Upset at New Roc
MAAC fans, hold onto your seats, because we may be in for a wild ride. If Wednesday night’s matchup between Fairfield and Iona is any indication, parity may be rearing its head much sooner than the pundits ever expected.
Thanks to a four-goal explosion in the third period, Fairfield, the winner of only two MAAC games last year, knocked off Iona in New Rochelle, N.Y., a place the Gaels had been all but unbeatable this season.
“[The win] shows a lot of character on the part of our kids,” said Fairfield coach Jim Hunt. “There were a few things that happened: we came back from behind, we came back from behind on the road, and we came back from behind on the road against a very good team. All those things are important as we start to mature and develop this program.
Trailing 3-1 entering the third period, Fairfield reeled off three goals in less than eight and a half minutes to open the frame. But Iona fought back to tie the game, scoring with 5:39 remaining.
That was when Fairfield’s John Whelan became the hero, beating Iona goaltender Ben Brady with less than five minutes to play with the game-winner.
The win was improbable, yes, but more than likely not too unthinkable. Fairfield has looked impressive at times this year, and Hunt’s squad has been able to get up for the big game. Two weeks ago, Fairfield pulled off another big upset, posting a 1-0 shutout against Quinnipiac, handing the Braves their first loss in more than a year.
The unexpected success, though, is not something Hunt will take a lot of credit for.
“I don’t think I can take a whole lot of credit for what’s going on,” said Hunt, who arrived at Fairfield this summer after Mark Dennehy left for UMass-Amherst. “The thing I wanted to change here was mentality. I wanted to change [the way the players] were training off the ice, how [they] prepared for game and simply, he they approached each game.
“There a lot that comes with that mentality. Accountability, responsibility are two big parts. We had the right kids and now they’re buying into what I need them to do.”
Fairfield’s accomplishments, too, are welcome by Hunt, but he still remains focused to realize a couple of big wins doesn’t mean the program is on the right track just yet.
“If you look at the quality of the four points we got, they don’t matter,” said Hunt. “If you beat Bentley or Quinnipiac, it doesn’t matter. [After] we beat Quinnipiac, we went into West Point but couldn’t put two good efforts back-to-back. That needs to be the challenge this week.”
A challenge that will be tested right away when Fairfield travels to Bentley, a team the Stags have enjoyed a great success against lately.
Wins aside, Hunt says the team’s goal will not change.
“I think if you asked me where I wanted to be at this point in the season, [I’d tell you] we’re right around the point,” said Hunt. “But now having seen most of the team in the league, my expectations are a little bit higher.
“The bottom line, though, is that we won’t change our goal for the season which is to make the playoffs. We’ve been focused on that since day one and that hasn’t changed.”
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
LLOYD MARKS, SACRED HEART Jr., C, Inverary, ON
Marks wins the award for his great play in the 5-5 tie against Iona. He scored a hat trick with his third goal starting a Pioneers comeback late in the third period. He is tied for the team lead with nine points and his five goals lead the Pioneers.
Also Nominated: Joe Dudek, Kurt Kamienski, Ryan Carter, Chad Poliquin.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week:
SCOTT HAMILTON, ARMY Jr., G, Clinton Township, MI
Hamilton was solid in winning two of three low scoring, one-goal games last week. He stopped 25 of 26 shots in the 2-1 win over Fairfield and 18 of 20 shots in the 3-2 win over Holy Cross. For the week he had a.909 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average.
Also Nominated: J.C. Wells, Alexis Jutras-Binet.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
MARC-ANDRE FOURNIER, SACRED HEART Fr., F, St. Nicholas, PQ
Fournier helped lead the Pioneers to a 1-0-1 record last week. He scored the game winning goal in the 3-2 win over American International and scored the game tying goal with just over three minutes left in the third period in the 5-5 tie against Iona. For the year he has four points on three goals and an assist.
Also Nominated: Artie Imbriano.
Pioneers Back on Winning Ways
Barring a victory at the NCAA Championships, there probably won’t be a feeling of excitement that matches the one Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah felt a few weeks back when his Pioneers upset Cornell University.
But when reality slaps you like it belted the Pioneers, that feeling just doesn’t seem as fresh in the mind anymore.
That reality was not kind — coming in the form of three consecutive losses to the top of the MAAC: two against Quinnipiac and one to Iona.
Stomaching the two Quinnipiac losses was the toughest. The first game saw Quinnipiac score early in the third to break a 1-1 tie. Two late goals, one an empty-netter, made the 4-1 score look worse than the game.
The second game was even tougher, as the Pioneers carried a 2-1 lead into the third period. But three tallies for the Braves in the third, including the game-winner and insurance goals late in the game, left Sacred Heart wondering what had hit them.
Last weekend, though, the Pioneers took baby steps towards righting the ship, with a hard-fought win against AIC and a come-from-behind tie on the road at Iona.
Things, though, do look brighter for the Pioneers. Between now and Christmas break, Sacred Heart takes on Fairfield twice, Bentley and Holy Cross. Whereas the combined record of Sacred Heart’s first seven opponents was 35-12-9, the next four games will see a combined record of 6-21-2.
Weather Forces Teams to Juggle Games
It was the first snow of the year in upstate New York last week, and already Mother Nature has caused havoc with MAAC play. Mercyhurst was able to make the bus trip from Erie, Pa., to Storrs, Conn., last Tuesday night, forcing the league to juggle a few games to make up the game later in the season.
As a result, the Lakers will travel to UConn on Saturday, February 10, for a 7:30 ET game with the Huskies. The Lakers were originally scheduled for a single game that weekend, playing at AIC on Friday, February 9.
That will, though, pre-empt the game between Connecticut and Sacred Heart that was scheduled for February 10. The Huskies and Pioneers will instead face-off on Thursday, January 11, at 7:30 ET.
The decision to move the game probably wasn’t too difficult for Shaun Hannah. Sacred Heart is scheduled to play Quinnipiac on February 9. So instead of facing UConn the next night, they can play on a Thursday night during Christmas break.
Yellow Jackets Surprising Many
Don’t look now, but AIC, a team picked to finish ninth pre-season by this writer, has staked an early claim that has playoff hopes written all over it.
Thanks to solid victories over Canisius, Holy Cross and Fairfield, as well as a tie on the road at Mercyhurst, the only blemish on the Lakers MAAC schedule, AIC has moved into sixth place in the MAAC.
This past weekend, the Yellow Jackets came close to moving further, but two heart-breaking losses to Sacred Heart and Canisius by identical 3-2 scores, kept AIC at bay.
Worst of all, both losses came in the closing minutes of the game. Sacred Heart scored with 1:12 showing on the clock to complete a three-goal outburst, overcoming an early 2-0 deficit. Canisius spoiled Patrick Tabb’s tying goal with 7:00 left to play when Chris Duggan buried the game-winner with 2:09 remaining.
Pacing AIC has been two solid forwards: the more experienced junior Ollie Gagnon along with rookie Trent Ulmer. Goaltender Chance Thede’s.914 save percentage certainly hasn’t hurt the Yellow Jacket attack.
This weekend, AIC will face a solid test in a home-and-home series with defending MAAC Champion UConn. Traveling to UConn on Friday, the Yellow Jackets will more than likely be very happy with a series split, allowing them to keep pace with the rest of the league.
Votes Continue to Roll In
I’m pretty sure there are no dimples or butterfly ballots to worry about, and not a chad in sight, but as far as the MAAC is concerned, their not-so-well-known party is getting some attention from voters.
Okay, so no one from the three-year old league has broken the top 15 of any national poll, but for the time being, two MAAC teams are beneficiaries of the ol’ Pat Buchanan votes — this is, enough to show people your name.
Quinnipiac, with a 9-2-2 record, has garnered five votes in both the USCHO.com poll as well as the USA Today Coaches Poll. Mercyhurst, likely aided by its 2-2 tie with No. 13 Union last Friday, got its first vote — receiving one vote in the USA Today poll.
“It’s nice to get votes in a national poll,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “Ultimately, though, it’s just nice attention.”
Pecknold admitted though that you can brush off polls as an opinionated measuring stick, but there are some major benefits of being nationally recognized.
“It doesn’t hurt us when it comes to recruiting,” Pecknold added. “Kids read the polls, that’s for sure. How much it helps us, I’m not quite sure. Any way you get your name out, though, in a positive light, helps the recruiting process.”
Top of the MAAC Tours Capital District
The Capital District of New York is feeling an invasion of more than just Hilary Clinton right now. Now the area has to deal with the top of the MAAC.
The Albany, N.Y., region is no stranger to the MAAC, playing host to its basketball championship, the conference’s highest profile event, every other year. But MAAC hockey top dogs Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac are in the middle of a two-week, four-game series with RPI and Union.
Mercyhurst began the series last week by shocking No. 13 Union with a hard-fought 2-2 tie. The Lakers, a bit weary, fell to RPI the next night, 5-0. RPI did not play on Friday night.
“I’m [was] as happy as you could be with a tie,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said, referring to Friday night’s battle with Union. “This particular team, I can’t speak for other MAAC teams, but this team, the learning curve is getting smaller for us. Back a year ago when we went to Ohio State and we lost 5-3, we were awful. We’ve gotten better each time we played one of the major conference teams and we got better [on Friday].”
Gotkin, though, was not happy with his team’s performance the next night, and wouldn’t rest on the laurels of Friday night’s upset tie.
“Our guys are disappointed,” Gotkin admitted. “Our guys felt that they could come out and play another great game and we didn’t play all that well, but RPI had a lot to do with the fact that we didn’t play that well.
“We just didn’t have a lot of jump in the first period. We were a little bit fatigued by [from Friday night, we were tired and [Friday night] we gave it everything we had for 65 minutes. It was a lot different atmosphere [at Union]. It was a real intense and physical atmosphere. [RPI] wasn’t that type of atmosphere, it wasn’t a physical game and we kind of got lulled to sleep a little bit and RPI’s got some guys that can wheel and deal.”
Nonetheless, the Lakers have raised some eyebrows, starting with Quinnipiac’s Pecknold.
“[Mercyhurst tie with Union was] a big tie for them and a big tie for the league,” said Pecknold. “People keep wanting to overlook [the MAAC], but [the league] keeps giving them reason [not to].”
And no one, I’m sure, will be able to overlook Quinnipiac this weekend when they complete the MAAC trip through New York’s Capital District, facing RPI this Saturday and Union on Sunday.
The Braves, who tied last year’s national semi-finalist St. Lawrence, 1-1, earlier this year, feel that they are anything but underdogs this weekend.
“[Against] St. Lawrence, we didn’t play well in our systems,” Pecknold said. “We competed hard, but [goaltender] Justin Eddy saved that game for us.
“This weekend, our focus will be to stay competitive, but stay within our system and play good team hockey. We need to stay composed and not run around too much.”
Eddy, who was the hero of the St. Lawrence game, will get the start on Saturday against RPI.
“Justin’s made seven solid starts for us this season,” said Pecknold. “J.C. Wells has come around and is playing well, so we’ve got two good goalies.”
On top of goaltending, for the most part, Pecknold’s club has health. Even though the club has lost key defenseman Dan Ennis for the season, this weekend will mark the return of another top blueliner, Anthony DiPalma, who has missed five games this year with injuries.
Pecknold has focused on resting and recuperating his clubs over the past week.
“After [last Tuesday’s] Holy Cross game, I gave our guys five days off,” Pecknold said. “We weren’t burnt out, but we were beaten up. In our case, the rest help us. We’ve been so banged up all year.”
When asked what the formula for winning this weekend was, Pecknold kept it simple.
“There are a couple of basics. We need great goaltending, we have to play good team defense, and we have to play some of our systems better.”
Around the League
The Yellow Jackets lost a tough game, 3-2, to Sacred Heart on Tuesday night in their only game of the week…American International has a home and home series against Connecticut over the weekend. They play at Connecticut at 7:30 Friday night and host the Huskies at 7:00 Saturday night… Sophomore C.J. Stagnaro netted his second goal of the season in the loss… Freshman Todd O’Neil recorded his first collegiate point in the loss, assisting on Stagnaro’s goal… Last week’s ITECH MAAC Rookie of the Week, Guillaume Caron added an assist to his point total on classmate’s Trent Ulmer’s fifth goal of the season. Ulmer has now posted ten points in his rookie season and is chasing teammate Olivier Gagnon for the team lead in points… Gagnon assisted on Ulmer’s goal, which now gives him 13 points on the year.
The Black Knights defeated Fairfield 2-1 on Tuesday and Holy Cross 3-2 on Sunday but lost to Connecticut 3-2 on Saturday…Army goes to Canisius on Saturday for a 3:30 tilt with the Ice Griffs… On Sunday the Black Knights posted their first win when trailing after two periods since Feb. 13, 1998 — a 6-5 win at Northeastern. They trailed Holy Cross 2-1 after two periods but Tim Fisher and Mike Fairman scored in the third period to pull out the victory… Fairman played in his 100th career game on Saturday against UConn. His two points Sunday against Holy Cross give him 78 for his career, leaving him 22 shy of becoming Army’s 51st 100-point scorer… Junior Scott Hamilton, the ITECH MAAC Goalie of the Week, stopped 25 of 26 shots in the win over Fairfield and 18 of 20 shots in the win over Holy Cross… Sophomore forward Joe Dudek scored two goals in the two Black Knight victories giving him five goals in his last four MAAC games.
The Falcons were idle this past week… Bentley is still seeking its first win of the year and returns to action on Friday night when the Falcons host Fairfield at 7:30. Sacred Heart visits the Ryan Rink on Sunday night for a 5:30 faceoff… Bentley and Fairfield met in the consolation game of the Q-Cup earlier this year with Fairfield winning 4-0… The Falcons play only three times in the month of December. After this weekend’s action, Bentley hosts Holy Cross on Saturday, Dec. 16… Freshman Mike Mulligan will be looking to resume his goal-scoring streak this weekend. Before a 5-0 loss to Iona on Nov. 18, Mulligan had scored one goal in five straight games. He currently leads Bentley with six goals and is second on the team in scoring with six points.
The Ice Griffs were idle this week… The Ice Griffs host Army and Iona this weekend at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. Canisius faces MAAC newcomer Army Saturday afternoon at 3:30 and square off against Iona at 2:00… Canisius will travel to Huntsville, AL to compete in the Alabama-Huntsville Faceoff Tournament on December 29-30. The Ice Griffs take on host Alabama-Huntsville Friday at 7:00 and faces either Nebraska-Omaha or UMass-Lowell in the second game on Saturday… Canisius is 2-5-0 lifetime against Army. This will be their first meeting since 1996-97 which the Ice Griffs lost 7-4… The Ice Griffs went 1-3 against Iona last season including a 4-3 defeat in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Easton MAAC Hockey League Championship.
The Huskies defeated Army 3-2 on Saturday… Connecticut has a home and home series against MAAC foe AIC over the weekend. They host the Yellow Jackets at 7:30 Friday night and play at AIC 7:00 Saturday night… The Huskies game against Mercyhurst that was postponed on Wednesday, November 22 has been rescheduled for Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 at the UConn Ice Arena. UConn’s game against Sacred Heart has been moved from February 10 to Thursday, January 11 at a yet to be determined time… Freshman goalie Artie Imbriano earned his third win of the season, making 20 saves in the 3-2 victory over Army. On the season, he sports a 2.60 GAA, playing the majority of minutes in net. He has recorded 185 saves in earning a 3-2-2 record… Sophomore forward Kurt Kamienski scored the game-winning goal with less than seven minutes remaining in the second period to lift UConn past Army, 3-2. Kurt has recorded five points this season. He also leads the Huskies with three game winning goals.
The Stags lost 2-1 to Army on Tuesday night… Fairfield goes on the road to play Bentley Friday night at 7:30. They host Sacred Heart at 8:00 Saturday night… The game against Sacred Heart is the MAAC Game of the Week… Sophomore captain Rae Metz scored the lone goal for the Stags at 2:53 of the second period on a power play. The tally moves Metz into a tie for 4th in overall power play points and 10th in overall power play goals… Freshman goaltender Craig Schnappinger, who was named Itech Goaltender of the Week for last week’s shut out performance over Quinnipiac, made 18 saves in the contest. He is 1-1-0 in MAAC play and is leading the team with a 1.00 GAA and a.946 save percentage in conference play… The Stags continued their tendency of coming out strong from the opening faceoff. The Stags outshot the Black Knights 11-8 in the first and are outshooting their conference opponents 51-35 in the first period this season.
The Crusaders lost to Quinnipiac 5-1 on Tuesday, to Hockey East member UMass-Lowell 7-2 on Friday, and to Army 3-2 on Saturday… Holy Cross steps out of confernence to battle ECAC member Vermont at 7:00 Saturday night… Junior Pat Rissmiller and sophomore Brandon Doria are tied for first in the MAAC in power play points. In MAAC games, Rissmiller is first, Doria is second and freshman R.J. Irving is third… Holy Cross leads the MAAC in power-play percentage in both conference games 26.9% and overall games 23.8 %… Holy Cross has scored at least one power-play goal in nine of their last 10 games… Freshman goalie Rick Massey made a career high 28 saves in the loss to Army… The Crusaders game vs. UMass-Lowell was the two teams first meeting since February 1, 1983, in what had been an annual meeting… In the Crusaders’ two games vs. Army and Iona freshman Greg Kealey scored a power play goal. Both goals came at the exact same time of the same period. Both goals were assisted by the same player.
The Gaels extended their unbeaten streak to five games with their 5-5 tie against Sacred Heart on Saturday… Iona hosts Fairfield at 7:30 Wednesday night and travels to Mercyhurst for a 7:30 faceoff Saturday night and to Canisius for a tilt on Sunday at 2:00… Junior forward Ryan Carter scored two power play goals and added an assist in the Gaels 5-5 tie with the Pioneers. For the season, Carter has 11points on seven goals and four assists… Two time ITECH MAAC Player of the Week Ryan Manitowich scored two goals versus Sacred Heart. The sophomore forward has eight tallies in six MAAC contests… The Gaels got off a season high 52 shots versus Sacred Heart… Junior defenseman Nathan Lutz dished out two more assists in the game, giving him 11 on the season.
The Lakers battled two out of conference teams over the weekend. They tied No. 13 Union, a member of the ECAC, 2-2 on Friday night and lost 5-0 to ECAC opponent Rensselaer on Saturday night… They host CHA member Wayne State at 7:30 Friday and Iona at 7:30 Saturday night… The Lakers game against Connecticut that was postponed on Wednesday, November 22 has been rescheduled for Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 at the UConn Ice Arena… Mercyhurst is now 1-0-1 against Union lifetime. The Lakers defeated Union 5-4 in their first ever ECAC Playoff game in 1990 when both schools were in Divison III… Junior goalie Peter Aubry was voted the game’s top star in Friday’s 2-2 overtime tie at Union by making 32 saves. Senior center Jeff Gould was voted the game’s third star with two assists… Mercyhurst and RPI played their first ever game Saturday night. The five goals allowed by the Lakers in the loss to RPI represented the first time all season that the team allowed more than two goals in any one game.
The Braves defeated Holy Cross 5-1 on Tuesday for their fourth consecutive win over the Crusaders… Quinnipiac clashes with ECAC opponent RPI at 7:00 Saturday night and at ECAC member, #13 Union, at 7:00 Sunday… Senior forwards Chad Poliquin and Shawn Mansoff each had one goal and one assist in the win over Holy Cross… Senior goalie J.C. Wells made 24 saves in the 5-1 victory to improve to 4-1-1 on the season. The win was the 55th of his career. For the season, Wells is 4-1-1 with a 1.81 GAA and.924 save percentage… Quinnipiac is 8-0-1 on the season when they score first in a game and 7-0-1 when they score at least 4 goals… Senior Chris Cerrella holds the team scoring lead with 19 points. He has a team best three multiple-goal and eight multiple-point efforts… For the season, Quinnipiac is averaging 4.38 goals per game and 5.0 goals per game in MAAC play. They are allowing just 1.77 goals per game and 1.67 goals per game in MAAC play.
The Pioneers went 1-0-1 over the weekend by defeating AIC 3-2 on Tuesday night and tying Iona 5-5 on Saturday night… Sacred Heart goes on the road to battle Fairfield at 8:00 Saturday night and Bentley 5:30 Sunday night… Senior goalie Alexis Jutras-Binet had 29 saves in a 3-2 win over American International for his thrid win of the season. Sophomore goalie Eddy Ferhi had 47 saves in a 5-5 tie against Iona on Saturday night… Freshman forward Marc-Andre Fournier, the ITECH MAAC Rookie of the Week, had the game-winning goal against American International and the game-tying goal against Iona. For the year he has three goals and one assist for four points… Junior Lloyd Marks, the ITECH MAAC Player of the Week, recorded a hat trick against Iona. His last goal keyed a Sacred Heart comeback late in the third period.
Special thanks to Jayson Moy for his contributions to this week’s column.