This Week in the MAAC: January 20, 2000

Tournament Time…NCAA Tournament, That Is

U.S. College Hockey Online debuted the 1999-2000 Pairwise Rankings Thursday. For those unfamiliar with the PWR, it is a mathematical ranking system which mimics the selection process used by the NCAA tournament committee in picking the at-large bids to the year-ending championship tourney.

The PWR compares every tournament-eligible team in the country to every other one, using the NCAA’s set of five comparison criteria, and ranks them according to the results. The top teams in that ranking, roughly speaking, make the tournament. Okay, that’s not quite true, but for more you’ll have to read USCHO’s explanation of the PWR, and/or our NCAA tournament selection FAQ.

Suffice it to say that the PWR isn’t quite perfect, but properly interpreted, it has exactly predicted the 12 NCAA tournament entries three years running.

You noticed that "properly interpreted" thing, right? So what does that mean?

Well, it means that last season the NCAA committee noticed that the PWR wasn’t capable of effectively ranking teams which play few nonconference games. A good portion of the PWR depends upon non-league play in order to gain an appraisal of how the various conferences compare to one another, and the MAAC last year played very few games against other teams, particularly against members of the so-called "Big Four" conferences — the ECAC, WCHA, CCHA and Hockey East.

Thus, the committee left itself an out, ruling that teams with "insular" schedules would not necessarily be given full consideration for tournament bids, regardless of the comparison criteria (which are, remember, approximated very closely, though not perfectly, in the PWR). The words "Metro Atlantic" weren’t mentioned in the decision, but that was the purpose. Quinnipiac, which won the MAAC regular-season championship, ended up 10th in the PWR last year, which almost certainly would have been good enough for an NCAA tournament berth if it belonged to a Big Four team.

Now, few would argue that Quinnipiac was among the 12 best teams in the nation last year, but the necessity of the ruling exposed a weakness of the selection system. It simply wasn’t designed to handle great variability in the strengths of various conferences; indeed, when it was adopted, there was no such variability (all you ECAC-bashers, down in front).

Now, however, both the MAAC and the CHA stand on the fringe of the system’s capabilities. Quinnipiac is again in the PWR top 12 — 10th, to be specific. We’ve already seen from last year that that number won’t necessarily induce the committee to invite the Braves, but if anything, CHA leader Niagara will pose an even more interesting case.

The Purple Eagles, ranked fifth in the PWR as of Thursday, have a solid national profile (thanks to a sturdy nonconference schedule which includes several wins against Big Four opponents over the past two years) and frequently hover around the fringes of the USCHO Top Ten. But they play a good number of games against league opponents, obviously, and the same concern can be raised toward the CHA as was regarding the MAAC.

The question therefore begs to be answered: can Niagara claim a tournament berth whereas Quinnipiac likely will not?

Note: no attempt is made here to argue the teams’ relative strengths, though the point might be made that Niagara is the stronger team (indeed, the Purple Eagles beat the Braves, 5-4, in their lone meeting this season). The question is how the current selection system, which was designed partly to remove subjectivity and regional bias from tournament selection, can be effectively used under edicts which specifically reinstitute subjective assessment. It may be "obvious" right now that no MAAC team warrants a tournament bid, but that will not always be the case…

Second note: In the case of the MAAC, this argument may become moot very shortly. The league, which is a multisport conference unlike any other in college hockey (not even the ECAC has the MAAC’s scope of authority in terms of multisport play), has considerable clout with the sport’s overseers, and it is becoming more and more likely that the league will be granted an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, possibly as early as next season. The general concern, however, remains.

Vermont, The ECAC And The MAAC

Vermont’s stunning decision to cancel the remainder of its season may have a material impact on the MAAC, in the sense that there are now a torrent of ECAC teams running around with open dates on their schedules, particularly those schools which lost two dates with the Catamounts.

The ECAC has inquired with Hockey East about the possibility of scheduling extra games with that conference’s teams, but because of NCAA rules limiting teams to 34 games per season, few have any open dates with which to accommodate the ECAC.

The MAAC, however, has teams with such dates, most notably American International, which sports four open slots on the ol’ calendar, and Quinnipiac, which has three. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if ECAC squads begin trying to line up the Braves for nonconference action in the next few weeks.

(Note: one such deal has already been attempted, as Cornell inquired about the possibility of scheduling Sacred Heart for a match. However, it was discovered after a brief period of confusion that SHU had no open dates — its exhibition contest with Canadian school McGill is counted against its NCAA total, but only because the contest took place in Canada, oddly enough.)

Now, note that the above paragraph said "the Braves," not "the Braves and the Yellow Jackets." That’s because the Braves rank 10th in the nation in the Pairwise Rankings and 15th in the Ratings Percentage Index, which is a key component of the PWR.

And even though Quinnipiac may not be under full consideration for an NCAA tournament berth (see above), its games sure do count in full for any opponents it plays. Thus, beating the highly-ranked Braves would be a significant enhancement to an opponent’s RPI, and hence its PWR. Or so the thinking goes — you do have to win the game, of course…

AIC, however, presents no such invitation. The ‘Jackets rank 51st out of 54 eligible teams in the RPI, meaning that a win over AIC would do little good for an opponents’ ranking (indeed, under the RPI’s formulation, it is actually possible for a team’s rating to go down by beating a sufficiently awful opponent), while a loss would be devastating. Hence, you probably won’t see too many suitors asking for the Yellow Jackets’ hand this season.

Quick Hits

The Mercyhurst Lakers, who have established themselves as serious contenders for the MAAC championship despite being a transitioning Division II club playing their first year in the league, swept helpless American International Friday and Saturday, in the process giving head coach Rick Gotkin his 200th win. Mercyhurst (12-5-3, 10-2-1 MAAC) stands second in the league, its only two conference losses coming to league-leading Quinnipiac. With all three regular-season meetings out of the way, the Lakers’ next hookup with the Braves could be for the playoff title…

UConn, the number-three team in the league, extended its win streak to seven with a win over Fairfield, 5-1, and a weekend sweep of Bentley, 4-3 and 9-1. Michael Goldkind earned MAAC Player of the Week honors (see below) for his efforts in boosting the Huskies into sole possession of third and a much surer grip on one of the MAAC’s home-ice slots for the first round of the playoffs…

AIC, as mentioned above, lost two games to UConn, and that despite the efforts of netminder Tom Patty, who made a career-high 41 saves Friday in the loss. The Yellow Jacket remain stuck at one conference win, a 5-1 decision versus Fairfield back on November 20…

MAAC Game(s) of the Week

Canisius (11-5-3, 7-4-2 MAAC) at Quinnipiac (15-4-2, 12-1-2 MAAC) Friday and Saturday, 7:00 ET, Northford Ice Pavilion, Northford, CT

The game — really the series — of the week pits the two of the three hottest teams in the MAAC (UConn being the other contender) in first-place Quinnipiac and fourth-place (but surging) Canisius.

Quinnipiac’s story is simple: the Braves just win, baby. QC has just one conference loss, that a 6-4 loss to Mercyhurst on Nov. 6 which the Braves avenged with a weekend sweep Jan. 7 and 8. The Braves ride a 10-game league unbeaten streak (9-0-1) into the weekend, during which period they have outscored their opponents by a margin of 60-24. In short, the Braves, the league’s preseason favorite, have lived up to the hype.

J.C. Wells, a steady presence in the Brave nets last year, got off to a slow start in 1999-2000 and has split time with Dan DiLeo, but has started each of the Braves’ last four games, allowing just eight goals on 102 shots against Mercyhurst and Holy Cross. He stands as 7-1-2 on the year, with a 3.13 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage.

On offense — and a potent offense it is: Quinnipiac leads the nation with a 5.52 goals per game scoring punch, and the Braves have put up fewer than four goals precisely once this season — Chris Cerrella leads the attack with his 16-15–31, tops in the MAAC. Meanwhile, Maine transfer Shawn Mansoff has a current 17-game scoring streak, and sports overall totals of 16-12–28.

Canisius’ story is something else entirely. The Ice Griffs reached their high-water mark late last season by beating Quinnipiac, the MAAC’s regular-season champion, in the league semifinals, and they appear to be following the same pattern this year. After a 4-4-1 start, including 2-3-0 in conference play, the Griffs embarked on a nine-game unbeaten streak of their own which was finally snapped last Sunday in a 3-0 loss to vastly-improved Sacred Heart. Canisius now sits in position for home ice, just five points out of second and one behind third-place Connecticut.

Saturday, senior Rob Othman tallied two assists to become Canisius’ 19th player to reach the 100-point plateau for his career, now totaling 43-57–100 in 104 games. In that game, netminder Stephen Fabiilli recorded his school record-tying third shutout of the year in that 4-0 win, and remains unbeaten in league play this year, at 5-0-0. Corey Lucas leads Canisius in scoring at 7-12–19.

The history between these teams is already rich, as the Ice Griffs knocked off regular-season champion Quinnipiac in last year’s playoff semifinals, 5-2. However, Quinnipiac defeated Canisius 4-2 on November 5 in the teams’ first meeting this season, and the Braves are 8-0-1 at the Northford Ice Pavilion in 1999-2000. Let’s give the combined home-ice-momentum-revenge edge to Quinnipiac.

Picks: Canisius is hot, but so was Mercyhurst two weeks ago. The Braves are really that good. Quinnipiac 4-3, 6-3

Weekly Honors

Player Of The Week: Michael Goldkind, Connecticut

Goldkind, a junior forward from Silver Spring, Maryland, was 2-4–6 last week in three games for the streaking Huskies, who beat Fairfield and Bentley twice to extend their win streak to seven games. Coincidentally, Goldkind’s output also extended his own streak — in scoring — to seven, and gave him totals of 6-14–20 for the year. The 5-8, 140-pounder leads UConn in both assists and points, appearing in 18 games.

Goalie Of The Week: Mike Fraser, Iona

The Iona netminder stopped a total of 51 shots in games versus Fairfield Friday and Saturday, allowing only three goals as the Gaels took both decisions, 4-1 and 4-2. Fraser, a 5-11, 165-pound freshman from Brandon, Manitoba, won his fourth consecutive decision, and now sports a 2.25 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage to lead MAAC goaltenders in both categories.

Rookie Of The Week: Chris Maniatis, Quinnipiac

League-leading Quinnipiac continued to cruise last weekend, thanks partly to the 5-10, 180-pound Maniatis, who netted three goals and two assists as the Braves swept defending MAAC tournament champion Holy Cross 4-2 and 9-3. The native of Medford, Massachusetts, scored one goal in Friday’s game and followed that up with totals of 2-2–4 on Saturday, bringing his numbers to 4-9–13 on the season.

Thanks to MAAC administrative fellow Ken Taylor and USCHO MAAC correspondent Jim Connelly.