MAAC Column: Oct. 19, 2000

Same Story, So Far

For the MAAC, the thought this year has to be “bigger and stronger.” And with the simplicity of growth comes the desire for success. Success within the conference has been realized since its inception two seasons ago. Both years have had excellent competition among the teams, and the postseason tournament has proved a fan-thriller for two years running.

But there is still one small problem for the MAAC – success outside the conference. To date, no MAAC team has beaten a team from the “Big Four” (Hockey East, ECAC, CCHA, WCHA) conferences. The closest thing to this reality was Canisius’ upset of Niagara, a team that reached the West Regional final of the NCAA tournament last year, last season. But Niagara, being a member of the CHA, does not take the monkey off the MAAC’s back.

Last weekend, two more clubs, Sacred Heart University and Connecticut, the defending MAAC champion, set out to try to bounce Godzilla. But instead, both clubs got bounced themselves — badly.

Connecticut, which fell 6-1 to UMass-Lowell, the last-place team in Hockey East a season ago, clearly was not up to the level of the River Hawks, or Hockey East for that matter. Lowell outshot UConn, 45-10, on the game, but that didn’t prevent the Huskies from putting a bit of an early scare into the River Hawks.

After weathering a storm for 15 minutes, UConn took a 1-0 lead by running an offensive-zone faceoff play on its one offensive-zone draw of the period. But penalties hurt the Huskies, and near the end of the period Lowell found itself on a 5-on-3 power play, which led to a goal with 5.5 seconds remaining. That neutralized any momentum the Huskies may have had.

When UConn scored a fluke goal in its own net early in the second, that was the backbreaker.

“We were doing some things nicely [in the first period],” said Marshall, “but when we scored the goal in our own net, we didn’t respond well enough. We sort of packed it in over the next five minutes and next thing you know it’s 4-1.”

And packing it in resulted in the 6-1 final. But Marshall remained upbeat, realizing that the non-league schedule is just beginning. This week UConn travels back to the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts to face an improved Merrimack College squad that last week tied No. 6 Michigan State, 1-1.

“I told our guys that we’ve got to get to a point that we’re not playing these [non-league] games just to fill up our schedule. We’re playing these games to win them. That’s how we have to approach these games.”

The Huskies are not the only school to play a competitive non-league slate this weekend. Mercyhurst College, picked to finish second in this year’s coaches poll, will open the season on the road against established ECAC powerhouse Clarkson. It is the second consecutive season that Mercyhurst has faced an ECAC opponent, as the Lakers fell 3-0 to NCAA tournament qualifier Colgate last season.

Also this weekend, newest MAAC member Army will face Union College from the ECAC. This could be the best chance for the MAAC, but the Black Knights will be weary after facing Iona College in their MAAC opener on Friday. Union will be rested, as the Skating Dutchmen have Friday night off.

Holy Cross, which last weekend shut out Concordia University, 2-0 in an exhibition contest, will look to continue its luck in Orono, Maine, in the Black Bear Classic. Thankfully for the Crusaders, they did not draw Maine in the first round, though they will still face an unenviable opponent in No. 14 St. Lawrence. On Saturday, Holy Cross will face either Maine or the U.S. Developmental team in the championship or consolation game of the tournament.

Gaels Give New Rink A Rousing Opening

The Iona College Gaels certainly didn’t wait long to raise the roof of their new building, Sports Plus at New Roc City, last Friday night, though for most, the excitement probably came a little later than desired.

Facing preseason favorite Quinnipiac in the opening game, Iona fell behind 5-1 early in the third period before the Gaels reeled off one of the most scintillating comebacks in college hockey history.

After pulling within 5-2 midway through the third, Iona was the beneficiary of a five-minute major penalty to Quinnipiac winger Brian Herbert with just under five minutes to play. And as the clock ticked down and Quinnipiac looked like maybe they were in the clear, Iona exploded.

The Gaels scored three goals in the final 64 seconds of play, including the game-tying goal with 0.5 seconds showing on the clock, to force overtime. Even though both teams posted plenty of shots in the overtime (Quinnipiac 5, Iona 4) the game ended a 5-5 draw that easily felt like a win for Iona and a loss for the Braves.

The game was played in front of 1,306 fans, a capacity house in the new arena, and one of the largest crowds to witness a MAAC regular season game. Needless to say, this was one time where the fans had to leave happy even with a tie.

One night later, though, the Braves were able to gain revenge, winning on home ice against Iona, 3-1. Rookie goaltender Justin Eddy, making his first start in net for the Braves, registered his first collegiate win by making 18 saves. This night, it was Quinnipiac that enjoyed the power-play success, notching two of its three goals with the man advantage.

“We were still down a bit after [Friday] night’s game,” said senior winger Chris Cerrella, who notched a goal and an assist in the win. “We had a lot to prove [Saturday] after losing a 5-1 lead late in the third period [on Friday].”

Said Braves coach Rand Pecknold, “This was a big win for us. Obviously we had a huge letdown on Friday, but [on Saturday] we reloaded. We just played better defensively starting from the back out, and Justin Eddy was fantastic in his first start.”

This weekend, the Braves will host the fifth annual Quinnipiac Cup tournament, this year featuring Fairfield University, Bentley College, and Air Force in addition to the Braves.

Quinnipiac’s opening round opponent will be Bentley, the team that Quinnipiac eliminated in the first round of last year’s MAAC championships. Bentley leads the all-time series, 16-10-1, but it is the Braves who have won the last seven meetings. For the Falcons, it is their second time in the Q-Cup. They also participated in 1998, losing to Quinnipiac, 7-4, in the finals.

Air Force will be making its first-ever appearance in the tournament and will face Fairfield, a club that has been in three of the previous four tournaments. The Stags have only one win in the six tournament games. That win, back in 1997, led them to a finals matchup with the Braves that resulted in a 7-4 defeat.

The tournament has to be a favorite for Quinnipiac’s Cerrella, who has posted 13 career points in his previous six Q-Cup games (six goals, seven assists). Last year was the only time that Cerrella did not reach the finals of the tournament, as Quinnipiac fell to eventual champ Iona in the first round.