This Week in the MAAC: Oct. 17, 2002

MAAC Smackdown

Don’t worry, folks, the WWF (or, to show that I’m not too far behind the times, the WWE) is not coming to Fairfield University anytime soon. But for most of the teams in the MAAC, last week’s nonleague play looked like Hulk Hogan (now I’m really dating myself) taking out his frustrations on the MAAC brethren.

Last weekend, MAAC teams posted a dismal 0-5-0 record in nonleague play. That, though, was hardly the story. The average margin of defeat in these five games: a frightening 6.4 goals per game. And had not Quinnipiac respectably hung in against Lake Superior State (a team that itself was an 8-1 loser the next night to Maine), the margin would have been much worse.

The tough times started Friday night with Northeastern’s 10-1 drubbing of Connecticut, a result which might set a not-so-good tone for UConn’s season, one in which coach Bruce Marshall might be hoping for a return to the big time after two mediocre seasons.

The second walloping Friday night came in a more expected way: North Dakota putting an 8-0 beating on one of the league youngest teams, Canisius. Playing in the HSBC Arena, home of this year’s Frozen Four, the Griffs were simply overmatched by a North Dakota team looking for its return to national glory.

On Saturday, the beatings continued along the expected line. Iona, which matches Canisius in the inexperience column, got bumped around in Providence to the tune of 11-0 — the weekend’s most lopsided tally.

The other two losses — Quinnipiac’s to Lake State and Canisius’ second loss of the weekend, 4-1 to Niagara, comprised the rest of the 0-5-0 nonleague week, possibly one of the worst in the conference’s four years of play against the “Big Four” conferences.

Now you’re probably waiting for me to beat my chest and take a stand that the MAAC needs to schedule more conservatively and save itself some embarrassment. But I’m going to do exactly the opposite.

Last weekend was not the ideal start to season number five for the MAAC, but the most important thing that happened was that the MAAC was placed on a national stage. The fact that the show that the MAAC staged would get panned by any critic isn’t as important as the fact that the curtain rose and fell, and we’re all still here to talk about it.

Northeastern’s Bruce Crowder, a coach who over the last couple of years hasn’t been bashful in scheduling nonleague games against MAAC teams, said that interleague play is critical to the game at this point.

“For us, the way the NCAA system works makes it necessary for us to play MAAC teams,” said Crowder. “You have to prove the strength of your conference, and the only way to do it is to take a chance playing every other conference.

“[Here was] UConn facing a tough test in [Northeastern], and next weekend, we’ll be faced with the same thing when we play Denver.”

The silver lining for the weekend was the performance of Quinnipiac at the Black Bear Classic. The newly-named Bobcats couldn’t muster the final goal against Lake State to advance, but then forced a 2-2 non-NCAA tie in the consolation game against Canadian school New Brunswick (two notes about that game: one, New Brunswick took Maine to the buzzer in Friday’s other semifinal, falling by a similar 2-1 score and, two, Quinnipiac unfortunately had to take fourth place in the tournament, losing a shootout, 3-2, after the teams played five minutes of sudden-death overtime).

Looking ahead to week two of the nonleague clashes, might show some light. Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart, two of the conference’s stronger horses, will travel to Lake Superior State and Bemidji State respectively. The Soo Lakers will be back on heir home ice this weekend, maybe making Mercyhurst’s task a little tougher.

But to file under the “still getting thumped” category: Iona is heading to Alaska-Fairbanks to play the host Nanooks on Friday and nationally-ranked Colorado College on Saturday in the Nye Frontier Classic. It will be a bit of a homecoming for Gaels coach Frank Bretti, who served as an assistant at UAF before becoming head coach at Iona. Still, don’t expect a happy welcome for Iona as neither of the club’s opponents pose any less of a threat than Providence did before last week’s 11-0 whitewash.

Weekly Awards

The MAAC league, with a sparse schedule last week, didn’t hand out weekly awards. So in a substitution for the regular awards committee, here’s my picks for Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week.

Offensive Player of the Week

It doesn’t take a genius, particularly after reading the column, to know that scoring was hard to come by last week. Still, the league’s only multiple-goal scorer of the week, Quinnipiac’s Matt Froelich, deserves recognition. Granted, his goals came in a meaningless third-place game versus New Brunswick, but it gave the Bobcats and the league the only shining moment of the weekend.

Defensive Player of the Week

Quinnipiac’s Jamie Holden didn’t have the best memory to end his freshman year last season. Highly-touted entering the NCAA Regional game versus Cornell, Holden was pulled almost immediately after a couple of first-period miscues. So there’s no doubt that Holden more than wanted to return to the ice last weekend, and with a matchup against Lake State, he knew he’d have to be one his game.

That he was, stopping 31 or 33 Laker shots and giving his club the chance to win late in the game. Though the Bobcats couldn’t deliver the tying goal, Holden’s performance is worthy of recognition.

Short But Sweet

These early-season columns are the toughest to write. As the MAAC teams begin to ease their way onto the ice for actual NCAA matchups, the meat that I can talk about will increase. So this week, we’re in a short, but relatively sweet format.

Looking ahead to the key matchups, you can’t look past this weekend.

Mercyhurst’s road to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a two-game set with Lake Superior has the potential for a MAAC milestone: the league’s first win against a CCHA opponent. The Soo Lakers are on the downside, barely getting past Quinnipiac on Friday before Maine hammered them, 8-1, on Saturday. So one might think that Lake State is ripe for the picking.

In Southern Connecticut, the Q-Cup tournament, Quinnipiac’s annual four-team matchup, has gone with an all-MAAC field this year. With AIC, Fairfield and Bentley — last year’s three no-playoff teams, and picked again to hold that destiny — one has to wonder if Rand Pecknold is hosting the tournament just to bring home a win (similar to what Maine did a week ago inviting Lake State, Quinnipiac and New Brunswick to the Black Bear Classic). But then again, hardware is hardware, and you can always put “2002 Q-Cup champion” on a resume.

In the coming weeks, Iona will continue its masochistic ways by traveling to RPI, while Sacred Heart will look for another ECAC upset against Don Vaughan’s Colgate squad.