This Week in the MAAC: Jan. 24, 2002

Gaels Flying High Again

Iona had strong expectations coming into the season. Rightfully the Gaels should have after a solid run last year that stopped a game short of the MAAC final. Combine that with the fact that the Gaels lost only three players — and excluding goaltender Ben Brady, none were key contributors — and the expectations seem justified.

But just two weeks ago, the Gaels weren’t impressing many. A six-game winless streak included being swept at Canisius and a tie against last-place Bentley. At one stretch, Iona was 1-4-1 in six league games, and over that same stretch, 2-8-1 overall.

Next, though, for Iona were three consecutive offensive explosions. A 5-2 win over Bentley a night after a 4-4 tie, coupled with 5-2 and 7-2 victories over AIC last weekend have propelled Iona back into the world of the living.

For Iona coach Frank Bretti, he kept his message to his team simple going into last Friday’s win over AIC. A sign that read, “We need this one,” was the extent of his entire pregame motivational speech.

Obviously, it worked.

The Gaels sit tied for fourth place with Canisius holding an all-important two games in hand. Those two play out this weekend while Canisius is playing nonleague games against Findlay.

That is the good news for Iona.

The bad news, though, is that Iona will travel to Mercyhurst to play a Laker team that hasn’t lost a league game this year. Moreover, Mercyhurst has only given up three or more goals twice, which could put Iona’s suddenly revitalized offense back in its place.

Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin would like to see that defensive pattern continue.

“We know Iona is an excellent team,” said Gotkin. “They are starting to play very well and they’re confident again.

“Iona’s style is to like to fly guys. Everything they do is predicated on their offensive ability. So we’re going to have to counter on some of those and take advantage of some of those opportunities.

“We’re not keying on [any one player] specifically. We just have to be solid in our end of the ice and contain them off the rush.”

Bretti and Iona, though, are hoping that it’s not just one player that a team like Mercyhurst would need to key on. Though senior Ryan Carter has been on a torrid scoring pace of late, contributions from all four lines have been the Gaels’ key to success.

“Any team that is going to be successful is going to get the most out of everybody,” Bretti said. “It’s important for some of our guys who traditionally are not goal scorers to step up and take care of business.”

One good example of that is Mike LoCicero. The senior who scored only one goal in his first ten games has notched three in his last four.

“I have been working hard all four years,” said LoCicero, who has played in 14 of Iona’s 20 games this season. “I have just been in the right place at the right time and I have been able to bury the puck.”

Said Bretti: “Mike LoCicero is a good example of a guy that has been getting some points lately and has been rewarded for it by jumping up the depth chart.”

In addition to offensive contributions, Bretti and his squad also have been able to rely on goaltending in the last four outings. Rookie Scott Galenza, who started the season on a great pace, and junior Mike Fraser, were each given the chance to show their mettle the last two weekends. With seven out of eight points taken, they’ve done just that.

Still, Bretti is unsure if tandem goaltending is the solution for his club down the stretch.

If we don’t we’re not going to win the game — flat out. “We’ve been going with a split [goaltending] situation over the last few years,” said Bretti. “I’m not sure if that will happen down the stretch. I’m kind of leaning towards giving one goaltender the games in the end of the season. Goaltending is going to be a key to us down the stretch to make the run.”

As for what his team needs to do to get that stretch run off to a good start against Mercyhurst, Bretti says, “The number-one key for us is not to go in and be someone who we’re not. We need to go in and finish opportunities.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week Ryan Carter, Iona Sr., Forward, Ft. Nelson, B.C.

Carter continued his hot streak, helping the Gaels to two wins versus AIC. The senior forward notched two goals (including the game winner in Friday’s match) and three assists on the weekend. Over the past four games Carter has tallied 13 points, the highest four-game scoring output of his career.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: Peter Aubry, Mercyhurst Sr., Goalie, Windsor, ONT

Aubry stopped 49 of 51 shots (.961) in a 3-1 win at Canisius on Tuesday and a 3-1 win against Fairfield at Mercyhurst Saturday. Aubry is now 10-0-1 in the MAAC with a save percentage of .950 and a goals against average of 1.43.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Chris Casey, Army Fr., Forward, Framingham, MA

The freshman forward had a three-point night (1g, 2a) against fourth-place Quinnipiac in Saturday’s 4-2 win. He won a faceoff back to the point that led to the game’s equalizer in the first period, and then gave Army the lead for good with a goal of his own at the 17:38 mark of the opening frame. He also assisted on the eventual game winner five minutes into the second period. Casey was on the ice for three of Army’s four goals Saturday. He finished the weekend at +2 overall.

Back To The Good Ol’ Days

It’s been three years, but it’s hard to forget the rookie performance put forward by Iona’s Ryan Carter. During the inaugural MAAC campaign Carter scored 33 goals in 33 games coupled with 30 assists, which still stands as the best offensive season in league history.

In recent years, though, Carter’s statistics have dropped off. His sophomore season saw 40 points in 37 games, and last year, Carter netted only 32 points in 35 games. The beginning of this season looked similar. Entering a series with Bentley two weeks ago, Carter had just 15 points. Four games, though, saw him nearly double that, posting five points last weekend against AIC and eight the weekend before against Bentley.

“I don’t know why [I have been scoring] — probably just because I am shooting the puck more,” said Carter. “I think getting back into the conference has been a help and our confidence is really high.”

Connecticut In Rhode Island

Connecticut might want to consider to Providence, R.I., after the solid display of hockey the Huskies put on last weekend. Sitting dangerously close to missing the playoffs, UConn packed its bags and made the nonleague jaunt to take on Providence and Brown.

Playing back-to-back games against established D-I programs was probably not the ideal situation coach Bruce Marshall was looking to cure a reeling team. And though there’s no sure way yet to know if the Huskies’ league woes are cured, their performance in the Ocean State lent positive signs.

Backboned by a 54-save performance by goaltender Artie Imbriano on Friday night, the Huskies shocked Providence by stealing a 2-2 tie. Despite a lopsided advantage in shots (56-22), the Huskies hung tough and tied the game midway through the third period. It was the second time this season that UConn has tied a member of the “Big Four,” after a similar 2-2 tie at Vermont in December.

Equally as impressive, though, was Connecticut’s ability to hang with Brown on the second night of the two-game Rhode Island series. A night after Brown manhandled then-number two St. Cloud, UConn skated to a tough 2-0 loss. Unlike Friday’s game, though, the Huskies’ scoring opportunities were plentiful.

“Last weekend was the first time in a long time that we’ve played established teams back-to-back nights,” said Marshall. “It was encouraging to play very well the second night.

“We had a lot of good opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on. If we do, it might be a different game.”

Now, though, the pending question is, why can’t UConn’s success in nonleague games better translate in MAAC games? Sporting only a 4-6-4 record in league games, UConn stands just two points from missing the eighth and final playoff spot. Though they were able to limit Providence and Brown to only two goals each night, teams like Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart have exploded on the Huskies for five or more goals.

“We need to find a way to carry [good play in nonleague games] back to our league,” said Marshall. “We get four goals in the third against UMass one night and then get shut out by Sacred Heart another.”

No time is more desperate for UConn than over the next four games. Beginning with a home-and-home series with Fairfield, the Huskies play four games total against the Stags and co-cellar dweller Bentley. Four wins could catapult the Huskies into a race for home ice. Four losses could push them out of the playoffs.

“There’s not doubt that the next four games are extremely critical to us,” said Marshall. “Starting Friday night in Bridgeport we have to be ready to play our best hockey. We can’t worry about [teams] in front of us [in the standings]. We need to worry about who’s coming up from behind.”

Key, of course, to UConn’s tie at Providence last weekend was Imbriano’s play. Still, though, the Huskies are not resting goaltending duties solely on his shoulders.

“We’ve been trying to think as a staff if one [of the two goaltenders] can run the table,” said Marshall, referring also to netminder Jason Carey, who made 41 stops in defeat against Brown on Saturday. “But we tell them they’re going to split a weekend and they both play well.”

In addition to both goaltenders playing well right now, their mental attitude has helped ease the coaches’ decision.

“They get along really well and pull for the other guy,” said Marshall. “We might have the right two guys who can feed off one another down the stretch.”

Anthony Mastantuoni contributed to this report.