Remember that old expression, “Live by the sword, die by the sword?” Well, that came true for me last week, and thus, you, my loyal readers, were left without a MAAC column to read.
Technology itself is the reason I have a job, seeing as I write for an online-only publication. But technology, or at least the problems associated with technology, kept my weekly column from ever hitting the editor’s desk last week.
The dreaded email server problems made things look all peachy, until Friday morning, when I woke up and realized our fearless editor never got my column.
So please, accept my apology on behalf of USCHO for keeping you, my faithful readers, waiting for an extra week to hear all the dirt on the MAAC. And thank you to everyone who wrote in wondering where the heck the column was. Makes you realize that someone actually does read this brutal rag.
And now, on to the show!
Moving On Up, Like George and Weesey!
A lot has changed in the MAAC standings in the past two weeks. We now have one team that looks to be staking claim on the top spot, a couple of others slowly moving South, and most importantly, we’re getting a clearer picture on what we can expect in the MAAC playoffs.
Mercyhurst has decided to take on the role of the Jeffersons. Two years removed from Division II status, the Lakers have not only taken an “I” away, making them Division I, but they’ve also now found the top spot in the MAAC. And you can add to that some space in that New York penthouse, as the Lakers have opened up a three-point lead on second-place Iona College, also enjoying recent success.
“Our focus is one game at a time still, and we just want to get better moving towards the playoffs,” said Mercyhurst coach Rich Gotkin. “There’s so much to be decided. Everything is going to be decided, honestly, from first through eighth.”
And while Mercyhurst has made its way into the top seat in the MAAC, it moved past penthouse cohabitant Iona. The Gaels have held the top spot pretty much all of the season, but not without giving up games-in-hand to the Lakers. While Iona was off enjoying two weekends of nonconference play in the CCHA and Hockey East, Mercyhurst moved past.
That though, sets up a small-scale war this Friday night for squatter’s rights on the MAAC penthouse. Iona will host Mercyhurst on Friday night in a matchup that Iona coach Frank Bretti has a hard time not building up.
“I think our team and a lot of people in the area are looking forward to [Friday’s game],” Bretti said. “This home game for us seems to have a little more attention than our usual games. We expect a pretty good environment here. It’s our first game back with our students in town.”
Certainly, New Roc City will be jumping when the top two teams in the league hit the ice on Friday, but that’s only half of the weekend bonanza for both clubs. Saturday, Iona will host Canisius, possibly the hottest team in the league and riding a five-game winning streak into the weekend. Mercyhurst will travel up to Holy Cross, a team that’s playing well since the break and has scared quite a few teams, including Iona (in a game Iona won in overtime) last weekend.
“We’ve had some interesting matchups with [Canisius],” Bretti said. “We beat them in the playoffs and beat them three straight last season. I don’t know how much longer we can continue to find a way to prevail against a solid team like them.
“That’s what scares me about Saturday’s game. Their emotional level, considering the past games we’ve been in, will be a factor.
“After we beat [Canisius] 7-2 [in December], I went in and told my coaching staff, ‘This is a good hockey team.’ I knew that they competed hard and that they could turn things around.”
“We’re going on the road to face two very good hockey teams,” Gotkin said. “I don’t care what the records say, Holy Cross is going to give us everything we can handle. If we don’t play well both nights, we’re not going to be successful. This is a very good league with very good teams.”
Now outside of Mercyhurst and Iona, there are plenty of other developments in the last two weeks. A couple of clubs have started heading in that southerly direction, much to the dismay of the respective coaching staffs.
Perennial powerhouse Quinnipiac finds itself smack-dab in the middle of a 3-5-1 stretch, which might be satisfactory for some programs, but certainly not for Rand Pecknold’s Braves.
“We’re not playing well, simply put,” said Pecknold. “Our power play is struggling, our penalty kill is struggling. The only area that isn’t struggling is goaltending.”
Joining Quinnipiac in the mid-winter doldrums is Connecticut counterpart Sacred Heart. The Pioneers, who have struggled through parts of the early season, have hit the skids with a four-game losing streak.
Last Friday night, an ugly ending to a 5-3 loss to Canisius resulted in five players being suspended for Sacred Heart’s Saturday road tilt with Mercyhurst. And of course, because the Pioneers were hundreds of miles away from home in Buffalo, N.Y., the five missing players were exactly that — missing. There were no replacements, leaving the Pionners short one full line and one defensive pair.
As referenced earlier, the Canisius Ice Griffs are doing everything they can to claw their way to the top. After a difficult start to the season that coach Brian Cavanaugh attributes mostly to guys learning the system, the Griffs have turned on the jet. Canisius is currently riding a five-game winning streak and are winners in eight of the last ten games.
Besides just defense, Cavanuagh feels there has been an overall improvement.
“In the beginning of the year we had some young defensemen and they were playing their first minutes of college hockey,” Cavanaugh said. “[Goaltenders] Sean Weaver and Stephen Fabilli were seeing some quality shots. “We were giving up odd-man rushes and not playing well on special teams.
“As the year has gone on, our defense is maturing and our team defense is getting better. Special teams is getting better because the team is starting to learn the system. And our goaltenders are getting better. They’re seeing more perimeter shots.”
And speaking of goaltending, one of the most pleasing aspects of Cavanaugh’s season has been the recent play of Fabiilli. Forced into the go-to role because of a strained knee ligament suffered by sophomore Sean Weaver, Fabiilli has performed well. He’s been in net in all of Canisius’ last five wins.
“It was a heck of a stretch for the kid,” Cavanaugh said. “His play has improved, but our team defense has improved as well.”
All of this success has translated into Canisius’ move from near the bottom of the league all the way to fourth. If the season ended today, Canisius would be staring down the final home-ice spot.
As the season remains, though, challenges lie ahead for the Griffs. Beginning this weekend, Canisius plays its next four games on the road, with four of the toughest opponents possible — Army, Iona, Quinnipiac and UConn. Though Army is the only opponent outside of the top five, the Cadets are coming off Tuesday’s Quinnipiac upset, played, of course, on home ice.
“This is a real difficult stretch coming up for us,” Cavanaugh said. “You’re playing some pretty tough teams to play in their rinks.
“We do well on the road, and we try to do well on the road. You hope that it doesn’t wear on a team, but it’s travel. You’ve got to go seven hours on a bus.”
Cavanaugh, though, was able to sum up the remainder of the schedule while sounding only a little bit cliche.
“You’re dealing with college-aged kids. Their mentality is something that can be real high at one point, and when you’re on a losing streak it can be real low. You try to teach to not have your highs too high and your lows too low. It’s a long season. You try to keep an even keel on things.”
Words to live by.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
TODD BISSON, CANISIUS Sr., F, Welland, ON
Bisson wins the award for his outstanding play in leading Canisius to wins over MAAC foes Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and Fairfield. He recorded six points on three goals and three assists in the three wins. In the 5-3 win over Sacred Heart, he scored the first two goals of the game, including one on the power play, and added an assist. In the 6-5 win over Fairfield, he scored a goal and tallied two assists, including a helper on the game-winning goal. Bisson leads the team with 12 goals and 23 points.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week:
PETER AUBRY, MERCYHURST Jr., G, Windsor, ON
Aubry wins the award for the third time this season. He stopped 27 of 29 shots in the 5-2 win over Fairfield to help the Lakers move ahead of Iona and into first place. It was his 13th consecutive conference start as he improved his MAAC record to 11-1-1. The game also marked the 12th time in 13 conference games that Aubry and the Lakers held the opponent to two goals or less.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
CHRIS MACLEOD, ARMY Fr., F, Wolfeboro, NH
MacLeod was brilliant in a weekend split with American International. He recorded five points on two goals and three assists. He scored two goals, including the game-winner, and tallied an assist in the 6-5 victory on Friday night. He had two assists in the 5-4 loss to the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
Gaels Looking for Identity as Playoffs Approach
It hasn’t taken Iona head coach Frank Bretti too long to realize that there are two aspects to the game of hockey — offense and defense.
Offense the Gaels mastered a while ago. Two seasons ago, despite a mediocre record, the Gaels possessed the MAAC’s top scorer, Ryan Carter, and had no problem scoring goals. That year, though Iona did struggle defensively, something that has shown improvement.
Last season, Iona’s semi-improved defense, combined with a bit of added depth offensively, led to a berth in the MAAC championship game. This year, though, with the stakes rising, Iona has set firm defensive goals.
“We hoped to finish top in the league offensively, and at least third in the league defensively,” said Bretti, the coach in charge of turning around this defense. Currently, the Gaels are the top offensive team in MAAC play, averaging 4.87 goals per game. And yes, Iona stands third in team defense at 3.20 goals against per game, tied with Sacred Heart and behind only Quinnipiac (2.50) and Mercyhurst (1.07).
“Two years ago this was a program that needed a whole new identity. We were struggling and not given a lot of hope to survive.
“We play a puck control game. We don’t come out and try to survive. We need to go out and score a lot of goals to win games.”
Lots of goals, though, don’t always translate to wins.
“[This year] we’ve put more of a focus on our defensive responsibilities,” Bretti continued. “We sense that any opponent we play will [challenge us with] a close-to-body matchup. Teams that play us want to take away the time of the forwards and stay on the man. So we want to be a little more of a physical team. We know that [in the second half] we won’t get the amount of opportunities we get in the first half of the year.”
Thinking this way, Bretti isn’t concerned much about who his next opponent is, but rather that his team is ready for the challenge.
“You’re at a point right now that teams are coming in with a playoff mentality,” Bretti said. “Any opponent we play right now is a battle; it doesn’t matter who it is.
Bretti admits that though defense is a priority, it’s nice to be deep in scoring. That’s something that has continued to improve.
“Last year, we didn’t really even have three lines. We converted two defensemen to forward so that we could have three lines,” Bretti said. “Now we’ve got three scoring lines. Our focus against Holy Cross (a 4-3 overtime victory) was to have all three lines contributing. I believe that a lot of people’s game plan is to stop one or two of our lines. So we want to come out with three solid lines.”
Regardless, standing at 10-3-2 in MAAC games, the Gaels have put themselves in position to claim one of the top seeds for the tournament, and depending on Friday’s outcome against top dog Mercyhurst, possibly the league title.
Wounded Indians Hurt Braves’ Chances
“On paper, we’re a better hockey team than we were last year.”
If that’s the case, I’d wish the games were played on paper. And so would Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, maker of that statement, and one who has seen his once-potent Braves fall from the top of the MAAC heap into third place, causing some concern around the Hamden, Conn., campus.
“We’ve lost a few games and people around the campus are saying ‘What the heck is going on around here?'” said Pecknold. “I think we took for granted the success we’ve had in the past.”
Maybe so, but right now it certainly doesn’t help that many of Pecknold’s key producers are nursing injuries, making the Braves’ lineup depleted.
At last count, no fewer than six members of the Quinnipiac lineup were banged up, starting with Neil Breen and Chad Poliquin, two players critical to the offense and team defense. Both are listed as day-to-day — Poliquin even dressed for Quinnipiac’s 2-1 overtime loss to Army on Tuesday, though Pecknold admitted he only dressed him to have enough bodies.
Adding to the list of injuries defensemen Ben Blais, a transfer from St. Lawrence finally eligible to play this season, rookie forward Ryan Morton, junior forward Todd Bennett, and junior blueliner Dan Ennis, who will be out for the rest of the season.
But Pecknold won’t blame injuries for his team’s lackluster play.
“We’re trying everything,” Pecknold said. “We need guys to break out of their slumps and I need the senior class to step up and play to their abilities. They say you win with juniors and seniors, and that’s what we need to happen.
“There’s no question I’m confident that we’re still one of the top teams in the league. Now we just have to play like it.”
TV Contract, Tourney Times Finalized
The MAAC announced on Tuesday that, once again, the championship game of the MAAC tournament will be televised live. According to league officials, Empire Sports Network and MSG Network will both televise the game live at noon on Saturday, March 17. New England Sports Network, which last year televised the game on tape delay, is evaluating the possibility of a live broadcast as well.
At more than 10 million homes, the MAAC championship will be the widest reaching of the six conference tournaments for the second year in a row. League officials said that they considered televising the semifinal games, which will be held on Thursday, March 15 at 4:00 and 7:30 P.M., but broadcast costs kept the league from pursuing that option this season.
This year’s tournament will be again held at the UConn Ice Arena in Storrs, Conn. Additional attention will be paid, of course, with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. Last week, the league announced that Holy Cross, the host of the inaugural tournament in 1999, will play host to the 2002 MAAC Championship.
Around the League
The Yellow Jackets lost to Army, 6-5, on Friday night but came back to beat the Black Knights, 5-4, on Saturday night… American International plays at Quinnipiac on Friday night at 7:00 in their only game this week… Sophomore forward Andy Luhovy and senior captain Aaron Arnett netted two goals apiece in the Friday loss… Sophomore Alex Walsh continues to play well as he netted the first goal and game-winning goal in the come-from-behind win Satruday night. Walsh now has seven points (6-1-7) in five games this season… Luhovy provided the offense once again Saturday in the win against Army, scoring a goal and adding three assists… Senior forward Tom Cogan netted a shorthanded goal to tie the game 4-4 in the third period Saturday. The goal ended a 51-game shorthanded scoring drought for the Yellow Jackets… Senior goaltender Chance Thede played strong in net all weekend, stopping 30 shots Friday and 29 in Saturday’s win.
The Black Knights defeated American International, 6-5, on Friday night but lost to the Yellow Jackets, 5-4, on Saturday night. Army then went on to upset Quinnipiac Tuesday night, 2-1, in overtime. Army will host Canisius at 7:00 Friday night, and Sacred Heart at 7:00 Saturday night… Freshman Chris MacLeod , the ITECH/MAAC Rookie of the Week, recorded five points (2-3-5) over the weekend. He now has seven multi-point games this season, including three in a row… Senior goalie Ford Lannan stopped 23 of 24 shots on Friday after entering the game late in the first period with the score tied 4-4. He made his first start of the year on Saturday and made 18 saves in the 5-4 loss… Senior Mike Fairman collected his second straight three-point night on Friday, notching two goals and an assist. With 88 career points, he is now just 12 shy of becoming Army’s 51st 100-point scorer… Sophomore defenseman Kevin Emore notched his first collegiate goal on Friday… On Saturday, defenseman Josh Morino netted his third goal of the season and first since Oct. 21 at Union… In three games since being moved to defense, sophomore Joe Dudek has three assists and is +5.
The Falcons lost to Quinnipiac, 7-3, on Friday night and tied Connecticut, 3-3, on Tuesday night. The Falcons go on the road to play Sacred Heart at 7:00 Friday night and Fairfield at 8:00 Saturday night… After winning two straight games, Bentley had lost three in a row before Tuesday’s tie… Junior Paul Monzione scored two goals in Friday’s 7-3 loss to Quinnipiac. Monzione’s goals were his third and fourth of the season… Freshman goalie Bill Bridge earned his second straight start against Quinnipiac and the third of his career. He made 39 saves despite the loss… Bentley is 0-3 this season against its upcoming opponents. Bentley lost 10-3 to UConn, dropped a 5-3 decision to Sacred Heart and fell 5-2 to Fairfield in a wild game that featured more than 100 minutes in penalties… The Falcons will be looking for their first points of the season at home on Tuesday. Heading into the game with the Huskies, Bentley is 0-8-0 at home and 2-6-1 on the road.
The Ice Griffs extended their winning streak to five games with a 4-2 win over Quinnipiac on Tuesday night, a 5-3 win over Sacred Heart on Saturday, and a 6-5 win over Fairfield on Sunday… Canisius plays at Army at 7:00 Friday night and at Iona at 4:00 Saturday afternoon… Senior forward Todd Bisson , the ITECH/MAAC Player of the Week, recorded six points (3-3-6) in the three wins. He tallied three points (2-1-3) in the win over Sacred Heart and three points (1-2-3) in the win over Fairfield. He assisted on the game-winning goal in the victory against the Stags. He leads the team with 12 goals and 23 points (12-11-23)… Senior goalie Stephen Fabiilli won all three games, posting a 3.33 goals against average with 101 saves and a .910 save percentage… Canisius now has an all-time record of 11-0-0 against Fairfield… Six different players scored in the win over the Stags and 19 of 24 players have scored for Canisius this season.
The Huskies lost to ECAC member Union, 5-1, on Saturday night. Connecticut tied Bentley on Tuesday night, 3-3. Connecticut faces Quinnipiac at 7:00 Saturday night…The Huskies only goal against Union came eight seconds into the third period on a shot by sophomore forward Kurt Kamienski. He was assisted by senior forward Eric Goclowski… Junior goalie John Chain suffered the loss in net stopping 25 Union shots… The game against Union ended Connecticut’s nonconference schedule. The Huskies finished with a 0-7-1 record against nonconference opponents. They tied Hockey East member UMass-Amherst, 2-2, on November 16… The Huskies defeated Bentley, 10-3, on November 3. The game against Quinnipiac will be the first matchup with the Braves this season.
The Stags lost road games at Mercyhurst, 5-2, on Saturday night and at Canisius, 6-5, on Sunday afternoon… Fairfield plays at Holy Cross at 7:00 Friday night and hosts Bentley at 8:00 Saturday night… Sophomore Rae Metz (Kent, OH) had a pair of goals and a pair of assists in the two games, while freshman Hunter Greeley registered his first and second collegiate goals, one in each game… The Stags outshot their opponents 73-52 this weekend (Mercyhurst, 29-27, and Canisius, 44-25)… Freshman goaltender Craig Schnappinger recorded each of the losses, making 22 stops on Saturday and 19 on Sunday… Metz’s four point weekend brought his season total to 21 points (10-11-21) and vaulted him back into the MAAC overall scoring chase. He now sits in a tie for seventh place, eight points behind the leader… Sophomore defenseman Steve Calderara’s two points this weekend brings his season total to 12 points (4-8-12) and ranks him third among overall MAAC defenseman scoring.
The Crusaders lost another tough game, a 4-3 overtime loss to Iona, on Thursday night and lost to ECAC opponent Yale, 6-1, on Saturday night… Holy Cross entertains Fairfield at 7:00 Friday night and Mercyhurst at 7:00 Saturday night… Freshman goaltender Rick Massey made 33 saves in net for the Crusaders against Yale, including 17 in the first period… Sophomore forward Brandon Doria tallied a goal and an assist this week, both on the power play. He assisted on freshman forward Greg Kealey’s goal vs. Iona, and he scored the Crusaders only goal against Yale… Holy Cross defeated Fairfield, 3-1, in their last meeting, January 6th at the Hart Center… Mercyhurst defeated the Crusaders, 6-2, in the last meeting between these two teams, October 27 at Mercyhurst. That game was the conference opener for Holy Cross… Holy Cross is 2-2-0 in its last four MAAC contests… The Crusaders play five of their next seven games at home.
The Gaels defeated Holy Cross, 4-3 in overtime, on Thursday night in their only action of the week… Iona plays two home games this week. They battle Mercyhurst at 7:30 Friday night and Canisius at 4:00 Saturday afternoon… Sophomore forward Ryan Manitowich scored the game-winner with just over a minute left in overtime to complete the comeback for the Gaels… Iona lost at Mercyhurst, 6-1, and won at Canisius, 7-2, in earlier meetings this season… The victory over Holy Cross extended their conference win streak to five games… In their new home, Sports Plus Rink at New Roc City, the Gaels hold a 6-1-2 record versus league opponents… Manitowich’s game-winner against Holy Cross was his league-leading fourth of the season… MAAC assist leader Nathan Lutz snapped a five-game scoring drought with an assist in the win over Holy Cross.
The Lakers defeated Fairfield, 5-2, Saturday night and Sacred Heart, 4-0, on Sunday afternoon to remain in first place… Mercyhurst goes on the road to faceoff against Iona at 7:30 Friday night and Holy Cross at 7:00 Saturday night… Junior forward Tom McMonagle stretched his scoring streak to four games with two goals and three assists in the two wins… Freshman goalie Matt Cifelli made his second career and first MAAC start a memorable one by stopping all 18 Sacred Heart shots in the 4-0 win… Junior goalie Peter Aubry, the ITECH/MAAC Goalie of the Week, stopped 27 of 29 Fairfield shots in the 5-2 win. It was Aubry’s 13th straight conference start as he improved his MAAC record to 11-1-1. The game also marked the 12th time in 13 MAAC games that Aubry and the Lakers held the opponent to two goals or less… McMonagle’s linemates Eric Ellis (4 assists) and Louis Goulet (1 goal, 2 assists) also had productive weekends as the line totaled 12 points in the two games.
The Braves were defeated by Canisius, 4-2, on Tuesday night and beat Bentley, 7-3, on Friday night to end a two game losing streak. But those winning ways ended quickly as Quinnipiac fell to Army, 2-1 in overtime, on Tuesday night. Quinnipiac hosts American International at 7:00 Friday night and Connecticut at 7:00 Saturday night… Senior forward Jed Holtzman totaled five points (2-2-5) in the two games. The two-point effort (1-1-2) against Canisius snapped Holtzman’s six-game point-scoring drought. Holtzman now has 121 career points, good for eighth on the Quinnipiac career scoring list… Junior forward Todd Bennett tallied a career high three assists in the win over Bentley… When the Braves score first in a game, they are 10-1-1. In addition, Quinnipiac has scored five or more goals in a game seven times this season, recording a 6-0-1 mark in those games… Senior forward Chris Cerrella is the top scorer in the MAAC with 29 points (13-16-29). He has recorded a team-best four multiple-goal and 10 multiple-point efforts on the season. He has scored at least one point in 16 of the Braves’ 21 games this season.
The Pioneers lost road games at Canisius, 5-3, on Saturday night and at Mercyhurst, 4-0, on Sunday… Sacred Heart has a tilt at home against Bentley on Friday night at 7:00 and goes on the road to play Army at 7:00 Saturday night… Senior Eddy Bourget notched two goals and an assist in Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Canisius. The senior has two goals and five assists on the year for seven points… Senior Eric Drake played in his 100th game as a Pioneer against Mercyhurst. He trails Paul Adimando (1996-2000) by eight in career games played with 108… Sophomore Eddy Ferhi had 25 saves against Mercyhurst on Sunday. For the year, he has a 4-4-2 mark with 324 saves and a 2.58 goals against average… Sacred Heart will play all but two of their remaining games at the Milford Ice Pavilion. Their two road games are at Army this Saturday and on February 16.