Racing to the Finish
Anyone take a look at the MAAC standings yet? They’re not a jam-packed as some leagues like Hockey East, where a serious NCAA tournament contender may not get home ice. But at the same time, there’s plenty of congestion.
Like a nice spring day at Churchill Downs, the MAAC has three quality races going on. There are definite favorites and the true dark horses in each race, and each will be a photo finish at the end. Let’s look at the horses, I mean teams, in each race.
First there is the race to make the playoffs. With the ninth- and tenth-place teams eliminated from postseason play, four teams are clearly vying to stay alive and qualify for the final two playoff spots.
The surprise team in the race has to be Bentley College. Though picked low in the preseason poll, the Falcons opened a lot of eyes with their scoring talent early in the year and looked to possibly contend for home ice. But when captain and all-time leading scorer Ryan Soderquist was suspended for four games recently, the Falcons took a nose-dive to the bottom. They are winless for 2000, victory-free since a 9-5 win at home against Iona on December 11. The next four games for the Falcons are crucial: they battle fellow horses Holy Cross this weekend and AIC next. If they don’t end the losing streak now, the playoffs may be a "wait-till-next-year" dream.
My predictions for the two horses to prevail in that four-horse race are Holy Cross and Bentley. AIC could make a run if they have some success against Holy Cross and Bentley, whom they play four games with before the end of the season. Fairfield still has to face Quinnipiac, Connecticut, Sacred Heart and Canisius — each in a two-game series. Though they’ve improved, Fairfield is still a step away from making the playoffs.
The second race is the middle-of-the-pack race for home ice. This one is a dead heat right now, with Sacred Heart, Canisius and Iona all tied with 20 points and UConn just one point behind at 19. Iona is idle from league play this week, as they have two games in hand currently. That puts them at a definite disadvantage. After that, this one may be too tight to call.
It’s hard to determine who has the toughest schedule of the bunch. Sacred Heart probably does not — they play two games each against Fairfield, Bentley and AIC, though they also face Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac for two.
UConn still sees AIC and Fairfield twice, but the remaining six are against Mercyhurst, Canisius and Iona (though five of those six are at home). Canisius, as talked about later, faces Mercyhurst this weekend, before traveling to UConn and Iona — the weekends that could make or break their season. They finish at home against Bentley and Fairfield. Finally, Iona has a tough slate. When they return to league play, they travel to Mercyhurst for two before hosting Canisius for two. They close with home-and-homes against UConn and Holy Cross.
This race will come down to the wire, without a doubt, and don’t be shocked to see ties, both in the games and in the standings. My pick would be UConn and Canisius getting home ice, while Sacred Heart and Iona hit the road.
The final race, the one everyone is watching, is for top dog.
Quinnipiac, which hasn’t lost a league game since November 6, when the Braves fell to Mercyhurst, battles those Lakers to the death. The easiest thing for both teams is realizing they pretty much have the one-two slots sewn up — only trouble is who will be where.
That could be decided this weekend, when Mercyhurst plays its two games in hand on an idle Quinnipiac. A Laker sweep would make the race for first place tighter than a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader’s outfit, as they’d be one point behind. But two losses would leave the Lakers two and a half games behind the surging Braves. The two teams do not face off again this season.
My pick: who knows? I’d like to say Mercyhurst, because they’re so resilient, but Quinnipiac has a little something to prove. I’ll abstain from picking this one — at least until next week…
Braves Look to Prove Critics Wrong
Quinnipiac, which, as already mentioned, is off from MAAC play this week, will nonetheless have a chance to accomplish MAAC history. On Tuesday night, the Braves host Clarkson in a late-addition non-league game put on the schedule after Vermont canceled the remainder of its season three weeks ago, leaving other ECAC teams with holes in their schedules.
The game could stand as a proving point for the Braves to many who criticize the team and the league as being non-competitive against the four major conferences (Hockey East, ECAC, WCHA, and CCHA). No MAAC team has won a game against a "Big Four" school.
As was the case a year ago, Quinnipiac is under consideration for the NCAA tournament, with a 19-4-2 record. Weighing against the Braves is that all 19 wins are against MAAC opponents. Three non-league games against Maine, RPI and Niagara, all teams also under strong consideration, all resulted in losses.
Though Clarkson is not having a banner year, the Golden Knights are only one year removed from an appearance in the NCAA East Regional Finals. So if anyone thinks this isn’t a big game for the Braves on Tuesday night, think again. Here’s to a MAAC victory.
MAAC Games of the Week
Canisius vs. Mercyhurst Friday, February 4, 2000 at Mercyhurst Ice Center, 7:30 ET Saturday, February 5, 2000 at Buffalo State Sports Arena. 7:00 ET
In a league a young as the MAAC, it’s not often you come across a strong, traditional rivalry. But this weekend, in the far off reaches of Erie, Penn., and Buffalo, N.Y., Canisius College and Mercyhurst College, both front-runners in the chase for home ice in the MAAC playoffs, square off in the battle of the "MAAC Northwest."
"I think it is going to be really great college hockey this weekend," said Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh. "These are two teams who are well aware of each other from the days when they played ECAC West hockey."
"We played them a lot when we were members of the ECAC West," said Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin of the Griffs. "I have a great respect for Brian Cavanaugh and his team. They work very hard and come prepared every night."
For Canisius, the season to this point can best be described with one word: streaks. After opening the year with a four-game unbeaten streak in non-league games, the Griffs traded wins and losses for the next few weeks, and sported a 2-3 record through five league games. But on November 13, the night after the Griffs suffered a 5-2 loss to Sacred Heart, they began a nine-game unbeaten streak that pushed them into the top third of the league, and made a fight for the top seem reasonable.
But that same Sacred Heart team ended that streak on January 16, and began two ugly streaks — a three-game losing streak, as well as a 130:03 scoreless streak spanning four games. When the Griffs did register another goal, on January 22, it was the only one in a 3-1 loss to league-leading Quinnipiac.
Since that time, the Griffs have been back on a roll, as last weekend they swept a struggling AIC team at home, 4-1 and 2-1 in overtime.
The last time that Canisius and Mercyhurst squared off, back on November 23, 1999, the two clubs skated to a 7-7 tie. Given the fact that the Griffs have only scored seven goals in it’s last five games, Cavanaugh knows that defense will be important this time around.
"We haven’t scored a heck of a lot of goals lately so I don’t know if we’re ready to play a high-scoring game like we did in November," Cavanaugh said. "They have the potential to light it up so we’ll have to play better defensively, especially considering where we’re at as far as goal production is concerned."
Looking at the big picture, both teams enter this weekend with different objectives when considering the standings. With teams Quinnipiac and Iona, idle from league play this weekend, the Griffs and Lakers realize that a series sweep will hold serious ramifications in the standings.
For Mercyhurst, two wins will put them within a point of first-place Quinnipiac with eight games remaining for each club. The Griffs, who are in a three-way deadlock with Sacred Heart and Iona for third place, with UConn lagging just a point behind in sixth, realize they can get some running room on Iona with a couple of wins this weekend.
Cavanaugh pointed out that the weekend is important, but he needs his club to remain focused on the end of the season.
"We’re taking every game one game at a time. We’re not putting any more emphasis on any particular game more than another," Cavanaugh said. "That might sound like a cliche, but I think it’s awful important for our group not to look too far ahead or too far behind for the rest of the season."
Gotkin’s sentiment about his Lakers were very similar.
"For us, we look at this weekend as the last full month left in the season, so we have to play playoff hockey," Gotkin said. "If we get first place that would be great, but at the beginning that wasn’t the goal. Our goal was to make the playoffs. We’ve hung on to second place for a good part of the year. Now our goal is to hang on to a top-four playoff spot."
If Gotkin’s club can’t snatch first place from Quinnipiac, an important alternative might be to stay away from fourth, thus setting up a semifinal matchup with the Braves. But Gotkin likes to keep it even simpler.
"I don’t look at 2-3 positioning, rather I just don’t want to be on the road traveling for ten hours in the first round," said Gotkin. "With the first round one game, anything can happen. We’d definitely rather play that one game at home."
Saturday night’s game will be the final home game for the Griffs until the last weekend in February. They will spend the next two weeks on the road at Connecticut and Iona. Saturday’s game is also the MAAC Game of the Week on Broadcast.com.
"It’ll be Saturday night. A home game. Hopefully we can get a decent crowd to come out and watch us play," Cavanaugh said. "It always means a lot to our kids to have people out in force showing their support."
MAAC Championship Tickets Now On Sale
Tickets for the 2000 Easton/MAAC Hockey League Championship, taking place March 16-18 at the UConn Ice Arena, are now on sale through the University of Connecticut ticket office. The semifinals take place Thursday, March 16 at 4:00 and 7:00, and the championship game is set for Saturday, March 18 at 12:00 pm.
All-session passes are $10 for a great seat to all three games, while single day passes are $6.00 for adults and $3.00 for students, seniors (62 and over), and children (18 and under). Fans can call the UConn ticket office at 1-877-AT-UCONN (288-2666) for more information.
MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK Ryan Carter, Iona So., F, 6-1, 200,Ft. Nelson, BC/Grand Prairie Storm
Carter earned the award scoring the game-winning goal on consecutive nights as Iona swept Bentley 5-3 and 3-1 Friday and Saturday. Friday, Carter notched a goal and an assist as the Gaels scored four straight goals in the second period to break a 1-1 tie. Saturday Carter again helped break a 1-1 tie, this time scoring twice in the third period to lead the Gaels to a 3-1 win. Carter, the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, leads Iona in scoring with 15-13–28.
MAAC GOALIE OF THE WEEK J.C. Wells, Quinnipiac Jr., G, 5-10, 175, Sheffield, MA/Boston Bulldogs
Wells stopped 56 of 59 shots (.949) in two Brave wins. He had 37 saves in a 2-1 thriller on Friday night versus Connecticut and followed it up with a 19-save, 4-2 victory on Saturday. Wells has an impressive 11-0-1 record in his last 12 starts in goal. In those 12 games, Wells has stopped 335 of 355 shots (.944 save pct.) and recorded a 1.81 GAA For the season, Wells is 11-1-2 record, a 2.53 g.a.a, and a .907 save percentage.
MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK Mike Fraser, Iona Fr., G, 5-11, 165, Brandon, MB/Victoria Salsa
Fraser’s strong goaltending helped propel the Gaels to two victories over Bentley. The second-time recipient of the Rookie of the Week had 47 saves in Iona’s 5-3 victory on Friday night and 44 saves in the Gaels 3-1 victory on Saturday. The wins improved his record to 9-6 on the season. The 91 saves helped lift his save percentage to .923. The .923 save percentage and 2.51 GAA overall both lead all MAAC goaltenders.
Around the League
The Yellow Jackets dropped a pair of games at Canisius losing 4-1 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday afternoon in overtime…Tom Patty (East Alstead, NH) stopped 41 shots in Friday’s loss. On Saturday, junior goalie Chance Thede (Westminster, CO) made 32 saves to keep the Yellow Jackets in the game. Thede also registered an assist on AIC’s lone goal on Saturday…The Yellow Jackets host UConn for a pair of games Friday at 7:00 and Saturday at 3:30…AIC lost 8-1 at UConn on October 29 in their season opener. The Huskies led 5-0 after the first period…Junior defenseman Aaron Arnett (Durham, Ont) had a goal on Saturday and an assist on Friday night. Arnett leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring with 3-15-18 …Sophomore forward Olivier Gagnon (Kirkland, PQ) leads the team in goals scored with 11 and is second on the team in scoring with 11-5-16.
Bentley was swept by Iona 5-3 on Friday night and 3-1 on Saturday night…Senior forward Ryan Soderquist (Stoneham, MA) returned from his four-game suspension to play some solid hockey during the weekend. He had a goal and an assist in Friday’s 5-3 loss at Iona and scored Bentley’s lone goal in a 3-1 defeat to the Gaels at home on Saturday. He is Bentley’s leading scorer with 13-18-31 and the school’s all-time leading scorer with 78-78-156…Bentley faces in-state rival Holy Cross in a home-and home series Friday at the Hart Center and Saturday at home…Bentley notched their first win of the season against Holy Cross winning 3-2 at home on November 5…Senior Martin Baker (Alta Loma, CA) had two assists on Friday. He now has 3-7-10 on the season…The Falcons scored a goal at 14:06 of the first period in Friday’s game at Iona to snap a scoreless streak of 155 consecutive minutes…The Falcons have lost six games in a row after losing two games to Iona..Bentley has is also winless in its last 10 games and 13 of its last 14. The last Bentley win was against Iona on December 11.
Canisius got back on the winning track sweeping American International 4-1 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday in overtime. The two wins snapped a three game losing streak for the Ice Griffs…Sophomore goalie Sean Weaver (Scarborough, Ont) continued his solid play stopping 45 of 47 shots he faced on the weekend solidifying his position as number one goalie for Canisius…The Ice Griffs play an important home-and home series with second place Mercyhurst Friday away and Saturday at home. Saturday’s game is the MAAC Game of the Week on broadcast.com…The Ice Griffs played to a 7-7 tie with Mercyhurst on November 23 at the Mercyhurst Ice Center…Senior forward Ryan Puntiri (Plymouth, MA) scored his first goal of the season, the game-winner in overtime, Saturday against AIC .Junior defenseman Jason Spence (Kent Bridge, Ontario) scored his first goal of the season on Saturday…On Friday, senior forward Dale Dubreuil (Val Caron, Ont.) led Canisius with a goal and two assists…Canisius is 8-0-1 in games at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
UConn lost two close games to first place Quinnipiac 2-1 on Friday and 4-2 at home on Saturday evening…Michael Goldkind (Silver Springs, MD) had his nine game point scoring streak snapped as he went scoreless on the weekend. He leads the Huskies in scoring with 6-16-22…UConn travels to American International for a pair of games Friday at 7:00 and Saturday at 3:30…UConn opened the 1998-99 MAAC season with 8-1 blow out of AIC at home on October 29…Friday’s road loss snapped UConn’s four game road winning streak. The Huskies are 4-10-1 in road games this season…Senior goalie Marc Senerchia (Greenville, RI) stopped 62 of 67 shots he faced last weekend including 42 on Friday. He ranks third in conference play with a 2.50 goals against average in MAAC games this season.
The Stags dropped a pair of games at home to second place Mercyhurst 8-2 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday…Rae Metz (Kent, OH) scored two and one assist on the weekend. Metz is currently on a five-game scoring streak, dating back to the Stags’ game against Iona Jan. 15. The freshman has five goals and two assists during the stretch. Metz leads the team in scoring (13-12-25) and multiple-point games (8)… Fairfield plays three games this week. They have a game at home versus Iona on Wednesday and two road games at cross-town rival Sacred Heart Friday and Saturday night at the Milford Ice Pavilion… Fairfield was swept by Iona 4-1 and 4-2 on January 14-15 while the Stags skated to a 3-3 tie with Sacred Heart on November 21…Three Fairfield players have played in all 22 games this season: Dan Cotter (Franklin, MA), Rae Metz and Steve Calderara (Douglasville, GA). All three are freshman. The school single-season record for games played is 32, set by five players last season…Fairfield has dressed 17 or less skaters in the last six games, all losses.
Holy Cross lost two games to Sacred Heart last week, 6-2 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday…Freshman forward Brandon Doria (Bayonne, NJ) scored a goal in each contest. He has scored three goals and an assist in last four games and is second on the team in scoring with 8-9-17…The Crusaders match up with Bentley in a home and home series, Friday at home and Saturday night at the John A Ryan Skating Rink. The two teams are tied for seventh place in the MAAC standings and sit just one point ahead of ninth place American International…Holy Cross fell to Bentley 3-2 on November 5 in Watertown, MA. Holy Cross leads the overall series 7-2-1 over Bentley…Freshman forward Chris Shaker (Pittsfield, MA) scored his first career goal as a Crusader Saturday, against Sacred Heart…Sophomore forward Pat Rissmiller (Belmont, MA) has scored four goals and four assists in last 10 games. He is on a 4-game point scoring streak.
Iona swept two games over Bentley 5-3 on Friday on 3-1 on Saturday…Sophomore forward Ryan Carter (Fort Nelson, BC) scored three goals on the weekend including both game-winning goals. He now leads the Gaels in scoring with 15-13-28…The Gaels defense shutdown Bentley’s power play allowing the Falcons just one goal in 13 attempts…Freshman goalie and MAAC Rookie of the Week Mike Fraser (Brandon, MB) had 47 saves in Iona’s 5-3 victory on Friday night and 44 saves in the Gaels 3-1 victory on Saturday. The wins improved his record to 9-6 on the season. His .923 save percentage and 2.51 GAA are the best in the MAAC…Nathan Lutz (Mistatim, SK) scored two goals and two assists in the second period of Iona’s 5-3 victory over Bentley. Four points in one period tied a MAAC record for points in one period. Chris Fattey of Holy Cross had 0-4-4 on November 19, 1999 against Iona…Freshman forward Mark Hallam (Medicine Hat, AB) has 22 assists in Iona’s 23 games.
Mercyhurst completed a season sweep of Bentley of Fairfield winning 8-2 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday… Fedor Zakusilo (Kiev, Ukraine) scored two goals on Friday and added an assist on Saturday to lead the Laker attack…The Lakers face rival Canisius Friday at home and Saturday in Buffalo. Saturday’s game is the MAAC Game of the Week on broadcast.com..Mercyhurst tied Canisius 7-7 in a high scoring duel November 23 at the Mercyhurst Ice center. .Sophomore goalie Peter Aubry (Windsor, Ont) stopped 26 of 27 shots he faced in Saturday’s win…Freshman Chris Brotka (Erie, PA) scored two goals on Saturday to earn the Hocks Star of the Game in the MAAC Game of the Week…In its last eight conference games, the Lakers have allowed only 14 goals and two of those were scored into an empty net by Quinnipiac…Senior defenseman Paul Colontino (Burlington, Ont) had two power play goals on Friday. He has 4-14-18 on the season.
Quinnipiac extended their winning streak to eight games with two wins over UConn 2-1 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday…J.C. Wells (Sheffield, MA) won MAAC goalie of the Week honors for the third time in four weeks stopping 56 of 59 shots on the weekend. Wells in 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts in goal compiling a 1.81 goals against average in those games…The Braves are idle until Tuesday, February 8 when the host ECAC power Clarkson…Quinnipiac continues to rank as the top-scoring team in Division I (5.28 gpg). In MAAC games, the Braves are averaging 5.37 goals per game, allowing just 2.63 gpg .Quinnipiac is 11-0-1 at home in 1999-2000. The Braves are 36-1-1 in their last 38 home games. Under Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac sports a 53-12-4 record (.792) at home, including 22-1-1 against MAAC opponents…Junior Chris Cerrella (N. Massapequa, NY) is fourth on the Quinnipiac career scoring list with 140 points (67 goals, 73 assists)…Junior Jed Holtzman (Colorado Spring, CO) has a six-game point-scoring streak, and is just one point from becoming the 14th player in Quinnipiac history to score 100 career points.
Sacred Heart ran their current winning streak to five games sweeping defending MAAC Champion Holy Cross 6-2 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday…Lloyd Tenant (Billings, MT) led the way with a goal and four assists on the weekend. Saturday, the freshman had a career high 1-3-4 to the Pioneers…The two wins completed a season sweep of Holy Cross by Sacred Heart. The Pioneers currently sit tied for third place with Canisius and own the tiebreaker over the Ice Griffs…Freshman goalie Eddy Fehri (Charenton, France) made 21 saves on Saturday to earn his first career win in net…The host cross-town rival Fairfield for a pair of games Friday and Saturday…The Pioneers defeated Army 2-1 on November 16 at home and tied Fairfield 3-3 on November 21…Freshman Martin Paquet (St. Catherine, PQ) had a goal in each in contest last weekend. He leads the Pioneers in scoring with 12-11-23…Five of Sacred Heart’s top eight scorers are freshmen.
Special thanks to Ken Taylor of the MAAC and the SIDs of all the MAAC schools for contributions to this report.