Playoff Picture Becomes Clearer, Muddier
Just when you thought the MAAC standings were beginning to get clearer, guess again. Similar to last season, the top of the standings is clearing up, as Quinnipiac is very close to sewing up its second straight regular-season championship. After that, though, it’s pretty much anybody’s guess.
As mentioned right here last week, there are three distinct races. The first, between Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst, is close to over by virtue of Mercyhurst’s loss and tie to Canisius last weekend. The result is a four-point lead for the Braves over the Lakers with just eight games to play. Taking into consideration the fact that after this weekend’s series against Sacred Heart, Quinnipiac faces three teams, Bentley, Fairfield and AIC, all of whom are fighting to make the playoffs, it seems a lot safer to say that Quinnipiac will repeat as champs.
But just as that race clears up, the fight for home ice and the fight to make the playoffs has become more of a logjam than ever.
Connecticut had its eyes opened a little when the Huskies fell to AIC last Saturday night, 5-2. The Huskies watched a 2-1 third-period lead slip away as the Yellow Jackets scored four unanswered goals en route to the win. The loss left UConn two points behind Canisius, which, as mentioned, had success against second-place Mercyhurst.
Sacred Heart remains the frontrunner of the three-through-six race thanks to a sweep of Fairfield last weekend. The Pioneers, though, could see that lead disappear if they can not knock off Quinnipiac this weekend, as they face the top dogs in a home-and-home series.
Iona, which travels to Mercyhurst this week, faces the uphill climb of moving from sixth place to third or fourth. The positive for them, though, is that they are still only four points from third and three points from fourth place. Potential negative: besides Mercyhurst, Canisius and UConn remain on the schedule. Tough as this is, they will still be able to control their own destiny.
On the bottom of the ladder, Bentley helped keep its playoff hopes alive by knocking off Holy Cross on Saturday, after tying the Crusaders on the road one night prior. They remain two points ahead of Holy Cross and AIC, who stand tied for the last playoff spot with identical 4-13-2 records. Fairfield downgraded its condition to critical on life support after losing two games to Sacred Heart last weekend. Their series with Holy Cross this weekend may be the only thing to keep the Stags alive — Quinnipiac, UConn and Canisius still lie ahead on the schedule.
Cavanaugh Selected to Hobey Baker Committee
Not only are things going well on the ice for Canisius College, after last weekend’s steal of three points from long-time rival Mercyhurst, but things look good off the ice, too. Besides the fact that goaltender Sean Weaver played spectacularly this past weekend and was named MAAC Player of the Week, head coach Brian Cavanaugh was recently the recipient of national recognition.
Cavanaugh, in his 19th year behind the bench for the Ice Griffs, has been named to the Hobey Baker Selection Committee, becoming the first MAAC coach to serve in such a role. The committee now grows to 20 members with the addition of Cavanaugh from the MAAC and Bemidji State head coach Bob Peters from newly-formed College Hockey America. The committee is represented by six NCAA head coaches, ten members of the media (including USCHO president Tim Brule), three National Hockey League scouts, and one representative of USA Hockey.
The Hobey Baker Memorial Award annually honors the top player in collegiate hockey in the United States and is presented by the Decathlon Hotel & Athletic Club in Bloomington, Minn. The winner will be announced Friday, April 7, 2000 in Providence, R.I., site of the 2000 NCAA Frozen Four.
MAAC Games of the Week
Canisius at UConn Friday, 7:30 ET and Saturday, 3:00 ET
Hopefully, with all the publicity given to the Ice Griffs in this week’s column, no one will think I’m a Buffalo homer. Giving credit where credit is due, the Griffs have slowly made themselves a true contender in the MAAC, quietly rising to the top in a fashion similar to their path of a season ago.
This week, the path goes through Storrs, Conn., the home of not only the UConn Huskies, but also this season’s MAAC Championships. Head coach Brian Cavanaugh, excited about his team’s performance against Mercyhurst, sees this trip as an advantage for the Griffs.
"The MAAC Championships are going to be held in (UConn Ice Arena) in another six weeks," Cavanaugh said. "For us to go and play two tough games in this rink and become familiar with that environment is a big plus for us at this point in the season."
Canisius last year made a run at the MAAC Championship, bowing to Holy Cross in the championship game, and Cavanaugh knows the importance of strong goaltending in the playoff stretch. This weekend will see plenty.
The Ice Griffs’ Sean Weaver and the Huskies’ Marc Senerchia are two of the best in the league. Stephen Fabiilli, the other Canisius netminder, has one of the best winning percentages in the nation and is the wild card in the Ice Griffs’ stretch run. That said, the issue now for Cavanaugh is which goaltender to play.
"I don’t think you could argue with the play of Sean in the last (five) games, both in his save percentage and goals-against average," Cavanaugh said. "I think we’ll continue to give him an opportunity to stay on this streak, but with four games on the road, back-to-back games this weekend and back-to-back games next weekend, I think we’ll see an opportunity for (Fabiilli) to play in at least one or two of those games. But if Sean continues to play as well as he’s playing, you have to go with the hot hand."
Whichever goaltender Cavanaugh elects to play, it is likely he will face plenty of shots. Ice Griffs’ goalies have seen 40 or more shots seven times this season, including both games last weekend.
"I think that we’re going to find games where we’re going to be out-shot, especially against teams like Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst who have a lot of firepower in their lineup," Cavanaugh said. "It’s tough for us to counter that. In those games we’re just going to have to accept it, keep it tight and keep the shots to the perimeter.
"If there’s an area we need to work on, it’s our offense," Cavanaugh added. "I’m not so sure that you can jump-start offense by just teaching offense. A lot of offensive play has to do with talent — the firepower you have within your lineup. We have some talented players, but our talent doesn’t lie with offensive firepower. Our talent is our discipline and our defensive style of play. That’s where we have had success."
For UConn, the next two week’s could be just what the doctor ordered. The Huskies, who have struggled on the road, are home for the next four games, even though they will be against daunting opponents Canisius and Mercyhurst.
The good news for UConn is that they’ve only lost two home games all season. The bad news, they were the last two — a January 29 loss to Quinnipiac, 4-2, and a January 21 loss to Holy Cross, 5-3. Those losses snapped a nine-game home winning streak that dated back to February 12, 1999, when they fell 1-0 to Holy Cross. Regardless, UConn coach Bruce Marshall is happy to be back in Storrs.
"I think playing at home helps," said Marshall. "It’s one of the newer buildings in the league and the kids enjoy playing at home. We’ve been drawing about 1,000 fans per night, which helps.
"At this point in the season, too, it is to our advantage to not have to travel."
Frustrating for Marshall right now is the fact that of the last three weekends, his team has only given its best effort once: a two-game series against Quinnipiac in which the Huskies were swept. That consistency is the thing that Marshall is searching for right now. Part of that is controlling what his team is focused on.
"I think it’s just we’ve been looking at the big picture too much," Marshall noted. "Every time we do that we shoot ourselves in the foot. I think we’ve got to stop looking at the playoff picture and realize that we started the season 2-9, so to get back to .500 we’ve come a long way. That’s what we have to think about."
Marshall admits, though, that his one concern about the playoffs is staying at home in the first round.
"We don’t have to worry about placement or who we’re playing — the teams from three to six are very balanced," Marshall said. "Our main goal is to be at home [in the first round]."
For the series at hand, Marshall agrees with Cavanaugh’s assessment of the goalies. The good part for Marshall? His starting goalie, Mark Senerchia, has been solid.
"Mark’s done a great job — he’s kept us in some games," Marshall said. "He played well against Quinnipiac and AIC. He had us in the game and we just didn’t finish when we needed to.
"We have three senior defensemen that have played a lot of hockey. As a team, our goals-against has been a complete turnaround since the beginning of the year. To bring that down bears well. But we need to continue that this weekend."
MAAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sean Weaver, Canisius So, G, 6-1/190, Scarborough, Ont/Oshawa Legionaires
Weaver stopped 86 of 88 shots in two games against high-scoring Mercyhurst as Canisius gained a win and tie against the second-place Lakers. Friday, Weaver made 46 saves in a 1-0 shutout, tying a school record with three shutouts in one season. Saturday Weaver added 40 more saves in the 2-2 tie. Weaver, who tied a MAAC record with 58 saves January 15 at Quinnipiac, is 7-5-4 and leads the MAAC with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
MAAC GOALIE OF THE WEEK
Alexis Jutras-Binet, S. Heart Jr., G, 5-8, 145, Quebec, PQ/Cougars De Chitcoutimi
Jutras-Binet helped Sacred Heart shut out crosstown rival Fairfield 4-0 on Friday night. Binet stopped 24 shots to record his second shutout of the season and help the Pioneers move into third place in the MAAC standings with 24 points, becoming the first Sacred Heart goalie to register two shutouts in one season. On the season, Binet is 11-8-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
MAAC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK
Mark Hallam, Iona Fr, F, 5-10, 195 Medicine Hat, AB/Lloydminster Blazers
Hallam notched five assists in Iona’s three games last week. The freshman forward had four assists in Iona’s 6-2 victory over Fairfield and tallied one assist in Iona’s 5-3 loss to Wayne State on Saturday night. Hallam leads the Gaels in scoring with 32 points (5-27-32) and his 1.04 assists per game is among the best in NCAA Division I hockey. His 27 assists overall are tops in the MAAC.
Around the League…
The Yellow Jackets split a weekend series at home with UConn. Saturday, AIC scored four third period goals to defeat UConn 5-2. Friday the Yellow Jackets fell to UConn 4-1…Andy Luhovy (Manchester, NH) netted the game-winning goal, the first of his career, in the Yellow Jackets win on Saturday…Sophomore forward Olivier Gagnon (Kirkland, PQ) netted two of AIC’s four third period goals to lift AIC past UConn on Saturday afternoon. He now has a team-high 13 goals this season…The Yellow Jackets meet Bentley Friday in Waltham, MA and Saturday in Worcester, MA in a crucial two game series. AIC is two points behind Bentley as the two teams are battling for a MAAC playoff spot…AIC lost 9-2 at Bentley on November 13…Junior defenseman Aaron Arnett (Durham, Ontario) recorded two assists in Saturday’s win, bringing his team-leading points total to 21…AIC’s win over UConn on Saturday, was its first in MAAC Hockey League play, snapping a 0-5-1 string. They lead the all-time series, 26-23-5…Senior forward Todd Bassler (Brattleboro, Vt.) netted a goal in each of the games over the weekend.
Bentley took three of four possible points from Holy Cross, tying the Crusaders 2-2 on Friday and winning 6-4 on Saturday. Bentley took sole possession of seventh place in the MAAC standings…Bentley faces in-state rival American International in a home-and home series Friday at home and Saturday in Waltham, MA…Bentley defeated AIC 9-2 on November 13. Ryan Soderquist (Stoneham, MA) set a MAAC record with six points in that game (3-3-6)…Ryan Soderquist (Stoneham, MA) had a goal and four assists on Friday to lead the Falcons to its first victory since December 11 with a 6-4 victory over Holy Cross on Saturday. Soderquist is tied for the MAAC lead in scoring with 37 points on 15 goals and 22 assists… Marcus Willy (Marshfield, MA) had two assists in Bentley’s 6-4 win over Holy Cross, helping to snap the team’s 11-game winless streak…Brian Gangemi (Tewksbury, MA), had two goals in Saturday’s win…Ray DeVincent (Waltham, MA) made 29 saves, including six in the third period and five in overtime, in Bentley’s 2-2 tie with Holy Cross. He lowered his goals against average from 5.24 to 4.38.
Canisius took three of four points from Mercyhurst including a 1-0 win on Friday at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. The teams skated to a 2-2 on Saturday at the Buffalo State Sports Arena…Sean Weaver (Scarborough, Ont) earned MAAC Player of the Week honors stopping all 46 shots he faced Friday and 40 of 42 shots on Saturday…The Ice Griffs face UConn in a battle for fourth place Friday night at 7:30 and Saturday afternoon at 3:00. Both games are at the UConn Ice Arena…The Ice Griffs played to a 3-3 tie with Connecticut on December 3 in Buffalo. In a non-conference game, Canisius defeated UConn 1-0 on October 22 in the first round of the J.C. Penney Classic…Matt Shewchuk (Herdman, PQ) scored the game-tying goal Saturday, his second short-handed tally of the year. He helped hold the Lakers to just one power play goal in 19 chances over the weekend. He earned Hocks Star of the Game in the MAAC game of the Week on broadcast.com.Corey Lucas (Scarborough, Ont) scored the game-winner against Mercyhurst on Friday. It was his team-leading fourth game-winning goal of the season. The tally snapped a personal 8-game goal scoring slump. Lucas scored the winner in the Ice Griffs other 1-0 win this year (10/22 vs. UConn).
UConn split two games American International winning 4-1 on Friday and losing 5-2 on Saturday… Michael Goldkind (Silver Spring, MD) had a goal and an assist in the second period Friday as UConn erased a 1-0 deficit after the first period. Goldkind leads the Huskies in scoring with 7-17-24…UConn hosts Canisius for a pair of games at the UConn Ice Arena. Friday’s game is at 7:30 and Saturday’s game is set for 3:00…UConn opened 1998-99 MAAC season with a 1-0 setback against Canisius in the first round of the J.C. Penney Classic in Orono, ME. The teams skated to a 3-3 tie December 3 in Buffalo in their only conference meeting this year…Ciro Longobardi (Wallingford, CT) scored his team leading 11th goal in Friday’s victory…Michael Narotski (West Roxbury, MA) and Ryan Murphy (Burrillville, RI) each had two assists in Saturday’s loss.
The Stags lost three games this week, 6-2 against Iona on Wednesday, 4-0 to Sacred Heart on Friday and 4-2 at Sacred Heart on Saturday…Fairfield meets Holy Cross in pair of key games. The two teams are among four teams battling for the last two MAAC playoff spots. Friday’s game is in Worcester, MA while Saturday’s game, the MAAC Game of the Week on broadcast.com, is in Bridgeport, Conn…Fairfield dropped a 3-1 decision to Holy Cross at home on December 4…Steve Calderara (Douglasville, GA) scored a goal against Sacred Heart Saturday, giving him 5-13-18. It’s the most points for a Fairfield defenseman since Kevin Ryan had 5-25-30 in 1996-97…Rory Murray (Hingham, MA) is among 15 finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, given annually to hockey’s "best citizen." Murray works as a coach with two youth hockey teams in the Fairfield area during school. In the summer, he participates in camps with handicapped children for the Hingham Recreational Center. Last summer, he headed up an initiative to help autistic children…Goaltender Derek Saunders (Danbury, CT) played for the first time since suffering a 2-0 loss to Army, Nov. 30. He allowed four goals in 110:37.
Holy Cross tied Bentley 2-2 on Friday and lost 6-4 on Saturday night to the Falcons…Junior forward Brian Askashian (Lowell, MA) scored three goals to lead the Crusader attack. He leads Holy Cross with 12 goals this season…The Crusaders match up with Fairfield in a home and home series, Friday at home and Saturday night in Bridgeport, CT…Holy Cross defeated Fairfield 3-1 on December 4 at the Wonderland of Ice…John Whalen (Island Park, NY) had a goal and an assist against Fairfield on December 4. He will skate against his brother Joe, a freshman forward for the Stags…Senior forward Chris Fattey (Hamburg, NY) is out for at least six weeks with an injured hand. He leads Holy Cross in scoring with 5-15-20. He set a MAAC regular season record with five assists in one game versus Iona on November 19.
Iona defeated Fairfield 6-2 on Wednesday night before losing a pair of games at non-conference foe Wayne State 5-2 on Friday and 5-3 on Saturday…Freshman forward Mark Hallam (Medicine Hat, AB) tabbed four assists in the Gaels win over Fairfield. He leads the MAAC with 27 assists and leads the Gaels in scoring with 5-27-32…Iona travels to Erie, PA for two games at second place Mercyhurst. The Gaels fell to the Lakers 4-2 on November 12…Ryan Carter (Fort Nelson, BC) had two goals on Wednesday and is now second on the team in scoring with 17-14-31. He notched his 50th career goal Wednesday at Fairfield… Iona has won their last three league games and are 7-3 in their last 10 MAAC League games….Iona’s defense has shutdown their opponents’ power play. In their last three games Iona has stopped 16 of 17 opponent power plays. MERCYHURST
Mercyhurst lost and tied Canisius in two games last weekend. The Lakers lost 1-0 on Friday and tied the Ice Griffs 2-2 on Saturday night…The 1-0 setback to Canisius Friday night in Erie was only the second 1-0 verdict in the relatively brief history of Laker hockey. Mercyhurst lost at Elmira 1-0 in overtime November 29, 1998. The shutout was the second inflicted on the Lakers this season. Colgate turned the feat December 30 at Colgate…The Lakers face Iona in a pair of games Friday and Saturday at the Mercyhurst Ice Center… Mercyhurst edged Iona 4-2 on November 12 at the Ice Hutch in Mt. Vernon, N.Y… Senior goalie Ashley Stevens (Scarborough, Ont) was losing goaltender on Friday, his first conference loss of the season. He is now 6-1-0 in MAAC games…Senior alternate captain and LW Aaron Morrison (Uxbridge, Ont) returned to the lineup Friday. Morrison hadn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury in Mercyhurst’s 3-2 overtime win at Sacred Heart November 13…Mercyhurst is 2-0 against Iona. The Lakers defeated the Gaels 8-3 in the consolation game of the UConn Tournament December 30, 1998, then downed Iona 4-2 on the road November 12, 1999, in a MAAC Hockey League affair.
Quinnipiac was idle last week. The Braves remained in first place in the MAAC with a four point lead on second place Mercyhurst…The Braves dropped a 4-0 non-league decision to Clarkson on Tuesday, their second lose to an ECAC team this season…Quinnipiac faces third place Sacred Heart in a home and home series Friday at home and Saturday away. The Braves defeated the Pioneers 5-3 on October 29 in Northford…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 11-1-1 at home in 1999-2000. The Braves are 36-2-1 in their last 38 home games. Under Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac sports a 53-13-4 record (.790) 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 swept cross-town rival Fairfield Friday and Saturday at home 4-0 and 4-2. The Pioneers lost to future MAAC rival Army 4-1 on Tuesday night in a non-conference game…Lloyd Marks (Inverary, Ont) scored two goals and two assists on the week and extended his point-scoring streak to eight games. He is now tied for the team lead with 13-13-26…The Pioneers have won their last seven MAAC league games. Their last loss was January 15 at home against Canisius… Alexis Jutras-Binet (Quebec, PQ) earned MAAC Goalie of the Week honors for the third time this season after posting a 4-0 shutout on Friday…Sacred Heart faces league-leading Quinnipiac in two key games. Friday’s game is in Northford, Conn. while Saturday’s rematch is at the Milford Ice Pavilion…The Pioneers fell to Quinnipiac 5-3 on October 29.
Thanks to Ken Taylor in the MAAC office and the sports information directors of the MAAC schools for their contributions to this week’s column.