This Week in the MAAC: Jan. 10, 2002

Rivalries Get Canisius Back on Track

When the Canisius College hockey team returned to Buffalo in late December after the holiday break, there was no doubt the players were aching to get back on the ice. Little did they know that their return would be delayed and that, in the end, 34 days would pass between their game with Iona on December 8 and their next contest, due up this Friday evening.

The culprit that kept the Griffs off the ice: 84 inches of snow in what is detailed as the worst snowstorm in Buffalo’s history.

“You’d just finish shoveling the driveway and you look out and see 18 more inches of snow on the ground,” said Canisius head coach Brian Cavanaugh. “We thought about ways to get over to Buffalo State (Canisius’ practice facility) but the rink manager was snowed in and couldn’t even get over to open the building.”

In all, Cavanaugh’s club lost three days of practice and one game — a nonleague contest at Colgate.

Now after 34 days without playing a game, the Griffs will face off five times in the next nine days, beginning Friday evening with crosstown rival Niagara. Ironically, Niagara, situated only about 40 minutes away from Canisius, saw less than a foot of snow from the same storm.

“Our mental toughness might not be there in the first period [on Friday], but I think as the game goes on, that will return,” said Cavanaugh about the matchup with the Purple Eagles, which is part of the Punch Imlach Classic played at HSBC Arena. “My main concern is that we’re able to recover to play back-to-back nights. We haven’t done that in more than a month.”

Cavanaugh noted that the conditions at HSBC Arena won’t help his team much, as the climate inside the home of the Buffalo Sabres is generally very warm.

But the Griffs will need to rebound quickly, as Saturday night they begin a home-and-home series with MAAC top dog and rival Mercyhurst. At stake in the two-game series that concludes at Canisius on Tuesday night will be first place in the league. Currently, Mercyhurst stands two points ahead of Canisius with two games in hand.

To add a little more to the difficult task facing Canisius is the fact that Mercyhurst is blood-hungry. The Lakers are coming off an 8-1 romping dished out by Clarkson.

Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin didn’t hide the fact that the loss at Clarkson was one bad night.

“The two greatest moments of my coaching career were making the NCAA Tournament last year, and the moment the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night at Clarkson,” joked Gotkin. The loss was the second in a two-game series against the Golden Knights. “This week’s two games are important to us as, though, are all games.

“These games, one way or another, won’t end the season. There will still be 14 games left after we play Canisius and we hold two games in hand. So in essence there could be an eight- or 10-point swing.”

The history between Canisius and Mercyhurst goes far back beyond the formation of the MAAC. The two teams played together in the old ECAC West league before joining the MAAC, where the rivalry was perpetuated.

Interestingly, though, the rivalry goes back ever further.

“Brian Cavanaugh recruited me to play college hockey at Brockport State,” said Gotkin, who never played under Cavanaugh, as the elder coach left before the beginning of Gotkin’s freshman season. “We have a great relationship and he’s been a great supporter of me. Brian’s had a great [coaching] career, but on game night, we’re doing anything we can to win.”

Gotkin said that he doesn’t really consider Canisius a rival, stating that his team doesn’t get up for games against the Griffs more than any other team. Cavanaugh, though, disagrees.

“We’ve always had a rivalry with Mercyhurst, said Cavanaugh. “These two teams have a longer association of playing against each other than does Canisius and Niagara.”

It’s certainly true that the two clubs share a lot. Starting with the fact that both coaches graduated from Brockport, Mass., to the geographic location of the two schools. Many of the players on each club were recruited from the same area and played junior hockey together. And the two teams have even shared an assistant coach — Michael Sisti, who is now the head women’s coach at Mercyhurst, having coached under Gotkin and Cavanaugh in years prior.

So as these two teams face off this weekend, you may want to file this one under déjà vu — or maybe we should wait until March when there will be a good chance they meet again with a championship on the line.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week: Martin Paquet, Sacred Heart Jr., Forward, St. Catheran de la J.C., PQ

In last week’s series against Fairfield, Paquet assisted on the Sacred Heart’s only goal Friday night in a 1-1 tie. Back at the Milford Ice Pavilion on Saturday, Paquet had an impressive three-point game, finding Marc-Andre Fournier on the first two Pioneer goals and scoring the game-winner himself early in the third period. Paquet led the Pioneers with four points last weekend, and also leads the Pioneers in scoring this season with 17 points.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: John Yaros, Army Fr., Goalie, Bayside, NY

Yaros backstopped both ties against UConn on Friday and Saturday to improve to 2-5-4 on the year. Yaros made a career-high 44 saves on Friday and followed with 43 saves Saturday night. The 87 stops over the weekend was the most by an Army goaltender in one weekend in more than a decade. Yaros is 2-3-4 with a 2.46 goals against average this winter vs. MAAC opponents.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Matt Grew, UConn Fr., Forward, Yarmouthport, MA

Grew recorded his first career hat trick as a Husky in UConn’s 3-3 tie against Army on Friday. Grew scored one goal per period, each time propelling the Huskies in front of Army.

Davis Uses Opportunity to Validate

It’s not often enough as a writer that when you single someone or something out, that in the short term can back up what you write. A good example of this happened last season. For the first handful of weeks in the season, whatever team was featured on the frontpage — undoubtedly because of some type of success to that point — would lose the following weekend. It was almost like the curse of Sports Illustrated, noted for putting the preseason hex on most any team by featuring them on their cover.

AIC goaltender Chad Davis, though, is bucking that trend. After last week’s MAAC column that touted the Yellow Jackets’ rookie netminder — stating that thanks to an injury to Frank Novello, Davis would get his chance to prove himself — Davis did just that. Davis walked into Holy Cross Friday night and backstopped AIC to a 4-3 upset of the now-second place Crusaders. In doing so, Davis stopped 42 Holy Cross shots, balancing them nicely: 14 per period.

Of course, only fairy tales have completely happy endings. The following night Holy Cross lit up the rookie for six goals on 32 shots. But nonetheless, Davis still has proven that AIC’s goaltending tandem is in fact worth touting. Hats off to Gary Wright for finding two gems in the same season.

Close But No Cigar for Quinnipiac

About a year ago, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold saw a nightmare come true. His then-breakthrough Braves walked into Mariucci Arena with high hopes against a nationally-ranked Minnesota for a faceoff that could be seen coast-to-coast on cable television. The nightmare, of course, was watching Minnesota score off the opening draw, put up a four-spot in the first period and go on to an 11-2 thrashing.

A year later, Quinnipiac has lost a bit of its luster thanks to a big graduating class, but the team still boarded a plane out to East Lansing, Mich., with hopes of surprising another nationally-ranked team, No. 6 Michigan State.

Similar to their last trip West, wins were not found. But this time, Pecknold returned a bit happier with the results.

“There’s definitely positives to take out of the weekend,” said Pecknold, whose club dropped respectable 4-1 and 3-1 decisions to the Spartans despite being outshot badly both nights. “We played one of the best programs in the country and we hung in there with them. Certainly we were outshot, but there’s a lot of positives my team took out of it.”

Pecknold had plenty of reason to praise his opponent.

“Michigan State is awesome — I was very impressed with their team makeup,” said Pecknold. “Their six defensemen were fantastic. And [goaltender] Ryan Miller reminded me of Martin Brodeur the way he handled the puck.”

Though admitting that his team was a little nervous on Friday, a game that saw them spot Michigan State a 3-1 lead before the end of 40 minutes, Pecknold said that Saturday’s game could have gone Quinnipiac’s way.

“Saturday night we were tied in the second and we missed an open net on a 2-on-1,” said Pecknold. “After 39 minutes it was a 1-1 hockey game. We were probably two bounces away on Saturday from tying or winning that hockey game.”

But, alas, a loss is a loss and the two ‘L’s at Michigan State tally to five in a row for the Maize and Blue. An asterisk, though, might be necessary, as the five losses came to Providence, RPI (in double OT), Niagara and two at Michigan State. With the nonleague schedule complete for the year, Pecknold is happy to return to MAAC play.

“We’re playing well in these nonconference games, but in the MAAC we’re not putting teams away,” said Pecknold. “I hope our play in the last five games translated into league play.

More for the Money

A popular trend in the MAAC lately has been overtime. Quinnipiac played plenty of it in the RPI tournament, losing in the semifinals in double overtime. And the trend followed as many teams returned to league play last weekend. Three of the six MAAC league games, and one nonleague game last weekend needed the extra session. Of that, all but Iona’s OT loss to Colgate ended in a draw.

UConn and Army gave their fans double the value, battling to 3-3 and 4-4 ties on the weekend. Sacred Heart and Fairfield deadlocked at 1 on Friday night, though Saturday night Fairfield’s comeback fell a goal short and sent the fans home without anything extra.

In all, 18 games involving MAAC teams have gone to overtime this year. Only five of those have seen a winner.