed just three goals on the weekend.

Rae Metz of Fairfield becomes the first Stag recognized for a weekly award, as Rookie of the Week. The freshman, who hails from Kent, Oh., scored two goals in a 5-4 loss to Mercyhurst on Friday, including the first of his collegiate career. He added a goal and two assists versus Canisius on Saturday as the Stags fell the Ice Griffs 9-5.

Notes from Around the League

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL–Senior goaltender Tom Patty (East Alstead, NH) recorded 28 saves to help AIC preserve a 2-2 tie with Sacred Heart on Saturday in his only action of the week. He sports a 1.92 GAA and .942 SV% in two starts this season.

BENTLEY–Bentley earned its first Division I win with a 3-2 victory over Holy Cross. It was also the Falcons’ first win over Holy Cross since 1982-83 … Ryan Soderquist (Stoneham, MA) continued his torrid scoring pace over the weekend. He leads the team with three goals and four assists for seven points.

CANISIUS–Sophomore Chris Duggan (Woodville, ON), the team’s leading scorer last season, missed last weekend’s games with a wrist injury … The Ice Griffs welcome back forwards Ryan Puntiri (Plymouth, MA) and Brad Kenny (Burlington, ON) this week as the two completed their soccer season. Puntiri was first-team All-MAAC for soccer and Kenny was a second-team pick.

CONNECTICUT–All three of the Huskies’ losses this season have been one-goal setbacks, including two overtime losses last weekend.

FAIRFIELD–The Stags opened the offensive floodgates this week, scoring their most goals in a game this season at Mercyhurst (4) and surpassing the total the following night at Canisius (5). Stag freshmen scored eight of the nine goals. Rae Metz (Hamilton, ON), Steve Calderara (Douglasville, GA), Casey Laflamme (Biddeford, ME) and James Lubinski (Niles, IL) got their first collegiate goals.

HOLY CROSS–Jim Whelan (Island Park, NY) had a goal and an assist in the Crusaders’ 3-2 loss at Bentley.

IONA–Iona’s 4-3 overtime victory over UConn was the Gaels first win against the Huskies in their last six attempts. Iona freshmen Scott Meyerhoff (Calgary, AB) and Mark Hallam (Medicine Hat, AB) are tied for the MAAC freshman scoring lead with seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games.

MERCYHURST–Sophomore Brad Olsen’s (Calgary, AB) game-winning goal against Quinnipiac Saturday night was his first goal of the season and second game-winner of his career. Junior defenseman Jody Robinson’s (Scarborough, ON) goal against Fairfield Friday night was his first of the season and first game-winning goal of his career.

QUINNIPIAC–Junior Chris Cerrella (North Massapequa, NY) has a seven-game point scoring streak, and a five-game goal-scoring streak … Seven of the Braves’ eight games this year have been decided by two goals or less. Quinnipiac is 3-3-1 in those games.

SACRED HEART–Richard Naumann (Boerne, TX) had a goal and two assists on the weekend as the Pioneers posted a win and tie in two MAAC games. Lloyd Tenant (Billings, MT) chipped in a goal and an assist on Saturday night.

Not Exactly a Fortune-teller

Well, anyone who has followed my picks over on the right side of the page realizes that I am simply not having a great season so far. I can’t really explain why, but the host of upsets (even though it’s so hard to call them that so early in the season) have helped a little bit.

Last week was as close to being "my week" when it comes to picks as I’ve had, so I figured I’d let every one know that (call it shameless self-promotion). In all honesty it could be summed up as the "close but no cigar" week.

I did make two long-shot picks — namely, that both Sacred Heart and Bentley would get their first wins of the season. And that I was correct about. Unfortunately, I picked them both to win on Saturday night and they both got victories on Friday.

For Saturday night’s Bentley-Army game, I was right on the ball with the score — 6-2. Unfortunate again that I selected Bentley to be victors instead of Army.

The last close call was that I picked Quinnipiac to lose its first MAAC game of the season, but again, wrong night. The Braves feel on Saturday night to Mercyhurst when I picked them to fall to Canisius. Nice try, again, but still no medals.

To my credit (gosh, my arms sore from patting myself on the back), I did pick the Iona-Connecticut game exactly, with the Gaels a 4-3 winner. That’s the first time this season that I’ve gotten both the winner and the score on the nose. Do I got something for that?

Don’t forget to read this week’s picks, handsomely displayed on the right-hand side of the page. And watch my still-below-.500 winning percentage drop further.