Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Well okay, maybe it’s not Santa Claus, because we not talking about someone who’s very giving. Actually we’re talking about something very stingy, and that’s the Sacred Heart defense. For UConn, a team struggling to score goals, the last thing the Huskies want to see right now is the best defense in the league.
But this Saturday night, the fourth-place Pioneers will travel to Storrs, Conn., to meet eighth-place UConn, in a rematch of an overtime thriller from earlier this season.
The game will actually be like coming home for the holidays for UConn, as they’ve been on the road since November 12, compiling an 0-6-1 record since then. The Huskies haven’t lost at home this season (2-0-0), outscoring opponents, 15-2, in the two home contests.
So trust me when I tell you, this is a true "welcome home" for Bruce Marshall and his club.
As always, Shaun Hannah’s Pioneers are ready and looking forward to this game. His club, in the two years of the MAAC Hockey League’s existence, has played UConn tough.
"We always look forward to playing UConn," said Hannah. "It’s always a good battle because UConn plays a physical style of game. They’re an aggressive team and you can’t give them opportunities because they’ll capitalize."
Actually, for AIC last Friday night, it was more like White-wash Christmas, as the Yellow Jackets were unable to put one past the Canisius defense and goaltender Stephan Fabiilli. Fabiilli made ten saves in capturing the win in his first start since November 6, when he picked up a 9-5 decision over Fairfield.
Unfortunately for the blood pressure of coaches around the league, Fabiilli’s shutout was the extreme exception, not the rule last weekend. In seven of the 11 games last week, the winning team scored five or more goals. The top two teams in the league had the top two offensive outputs. Quinnipiac scored eight (do I hear "Frosty the Snowman?") goals in an 8-4 win over Holy Cross, and Mercyhurst netted nine in a 9-3 victory over AIC.
O Holy Night
For the Holy Cross Crusaders, less than a year removed from winning the inaugural MAAC championship, the first half of the season has been a rocky road. Already in their exam break, the Crusaders stand in fifth place in the MAAC with a 3-4-1 record. They were winless in their five non-league contests, even though they showed some sparks against well-established Merrimack early in the season.
But if you think that Holy Cross is dead and buried, don’t tell coach Paul Pearl.
"I think that we’re a lot better than we were at the beginning of the year," said Pearl. "I think actually we’re more talented than we were last year, and we’re in fifth place. That just shows that the whole league is better."
The 0-5 non-league record, that included games against Army, Air Force, RPI, and Merrimack, does not bother Pearl too much.
"I think our non-league schedule is a positive for us, without a doubt," Pearl said. "We’re playing a tougher schedule next year. If you want to be Division I, you have to play Division I teams. You can’t insulate yourself within the schedule of your league."
The tough part is that with upcoming games against Canisius, Niagara, Quinnipiac, UConn and Sacred Heart, things aren’t getting much easier.
"I don’t think the second half gets any easier, but fortunately, we’re getting better," Pearl said. "We have a lot of 17 year-old freshmen, and they’re just starting to get with it. That’ll be a key for us in the second half."
MAAC Game of the Week
Sacred Heart at Iona Friday, December 10, 7:00 P.M. The Ice Hutch, New Rochelle, N.Y.
This holiday version of the game of the week takes us to Iona College, the home of the Gaels. Like UConn above, they are about to host the stingiest defense in the MAAC league.
Most fortunate for the Gaels, the game comes at the perfect time: as they have begun to turn around a small slump after a fast start to the season. Last weekend, Iona took a win and a tie from a tough Air Force team out in Colorado Springs, Colo. That same Air Force team had knocked off Yale one week earlier at the Festival of Lights tournament at UMass-Lowell.
More importantly, Iona showed plenty of character, playing well with the lead in Friday night’s 4-2 win, and battling back from a 4-0 deficit on the road to gain a 5-5 tie on Saturday night.
"We’re starting to put some things together," said head coach Frank Bretti. "That four-game losing streak — we just weren’t in sync.
"Last weekend, our offense really stepped up. We outshot Air Force both nights, and I don’t think they expected us to have the kind of forwards we had."
Two players paced Iona on the weekend scoring-wise. Friday night, Scott Meyerhoff’s two goals and one assist erased a 1-0 Air Force lead, while on Saturday, it was Ryan Carter’s natural hat trick that enabled the Gaels comeback.
"Ryan Carter really stepped up on the weekend for us, and when you play someone like Air Force you need something like that," Bretti said. "Meyerhoff is a very effective offensive player. He’s got 12 games under his belt as a freshman and he’s going to do some things.
"What’s important is that we have two equal lines — with freshmen and sophomores divided up. The Carter line scored five goals and the Kellogg line scored three last weekend. Our scoring is becoming balanced."
Talking about this weekend’s games with Sacred Heart and Bentley, Bretti realizes the importance.
"This is just a huge weekend for our program," Bretti said. "I hate to look at two games before we’ve played one, but this is critical because we have to prove to ourselves, more than anyone else, that we can come out and find a way to win these games."
"Sacred Heart is going to be a tough opponent and I recognize that. We need to find a way to win at home, because we’re not a good team at home.
"One thing that’s important is that our guys can’t get up only for the big games. We have a lot to prove in this league. If we don’t come out and take these upcoming games, we’re going to be somewhere in the middle or back end of the pack. That’s why I look at this weekend as huge."
For Sacred Heart, this weekend could be seen as a springboard as well. Sitting alone in fourth place, two wins would catapult the Pioneers into third and allow them to gain some solid ground on frontrunners Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst. Conversely, two losses would give teams like Iona and Bentley the opportunity to catch up.
Shaun Hannah is excited about heading into the holidays with a bang, but is cautious facing the run-and-gun Gaels.
"We haven’t seen Iona yet, but we know they have some good offensive ability," Hannah said. "They’ve proven that they can come back, with the four goals against Air Force last weekend. They’ve got some character there.
"They’re a team that we can’t afford to take lightly. Their record isn’t a true representation of the team they are."
And taking teams lightly has already been a bit of a factor for Hannah’s young squad. Two weeks ago, the Pioneers salvaged only a tie in a weekend series with Bentley and Fairfield, and he admits that his squad didn’t give either club the respect they deserve.
"When we played Fairfield, they came to play and we took them too lightly," said Hannah. "We were lucky to fight back for the tie. Against Bentley we did they same thing and it cost us (a 3-0 loss).
"But we’ve learned from that, and that’s the positive."
Sitting in fourth place in the league is an enviable position to the six teams below looking up. Hannah realizes that, but is still very happy with his team’s performance and will not settle for anything but the best.
"We’re probably as good as we thought we could be at this point," Hannah said. "I we proved that we can play with anyone in the league.
"We want to work hard to be at the top of the [third- to eighth-place] group and not lose sight of the two teams (Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac) ahead of us. It’s still a long season. We want to do what we can to stay at the top."
MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK Anthony DiPalma, Quinnipiac Jr., D, 6-3, 235, Wallingford, CT/Jr. Whalers
DiPalma led first place Quinnipiac to two home victories last weekend. On Friday, DiPalma tallied a career-high five points (one goal, four assists) in a 8-4 win over Holy Cross. He had three assists in the second period as Quinnipiac scored four unanswered goals to break a 1-1 tie. On Saturday, DiPalma assisted on two goals in a 4-3 overtime win over Bentley. On the season, DiPalma leads all MAAC defense in scoring with 5-12-17 including 5-11-16 in league play.
MAAC GOALIE OF THE WEEK Mike Giuliano, Fairfield Jr., 5-10/170, Glastonbury, CT/Suffolk
Giuliano stopped 23 Bentley shots helping Fairfield to its first win of the season, over Bentley 5-4. Giuliano made several key stops, including two breakaways early in the third period when his team trailed 4-2. On Saturday, he stopped 19 of 22 shots as Holy Cross edged Fairfield 3-1. On the season, Giuliano is 1-2-1, including 1-1-1 in conference play. In league play, he ranks fifth in the MAAC with a 3.24 goals-against average.
MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK Brian Herbert, Quinnipiac Fr., F, 6-1/195, Langley, BC/South Surrey
Herbert posted 2-3–5 in two Quinnipiac wins last weekend. On Friday, Herbert had one goal and two assists vs. Holy Cross as the Braves defeated the defending MAAC champions 8-4. He followed it up with a 1-1-2 effort in 4-3 overtime win vs. Bentley. Herbert has been on a tear, recording multiple-point games in each of his last five outings. In those five games he has totaled 5-8-13. For the season, Herbert is 12-11-23, tops among all MAAC freshman, including 9-9-18 in league play.
Around the League…
LEADERS KEEP PACE–League-leading Quinnipiac defeated Holy Cross 8-4 at the Northford Ice Pavilion Friday night. MAAC Player of the Week Anthony DiPalma (Wallingford, CT) led the way with a goal and four assists. Saturday the Braves edged Bentley 4-3 in overtime. Dennis Palaia scored the game-winning goal 28 seconds into overtime. Meanwhile, Mercyhurst kept pace with the Braves by defeating American International 9-3 on Friday in Erie, PA. Freshman Paul Hiscock (Mississauga, Ont.) scored a hat trick in the third period to tie a MAAC Hockey League record for goals in a period. On Saturday, Louis Goulet (Kapuskaking, Ont) notched a hat trick as Mercyhurst defeated UConn 5-3.
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL–Senior Tom Patty (East Alstead, NH) made 31 saves in goal Saturday’s loss at Canisius. He also stopped 19 shots in two periods of action at Mercyhurst Friday night.
BENTLEY–Brian Gangemi (Tewksbury, MA) became the 11th player in Bentley history to the eclipse the 100 point mark with 1-1–2 at Fairfield… Goalie Joe Cullen (Wilmington, MA) made 91 saves in two one-goal losses last weekend.
CANISIUS–Stephen Fabiilli (Sudbury, Ont) made ten saves in a 5-0 shutout over AIC on Saturday… Canisius is 4-3-2 in the MAAC going into the winter break. Last season the Ice Griffs were 2-6-2 in the league before the holidays…Sophomore forward Corey Lucas (Scarborough, Ont) has a goal in each of the Ice Griffs’ last four games. He netted the game-winner against AIC, his third GWG of the year.
CONNECTICUT–Eric Goclowski (Hamden, CT) scored with 24 seconds left in the third period on Friday, lifting UConn to a 3-3 tie at Canisius.
FAIRFIELD–The Stags’ win on Friday snapped a MAAC Hockey League regular-season record 17-game winless streak (0-16-1) that dated back to January 29, 1999. Overall the Stags ended a 24-game winless streak (0-22-2).
HOLY CROSS–Chris Fattey (Hamburg, NY) notched his first three goals of the season. He leads the Crusaders with 3-14-17…All four Holy Cross goals against Quinnipiac came on special teams (three power play, one shorthanded).
IONA–Ben Brady (Anchorage, AK) stopped 43 shots on the weekend as the Gaels defeated and tied Air Force 4-2 and 5-5, respectively.
MERCYHURST–The Lakers set a MAAC record for unbeaten streak in conference play on Friday. The current streak stands at nine games (8-0-1). The Lakers have played one game against each MAAC team during the streak… The Lakers’ 5-2 loss at Ohio State Tuesday marked the first time they lost a game when trailing after two periods. They are 4-1 trailing after two periods…Senior goalie Ashley Stevens (Scarborough, Ont.) stopped 22 of 25 shots in a 5-3 win versus UConn and assisted on Mercyhurst’s second goal of the game.
QUINNIPIAC–Chris Cerrella (North Massapequa, NY) saw his 11-game goal-scoring streak end on Friday, and his 14-game point-scoring streak end on Saturday. Cerrella still leads the MAAC in scoring with 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists)…Shawn Mansoff (Edmonton, AB) has a 12-game point-scoring streak. Mansoff has scored a team-high 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 11 MAAC contests.
SACRED HEART– After giving up five goals in their season opener at Quinnipiac, the Pioneers have not allowed more than 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; in league play he leads in GAA (2.56) and save percentage (.909). He is one win away from tying a school record for goalie wins.
Something Totally Off the Subject
Taking a page from my brethren writers here at USCHO, I figured I’d use the bottom of this week’s column to editorialize about one of the greatest local tragedies I’ve witnessed in my life.
I am referring to a fire that ripped through an abandoned warehouse in Worcester, Mass., home of the Crusaders of Holy Cross. Six firefighters tragically lost their lives in that blaze, and I wanted to take this opportunity to express my greatest sympathy not only to the family and friends of these American heroes, but also to all their brother firefighters, who risk their lives every day and now suffer such a great loss.
My thoughts and prayers, and those of everyone around me, go out to all of you.
Special thanks to MAAC Administrative Fellow Ken Taylor, and to the SIDs around the MAAC league for their contributions to this week’s column.