This Week in the MAAC: Jan. 31, 2002

Renewing A “Rivalry?”

The MAAC has only existed for four short years but already throughout the league the word rivalry is being used. Mercyhurst and Canisius are two schools that seem natural rivals. Though their history goes far beyond the MAAC to the days of the ECAC West.

As these teams locked horns, though, a few weeks ago, Lakers coach Rick Gotkin was hesitant to use the term rivalry, saying that his team didn’t get up any more for Canisius then they would for another opponent.

Two coaches, though, who solidly agree they are rivals are Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold and Sacred Heart’s Shaun Hannah. Their clubs always seem to put forth the all-out effort that usually is reserved for the biggest of games. These folks know that the word “rivalry” is a dead-on description.

“[Quinnipiac/Sacred Heart] has definitely evolved into a big rivalry,” said Pecknold. “It was sort of in place before the MAAC started. For me it’s been eight years of good games with Sacred Heart.”

“In our locker room our guys get fired up for Quinnipiac games,” said Hannah.

One strange aspect of this rivalry, though, has been the result of the games. Never since joining the MAAC has Quinnipiac lost a game between the two clubs. The overall record over the first three and a half years is 9-0-2. That’s not exactly what you’d expect out of a bitter rivalry. Generally, college hockey’s best rivals have near-even records. Otherwise, you find a situation where only one team really feels strongly about a rivalry.

A good example of that exists just north of these schools in Boston. Boston College and Boston University are probably the bitterest of rivals. The all-time series is extremely close (though, thanks to poor record keep in the early 20th century, no one seems to have an accurate account of the all-time record). But just down the road from the two schools is Northeastern. The Huskies, without much of a doubt, consider BU their biggest rival. But the lop-sided edge the Terriers hold in the series keep BU from reciprocating the feeling.

So what keeps Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac in the scope of rivals? Pecknold thinks the explanation is simple.

“It’s an unusual situation where we’ve been fortunate to win a lot of close games,” said Pecknold. “The longer we go, though, without losing to Sacred Heart gives Coach Hannah more fuel for the fire.”

This weekend, though, history won’t be the only thing that adds to Hannah’s fire. For once, the stakes are very high for the match-up of these two clubs. Entering tomorrow night’s game, the two teams are tied for third place in the MAAC with identical 10-5-1 league records. Standing just two points ahead in second place is Holy Cross – a team that faces the a major task of facing front-runner Mercyhurst this weekend for two games in Worcester.

Translation: A sweep in the Quinnipiac/Sacred Heart series could have monumental impact. The winning end of a sweep would translate to a jump as high as second place, but minimally, the ability to keep pace with Holy Cross and Mercyhurst. Being swept could result in a fall as low as sixth place, as Iona and Canisius are nipping at the heels with two-game sets against Fairfield and Army respectively.

So what should you expect from this series?

Well, Sacred Heart has established itself as one of the best teams in the league on home ice. Boasting an impressive 7-1-0 record, twice in the last three weeks the Pioneers have responded to Friday night losses on the road (to UConn and Holy Cross) with top-notch home wins the following night. Once again, this weekend’s series begins with the Pioneers traveling to Quinnipiac. So history could repeat itself.

Quinnipiac, on the other hand, has been playing its best hockey of the season in January. Since dropping four consecutive non-league games to start the second half, the maize and blue have posted five wins in six games — the only loss coming to Army on the road.

Both coaches agree, though, that the biggest key to the series will be goaltending. Quinnipiac has a bit of a tandem option with flexibility to use both Jamie Holden and Justin Eddy. Sacred Heart, though, will likely use sophomore stalwart Eddy Ferhi.

Timing of the games, as well, for once seems critical. In past years, Quinnipiac has distanced itself in the standings from the Pioneers long before they met in the second half of the season. This year, though, with only five weeks remaining in the season and given the matching records, the series takes on a little bit of a playoff edge.

“There’s a lot at stake this weekend,” said Pecknold. “There will be a little bit of a playoff mentality.”

“I think we’re a team that is likely to finish in the top four,” said Hannah. “We’ve been playing well and our guys know what it takes.

“We’re tied in the standings [with Quinnipiac] right now so there will be a lot of energy coming in. We’ve never beat them and this is a hump I think our team wants to get over.”

And just in case you’re thinking of heading to southern Connecticut for the games, you might want to arrive a little bit early. Both coaches expect large crowds on each night.

“We’ve always drawn well for the home Quinnipiac game,” said Hannah. “I don’t think it will be different this weekend. The campus gets fired up when we play Quinnipiac in any sport.”

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Co-Players of the Week:
Patrick Rissmiller, Holy Cross
Sr., F, Belmont, Mass.

Rissmiller tallied three goals and three assists in two games over the weekend. Last Friday, he scored a goal and dished out three assists as the Crusaders downed visiting Sacred Heart 8-2. The following night he netted two goals in HC’s 5-3 loss to the Pioneers, it was his ninth multiple point game of the season. Rissmiller, has now scored at least one point in 10 consecutive games. He currently leads the Crusaders in assists (21) and points (34) and is tied for the team lead in goals (13).

Marc-Andre Fournier, Sacred Heart
So., F, St. Nicholas, Que.

Fournier led his team to a 5-3 win Saturday night over Holy Cross, the same team that beat them 8-2 just a night before. In Friday’s game, Fournier put one goal on the board for the Pioneers, but on Saturday, he scored not only the game-winner but also two others to give him the first Pioneer hat trick of the season. Fournier has tallied ten goals and six assists this season, including three goals on the power play.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week:
Jason Carey, UConn
So., G, Oakdale, Minn.

Carey earned his first shutout of the season and of his career in UConn’s 6-0 win over Fairfield. He stopped 25 shots on goal, and scored his first win since January 11 against Sacred Heart.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
Chris White, Quinnipiac
Fr., Forward, Santa Ana, Calif.

Freshman Chris White assisted on the first four Quinnipiac goals in Saturday’s win. Whites four points in the first period ties the MAAC record for most points in one period. Chris Fattay of Holy Cross had 4 assists against Iona on November 19, 1999. The four points were a season-high. White’s last multiple point game was on Nov. 16, 2001 against Iona when he scored 1-1-2.

Mercyhurst First To Clinch

With six weeks remaining in the regular season, only one MAAC team knows anything about its destiny. Defending regular- and post-season champion Mercyhurst became the first team to clinch a playoff berth by virtue of a weekend sweep of Iona, 6-2 and 5-2. At 14-0-2, Mercyhurst hold the longest unbeaten streak from the start of the season in MAAC history. Quinnipiac holds the all-time best regular season record with a 23-1-3 mark in the 1999-2000 season.

The Lakers will attempt to continue their winning ways this weekend against Holy Cross in Worcester, someplace Gotkin hopes to soon return very soon.

“Now that we know we’re going to get into the playoffs, if we’re going to be in the hunt for another title, it goes through Holy Cross,” said Gotkin referring to the fact that Holy Cross will be hosting the MAAC tournament this season. “No question Holy Cross is a great program having a great year. We know we’ll have to play very well this weekend if we’re going to win.”

Regarding making the playoffs, Gotkin wasn’t quick to play off the simply fact of the Lakers’ qualification.

“Making the playoffs has always been our first goal,” said Gotkin. “We have a lot of respect for this league. It’s nice to know we’ll end up in the top eight. Knowing that three good teams won’t make it to the playoffs we feel very fortunate.”

One down, three to go. With the playoffs clinched, the Lakers next goal is home ice, then the regular season title and finally the MAAC tournament title. All of which seem like not-so-lofty goals for this incredibly hot team.

Cavanuagh To Be Honored

Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh will be honored this weekend by the MAAC in a ceremony between periods of Saturday night’s game against Army. Cavanaugh earned his 300th victory earlier this season with a 9-2 win over Bentley on Nov. 2.

Cavanaugh is in his 23rd season behind the bench for the Golden Griffs. Over his career, he has compiled a 306-258-42 record, having compiled two 20-win seasons at Canisius in 1986-87 and 1999-2000.

Canisius hosts Army this weekend in a two game series in Buffalo.

Army Gets “First” At Opportune Time

The MAAC season is currently in its most crucial time schedule-wise. With an 11-team league, MAAC teams play every opponent three times. Generally, this translates to each team seeing one another twice over the season; once for a single game and a second time for a two-game weekend series. Excluding Mercyhurst, Canisius and sometimes Army, the two-game sets are the traditional home-and-home hockey series. The weeks immediately following the holiday break are generally when most home-and-home series are played, making this time of year very important.

To sweep a two-game series can often be the most difficult task in college hockey. Generally played on back-to-back nights, the losing team from the first night generally seems to be able to step up their play and split the series the second night.

The formula for success in the league is very simple: Teams with a lot of sweeps over the course of the season are successful; teams that split most series finish middle of the pack, and the teams who get swept most often usually miss the playoffs.

For Army, the first scenario is a totally foreign concept. Entering last weekend’s play, Army had never swept a weekend series from an opponent in its year-and-a-half existence in the MAAC. The result last season was a number eight seed in the playoffs. This year, it has translated into Army once again fighting for a playoff spot.

By alas, Army ended its ugly streak of splits and being swept last weekend by knocking off AIC on back-to-back nights – 4-3 on the road on Friday, 5-1 at home on Saturday. For the Black Knights, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The four-point weekend distanced Army from the bottom three teams: AIC (10 points), Fairfield and Bentley (six points each). More importantly, Army now stands only one point behind Connecticut and three behind Canisius and Iona. This weekend the military men will travel to Buffalo to face said Canisius team, where another sweep could translate into loftier dreams than ever expected.