This Week in the MAAC: December 1, 1999

Tournament Time, Baby!

Okay, so it’s not time for March Madness — actually not even close. But this past week concluded two more in-season tournaments for MAAC teams, with Mercyhurst College and UConn each participating in Thanksgiving tournaments. Fortunate and unfortunate, the team finished at opposite ends of the spectrum, with Mercyhurst winning the American Electric Power Classic, hosted by Findlay, while UConn finished in last in the Festival of Lights Tournament hosted by UMass-Lowell.

Mercyhurst beat first-year program Wayne State in the tournament opener, 5-4, before defeating host Findlay, 4-3, in the championship game. Ironically enough, it was the second time this season that the two clubs have met in a final of a tournament — the two met in the Hamot Hockey Classic in October, hosted by Mercyhurst. In both games the visiting team spoiled the party for the home club, by identical 4-3 scores.

Rick Gotkin, head coach of Mercyhurst, is happy to see his team play in tournament settings, as well as have success in close games. Mercyhurst’s record is 8-1-3 in games decided by two goals or fewer.

"I think playing these close games will help us down the stretch," said Gotkin. "The more close games you can win, the more confident you get. We’ve been successful coming back, hanging on and playing with the one-goal lead."

The other MAAC tournament participant over the Thanksgiving holiday, UConn, had a bit tougher slate in the Festival of Lights tournament in Lowell, with UMass-Lowell, Yale and Air Force balancing the field.

Unfortunate for the Huskies was not only a fourth-place finish, but a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance. The opener against Lowell was, according to coach Bruce Marshall, one of the most humbling in the coach’s 12-year career: a 13-1 loss. And even with a marked improvement in the consolation game, UConn still fell short against in-state foe Yale. It was the first meeting in the 30 years that the two clubs have been playing hockey (though Yale has been playing for much longer, dating back to the 19th century).

Mercyhurst goaltender Peter Aubry was selected the MVP of the Findlay tournament, while Matt Herhal, who notched a goal and an assist against Yale, was selected to the All-Tournament Team in Lowell.

MAAC Game of the Week

UConn at Mercyhurst, Saturday, December 4, 1999 Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, Penn.

The MAAC Game of the Week takes us to the westernmost point of the league this weekend, as one of the league’s preseason favorite, UConn, travels to meet the early-season frontrunner, Mercyhurst. The game is the first meeting for these two clubs this season, and the first since Mercyhurst spoiled the party at the UConn Holiday Tournament on Jan. 5, 1997, beating UConn, 7-4, in the championship game.

This could be looked at as two teams that are moving in different directions — UConn is standing in ninth place with at a less-than-expected 2-8-0 record, while Mercyhurst has surged to a 8-2-3 start, good enough for second place. But those who have followed UConn closely know that five of UConn’s losses have come against non-league opponents, including Yale, UMass-Lowell, UMass-Amherst and RPI.

So some people, like Mercyhurst’s Gotkin, are fast to point out that this is no slouch team we’re dealing with here.

"I think we’re going to have our hands full with [UConn]," said Gotkin. "We haven’t had an easy game yet. We’re going to have to be sharp and play our game, get great goaltending and be opportunistic offensively if we want to win."

The Lakers boast the second-most potent offense, in the MAAC (behind Quinnipiac), averaging 4.31 goals per game. But at the same time the Laker defense has allowed 3.62 goals per game, including 19 goals against in the last four games (2-1-1 record over that stretch, though). Right now, Gotkin is a bit concerned, but not sounding any alarms.

"We’ve had some crazy defensive games lately," said Gotkin. "Against Canisius we gave up seven goals (in a 7-7 tie). We’re doing pretty good in our end, but we could get better."

Mercyhurst’s most recent game was a Tuesday night loss to the CCHA’s Ohio State, a recent power that has struggled to this point in the season. Gotkin’s club made their first trip to the Schottenstein Center, and played their first game in front of a big crowd (6,903).

Gotkin joked about the Lakers’ first trip to the Schottenstein Center, and what the coaching staff did to keep the team focused.

"We came out [Wednesday] morning and skated here, and the first thing we did on our little things-to-do list in practice was sit at center ice and just ogle for five minutes. That was the only drill we did well."

Gotkin admitted that his club felt overwhelmed, but after about a period or so, settled in and played well.

"I think after the first period, down 1-0, our guys realized that, ‘Hey, we can skate with these guys,’" Gotkin said. "Then after we each scored a goal, they scored two goals in 36 seconds and kind of sealed our fate."

One the other side of the coin, UConn is looking to rebound into league play, after facing the aforementioned non-league opponents in four of its last five games.

Head coach Bruce Marshall felt that, even though wins haven’t come easily over this stretch, there have been a lot of positives to take out.

"If we can play as well in our league as we did against Yale, we could be pretty successful," said Marshall. "We have 22 league games left at this point. That’s a lot of games. If we just win 15 or so of those 22, we’re going to be in pretty good shape."

Marshall and UConn had to feel especially good about the play and the character showed by goaltender Marc Senerchia against Yale on Saturday. One night removed from allowing 12 goals against UMass-Lowell, Senerchia made 32 saves, including 21 in the third period against Yale, including numerous acrobatic saves to keep the Bulldogs off the board for much of the game.

"Our goaltender played great," said Marshall of the performance against Yale. "All you can ask him to do is give us a chance and he did that and then some.

"[The Yale] game showed a lot of character for all the guys in the dressing room."

One aspect that UConn will look to improve is the power play. Currently ranked sixth in the league, UConn has converted just five times with the man advantage, the second-fewest in the league (AIC, four). UConn has also allowed three shorthanded goals, giving them a +2 rating on the power play — worst in the league.

A positive note for the Huskies is the play of rookie forward Kurt Kamenski. Through 10 games, Kamenski has scored nine points (two goals, seven assists), leading the team in scoring, and ranking him fifth in the league in rookie scoring.

This writer’s bold prediction of the week: No, I’m not predicting a UConn win here: look to the right to see how I actually pick this game. But I am saying that this may be the first of FOUR, not three games, for these two clubs this year. That’s right, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these clubs meet in the MAAC Final Four at the end of the season. Remember, you heard it here first.

Lakers Look to Rewrite History

Mercyhurst looks this weekend to become the first team in league history to remain undefeated in eight games when they battle AIC at home on Friday night. When the Lakers tied Canisius two weeks ago, they tied Quinnipiac’s record of seven straight set last year between Nov. 14 and Jan. 15. Ironically enough, it was AIC that ended that unbeaten streak last season with a 5-4 win on Jan. 16.

Weekly Honors

MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Brad Olsen, Mercyhurst So. C, 5-9, 175, Calgary, AB/Calgary

Olsen posted six points (4-2-6) in three games this week as Mercyhurst tied Canisius and won the American Electric Power Classic with wins over Wayne State (5-4) and host Findlay (4-3). The sophomore scored two goals against Canisius and assisted on another. He scored two more goals against Wayne State including the go-ahead goal late in the second and eventual game-winning goal in the third period. He then assisted on the game-winning goal in the third period against Findlay in Saturday’s championship game. On the season Olsen has five goals and three assists for eight points.

MAAC GOALIE OF THE WEEK: Dan DiLeo, Quinnipiac Sr., 5-10/185, Locust Valley, NY/UMass-Amherst

DiLeo made a career high 35 saves in a 5-2 non-league win over Bentley on Saturday. He made 17 of his 35 saves in the second period as the Falcons fired 19 shots on goal in the period. With the win, DiLeo improved his record this year to 4-2 overall (2-1 in MAAC play) and he lowered his goals-against average to 3.20. He owns an .890 save percentage.

MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK: Bryan Reilly, Sacred Heart Fr., D, 6-1/200, Westbury, NY/NY Applecore

Reilly scored the first two goals of his collegiate career on Saturday as the Sacred Heart moved into third place in the MAAC standings with a 4-2 win over defending league champion Holy Cross. The freshman opened the scoring in the first period and then added the game-winning goal early in the second period for the Pioneers. He also helped the league-leading Pioneer scoring defense in holding Holy Cross to just 16 shots on goal, including five during the first two periods of play. Reilly has 2-0-2 on the season in only four games played.

Around the League…

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL–Junior defenseman Aaron Arnett (Durham, Ont.) is tied for fourth in defenseman scoring in league play with 2-5-7. He also leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring.

BENTLEY–Brian Gangemi (Tewksbury, MA) had one assist on Saturday against Quinnipiac and now sits at 98 career points. With two more, he will become the 11th player in Bentley history with 100 career points.

CANISIUS–Senior forward Rob Othman (Scarborough, Ont) scored two goals in the Ice Griffs 7-7 tie at Mercyhurst on Tuesday…Junior winger Matt Shewchuk (Hedman, PQ) scored the game-tying goal against Mercyhurst with four seconds left in regulation… Senior forward Ryan Puntiri (Plymouth, MA), playing in his first game of the season, assisted on the Shewchuk goal… Sophomore Brad Kenny (Burlington, Ont), who was also playing his first game of the year, scored one goal and added an assist.

CONNECTICUT–Senior goaltender Marc Senerchia (Greenville, RI) stopped 32 shots including 21 in the third period on Saturday in the consolation of the Festival of Lights Classic in Lowell, MA, as the Huskies fell to Yale, 3-2.

FAIRFIELD–The Stags play just their second and third home games of the season as they host Bentley and Holy Cross Friday and Saturday…In league play, Fairfield ranks second in power play efficiency at 27.1% (6-22).

HOLY CROSS–The Crusaders rank first in league penalty killing (13/14 for 92.9%). The overall penalty kill is 35 for 42, 83.7%, raking them third behind Sacred Heart (85.4%) and AIC (85%)… Ironically for Holy Cross, their leading scorer, Chris Fattey leads the team with 13 points, but is yet to score a goal (13 assists).

IONA–Ryan Manitowich (Calgary, AB) notched two goals in the Gaels 4-4 tie with league leading Quinnipiac on Tuesday. On the season the rookie has eight goals and one assist for nine points…The Gaels travel to Air Force this weekend for the two teams’ first ever meeting.

MERCYHURST–Mercyhurst is 7-1 in one and two-goal games, 4-1 in one-goal games. The Lakers resume MAAC play next Friday and Saturday when AIC and UConn come to town. Mercyhurst is 1-0 all time against AIC and 1-1 all-time against Connecticut, including a 7-4 win January 5, 1997, in the championship game of the UConn Tournament.

QUINNIPIAC–Quinnipiac has not scored less than 4 goals in a game this season… The Braves have scored a MAAC-best 80 goals in 1999-2000 including 54 in league play…Quinnipiac hosts Holy Cross and Bentley this weekend in two league games.

SACRED HEART– After giving up five goals in their season opener at Quinnipiac, the Pioneers have not allowed more three goals in their eight games since… Junior goaltender Alexis Jutras-Binet (Quebec City, PQ) leads the MAAC in overall goals against average at 2.39 and in league play he leads in goals against (2.56) and save percentage (.909). He is one win away from tying a school record for goalie wins.

A Matter of Correction….

Okay, I’ll take credit for the bonehead play of the year, when I referred to the Army Black Knights as the Army Golden Knights. Thanks to the Army Sports Information Department for pointing out that the mascot can be referred to as the Black Knights or also the Cadets. Just never the Golden Knights. Sincerest apologies to the everyone down in West Point.

Special thanks to CCHA Correspondent Paula Weston, MAAC Administrative Fellow Ken Taylor, and the SIDs around the MAAC league for their contributions to this week’s column.