It certainly is early in the hockey season. A lot has happened thus far. North Dakota opened its palace (guess the word barn doesn’t work here); Michigan and Michigan State kissed one another’s sisters in front of the largest audience to watch a hockey game.
But over in the MAAC, the world is quiet: only three games in the first week of collegiate play and all were exhibitions.
UConn was the first MAAC team to show its face, losing handily to McGill University out of Montreal. A night later, Sacred Heart, a team looking to make a statement in the MAAC for the first time, knocked off the same McGill team, 3-1. And Tuesday night, the defending MAAC champion, Mercyhurst, begun its bid for a repeat with a 2-2 exhibition tie against Brock University.
What does this mean? Basically nothing.
For coaches, exhibitions are exactly that: a chance for them to exhibit their talent and, even for themselves, see how some players respond in game situations.
Week two of the MAAC schedule will lend little increase in excitement. Five more exhibitions take place, with Army hosting Seneca for two games, the University of Toronto traveling to Canisius, and AIC and St. Nick’s, the junior home of Hobey Baker himself, squaring off in Springfield, Mass. The next day, St. Nick’s will head east and play Holy Cross.
But fear not, MAAC play with open in traditional fashion (if you can say that for a league only four years old). For the fourth straight year, Quinnipiac and Iona will open the MAAC league slate when the two face off in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Saturday night.
Typically, this would be billed as another chance for Iona to pull off the upset, as the Gaels have been one of the few teams to enjoy any sort of success against the traditional powerhouse of Quinnipiac since the league first started. But this year, the stage is certainly different.
For once, Iona will be the favorite, having been picked second in the league coaches’ poll, compared to the fifth-place favor that the Braves got. Still, it’s hard to imagine, having watched the league since its inception, that Quinnipiac will be an underdog.
The Braves lost 13 players from last year’s squad that was within minutes from a trip to the NCAA championships. But importantly, the Braves do return some solid players, particularly goaltender Justin Eddy and defenseman Matt Erhart. The X-factor that will make or break the Braves is the talent of the 15 incoming freshmen.
Nonleague action, prevalent over the next two weeks, will see Bentley travel to Alabama-Huntsville for two, Findlay and Mercyhurst play a home and home, and Fairfield play a Friday/Sunday doubleheader at Air Force.
All-League, or Not
With little to write about this early in the season, it seems a perfect time to look at the players who might make a difference in the MAAC this season. The league coaches voted the six players they thought should comprise the MAAC’s All-League first team. So now, with pen in hand, here are my thoughts on their selections.
Ryan Manitowich, Iona
Of the three forwards named, I think that Manitowich is the most deserving. At 6-foot, 185-pounds, Manitowich has the speed and skill to make him stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league. In two seasons with the Gaels, he’s posted 71 points, with 42 of those being goals. Last season alone, he led the Gaels with 13 multiple point games and five game-winning goals. In this writer’s opinion, he’s impossible to overlook for league honors.
Louis Goulet, Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst last season enjoyed what few college hockey teams ever will. They had the chance to play the role of Cinderella and did so in all splendor. For then-junior Louis Goulet, the stage was set for what possibly could be a senior year to top the prior. Goulet, unlike fellow standouts and graduated seniors Eric Ellis and Jeff Gould, returns for his final season with the Lakers. Having posted the team high in points and assists (43 and 27, respectively — both tying with Adam Tackaberry), Goulet will certainly be expected to shoulder a bit of the Mercyhurst offensive production. This will be the season that Goulet will have the chance to show his net worth. Now, can he produce?
Rae Metz, Fairfield
Fairfield’s Rae Metz could easily develop Rodney Dangerfield syndrome. Metz has certainly proved to the critics that he can play and be an impact player at this level. But without his Fairfield team enjoying a lot of success, Metz may struggle a bit to feel his full value. Consider this: Fairfield only scored 101 goals last year. Metz figured in 38 of them. He was one of only four players to lace up the skates for all 32 Fairfield games last season. With a new dawn upon the horizon and strong potential for Fairfield, look for Metz’s impact to become more noticed day by day around the league.
Should have been there
If it were my ballot, I think I’d be hard pressed to keep Mercyhurst’s Adam Tackaberry and Sacred Heart’s Marty Paquet off the first team. One could argue that Tackaberry and Goulet are interchangeable (they had identical stats last year, ironically). But my vote would go towards the Tack, who stands and plays three inches bigger than Goulet at 6-foot.
Nathan Lutz, Iona
Similar to Manitowich, Lutz was a pretty easy pick on defense. Every coach I polled towards the end of last season had Lutz on his list of top defensemen. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Lutz stands tall enough to be an impact in front of the Gael net. And his offensive talents are easily recognized, as he sat second on a talented team of offensive producers last season with 38 points (seven goals, 31 assists). He will be the backbone of the Iona defense this season if they are to make the anticipated run toward the league crown.
Steve Tobio, Bentley
In my opinion, it’s hard to choose any defensemen from a team that averaged nearly five and a half goals against per game last season. But the MAAC coaches did exactly that, choosing Steve Tobio from Bentley. Tobio is a player who leads with size, and thus it’s not surprising that Jim McAdam named him the team’s captain as only a junior. He’s certainly the most talented player Bentley has to offer, but that doesn’t say a lot. His offensive skills are hard to match for a blueliner, with a wicked shot on the power play that has led to 21 goals in his first three seasons. But his defense can be suspect at times, which is what makes him a surprise choice in my eyes.
Should have been there
In the biggest overlook of the entire voting, somehow Quinnipiac’s Matt Erhart was left off both the first and second all-league teams. Many coaches have spoken highly about this stalwart defenseman, but obviously, not enough to earn him recognition. To analyze is to see that his offensive numbers did decrease from his freshman to his sophomore season (a difference of eight assists, total). But Braves coach Rand Pecknold would be the first to say that he’d be lost without Erhart.
I guess it’s simply impossible not to recognize Peter Aubry as the best goaltender in the league. It was Aubry who kept miracle hopes alive in the NCAA West Regional last season, posting save after save in the game before falling, 4-3, to Michigan. But his effort did not go unrecognized, as the media named Aubry to the All-Regional team, a major national honor for any MAAC player. If he stands as solid in net again this season, it’s almost impossible to think that any team can dethrone Mercyhurst from the top of the MAAC. But you never know what a difference a year can make.
Should have been there
Truly, it’s hard to say that any goaltender besides Aubry should be named the top in the league. But to note a couple who will give him a run for his money: Quinnipiac’s Justin Eddy, Sacred Heart’s Eddy Ferhi, and Canisius’ Sean Weaver, back this season from a knee injury. Goaltending is probably the deepest position in the MAAC this year, which may translate into a more consistent defensive effort and possibly national respect.