Just when you thought MAAC hockey was relatively predictable, somehow some team finds a way to throw a curveball.
Last week there was not one, but two major curves that started far inside and ended up right down the middle of the plate. One was in league play, the other a nonleague outcome versus a “Big Four” team.
We’ll start with Sunday and work our way back. What should have been another overly predictable loss for Canisius, a club that entered Saturday’s game with a 0-6-0 record, having been outscored 34-9 in those six games, was anything but.
The Griffs opponent, Sacred Heart, hadn’t played a league game yet but should have been more than prepared. The Pioneers entered with a 0-2-2 record, but also faced the likes of Bemidji State and Colgate on back-to-back road weekends. Though coming away with only the pair of ties with Bemidji, Sacred Heart lost two one-goal games to ECAC member Colgate, and showed a lot of promise entering its league opener.
And then upset number one struck.
Sacred Heart let Canisius hang around late in the game, and a Marc Bouffard goal with 2:21 remaining sent the game to overtime. When Andrew Dawe scored in the final two minutes of the extra session, the upset was complete.
On Saturday night, it was emerging conference-favorite Holy Cross that shook the hockey world, earning the MAAC’s fifth-ever “Big Four” win and the second in just three weeks. But the amazement shouldn’t come only from the win at Union, but more with how the win happened.
It has become almost a no-brainer that when a MAAC team steals a win from the Big Four, generally that is exactly what happens: a goaltender steals the show. Two weeks ago, Connecticut’s Jason Carey turned in a 39-save performance against Colgate; two years ago Justin Eddy stopped 45 shots in a 3-2 Quinnipiac win over this same Union club.
But Saturday night, that was hardly the case. There was no nail-biting watching Holy Cross hold on to squeak out the win. Goaltender Tony Quesada didn’t have to stand on his head — rather, he turned aside a routine 24 shots.
Nope, this was a game that Holy Cross controlled throughout. An early first-period goal gave the Cross the lead. From there, it just kept working hard and eventually expanded the lead, developing a 2-0 cushion early in the third on the power play.
Even when Union struck with five minutes remaining to pull within a goal, there was no quit in the Crusaders.
“Two years ago, we would have folded up the tent when they scored to make it 2-1,” said junior Jeff Dams, who assisted on a Brandon Doria goal to answer the Union tally 58 seconds later.
Dams would later add a goal of his own to account for the 4-1 final.
“We would have shut it down,” he added. “This year, and even last year, it’s a different team, it’s a different mindset in the room. We’re confident in ourselves.”
Head coach Paul Pearl noted that the win was an example of executing his game plan to a T.
“It was a good team effort and we played very well defensively,” said Pearl. “We were always able to have guys in position.
“But that’s just the way we play. We try to limit opportunities to score. We try to win it on the special teams and fortunately it worked out.”
Pearl admitted that his game plan was risky if his team’s power play did not click, but the Holy Cross man advantage has worked well over the last couple of years. (see: “Crusader Power” later in the column for more on the Holy Cross PP).
He cautioned, however, that despite the major win, the time for enjoying it is over.
“There’s a confidence that should be brewing. But that confidence should be exactly that — confidence — and now we have to move on. We’ve got a lot of games left to play.”
The next test will be Holy Cross’ upset companion this past weekend, Canisius. If Holy Cross falls into the same trap as Sacred Heart, the smiles from the Union victory will quickly be washed away.
“Canisius is a good hockey team,” said Pearl. “I have no doubt that [head coach] Brian [Cavanaugh] will have those guys coming in loaded for bear. Ever since year one, we’ve had a good rivalry with those guys and the outcomes of the games are unpredictable.”
This was Holy Cross’ first win over an ECAC opponent.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week: Jeff Dams, Holy Cross, Manotick, Ont.
Dams had four points in one game against Union this week, scoring his first goal of the season in the first period to put HC up 1-0. He scored again late in the third period to give the Crusaders a 4-1 cushion. He also assisted on Holy Cross’ two other goals, including the game-winner scored by Pierre Napert-Frenette. Dams now leads the team in points with 13 and in assists with 11.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: Brad Roberts, Army, Cassville, NY
The freshman netminder backstopped Army to consecutive victories over Iona on Friday and Saturday. Roberts stopped a combined 61 shots in the two games and picked up his first career shutout Friday in the Black Knights’ 3-0 win. He recorded a .984 save percentage in the two games and held the Gaels scoreless on nine power plays. His 34 stops on Saturday were also a career high.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Tony Quesada, Holy Cross, South Freeport, ME
Quesada notched his fourth career win over Union on Saturday night. He posted 24 saves in 60 minutes of action in the 4-1 win. He now holds a 4-1-0 record in net this season and raised his save percentage to .898.
Garceau, Knights Sweep Iona Aside
The Army Black Knights got off to their best-ever MAAC league start last weekend with a low-scoring sweep of local rival Iona. Playing a home-and-home series with the Gaels, the Army defense limited Iona to just one goal in 120 minutes — a first-period tally on Saturday night.
Friday night’s hero was sophomore Chris Garceau. Following up an impressive rookie campaign, Garceau is showing he’s ready to become an impact player this season. In Friday’s game, his early third-period goal broke a scoreless deadlock. He would later assist on an insurance goal and pot an empty-netter to seal the 3-0 victory.
“He’s a good young player in our league,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, whose squad faced Army on Tuesday. “He’s definitely one of Army’s top two forwards.”
Garceau grew up in Guilford, Conn., less than ten miles from the Quinnipiac campus. Still, he never landed on Pecknold’s radar screen.
“I dropped the ball and should’ve been more aggressive and recruited him,” said Pecknold. “I wish I could turn back the clock, but you can’t.”
Luckily for the Bobcats, Garceau wasn’t too much of a factor, registering only an assist, Tuesday night when the Bobcats beat Army, 4-2.
Also impressive on the weekend was goaltender Brad Roberts. The rookie netminder earned his first two career wins while making 27 saves on Friday And 34 saves on Saturday. Roberts has appeared in all five games for Army this season. He’s posted impressive numbers, a .926 save percentage and a 2.40 goals against average, but the Black Knights have only scored nine goals in five games to support him.
“He’s definitely in the top tier of goaltenders in our league. I was really impressed with him,” said Pecknold.
For the second consecutive season, the Holy Cross power play has impressed at some opportune times. Last year, the Crusaders PP clicked with an efficiency rating just above 30 percent, one of the best in the nation.
The man advantage unit is again moving in the right direction. A three-goal outburst last week against Union on the power play propelled the Crusaders to the upset victory. According to Pearl, though, there isn’t a lot to his team’s PP success.
“I tell the guys to have a good power play you just have to keep the puck in the zone,” said Pearl. “If you keep the puck in the zone for a minute and a half each time, eventually, you’re going to score.”
Pearl also noted that predicting power-play success is impossible.
“I would tell you that against Iona when we went 0-for-5 on the power play and it was as good as it’s ever looked,” laughed Pearl. “But then one of the power-play goals against Union we scored on a long shot.
“Sometimes things happen like that. Sometimes you run into a goaltender who gets across and makes the saves … Any team that has a good power play seems to have success in bunches. They’ll go 4-for-9 or something like that. That’s what helps along the way.”
Blitzed Down East
Last week, Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin was given quote of the week honors for his comments on playing No. 10 Maine last weekend.
“If we don’t play well, it could be a real tough weekend,” said Gotkin. “Then again, if we do play well it could be a real tough weekend.”
Playing well or not, the rare underdog Lakers walked into Maine’s Alfond Arena only to walk out with two losses, 5-0 and 7-0, and a constant headache from listing to the combined 9,343 Maine faithful cheer the Black Bears’ 12 goals over the two nights.
Even after suffering the back-to-back whitewashings, Gotkin was still able to keep perspective.
“We weren’t able to hang with Maine at Maine,” said Gotkin. “Am I shocked? No, I’m not shocked. I’m disappointed, but I’m not shocked.
“Maine is better than Mercyhurst, Make no mistake,” he added. “Anyone that thinks otherwise is not thinking realistically. Someday we hope we’re going to compete with Maine. That day wasn’t last weekend for Mercyhurst, unfortunately.
When asked if it was a good or bad experience for his team, Gotkin had only positives to talk about.
“I’m glad to play those games,” Gotkin quipped. “And I’m looking forward to playing number-one Denver and number-eight Colorado College.
“We knew playing this out-of-conference schedule that we could go 0-for.”
Looking for silver linings in the otherwise tough weekend, Gotkin found some:
“I liked our mood and out focus. On top of that, our goaltending was solid. We did some good things. We didn’t do enough good things for two games to beat a team like Maine. But there were things we did that I liked.”
Mercyhurst will welcome its return to MAAC league play this weekend with a set at Fairfield and Connecticut.
After three weeks of heartbreaks, Fairfield finally broke through last Sunday to earn its first win of the season.
Even for a program that has struggled in the past few years it may seem strange to tout a win in the team’s fifth game of the season as being “big,” but the way things have gone for the Stags, it was almost major.
Fairfield possesses a 1-3-1 record right now, but hasn’t lost a game by more than two goals. After dropping a 4-3 decision to American International to open the season at the Q-Cup, Fairfield then fell the following night in the consolation game, 6-4, to Bentley — a game that saw Fairfield lose a two-goal lead.
Without high expectations, the Stags went into hostile Vermont two weekends ago and nearly pulled off the upset, but fell short in overtime.
Last Friday against Connecticut, Fairfield again went to overtime, and held on for the tie.
So a one-goal lead in the third period on Sunday against Bentley couldn’t have been that comforting. Still, the Stags held off the Falcons to avenge their opening-weekend loss, by a 3-2 decision.
Run, Forrest, Run
He may not be able to catch shrimp like Forrest Gump, but Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold proved he sure can run like him.
Pecknold, running his first race of any kind, finished last weekend’s New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours, good for a finish somewhere between 18,000th and 19,000th.
“My God, it was hard, though,” said Pecknold about the 26-mile jog.
Pecknold was on the bench Tuesday night when his team faced Army.
“I’m finally starting to feel better now,” he said.