This Week in the MAAC: Oct. 10, 2002

New Name, Same Results

Just because Quinnipiac changed its school mascot to the Bobcats (and sorry in advance to Rand Pecknold and Jack McDonald, but that’s just not one of my favorites), doesn’t mean the QU express has derailed at all since the close of last season.

Having the privilege of opening the 2002-02 MAAC season this past Tuesday at Holy Cross, the Bobcats manhandled the Crusaders, taking a 6-1 victory on enemy ice and proving that even a Bobcat can be one tough little creature.

The victory was a great start to a potentially strong year for QU. The club will have to be led by youth with freshmen and sophomores making up almost two-thirds of Pecknold’s roster. But a season ago, rookie-heavy QU squeaked through the MAAC tournament to earn the school’s first-ever NCAA bid.

Possibly the highlight of the night for Quinnipiac was the play of sophomore goaltender Jamie Holden. After an outstanding rookie campaign, Holden ended the 2001-02 season with a whimper, looking nervous and tentative in the NCAA Regional against Cornell that led to his removal just three minutes, 30 seconds into that game.

Tuesday night Holden came through in the clutch by making a total of 47 saves, including 19 in the second period. The lone tally against was Brandon Doria’s power-play goal with 21 seconds left in the second.

“Holden was huge for us in the second,” said Pecknold after the victory. “He made saves in tight for us and allowed us to keep the lead and eventually pull away. We need some work on defense, but Jamie hid those problems for us tonight.”

As mentioned, youth will be the deciding factor in Quinnipiac’s success this season. Keeping the second-year players from a sophomore slump and integrating rookies will key the Bobcat attack.

And with that in mind, it was an extreme positive for Pecknold to see sophomore Craig Falite double last season’s entire output with a two-goal night on Tuesday. It’s an obvious hope that players like Chris White and Matt Craig will have strong offensive output this year, but to add players such as Falite to the scoring roster strengthens this already-strong club.

On the other side of the fence, the 6-1 outcome for Holy Cross was anything but the way Crusaders’ coach Paul Pearl wanted to start the season. After a strong showing last season and an impressive third-place finish, Holy Cross had hopes to get off on the right foot for the 2002-03 campaign.

Still, Pearl is adamant that right now, there’s nothing to worry about.

“The scary thing [about Tuesday game] is we played well for the majority of the game,” said Pearl. “We didn’t finish our chances and they did.

“We have things we have to improve on, but you can’t worry about scoring goals, you have to worry about getting chances. And we got plenty of chances.”

Pearl further simplified the equation by suggesting that it was all a matter of timing. “We just made major mistakes at bad times, and they’re a good team and they capitalized.”

The one place Pearl won’t place blame is goaltending. Despite the fact that starter Anthony Quesada was pulled after surrendering five goals in two periods, Pearl said it had nothing to do with performance.

“I just wanted to get Norty [rookie Matt Norton] some time,” Pearl said. “When you’re down five-love after two there’s no better time to throw him in there. Neither guy has a lick of college experience under his belt so it was a good chance to get them both that experience.”

Pictures At An Exhibition

Despite the fact that Quinnipiac and Holy Cross were quick out of the gate on the league schedule, most of the MAAC was playing exhibition games last weekend, with mixed results.

Sacred Heart, Connnecticut and Canisius found themselves on winning ends against Canadian opponents. Sacred Heart provided St. Nick’s College with an 8-2 thumping Friday night, while the same night Canisius sneaked past St. Clair’s College, 4-3. UConn knocked off the Ottawa Gee-Gee’s by an identical 4-3 score on Saturday, but not until the Gee-Gee’s had beaten Holy Cross, scoring the game-winner in the final 90 seconds.

Mercyhurst waited until Tuesday night to face off against Toronto-based Brock, but surrendered a late goal to force a 2-2 tie. Head coach Rick Gotkin got looks at both of his goaltenders — returner Matt Cifelli, the odds-on favorite for number one this year, and rookie Andy Franck.

“We limited Brock to a low number of shots,” said Gotkin. “But Cifelli played well and made a few flurries of saves.

“Andy Franck played well for how nervous he was. He looked pretty poised and made 12 saves. So all in all from a goaltending standpoint we were very pleased. We know we’re going to need great goaltending to be successful this year.”

Tuesday’s game was likely a tame prep for what the Lakers will face next weekend when they travel to face their namesakes — the Lake Superior State Lakers — for a two game set.

Exhibition hockey continues throughout the league this week, as Fairfield will travel to face the US Under-18 team for a pair, and St. Nick’s will return to New England to face Bentley on Saturday and American International on Sunday.

Early Tournament Season

It’s not March, but the college hockey slate fills this weekend with tournaments galore. On the MAAC side, highlighting will be the Black Bear Classic in Orono, Maine, featuring Quinnipiac, and the Xerox Hockey Showcase at HSBC Arena in Buffalo — home of this year’s Frozen Four — with Canisius participating and co-hosting with Niagara.

Quinnipiac will face off against Lake Superior State in Orono on Friday afternoon. Lake State expanded its nonleague schedule to include a host of MAAC schools including Quinnipiac, Mercyhurst and Canisius. Depending on Friday’s outcome, QU will take on either host Maine or New Brunswick on Saturday.

Canisius has the daunting task of facing 2000 national champion North Dakota in the opening game of the Xerox Hockey Showcase. It will be Canisius’ first-ever game against a WCHA opponent. Last season the Griffs posted a 1-8-0 record in nonleague play, with their only win coming the first week of the season in Buffalo against Alabama-Huntsville.

The Griffs’ Saturday night opponent will be either co-host Niagara or Michigan, based on the results of Friday’s semifinal games.

Mea Culpa

Every writer tries not to make mistakes, but somehow, I’ve fallen victim to poor fact-checking from my 2002-03 MAAC Season Preview.

Under the Holy Cross team preview, I incorrectly listed that last year was the Crusaders’ first playoff appearance since winning the title in 1999. But I failed to remember that the Crusaders actually finished seventh in the then 10-team league back in 2000, qualifying the Crusaders for the playoffs that year and earning them a first-round date with Mercyhurst. The defending champs fell, 10-3, to the Lakers that year.

So it is with extreme embarrassment that I give the ol’ “Mea Culpa” to Paul Pearl and the folks over at Holy Cross.

Off the Record

Though my column almost always focuses on solely MAAC-related stories, I wanted to take a quick second to offer kudos to a media colleague over on the Hockey East side. Long-time voice of Boston University, Bernie Corbett, recently published Images of Sports: Boston University Hockey. The 128-page pictorial features photos from every era of BU hockey dating back to 1918, and, in this writer’s opinion, makes one great coffee table book.

Thanks to Brad Holzwert for his contributions.