This Week in the MAAC: Dec. 12, 2002

Top 10 News Stories of 2002

With the New Year quickly approaching, it’s time to recap the highlights of the MAAC league over the past 12 months. As the league graduated its first four-year class of players last March, year five has already proven to be eyeopening on both the league and national landscapes.

So here we have it — my picks for the top 10 news stories from the past year.

10. UConn over Colgate in overtime: It may have been just another nonleague game to some, but when Connecticut knocked off Colgate in a come-from-behind overtime victory on October 19, it signified a major milestone for the Huskies. The biggest school in the MAAC both in size and in terms of athletic profile, UConn had yet to taste victory against a “Big Four” club. So winning on the road against Colgate was a major step for the program. The way the victory happened was even more impressive, as UConn let slip a 3-2 lead and trailed, 4-3, with a little more than a minute to play. Tim Olsen evened the game at 18:40 of the third before Ron D’Angelo buried the game winner with 82 ticks left in overtime.

9. Ryan Carter league’s first Hobey Baker finalist: In 1999, a player named Ryan Carter walked onto the scene in the MAAC’s inaugural season and opened eyes. The Iona forward led the league in scoring and was named the Offensive Rookie and Player of the Year as a freshman. As the league talent improved in each recruiting class, Carter may have felt a bit overshadowed throughout this career. But when all was said and done last season, Carter left the league as its all-time leading scorer (158 points in league play, 179 overall), and his 18-goal, 25-assist senior season earned Carter recognition by the Hobey Baker committee. Carter became the league’s first Hobey Baker finalist, one of ten players vying for national player of the year honors. This season, Carter has begun his professional playing career with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League.

8. Quinnipiac’s start to the 2002-03 season: After finally capturing the MAAC tournament title last March, Quinnipiac, one of the league’s frontrunning programs in terms of commitment by the University, was felt a preseason question mark by many. With the loss of some top guns up front in Ryan Olsen, Neil Breen, and Todd Bennett, as well as blueliner Dan Ennis, many questioned how successful the newly-named Bobcats could be in 2002-03. That question was answered immediately, as the team has reached the holiday break 8-1-1 in MAAC games and has impressed outside the conference with three 2-1 losses to Lake Superior, Maine and Northeastern. Not bad for a club sporting 20 underclassmen on its 26-man roster.

7. Holy Cross plows road to redemption: With pretty much everyone in the league predicting the Crusaders to miss the 2002 MAAC playoffs, coach Paul Pearl, behind the stick and senior leadership of captain Pat Rissmiller, watched his club stun many by tying for third place. Though the Crusaders fell in a shocker at home in the first round of the playoffs to UConn, the 2001-02 campaign was hardly short on highlights. A six-game unbeaten streak to end the regular season that included two ties against eventual tournament champion Quinnipiac was the most memorable stretch. Despite his team’s success, Pearl stood by his preseason notion that his club could be a shocker, noting that he liked its ability but believed the team needed more experience and confidence.

6. Canisius’ second-place position at holiday break: Just as many were surprised by Holy Cross’ surge towards the top last season, this year Canisius has taken the Crusaders’ torch. After losing many of its top players and sporting the second-youngest lineup in the league, it was no surprise that the Griffs were picked to finish near the bottom of the MAAC in preseason polls. An 0-6-0 start seemed to validate those beliefs, but only until the Griffs surged to win six of their next eight games. Canisius still has to travel this week to North Dakota to face the nation’s number-one team for the second and third time this season (they lost 8-0 in the season opener against the Sioux). Even if this weekend results in a blowout coach Brian Cavanaugh has to be happy with his club’s success.

5. UConn beats Holy Cross on road to advance in playoffs: Connecticut makes this top 10 list for the second time thanks to its thrilling 6-5 victory in last year’s MAAC quarterfinals on the road against tournament host Holy Cross. Having won just one regular-season game after Valentine’s Day, the Huskies didn’t exactly enter the playoffs on a hot streak. But five goals in less than 30 minutes of the first and second periods spotted UConn a 5-1 lead entering the third. Despite losing that lead on an impressive Holy Cross comeback, the Huskies silenced the Crusader crowd when Kurt Kamenski scored a never-say-die goal with 21 seconds left in regulation to send the UConn bench into pandemonium. The Huskies failed to get past Mercyhurst in the semifinals a week later, but the quarterfinal thriller gave a bright ending to the UConn season.

4. McAdam out, Soderquist in at Bentley: In a move that surprised few after Bentley finished last for the second straight year, head coach Jim McAdam was fired shortly after the conclusion of the 2001-02 season. The move that surprised many was promoting assistant coach Ryan Soderquist to the head man’s job, making him the youngest coach in Division I hockey. When appointed, Soderquist said that he was promised the support and resources to make the program competitive, something McAdam — himself a part-time coach — never had. With a full-time position in his pocket, Soderquist moved forward. Impressive victories over Holy Cross, Canisius, Army and Iona have put the Falcons at .500 (4-4-0) in league play at the break. Bentley amassed only seven league wins in McAdam’s final two seasons — four in 2001-02 and three the year previous.

3. Sacred Heart finally wins a playoff game: It had become almost an annual event for the Sacred Heart Pioneers to enter the MAAC playoffs with high hopes and see them dashed with heartbreaking quarterfinal losses. But after an impressive 2001-02 regular season, the Pioneers secured home ice for the first time ever and were finally favorites to reach the MAAC Final Four. Their opponent in the single-elimination quarterfinal, Canisius, didn’t care much about who was underdog or favorite and held a late 2-0 lead — making another disappointment for the Pioneers imminent. But a third-period rally forced overtime when Garrett Larson scored the biggest goal in school history, beating Bryan Worosz at 10:31 of the first overtime to propel Sacred Heart to its first Final Four. The Pioneers would fall, 3-2, to eventual champion Quinnipiac in the semifinals.

2. Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending: 2002 has proven that regardless of how much talent the MAAC is able to recruit, the one position that the league has found strong is goaltending. Names like Quinnipiac’s Jamie Holden, Sacred Heart’s Eddy Ferhi, and Mercyhurst’s Peter Aubry became commonplace on the national landscape with the nation’s top clubs fearing that these and many other goaltenders around the league could steal a game on any given night. Possibly the most impressive performance came from AIC’s Frank Novello, who turned aside a total of 190 shots in four games last season against Fairfield, producing three wins in the four matchups.

1. Quinnipiac beats Mercyhurst in 2002 title game; advances to NCAA tournament: In a rematch of the 2001 championship, the Mercyhurst Lakers faced then-nameless Quinnipiac (the club had abandoned the name “Braves” but had yet to select its current moniker of “Bobcats”) in the MAAC final on March 16. A game that many thought could be a blowaway in favor of the front-running Lakers instead saw Quinnipiac jump out to a 4-0 first-period lead. Mercyhurst rallied in the third period, pulling within a goal at 5-4, but Ryan Olsen broke free and scored an empty-net goal to secure the 6-4 victory and Quinnipiac’s first-ever NCAA bid.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
Fred Coccimiglio, Canisius
Sophomore, F, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Coccimiglio registered two points in the Griffs’ 4-2 win over Mercyhurst, scoring an empty-net goal with 13 seconds remaining to seal the victory and assisting on the game-winning goal by Todd Bowler. Coccimiglio has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 10 games this season after missing the first four games of the year due to a wrist injury. His five goals are good enough to place him in a tie for sixth in the conference and his five assists put him in a tie for fifth place.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Co-Goalies of the Week:
Ian Vigier, Iona
Freshman, G, Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba

Rookie netminder Vigier picked up his first collegiate win this weekend in a 4-1 victory over Fairfield on Friday night. Vigier stopped 23 of 24 attempts in the game. On Sunday, Vigier made 40 saves in a 4-1 nonconference loss to Union, his second-highest save total this season.

Brad Roberts, Army
Freshman, G, Cassville, N.Y.

The freshman netminder recorded 40 saves in a 3-1 decision over Fairfield Saturday night. He stopped a total of 68 shots in Army’s two games. The 40 saves against the Stags is the second time this season that he has turned away at least 40 in one game. He made 28 saves in a losing effort at UConn on Friday night. However, his performance kept Army alive in the third period. Roberts boasts a .924 save percentage, best in conference play.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
C.J. McConnell, American International College
Freshman, F, Sault Ste Marie, Ont.

McConnell recorded his first career three-point game, dishing three assists in AIC’s lone game of the week, a 6-5 victory at UConn. The three points are also his first points in MAAC play. The win put the Yellow Jackets in seventh place in the league standings.

See You Next Year

With teams entering the holiday break, this column will take a hiatus until after the New Year. The next edition will be January 2, 2003, when we will recap the UConn Classic from Storrs, Conn., and hand out some midseason report cards.

To all of the loyal readers, as always, thanks for reading. And I wish you and all of your family a joyous, healthy and safe holiday season! Happy New Year!