This Week in the MAAC: Nov. 28, 2002

Thanksgiving … MAAC Style

We’ve once again arrived at that time of year where I can take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to help me find content for this often insomnia-curing column. So as has become a tradition, here’s this year’s version of the list of things that people around the MAAC hockey league can be thankful for.

  • We start this year with Quinnipiac Athletic Director Jack McDonald. After doing yeoman’s work as chair of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committee last year, Jack saw his longstanding vision of tournament expansion come true last season.

    After years of tireless work, the NCAA finally recognized McDonald’s and the college hockey community’s efforts to expand one of the NCAA’s fastest-growing and most profitable sports. Now if McDonald can only convince the powers that be at the national polls to expand, then he’ll only be a Quinnipiac national championship away from dying in peace.

  • And staying in Hamden, Conn., we can look at Jack’s head man, Rand Pecknold, who is giving thanks this holiday for the mental health of goaltender Jamie Holden. The standout netminder was a bit shell-shocked in the NCAA tournament last year when he surrendered to his nerves and got hit for two quick goals in a 6-1 loss to Cornell.

    But folks who worried about Holden can rest assured he is more than stable this season. Back-to-back 2-1 road losses this week at Northeastern and at No. 7 Maine proved Holden’s worth. Having seen about 15 teams from various leagues play this season, I can say that Holden is the best netminder I’ve seen. And I guarantee he’s licking his chops to get back to the NCAA tournament.

  • Pecknold won’t be the only coach thankful for goaltending. Holy Cross’ Paul Pearl knew entering the season that the biggest question for his club was between the pipes. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to watch last year’s quarterfinal that saw Holy Cross fall, 6-5, to Connecticut and realize that the one thing this high-powered offensive team was missing was solid goaltending.

    Well, it appears the call for a tender is answered in rookie Tony Quesada. Boasting a 7-2-0 record, Quesada will likely be called upon through the second half of the year to carry a Crusader team that is proving itself solid as a competitor for the league title.

  • Iona coach Frank Bretti will give thanks Thursday for breaking the Erie jinx. Having always had a tough time on the road versus Mercyhurst when his Gaels were contending for the league title in past years, Bretti figured out the formula to beating the Lakers: sandbag.

    This year, Iona entered the game against Mercyhurst without a single win to its credit. The Gaels left with one, though, knocking off the Lakers in overtime and shellshocking the preseason favorite. One word of wisdom: watch out for Iona come March. The 0-9-1 start does not reflect the ability of this team, and when it gels, come playoff time, the Gaels will be the most dangerous team in the famous one-and-done playoff format.

  • Fairfield coach Jim Hunt has to be thankful for the smashing success that the inaugural Connecticut College Hockey Showcase two weeks ago at Bridgeport’s Arena at Harbor Yard. Fairfield served as the sole host for the event (as opposed to what was reported on these pages last week, when Sacred Heart was mentioned as the host) that saw one of the largest MAAC crowds ever, 2,072, turn out.

    Though for Hunt to truly be happy this Thanksgiving, he might need the guarantee that his club can start winning. The Stags have become victim of what seems like one-goal loss after one-goal loss, and if something doesn’t change in that cycle soon, they could be replacing perennial cellar-dweller Bentley at the bottom of the MAAC.

  • Speaking of Bentley, athletic director Bob DeFelice will sit down at his Thanksgiving table with gratitude for his new head coach, Ryan Soderquist. Young and still a bit wet behind the ears, Soderquist has seen his team win three MAAC games before the Thanksgiving holiday. That, in itself is a miracle considering last season the club won only four league games all year and the year prior only three. Continued success for the Falcons might allow for the club to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, when Soderquist himself served as Bentley’s fiery captain.
  • Heading north to Buffalo, Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh should be thankful for his ability to manage expectations. Sporting a preseason roster of mostly underclassmen, Cavanaugh had this writer believing that his Griffs might never win a game all year. That impression, though, was thrown in the trash barrel quicker than Ralphie’s hairpiece on The Sopranos when the Griffs reeled off five wins in seven league games — two on the road. Entering the Thanksgiving holiday, the Griffs sit nicely in third place in the league standings. So much for a rebuilding year.
  • And staying north, we can look at the Thanksgiving table for Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. Sadly, he’ll be missing from his family Thanksgiving dinner, likely leading his team in some buffet turkey dinner in Colorado Spring. The Lakers are making an unenviable trip to face Colorado College and Denver this weekend. Thankfully, though, this is the end of the nonleague schedule and Gotkin and his Lakers can being making up the host of games in hand they posses with the hopes of making a charge.
  • Sacred Heart’s Shaun Hannah and Connecticut’s Bruce Marshall both are thankful to be free of one another for nearly four months. Both coaches know that, for some reason, when these two clubs get together the matchup is simply unpredictable. A couple of weeks ago, Sacred Heart dominated the Huskies on Friday night only to fall on the road a night later, much to the dismay of Hannah. It should, though, be interesting to see these two teams square off in their final battle on the final night of the season. Who knows what will be on the line in that game?
  • AIC’s Gary Wright and Army’s Rob Riley might wish that this were Christmas rather than Thanksgiving, as both coaches likely would rather be asking Santa Claus for help rather than giving thanks.

    Both would likely appreciate the same thing: consistency. While each team has shown glimmers of brilliance, best highlighted in Army’s 3-1 win over Quinnipiac last Friday night, the teams’ inability to put together a consistent trail of wins might serve costly later in the season. Both teams do share one thing: decent goaltending. But in a league where goaltending is the deepest position on the roster, each club will need to dig a bit further to get the wins to reach postseason play.

  • And last, but certainly not least, we can look to the MAAC office where commissioner Rich Ensor and director of championships Ken Taylor are both giving thanks for a sold-out Frozen Four.

    With the league hosting its first-ever national championship this year in Buffalo, the fact that the event has been sold out since last spring will allow the MAAC, along with co-hosts Canisius and Niagara, to focus on making the event itself the highlight of the college hockey year. Ensor is particularly happy to have the Frozen Four this year distract a little bit of the attention that usually would be paid to increasing the league’s scholarship issues.

    But that’s a conversation for another day…

    So as our look around the MAAC Thanksgiving table concludes, let me take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and holiday season!

    Weekly Awards

    Though this is an abbreviated version of the regular MAAC column, I’d be remiss is I didn’t recognize this week’s league award winners:

    ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week: D.J. Miller, Connecticut Senior, F, Mount Lebanon, Penn.

    Miller netted a hat trick in UConn’s 3-2 win over second-place Holy Cross on Friday night to snap the Crusaders’ seven-game win streak. Miller netted the first two goals, including one on the power play, in the very first and last minutes of the second period. The eventual game-winner was scored 3:32 seconds into the third stanza to give the Huskies their second straight win and third victory of the season. Miller has six goals and eight points this season.

    ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: Eddy Ferhi, Sacred Heart Senior, G, Charenton, France

    Ferhi made 44 saves in a defensive-oriented weekend. He shutout AIC in a rare scoreless tie. The next evening, Ferhi made 20 saves, holding AIC to just two goals. Ferhi has a 1.75 goals against average in league play and a 2.07 GAA overall. Both stats place him top of the league. Ferhi also holds a .920 save percentage in league matches and a .927 save percentage overall, second in the league in each.

    ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: Brad Roberts, Army Freshman,G, Cassville, N.Y.

    Roberts made 53 saves and posted a .981 save percentage against MAAC-leading Quinnipiac Friday night, the most by a goalie in a MAAC contest this season, a Tate Rink record and an Army home-game record. His effort was the second-best in a single game in the NCAA this season. The 53 saves is also a career-high for the freshman netminder. Army’s win over the Bobcats ended Quinnipiac’s five-game win streak and nine-game unbeaten string. Roberts posts a 2.79 GAA in league play and a 2.81 GAA overall, tied for fourth in the league. Roberts also has a .915 save percentage in conference play and overall.

    Looking Ahead

    As we return to the regular column next week, we’ll be taking a look at Quinnipiac. The Bobcats may not be plastering the college hockey world with upsets, but their recent back-to-back 2-1 road losses to Northeastern and Maine prove that this club cannot be taken likely. Next week we’ll examine just how good it really is.

    We’ll also be recapping the MAAC’s first-ever trip to the Colorado powers of CC and Denver when Mercyhurst returns from the high altitude.

    All this, and plenty more, to look forward to one week from now.