MAAC Column: Oct. 26, 2000

Connecticut, Mercyhurst Nearly Pull Off Upsets

What a difference a week makes. One week after the MAAC nearly got run off the ice in non-league games, two teams came within a lucky bounce of the puck of pulling off the ultimate upsets.

Connecticut, which one week earlier looked at best like a high-school varsity team while dropping a 6-1 decision to UMass-Lowell, proved not only did they belong on the ice with “Big Four” clubs, but could also give them a run for their money.

After dropping a 6-2 decision to Merrimack on Friday night, the Huskies came out of the chute with guns blazing on Saturday, and found themselves within one goal late in the third period, down 3-2. When Merrimack was caught on a careless line change, having eight skaters on the ice instead of five with just over two minutes to play, UConn had further signs of life.

In the end, though, conditioning won out, as Merrimack’s fresh legs helped kill the penalty and eventually battle the UConn defense to a loose puck and score an empty-net goal. But praise was high around the Volpe Complex.

“[UConn] played harder than us tonight and they hit harder than us,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “They wanted the game more than we did and they had better chances. We had guys that could score the goals. That was the difference.”

Husky coach Bruce Marshall is hoping that not only his players, but his coaching staff can take something out of the first three games, all losses to Hockey East teams, and apply them as they begin league play.

“It’s a big thing in sports — to learn something every day,” Marshall said. “It’s our job as coaches to carry Saturday night’s [performance] into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and into next weekend’s games.”

UConn wasn’t the only team to put a scare into a “Big Four” opponent. Mercyhurst, now in its second year of MAAC play, found itself deadlocked on the road against ECAC-powerhouse Clarkson late in Saturday’s contest.

But a goal with 2:49 to play by Clarkson’s Don Smith sealed the Lakers fate for the evening, as they returned to Erie, Penn., with a 2-1 loss.

“I thought that we needed to finish our checks if we wanted to be successful, we needed to skate, and I think we did that,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “Clarkson gave us everything we could handle. I know our guys respected Clarkson’s players, I was a little concerned we respected them too much.

“From the feedback, though, that I got after the game, people say it was an exciting college hockey game to watch.”

Gotkin’s challenge, similar to UConn’s, is to hold on to the intensity.

“I told [the players] if we can play with that kind of focus or determination that we showed against Clarkson, we’ll be a good team,” said Gotkin. “The trick is to get up for every team that you have to play everyday. That’s what will make us a good team.”

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Player of the Week
Ryan Manitowich, F, Iona

Manitowich scored two goals in the first period, helping the Gaels to their first victory of the season, a 6-3 decision over visiting Army on Oct. 20. His first goal, a shorthanded breakaway, came at the 9:50 mark, while he added his second score with :08 left in the period on an assist from teammate Nathan Lutz. One the season, he leads the team in goals with three.

ITECH MAAC Goalie of the Week
Justin Eddy, G, Quinnipiac

Eddy stopped 30 shots in the 3-2 win over Air Force as Quinnipiac won the fifth annual Q-Cup, earning him a spot on the All-Tournament Team. After two starts in his collegiate career, Eddy is 2-0 with a .941 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average.

ITECH MAAC Rookie of the Week
Greg Norcross, G, Fairfield

Norcross began his collegiate career in fine fashion as he kicked out 25 saves while recording a 4-0 shutout over the Bentley Falcons. He was steady through two five-on-three penalty kills at critical points of the second and third periods. The freshman’s shutout marked his first career win and the first win for new Fairfield head coach Jim Hunt.

Young Goalies Make Their Mark

Only two weeks into the season, it is very apparent that one of the MAAC’s traditions from last year will continue – youth will rule this league in its own infancy. There is no question, too, that this will carry all the way to the last line of defense: goaltending.

Last week, three goaltenders opened a lot of eyes throughout the league — Artie Imbriano of UConn, Derek Cunha of Holy Cross, and Greg Norcross at Fairfield.

Imbriano got the truest baptism by fire when he was sent into Friday night’s contest against Hockey East member Merrimack with his Huskies trailing 6-1 late in the game. The freshman, though, showed no sign of fear, stopping a hard slapshot on a two-on-one rush with a brilliant glove save in his first minute of collegiate play. Imbriano finished the shortened night with 11 saves and didn’t allow a goal, leading head coach Bruce Marshall to start him the next night.

What the rookie did the second night was simply amazing. Not only did he make brilliant save after save, but also gave his Huskies the chance to pull of one of the biggest upsets, as they trailed the Warriors, 3-2, late in the game. A failed attempt on a power play in the final minute and an empty-net goal by Merrimack accounted for a 4-2 final, but could not overshadow the effort of Imbriano.

“I think Friday night [Imbriano] got tested,” Marshall said of the relief effort his rookie netminder made in his collegiate debut on Friday. “[Saturday], I thought he played real well, and now he has to build on it.”

Imbriano’s first two appearances came at the Volpe Complex on Merrimack’s campus, just minutes away from where the goaltender grew up.

“It was a welcome challenge,” Imbriano said of his opportunity to play. “I’m thankful for the chance to play, even though I’m a little disappointed we didn’t pull it out. I had a ton of people in the stands rooting for me tonight, so that we really great.”

Holy Cross’ Derek Cunha certainly may not appeared to have as successful a start to his collegiate career on paper, losing 5-1. But for a team that struggled to find any type of stable goaltender last season, his 38 stop performance against pre-season ECAC favorite St. Lawrence, which garnered him third-star honors, has to be a positive.

Head coach Paul Pearl didn’t undermine the efforts of Cunha, but thought praise went beyond his goaltender.

“[Cunha] played well but what we did better [as a team] was keep the puck to the outside and not allow quality shots,” said Pearl. “[Cunha] made the stops he had to – he was solid.”

In southern Connecticut, Fairfield University, which has its third head coach in as many years in Jim Hunt, experienced a little bit of history on Saturday night at the Q-Cup. For the first time since joining the MAAC three years ago the Stags, behind goaltender Greg Norcross, pitched a shutout, knocking off Bentley College 4-0 in the consolation game. The win put Fairfield’s record at 1-1, the first time in the school’s history in the MAAC that the Stags have held a .500 record.

Huskies Get Set to Raise Banner

UConn, which last year climbed from the fourth seed in the MAAC playoffs to win the postseason championship, will cap off its months of celebration this weekend when it raises the championship banner to the rafters of the UConn Ice Arena, the same place the Huskies won the championship six months ago.

The Huskies will take on Sacred Heart on Friday evening at 7:30ET. It will be a rematch of last year’s MAAC quarterfinals that saw UConn come back from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4. The comeback was the beginning of the road to the title.

The two clubs will complete the early-season home-and-home on Saturday night when they face off at the Milford Ice Pavilion at 5:00 ET. UConn enters the game having lost three-straight non-league games to Hockey East opponents. Sacred Heart lost its season opener to Colgate before knocking off AIC in a non-league game last weekend. The contest against AIC was scheduled late in the summer when Sacred Heart was no longer allowed to keep Findlay on its schedule.

Hunt Nets First Win with Stags

Fairfield first-year head coach Hunt, who began coaching the Stags after the departure of Mark Dennehy for UMass-Amherst this summer, didn’t take long in picking up his first collegiate coaching win. One night after dropping a 5-2 decision to Air Force in the first-round of the Quinnipiac Cup tournament, Hunt’s Stags blanked Bentley College, 4-0, to take third place.

Even though the win came against a MAAC opponent, because the game was a tournament, it does not count towards the MAAC standings. Thus, Hunt can look for his first MAAC win this Friday night when his club travels to Springfield, Mass., to face AIC.

Hunt is now only 863 wins short of Michigan State’s Ron Mason, college hockey’s winningest head coach.

Next Stop: Vegas

If any of my faithful readers out there follow my weekly picks, they will know that success has not been my middle name. And anyone who knows me personally, know that I’m not the right person to typically send to Foxwoods or Atlantic City.

So whenever I have ANY success at all in predicting sporting events, I think that I not only have the right, but more so the responsibility, to gloat! Here it comes!

My record for last week was, well, perfect. 8-0… read it and weep. To all the other conference correspondents, I know you wish you could be me, even if just for a day.

Now before my head gets too big, I will say that I didn’t have the hardest schedule to pick last week. Moreover, I didn’t exactly go out on a limb with any predictions except for picking a split in the Canisius-Wayne State series. The fact that three games of the eight I picked were against Big Four teams means I guess I shouldn’t feel too proud.

The one thing that kicks me in the butt is that I did not make picks in tournament games — though if I had, my record would’ve been 12-0. My rationale is that you don’t know the opponent in the second game or the circumstance (I’m a firm believer that some teams play harder in a championship game than a consolation game). So I’ve always decided to pass on my opinion for the tournaments.

All of this said, I am now 16-2-1 on the young season. I’m expecting the wheels to fall off the apple cart at any point now, but until then, will continue to gloat about the fact that I have an .868 pick percentage.

Around the MAAC…

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL

American International lost their 2000-01 season home opener 7-1 on Friday night to the Sacred Heart Pioneers in a nonconference matchup. … The Yellow Jackets host Fairfield on Friday at 7:00 and travel to first-place Quinnipiac for a battle with the Braves at 5:00 on Saturday. … Last year, AIC went 3-0 against Fairfield, outscoring the Stags 16-9. Against Quinnipiac, the Yellow Jackets were 0-3 while being outscored 15-4. … The Yellow Jackets’ lone goal against the Pioneers came off the stick of senior forward Tom Cogan, which was his first goal of the season.

ARMY

Army is coming off two road losses to Iona, 6-3 on Friday night, and Union, 4-1 on Saturday night. … The Black Knights have a another major road test on Friday night as they faceoff against Quinnipiac at 7:00. They play at RPI at 7:00 Saturday night. … Mike Fairman followed up his opening night hat trick against Seneca with a goal in Army’s MAAC debut at Iona on Friday night. Fairman also assisted on the Black Knights’ lone tally in a 4-1 loss at Union on Saturday. … Junior goaltender Scott Hamilton stopped 58 shots in two road games over the weekend, including 32 in a 4-1 loss to Union on Saturday. … Chris MacLeod, a freshman forward, had a goal and an assist in Friday’s game at Iona. The goal was the first of his collegiate career. He also had three assists in Army’s 6-3 win over Seneca on Oct. 13.

BENTLEY

Bentley lost to Quinnipiac, 6-1, and Fairfield, 4-0 at the fifth annual Quinnipiac Cup in Northford, Conn. … The Falcons are on the road this weekend. They meet Canisius at 7:30 Friday night at the Amherst Pepsi Center and matchup with Mercyhurst at 7:30 Saturday night. … Bentley allowed five power play goals in its pair of losses at the Q-Cup while committing 17 penalties overall. … Goalie Ray DeVincent made 50 stops against Quinnipiac and 34 saves against Fairfield. The senior is no stranger to stopping a lot of pucks, he made 72 saves in a game last season. … Junior John Yianoukas scored the only Falcon goal of the weekend, a power play goal. It was his seventh career goal.

CANISIUS

Canisius opened the 2000-01 regular season on the road against Wayne State and finished the weekend 1-1-0. The Ice Griffs fell 7-4 to the Warriors on Friday and defeated Wayne State 2-1 in overtime on Saturday. … Canisius hosts league opponents Bentley and Holy Cross in a pair of contests at the Amherst Pepsi Center on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30. … Last season, the Ice Griffs were 3-0 against the Falcons and 2-1 against the Crusaders. … Senior Todd Bisson scored three goals and registered two assists for the Ice Griffs over the weekend. … Marc Bouffard had a goal and two assists. … Goalie Sean Weaver recorded 24 saves in Saturday’s 2-1 victory.

CONNECTICUT

Matt Herhal, a junior defenseman, scored three goals in the two games including both Husky goals on Saturday night… Goaltender John Chain started in net for the Huskies on Friday making 23 saves, with freshman Artie Imbriano replacing Chain in the third period making 11 saves. Imbriano played the entire game on Saturday and stopped 35 shots in the 4-2 loss.

FAIRFIELD

Fairfield participated in the fifth annual Quinnipiac Cup losing to Air Force 5-2 and beating Bentley 4-0. … The Stags only game this week is a Friday night tilt at American International which begins at 7:00. … Sophomore Rae Metz scored four points over the weekend. He scored a goal and added two assists in the Stags 4-0 victory over the Bentley Falcons in the consolation game of the fifth annual Quinnipiac Cup. He recorded a power play assist in a 5-2 loss to Air Force on Friday night. … The Stags are now undefeated (3-0-1) vs. Bentley since the Falcons joined the MAAC before the 1999-00 season.

HOLY CROSS

Holy Cross lost 5-1 to No. 14 St. Lawrence in the first round of the Black Bear Classic and 9-2 to the US-Under 18 team. … The Crusaders have two road games this weekend. They play Mercyhurst at 7:30 Friday night and Canisius at 7:30 Saturday night at the Amherst Pepsi Center in Amherst, N.Y. … Freshman Glen Crane scored his first collegiate point vs. St. Lawrence in the opening round of the Black Bear Classic. Crane assisted on the Crusaders only goal scored by his high school teammate Pat Rissmiller, the team’s second leading scorer last season. … Both the Crusaders opponents at the Black Bear Classic were first-time opponents. … The game played on Saturday vs. the US under-18 team was a non-NCAA game.

IONA

Iona defeated Army 6-3 and are now 2-21-1 all time against the Black Knights. … The Gaels host College Hockey America member Wayne State at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday night. … Nathan Lutz, the top rookie defenseman in the MAAC last year, leads the team in scoring this year with four points. … Junior tri-captain Rob Kellogg missed the first three games of the season due to injury, but should dress this weekend at home versus Wayne State. … Stephen Frappier is having a strong season so far. After tallying just five points during the 1999-00 season, he has scored a goal and recorded two assists so far this season. His goal — the first for Iona in the 2000-01 season — was his first since March 5, 1999 when he scored in a 5-2 loss at Holy Cross. … Iona is averaging 5.5 goals per game at home (5 vs. Quinnipiac, 6 vs. Army).

MERCYHURST

Mercyhurst will play its first MAAC games of the season at home this weekend against Holy Cross Friday night at 7:30 and Bentley on Saturday night at 7:30. … The Lakers got their only goal from freshman Mike Carter, with assists from sophomore P.J. Hiscock and freshman Shane Relihan. … Junior goaltender Peter Aubry stopped 28 of 30 in the loss, allowing the game-winner with just over two minutes left in regulation. … Mercyhurst leads the overall series 4-1 over Holy Cross. The Lakers and the Crusaders played three games in a row (including a first round playoff game) last season. The Lakers knocked off the then-defending MAAC champs 10-3 in the opening round of the playoffs last year at Mercyhurst. … Mercyhurst leads the overall series 4-2-1 over Bentley. Mercyhurst went 3-0 against the Falcons last season, including a 6-4 win on October 29 in the first ever MAAC contest for the Lakers.

QUINNIPIAC

Quinnipiac hosts Army at 7:00 Friday night and AIC at 5:00 on Saturday. … Senior forward Chris Cerrella totaled four points (2 goals, 2 assists) over the weekend to earn MVP honors at the Q-Cup. On Friday, he tallied two goals and added one assist in a 6-1 win over Bentley. …Cerrella has three multiple point efforts in four games this season and 50 in 94 career games. … Cerrella leads the team in scoring with eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) while Olson is second with five points (2 goals, 3 assists). Both have each scored at least one point in all four Brave games this season. … Freshman goaltender Justin Eddy and sophomore defenseman Matt Erhart were both named to the Q-Cup all-Tournament Team. Eddy, the MAAC Goalie of the Week, stopped 30 shots in the win over Air Force and this season is 2-0 with a .941 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA.

SACRED HEART

Sacred Heart won 7-1 over MAAC rival American International in a non-conference game. … Freshman forward Mike Reagan notched his first two collegiate goals, in a 7-1 win over AIC, Friday night. The freshman put the Pioneers on the board first at the 2:38 mark of the first period with assists from Richard Naumann and Kyle Messier. His other tally came on the power play in the second period, as part of a four goal second period. … Senior Alexis Jutras-Binet turned away 17 shots to record his first win of the season. The win is his 32nd of his illustrious career as the Pioneers improve to 1-1-0 on the young season.


Special thanks to Dan Fisher for contributions to this column.


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