After I wrote last week’s column, I thought to myself that if there is a God, somehow the teams in the MAAC would go out last weekend and pull off some upsets. After getting drubbed mercilessly a week earlier in nonleague play, I hoped the league would right the ship and prove that they’re in fact taking steps forward rather than backwards when it comes to competition.
Thankfully, that redemption did in fact arrive last weekend. Nonleague bliss for the MAAC will never be a 7-1-2 weekend like Hockey East enjoyed two weeks ago. No, success out of league for the MAAC is displayed in smaller quantities: a tie against a Big Four opponent is major; a win, well that’s simply outstanding.
Last weekend, the MAAC got both, which leads me to a search for an even better word to quantify the accomplishment.
Everything began last Friday night long after most readers were in bed. Playing in the Alaskan time zone (four hours behind me on the East Coast), Iona — the same team that suffered one of the worst nonleague spankings, falling 11-0 to Providence a week earlier — shocked Alaska-Anchorage on enemy ice, battling the Seawolves to a 2-2 tie.
For Iona coach Frank Bretti, it was a gift-wrapped package. Bretti was a longtime assistant at UAA before taking the reins at Iona. So after taking the beating in Providence, not having to see the red light flash in double digits was a godsend.
Just when you think that things couldn’t get better for the MAAC, Saturday night happened. A league that has posted just three wins all time against the Big Four got win number four — and from the unlikeliest of sources. Similar to Iona a night earlier, Connecticut righted the ship that sailed to a 10-1 loss against Northeastern a week earlier to pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history — a 5-4 come-from-behind, overtime win over Colgate.
“For us, we had a bad weekend [two weeks ago],” said UConn head coach Bruce Marshall. “To lose 10-1 was a tough loss. To stay in and have a chance in the third period, then lose a lead, and then regain the lead … you can build on these characteristics.
“After the NU game we spent a lot of time watching the tape. I liked our ability out there but there were just mistakes after mistakes.
“I said to the guys that everything we were doing is correctable. It was a matter if they wanted to commit themselves to correct them.”
The hero du jour for the Huskies was fitting: senior assistant captain Ron D’Angelo. D’Angelo has been with the program through its highs and lows. He was a rookie when the Huskies won the MAAC league championship in 2000. But he was also around for the Northeastern game two weeks ago, as well as the all-time rout — a 13-1 blasting by UMass-Lowell back in November of 1999.
“He’s a guy that always wonders why he can’t be the leading scorer in the MAAC,” said Marshall. “He’s got the ability to score goals and that’s great, but does he work hard enough to get himself into position to score those goals?
“Hopefully this will build some character for him that way.”
The win for UConn is impressive. But it puts Colgate in a class by itself, as the first Big Four school to fall to a MAAC team twice. Colgate was the victim of a 5-2 loss to Mercyhurst last season.
“I was so excited to see [UConn’s victory over Colgate], much like I was excited to see Iona’s tie up in Alaska,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “What we’re seeing is the MAAC is getting better and better as a conference.
“I remember how our guys felt when we beat Colgate a year ago. It’s a terrific thing for UConn as a program and it’s terrific as a step for our conference.”
“It makes life easier because you get the positive phone calls from your buddies, instead of the ‘What happened against Northeastern?’ call,” said Marshall. “For the team, it gives us the confidence to go into the league season. We can carry that into a stretch of seven league games.”
Conversely, it’s the fourth loss for the ECAC as a conference to a MAAC school. In addition to Colgate’s two losses, Cornell fell victim to Sacred Heart back in 2000-01 — the first MAAC win versus a Big Four school. And Union lost later that same year to Quinnipiac. No team from Hockey East, the CCHA or the WCHA has ever lost to a MAAC team.
In addition to Iona and UConn’s success, other conference members were holding tough and/or pulling out other wins in nonleague action.
Sacred Heart gave the MAAC some credibility against CHA opponent Bemidji State, pulling off back to back ties (1-1 on Friday and 2-2 on Saturday) on the road. At home, Holy Cross split their weekend series with Air Force, losing 6-4 on Friday before blowing away the Falcons, 7-2, on Saturday.
Mercyhurst joined the “almost” category, dropping tough decisions on the road against Lake Superior State, 3-2 and 3-1, following Quinnipiac’s lead from a week earlier as a MAAC team giving the Lakers a tough time.
“We’re as happy as we can be with our weekend without winning. We played very well on both nights, and Saturday we felt like we should’ve won,” said Gotkin, noting that his team hit the crossbar and four posts that night.
The MAAC is back taking over this honor this week. Here’s a rundown of the top players from last week’s action.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week: Ron D’Angelo, Connecticut Senior, Massapequa, N.Y.
D’Angelo scored the game-winner 3:38 into the overtime period to lift UConn over Colgate, its first win of the season and first victory over an ECAC school as a Division I program. D’Angelo’s slapshot was taken from in between the faceoff circles to beat the Colgate goalie stick side. He also put UConn ahead 3-2 at the start of the third period during a Connecticut power-play opportunity. His assist of the night came on the game-tying goal in the third period, which sent the game into overtime. D’Angelo leads the Huskies with five points.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac Sophomore, Telkwa, B.C.
The sophomore netminder has shown no signs of slowing down from a stellar rookie year. He opened the year by stopping a career-high 47 shots in a win over Holy Cross, then came back to allow just two power-play goals and turn away 30 shots in a 2-1 loss against Lake Superior State. Last week, Holden stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 3-1 win over Bentley on Friday. Through three games, he has posted a sparkling 1.34 goals against average and a .965 save percentage.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Pierre Napert-Frenette, Holy Cross Freshman, Bathurst, N.B.
Napert-Frenette’s first collegiate goal was a memorable one. In the victory over UConn, he scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal 3:27 into the third period. This past week, he also scored two goals in the two-game series against Air Force as well as adding two assists. After his first week on the ice, Napert-Frenette leads the team in points and goals with five and three, respectively.
Let the Games Begin!
With a couple of weeks of exhibition and nonleague action under their belts, some MAAC schools can begin to focus on what matters most: league play.
Though Holy Cross, UConn, and Quinnipiac all have had league games, and last week’s Q-Cup tournament at Quinnipiac was an all-MAAC slate to give us a potential preview, this week’s action is the true beginning of league play.
And what a way to get started as Saturday night’s game between Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst will be the rematch of last year’s championship game and the first battle of two of the MAAC’s heavyweights.
It’s strange to be talking so early in the year about a big game, but since this season could come down to these two clubs with maybe a Sacred Heart or Holy Cross thrown into the mix, brains begin thinking a little more about Saturday’s gravity.
“Our guys are excited to play,” said Gotkin. “Certainly the Quinnipiac-Mercyhurst matchup is always a little special based on the history of the two teams over the last three years. We’ve had some great games with them.”
Still, Gotkin doesn’t want to take Saturday’s game out of context.
“It’s early in the season,” Gotkin said. “One team picking up two points on Saturday night isn’t going to change the positioning or alter the course of either team’s season one way or another.”
Mercyhurst will have to make a go of it, though, without two of its top players. Defenseman Mike Muldoon will remain on the bench for at least three more weeks nursing an injury (he’s yet to see action this year). And stalwart Adam Tackaberry won’t be with the team, having returned home to Ontario for the week for personal reasons.
Black Knights Finally Get Rolling
Five years ago, it wouldn’t be unusual for any team in the country to begin its slate of NCAA games this upcoming weekend. The old ritual was for a school to have its midnight madness on October 1, play an exhibition game around October 15 and then get started in one of the following two weekends.
Ivy League schools still follow that pattern, giving them a bit of a disadvantage in the ECAC (though, judging by Cornell and Harvard’s success last year, they don’t seem to be complaining).
The MAAC has only one such member to get a slow jump on the season: Army. Last weekend, Army opened the season with an exhibition loss to Seneca. And this week, the Black Knights will get a chance to play games that count — a league game versus Holy Cross on Friday before hosting RPI the following night.
With this weekend, all MAAC teams will finally have nonleague experience (though Fairfield, AIC and Bentley played “nonleague” games against MAAC members in the Q-Cup).
Their Cup Runneth Over… Again
As I mentioned last week, I’m opposed to the idea that Quinnipiac invited the three weakest MAAC teams to this year’s Q-Cup tournament. It serves as no surprise that the Bobcats took home the trophy of their annual tournament for the third straight year (and for the second straight year with the same field of teams well below Quinnipiac’s level).
In fact the only year Quinnipiac didn’t win the Q-Cup was 1999. That year, the Bobcats (nee Braves) still didn’t lose a game. But after tying Iona in a wild 7-7 game, Quinnipiac lost the shootout, 3-0.
What did come out of this year’s Q-Cup was the chance to see how Bentley, Fairfield and AIC stack up. Bentley hung tough on Friday night against the “Q,” losing, 3-1, but nearly matching the host Bobcats in shots (Quinnipiac held a 35-32 edge). The game was a penalty-filled contest, with 67 minutes dished out. Each team scored a power-play goal (Quinnipiac had six chances, Bentley eight).
AIC gritted out a tough 4-3 come-from-behind win over Fairfield in the other semifinal. Three unanswered goals in the third period rallied the Yellow Jackets from a 3-1 deficit entering the frame. For the fourth straight meeting, AIC’s Frank Novello stoned the Stags, making 35 saves in the win (last year, Novello single-handedly stole three games from Fairfield with his play in goal). Uncharacteristically, AIC was whistled for 22 minutes in penalties, but killed all five Fairfield power plays.
Sadly for them, the Yellow Jackets couldn’t stand the test of Quinnipiac the following night, getting routed, 9-2, in the title tilt. Bentley, though, proved tough enough for Fairfield in the consolation game, knocking off the Stags, 6-4 to take third place. The win was sparked by a four-goal second period and a 35-save performance for goaltender Simon St. Pierre. It was also the first career win for rookie head coach Ryan Soderquist.
Alex Clark contributed to this report.