2002-03 MAAC Season Preview

Was it really five seasons ago that all this mayhem began?

Personally, I remember living in New Haven, Conn., and working in the American Hockey League when there were rumblings about a new college hockey conference. I remember the talk that Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and Fairfield were all about to become Division I schools.

At the time, it just didn’t make sense. I was only a year removed from the college game and I couldn’t really imagine a new league or new teams entering.

But here we are. Five years later, the MAAC is not only a reality, it’s become a common name around the world of college hockey. I remember first writing this column and telling people “I cover the MAAC” — I got some of the strangest looks. I don’t think a tenth of the people I talked to had any idea what the MAAC was.

The ability of the league’s 11 member schools to recruit competitively … exists. Heck, the league itself, along one of its members — Canisius College — will host this year’s Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y.

Today, that’s all different. The credibility of the league has increased. The ability of the league’s 11 member schools to recruit competitively in tough junior and prep school markets exists. Heck, the league itself, along one of its members — Canisius College — will host this year’s Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y.

Buffalo? Yup, you’ve got that one right. So there won’t be a lot of chance of playing golf on the off day at this year’s Frozen Four. But there will be plenty to do in this hockey hotbed.

“The event has been sold out since early this summer,” said Tom Jacobs, director of championships for the NCAA. “The nice thing about having a sellout is that your energy can be spent on making it the best possible experience for the fans, rather than marketing the event itself.”

And trust me, folks, this promises to be an event like no other. If you can get there, go!

But I digress.

With added credibility and a richer talent pool, the MAAC will venture into season five with heightened expectations. The league itself is as competitive as it’s ever been, with parity from the number-one to number-11 slots. Come March, three teams won’t make the postseason even though all may be deserving.

At the same time, competition is heating up for MAAC schools outside the league. MAAC members will play a total of 42 games against 20 “Big Four” opponents this season — including three from last year’s Frozen Four (Michigan, New Hampshire and Maine) — highlighted by Iona College’s daunting nonleague schedule of Providence, Alaska-Anchorage, Colorado College, Rensselaer, Mass-Amherst, Union, Maine and Brown.

Now comes the question: How much nonleague success will the MAAC have? The answer is yet to be seen, but one believes that it would increase from the handful of wins and ties clubs have mustered to date. With this being the fifth season, every player on a roster was recruited after the MAAC league began — so every player on all 11 rosters was recruited as a Division I-caliber player.

Regardless, the competition promises to be tough all around the MAAC. With crystal ball in hand, I will try my best to project the order of finish (the school’s name links to each individual team’s preview).

1. Mercyhurst
Location: Erie, Pa.
Coach: Rick Gotkin (15th season, 256-142-24)
Last year: 24-10-3 (21-2-3 MAAC, first place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 18/6
Key Losses: Peter Aubry, G; Louis Goulet, C; Brad Olsen, C; Mark Varteressian, D
Key Recruits: David Borrelli, F; Preston Briggs, D; Conrad Martin, D; Andy Franck, G

2. Holy Cross
Location: Worcester, Mass.
Coach: Paul Pearl (Eighth season, 99-96-18)
Last year: 17-12-5 (14-7-5 MAAC, T-third place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 21/4
Key Losses: Pat Rissmiller, F; Derek Cunha, G; Tony Delusio, C
Key Recruits: Pierre Napert-Frenette, F; Peter Bartline, G; Tony Quesada, G

3. Quinnipiac
Location: Hamden, Conn.
Coach: Rand Pecknold (Eighth season, 124-65-16)
Last year: 20-13-5 (15-6-5 MAAC, second place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 18/7
Key Losses: Neil Breen, F; Todd Bennett, F; Ryan Olsen, F
Key Recruits: Aaron Ludwig, F; John Kelly, F; Dan Rossi, D

4. Sacred Heart
Location: Fairfield, Conn.
Coach: Shaun Hannah (Sixth season, 81-86-13)
Last year: 16-14-4 (15-8-3 MAAC, T-third place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 21/4
Key Losses: Peter McRae, F/D; Lloyd Marks, F; Paul Spesito, F; Chris Mokos, F
Key Recruits: Rocco Molinaro, C; Bernie Schmiel, D; Erik Roos, RW

5. Connecticut
Location: Storrs, Conn.
Coach: Bruce Marshall (14th season, 202-140-31)
Last year: 13-16-7 (11-10-5 MAAC, sixth place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 21/6
Key Losses: Mike Boylan, D; Matt Herhal, F
Key Recruits: Eric St. Arnauld, F; Andy Muschinski, F; Mike Hoffman (redshirt), D

6. Army
Location: West Point, N.Y.
Coach: Rob Riley (17th season, 223-253-30)
Last year: 9-17-6 (9-11-6 MAAC, eighth place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 27/6
Key Losses: Joe Carpenter, F; Tim Fisher, F; Nathan Mayfield, F
Key Recruits: Nick Hamm, D; Corey Rudd, D; Brad Roberts, G

7. Iona
Location: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Coach: Frank Bretti (Sixth season, 65-86-12)
Last year: 13-18-2 (12-12-2 MAAC, seventh place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 11/15
Key Losses: Ryan Carter, F; Nathan Lutz, D; Rob Kellogg, F; John Gilbert, F
Key Recruits: Neil Clark, LW; Chris Martini, C; Aaron Kakepetum, D; Jamie Carroll, LW

8. Canisius
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
Coach: Brian Cavanaugh (21st season, 290-252-40)
Last year: 14-17-4 (13-9-4 MAAC, fifth place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 12/11
Key Losses: Sean Weaver, G; Steve Birch, D; Brad Kenney, F; Chris Duggan, F; Corey Lucas, David Deeves, F
Key Recruits: Dan Bognar, C/LW; Dave Ovcjak, RW/LW; John Durno, RW/LW

9. American International
Location: Springfield, Mass.
Coach: Gary Wright (19th season, 212-270-29)
Last year: 7-21-0 (6-20-0 MAAC, ninth place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 17/5
Key Losses: Oliver Gagnon, F; Kevin Fournier, D
Key Recruits: Preston Cicchine, D; Andy Walbert, F; Ryan Robin, F; C.J. McConnell, F

10. Fairfield
Location: Fairfield, Conn.
Coach: Jim Hunt (Third season, 17-42-5)
Last year: 6-23-3 (4-19-3 MAAC, 10th place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 24/2
Key Losses: Tim Desmarais, F
Key Recruits: Michael McMullen, F; Ryan Murphy, D; Mike Chaconas, F

11. Bentley
Location: Waltham, Mass.
Coach: Ryan Soderquist (First season)
Last year: 4-26-2 (4-20-2 MAAC, 11th place)
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 18/4
Key Losses: Steve Tobio, D
Key Recruits: Josh Thompson, C; Brett Murphy, D; Josh Chase, D