Glory Days

“It seems like just yesterday that they were little.”

How may times do we hear that around our lives? Our nieces and nephews as they go away to college. A teenager on a first date. Or our sons and daughters on their first day of kindergarten.

It seems like just yesterday that the MAAC was little.

Similar ring — maybe because it really was recently that the upstart league got its start.

But look at it now.

Six months removed from its glory day, when league champ Mercyhurst took traditional powerhouse Michigan down to the wire in the national championships before falling, 4-3, the league begins its fourth season. Finally, the MAAC has reached the point that every one of its players were recruited as MAAC players — not hockey players who “hoped” to someday play in this then-conceptual Division I league.

Louis Goulet helped Mercyhurst to the NCAA tournament last season.

Louis Goulet helped Mercyhurst to the NCAA tournament last season.

And one look around the league will tell everyone that it is in a pretty good state. The NCAA recognizes the efforts and, as all well know, awarded an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament to the young conference. Member schools are committing more resources to the programs every day. National sponsors continue to support the league even in a time when corporate spending is way down.

So, now, with some success in hand, it is time for the league to build on the foundation. A good starting point will be scholarships.

Currently the MAAC league allows schools to issue the financial equivalent of 11 full scholarships. That’s seven scholarships below the NCAA limit for ice hockey, 18.

Reasoning, to this point, is sensible. The MAAC is a cost-containment league. Most of its members have made recent transitions to Division I, and thus, not all schools have anywhere near the extravagant budgets of Michigan, Boston College and other national powers.

But scholarships mean recruiting. And the only way that teams in a league can and will compete successfully against national powers is to win recruiting battles.

Talking to some coaches in the league, a few of those battles are being won right now. But if the MAAC is to ever achieve the level of even the weakest “big four” league, the ECAC, it will need the financial commitment of 18 scholarships.

Another issue the league is determined to work on is its size. Currently at 11 teams, the league would like to expand by one more member. Commissioner Rich Ensor said that the league is actively looking for that member and thought that they had might have had a bite in Niagara.

One of the most successful members of College Hockey America, Niagara, looked to join the MAAC when the CHA was in danger of not being eligible for an NCAA auto-bid. But recent decisions by the NCAA regarding the classification of the University of Findlay made the league eligible for the bid as early as the 2003 season.

Thus the search will continue for Ensor. But he stands committed to making such a move, according to his media day speech.

Off-ice issues such as these lead us to look more at the on-ice picture. For the first time since the inaugural season of 1998, Quinnipiac University was not picked to finish first in the coaches’ poll. Instead the honor was bestowed to defending regular- and postseason champ Mercyhurst.

In fact, not only did Quinnipiac not finish first, the Braves finished all the way in fifth place in the balloting. But with good reason.

The Braves suffered probably the largest graduation loss of any team in the country — 13 players. That forced coach Rand Pecknold to bring 15 freshmen into his lineup — 15 X-factors. Personally, I think that the coaches are underestimating the talent of this incoming crop. In the years leading up to now, recruiting has been the specialty of Quinnipiac, so there’s little reason to see that differently now.

Other teams to watch for will be Sacred Heart, Iona and Canisius. All three had impressive teams last season and were basically a bounce of the puck away from becoming finishing from first. None suffered major losses to graduation, so look to them to round out the top five.

But parity is the name of the game in this young league. After what I see as a clear-cut first (Mercyhurst) and second- (Iona) place teams, you can basically roll the dice to figure the rest.

That said, here’s my view on how this will all fall out. The standard disclaimer applies: any gambling conducted based on these picks is the sole responsibility of the idiot who listens to me, and not the writer himself. Click on any team name for its individual season preview.

1. Mercyhurst College
Location: Erie, Penn.
Coach: Rick Gotkin (13th season, 209-122-17)
Last year: 22-12-2 (19-6-1 MAAC, 1st Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 19/4
Key Losses: Jody Robinson, D; Eric Ellis, LW; Jeff Gould, C
Key Recruits: David Rigley, LW; Rich Hansen, F; Mike Kirby, D; T.J. Kemp, D

2. Iona College
Location: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Coach: Frank Bretti (Fourth season, 35-51-7)
Last year: 18-13-4 (16-6-4 MAAC, T-2nd Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 23/3
Key Losses: Adam Bouchard, C; Chris Baboulis, D; Ben Brady, G
Key Recruits: Brent Williams, C; Trevor McCall, D; Scott Galenza, G

3. Quinnipiac University
Location: Hamden, Conn.
Coach: Rand Pecknold (Seventh season, 97-59-13)
Last year: 22-11-4 (17-7-2 MAAC, T-2nd Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 14/13
Key Losses: Chris Cerrella, LW; Shawn Mansoff, RW; Chad Poliquin, C; Jed Holtzman, C; Anthony DiPalma, D; J.C. Wells, G
Key Recruits: Jamie Holden, G; Chris Chandler, D; Tommy Watkins, D; Chris Tarr, C; Matt Craig, C

4. Sacred Heart University
Location: Fairfield, Conn.
Coach: Shaun Hannah (Fifth season, 49-57-6)
Last year: 14-12-5 (11-10-5 MAAC, T-5th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 22/5
Key Losses: Alexi Jutras-Binet, G; Eric Drake, LW; Eddy Bourget, RW
Key Recruits: Garrett Larson, LW; Brad McFaul, D; Ryan Bremner, D; Kevin Lapointe, G; Noel Henck, D

5. Canisius College
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
Coach: Brian Cavanaugh (20th season, 276-235-36)
Last year: 17-12-4 (13-9-4 MAAC, 4th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 19/7
Key Losses: Stephen Fabilli, G; Matt Shewchuk, F; Todd Bisson, F; Jason Spence, D
Key Recruits: Fred Coccomiglio, F; Ryan Corcoran, F; Josh Zavitz, D; Marc Pursick, D; Ryan Lahaye, D

6. University of Connecticut
Location: Storrs, Conn.
Coach: Bruce Marshall (13th season, 182-127-27)
Last year: 12-19-4 (12-11-3 MAAC, T-5th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 22/5
Key Losses: Michael Goldkind, C; Ciro Longobardi, LW
Key Recruits: Adam Rhein, D; Mike Hoffman, D; Matt Grew, F; Justin Postiglione, F

7. United States Military Academy
Location: West Point, N.Y.
Coach: Rob Riley (16th season, 214-236-0)
Last year: 12-20-0 (11-15-0 MAAC, T-7th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 16/6
Key Losses: Mike Fairman, F; K.C. Finnegan, F; Andy Haskell, D
Key Recruits: Nichola Cahill, D; Chad Fifeld, F; Tom McCarthy, D; John Yaros, G

8. Fairfield University
Location: Fairfield, Conn.
Coach: Jim Hunt (Second season, 11-19-2)
Last year: 11-19-2 (10-14-2 MAAC, T-7th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 19/1
Key Loss: Tim Viens
Key Recruits: Ryan Porter, F; Eamon DelGiacco, D; Mike Wolf, G; Andrew Martin, G

9. College of the Holy Cross
Location: Worcester, Mass.
Coach: Paul Pearl (Sixth season, 74-60-9)
Last year: 8-22-2 (8-16-2 MAAC, 10th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 20/3
Key Losses: Tim Cantwell, D; Brian Akashein, F
Key Recruits: Andrew McKay, LW; Jonas Tomiuck, RW, Tony Coskren, D

10. American International College
Location: Springfield, Mass.
Coach: Gary Wright (17th season, 197-226-25)
Last year: 10-20-1 (10-15-1 MAAC, 9th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 15/6
Key Losses: Aaron Arnett, D; Chance Thede, G
Key Recruits: Frank Novello, G; Chad Davis, G

11. Bentley College
Location: Waltham, Mass.
Coach: Jim McAdam (Ninth season, 97-108-14)
Last year: 4-23-2 (3-21-2 MAAC, 11th Place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 17/3
Key Losses: Andy Cavanaugh, D
Key Recruits: Simon St. Pierre, G; Bryan Goodwin, C; Seth Vinocur, D