This Week in the MAAC: Oct. 31, 2002

Battle lines are “draw”n

It may have been only late October last week when the two MAAC favorite front-runners, Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst, took to the ice. But no one in the country was listening to both coaches down-play the importance of the game.

It was a rematch, to start, of the last two MAAC title tilts. It also was pitting the preseason number one against number two.

So hold your tongue with the “just another game” philosophy.

Even so, there may have been a bit of an indication given by the players on the ice that the game that the March-like atmosphere of the game was missing.

Mercyhurst came out flat. Quinnipiac, after playing a penalty-filled affair on Friday night against Canisius, was beat up and tired after two periods.

So maybe it comes as no surprise that the ultimate outcome was a 3-3 draw.

“I think my guys were excited to play Mercyhurst as always but it’s not nearly what it is when you play them in the playoffs,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “There was intensity but not incredible intensity for either team.”

We didn’t play all that well in the first two periods. The guys decided to play in the third period and broke it open.

Though tied, 2-2, through two periods, a 23-9 shot count in favor of Quinnipiac was not what Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin envisioned. He knew after two periods that something needed to be done. So what was his magic solution that cured his club and put them on the top side of the attack in the third period and overtime?

“We just talked… loudly,” said Gotkin about his between-periods speech. “I’ll credit to our guys, though, that they decided to work hard at it and win a game we needed to win.”

Still, though, the question remains how much the Laker team can rely on the ability to turn the switch on and off when playing. Many teams, particularly at the college level, are cursed by the inability to give a solid effort each night but still remain on top. To Gotkin, he believes it’s a problem that plagues his club.

“We’ve been like that for years,” Gotkin said about the on-and-off mentality. “I don’t like it and I don’t know why we do it. It’s a dangerous way to live in the athletic world. We need to find a way to stop doing that.”

From Quinnipiac’s standpoint, leaving Erie with a point in the league standings was probably a positive. According to Pecknold, he was impressed with Mercyhurst’s effort and the overall makeup of one of his biggest MAAC competitors.

“It’s a different team than last year,” said Pecknold. “It’s hard to evaluate the team because [star forward Adam] Tackaberry didn’t play.”

Even without Tackaberry, who returned home last week for personal reasons but will be back in the lineup this week at Maine, Pecknold felt the Laker offense was still potent.

“David Wrigley played in [Tackaberry’s] place on that line and he was awesome, so it seems he’s really blossoming.”

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week: Brandon Doria, Holy Cross Bayonne, New Jersey

Doria had four points in two games against Army and Iona this week. Versus Army, Doria scored two goals including the game-winner. Against Iona, he had another goal and an assist. He is now tied for the team lead in points and leads outright in goals.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: Tony Quesada, Holy Cross South Freeport, Maine

Quesada had two impressive performances in the two Crusader victories this week. In the Army game, he notched 21 saves in the 4-1 win. Against Iona, he posted 20 saves in the 6-3 victory. The wins were Quesada’s second and third of his collegiate career. He holds a 3-1-0 record in net for the season.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Aaron Ludwig, Quinnipiac Lampman, Sask

After going scoreless in his first three collegiate games, Ludwig erupted over the weekend. He had a goal and an assist in the win at Canisius and followed that up with what proved to be the game-tying goal against Mercyhurst.

Hit the road — literally

With Mercyhurst one of two geographic misfits to the MAAC, travel is a weekly occurrence for the Lakers. A credit to the school is that most of the time the Erie, Penn.,-based team is able to fly to its road games, most of which are played in New England.

When faced with a 14-plus hour bus ride to the University of Maine this weekend, though, Gotkin wasn’t able to defer to flying the friendly skies. With the inability to fly smaller prop and jet planes because of the large travel party and equipment, the reality of the trip is that the Lakers would have to bus two hours to Pittsburgh, fly from Pittsburgh to Portland, Maine, then bus another two hours to Orono.

When factoring in flying time and the need to arrive two hours before the flight, the plane trip turned into an eight- or nine-hour adventure, leading to Gotkin’s decision to bus it.

“It just didn’t make sense to fly there,” said Gotkin. “It works well in the end because now we can fly next weekend to play important league games against Fairfield and Connecticut.”

Still, it leaves little consolation to a coach traveling with 20-plus college kids.

“There’s only so many bad movies you can watch on these bus rides.”

It’s okay, Rick. We hear that MTV’s Road Rules is looking to recruit you.

On the tube

Trying to play catch up to its other conference brethren, the MAAC conference will finally take a major step forward this weekend on television.

For the first time in league history, a MAAC regular-season contest will grace the national cable airwaves when Quinnipiac and Connecticut square off on New England Sports Network (NESN) on Friday night. The clash of the Connecticut rivals can be seen coast-to-coast and internationally on Direct TV (Ch. 623) and other satellite networks.

According to Pecknold, the game is one of two contests between the clubs that will be televised this year. Quinnipiac had also negotiated to have nonleague contests against Maine and Northeastern televised, but that concept was squashed by Fox Sports New England, Hockey East’s television network.

As the story goes, local Connecticut television station Fox-61 was originally going to broadcast all four of the games. But when the station approached NESN, the New England cable giant leapt at the deal.

But the Northeastern and Maine games are being played in Hockey East arenas. So when the folks at Fox Sports New England, the exclusive television network of Hockey East, caught wind, they quickly strong-armed the end of the deal.

“We asked [Fox Sports New England] if they wanted to take the game, but they said they had no room,” Pecknold said, which left his team without two major games on television.

The Hockey East league office further clarified the situation.

“The contract with Fox Sports New England is exclusive that prohibits Hockey East teams from having competing stations broadcasting out of their building,” said Noah Smith, director of media relations for Hockey East.

Smith did say that the exception to that rule are local television stations like New Hampshire Public Television and WABI in Maine, both of which broadcast about 10 games each for the New Hampshire and Maine, respectively. Which makes one wonder if Connecticut-based Fox-61 will eventually pop back into the loop as a possible broadcaster. But the contract is set up to keep regional broadcast networks, such as NESN — a direct competitor with Fox Sports Net — out of Hockey East buildings.

Still Pecknold is happy to have some television exposure.

“We’ll not only have recruits, but supporters of the program, who can go out and watch these games. The last two years playing in the championship game of the MAAC we got the exposure and it was great. You can’t believe how many people will watch that game.

Quesada welcome in Worcester

Having surprised the world last year with a top-four finish in the MAAC regular season after back-to-back dismal campaigns, Holy Cross’ hockey program seemed to be righting itself and poised to return to the form that led the Crusaders to the inaugural MAAC tournament in 1999.

The fact that a good chunk of last year’s club returned this season made expectations even higher for the Worcester, Mass.,-based school.

But still, there was one major question: How good are the Crusaders in goal?

The answer to that may still be months away from being answered, but the first month of the season has shown a glimmer of hope in rookie netminder Tony Quesada. After a rude welcome to the league by Quinnipiac — a night that saw Quesada get beaten five times in two periods before being lifted by coach Paul Pearl — Quesada has responded with three consecutive wins and earned this week’s MAAC Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Even when Quesada got shelled against Quinnipiac, Pearl wouldn’t place blame, saying that he played well and that he simply wanted to let another rookie — in experience only, as he’s a sophomore that did not play last year — Matt Norton, see his first ice time.

“I just wanted to get Norty 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.”

Pearl is adamant that despite the thoughts of others, he firmly believed in his goaltending at the start of the year.

“I never thought goaltending was an issue,” said Pearl. “I thought that we brought some talented kids in and I was confident that one would emerge.”

At this point, one certainly has in Quesada.

“He’s a mature kid so he’s been able to come in and play well at times,” said Pearl. “A lot had to do with playing at Holderness (a local prep school). He played the bulk there and came in here ready to go.”

That’s not to say that Quesada is the definite number-one. Pearl was extremely impressed by the player Norton returned as this year.

“Norty spent the entire summer working hard, getting in shape, probably doing things he had never done in his life,” said Pearl. “He turned himself from a third guy last year that didn’t see the ice into a viable candidate for the starting position.”

Ludwig earning keep at QU

Highly-touted recruit Aaron Ludwig began to prove his worth last weekend in the key clash with Mercyhurst. His shorthanded goal with less than 15 minutes to play in regulation gave the Bobcats a 3-2 lead in a game that would finish deadlocked at three.

Pecknold knew when he recruited Ludwig, who played junior hockey last year for the Nipawin Hawks in Saskatchewan, that he could be an impact player. Seeing him on the ice has more than proved that.

“We knew he was going to be good, but he’s really starting to emerge,” said Pecknold. “He’ll put up some numbers offensively, but he’s a great defensive forward. He does all the little things and that makes him the complete package.”

Last weekend was Ludwig’s official welcome to the scoresheet for the Bobcats. After remaining scoreless in his first five games, Ludwig added a goal and an assist Friday against Canisius to his key goal Saturday.

Quote of the week

Mercyhurst’s Gotkin, about his team’s chances this weekend playing the tenth-ranked Maine Black Bears:

“If we don’t play well, it could be a real tough weekend. Then again, if we do play well it could be a real tough weekend.”