This Week in the MAAC: Jan. 2, 2003

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Death — the reality of losing a loved one — is never easy to cope with. Somehow, though, when a youngster loses his life, it’s even little tougher to swallow.

There is always the need to think of what could have been when a person’s life is cut short at a young age. So there’s no doubt that the pre-Christmas news that came to the Holy Cross hockey program was, in understated words, difficult to handle.

After battling off the ice harder than most will ever battle on it, Holy Cross junior Glenn Crane, known to many by the nickname “Spike,” lost his struggle with Hodgkin’s Disease on December 23.

When Crane arrived at Holy Cross in the fall of 2000, head coach Paul Pearl had high hopes. Crane had an impressive playing resume that included the Hill School in Pennsylvania and the well-known Little Caesar’s hockey program.

“We were fired up to get him because he was such a top recruit,” said Pearl. “He really lit it up at the Hill School. He was just a real smart player who worked extremely hard.”

Early in his rookie year, Crane was dealt a devastating blow: Hodgkin’s disease had been diagnosed. Still, he displayed the resilience that he would throughout the entire battle.

“He was the most positive human being I’ve ever met in my life,” said Pearl of Crane’s courage. “He’s had cancer since he was a freshman here and he never ever stopped being positive and making people around him feel better.

“His attitude was always ‘It’s fine, Coach, I’ll be back in the lineup next week.'”

Crane’s positive attitude seemed to pay off as his cancer went into remission. In September of 2001, Crane returned to the hills of the Cross with what he hoped was a new lease on life.

During training camp that year, Pearl noted Crane as one of the best forwards on his team. In the team’s season-opening exhibition loss to St. Nick’s, Crane scored Holy Cross’ second goal. It was the only time he’d light the lamp wearing the Purple and White.

After playing the following weekend at Air Force, Crane’s doctors found that his cancer had returned and that he’d immediately need to restart chemotherapy treatments.

The news came back to campus around Halloween and the Crusader players all decided to show dedication to their sick teammate. Before a weekend series at Mercyhurst and Canisius, the entire club shaved their heads, in tribute to the grueling chemotherapy treatments.

Sadly, though, the cancer this time did not go away. Though his name remained on the Holy Cross roster, and he returned to campus this fall hoping to get back in the lineup after Christmas, his illness forced him to return to his hometown of Sterling Heights, Mich., in October. When the Crusaders traveled to Ohio to face Findlay before Thanksgiving, Crane met his teammates for one final time.

“He was pretty sick at that point,” said Pearl. “They were really trying a lot of different things and I just know he was really fighting it around that time.”

The only justice in all of this is that Crane will no longer suffer. But that is the sole consolation for such an influential and courageous person being taken from life.

At times, as a journalist, you write about people who you never had the chance to know. You have to depend on the words of others to give a voice. That being the case now, the opinion I have formed of this young man ranks him in the same class as I put heroes like firefighters, educators, and my own parents.

Crane’s final stats at Holy Cross will read that he registered just one goal and one assist in five games. Someone who didn’t know his history with the program might think that his impact was negligible.

But to know the true story would reveal that, through courage and determination, the impact that he left on the Crusader program is more of a contribution than ever could be made by a 50-goal scorer.

And that is a contribution we may see for some time to come.

Weekly Awards

With a sparse schedule of MAAC action last week the league did not hand out weekly awards. With that in mind, I’m taking it upon myself to distribute some.

Player of the Week: Guillaume Caron, American Int’l

In a two-game weekend series at MSU-Mankato, Caron figured in five of his team’s six goals, tallying two goals and three assists. In the second of the two games, Caron assisted on two goals in a shocking 3-3 tie with the WCHA club. The junior from St. Nicholas, Que., leads AIC in scoring with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in just 13 games.

Goaltender of the Week: Chad Davis, American Int’l

Though unable to collect a win on the week, Davis’ outstanding performance in AIC’s two-game set at Mankato is worthy of recognition. Though surrendering seven goals in the series-opening 7-3 loss, Davis still posed 53 saves. He improved on that performance on Saturday night when he stopped 57 of 60 Mankato shots to steal a 3-3 road tie. Though he possesses a 4.25 goals against average, his ability is seen in his more-than-decent .894 overall save percentage.

Rookie of the Week:

Maybe now I understand why the league didn’t choose awards this week. As far as rookie performances go, there weren’t any spectacular ones. There were, though, some great sophomore performances, such as Cody Wojdyla’s three points for Fairfield in a weekend split with Air Force.

Tough Criteria to Meet

When officially debuts the PairWise Rankings in the next few days, there’s one thing you probably won’t see: a MAAC team.

The reason is a change in the NCAA tournament selection criteria that even slipped past this writer’s eyes. I knew the criteria would change this year, but I guess my lack of attention to detail made me miss the NCAA’s new definition of “Teams Under Consideration” — those teams eligible to be included in the PairWise methodology.

Under the old criteria, a team under consideration was defined as any club with a winning percentage at or above .500. In years past, that would be about half of the MAAC field. This season, a tougher nonconference schedule all around has lowered records across the league, and only Quinnipiac (10-4-1) and Holy Cross (8-7-0) are currently above .500.

Regardless, neither of those teams qualify under the new criteria. The changes this year require not that you record be above .500, but rather that your Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) must be above .500.

For those not familiar with the RPI, it is one tool used to select teams for the NCAA tournament. Only results between two teams that each play 20 or more games against Division 1 opponents are used. Factors involved are 1) the team’s winning percentage; 2) the average winning percentage of the team’s opponents; and 3) the average winning percentage of the team’s opponents’ opponents. These factors are multiplied by 25%, 50%, and 25% respectively, and summed up.

The resultant is a number displayed as a fraction measured to the thousandth that, in theory, represents a team’s competitiveness in relation to its strength of schedule.

The fact that the winning percentage of the average MAAC team is below .500 translates to the fact that it will be very difficult for a MAAC team to get its RPI above .500 — at least in the near future.

For most coaches, including Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold, the new criteria basically writes off any thoughts of an at-large bid.

“Our league has improved each of the five years, and I don’t think we’ve hit a plateau yet,” said Pecknold. “But with the scholarship limitations (MAAC schools are limited to 11 scholarships instead of the NCAA limit of 18) it holds us back from taking a step forward. And I don’t think with the scholarship limitation that we can compete for an at-large bid year in and year out.”

Pecknold noted what is important is for the lower-tiered MAAC clubs to continue to improve — something we’ve seen happen this year.

“You look at schools like Bentley and they’ve taken a step forward this year. That’s what needs to continue to improve. We need to close the gap from top to bottom.”

If the league can close the gap and get more than half the league to competitive, above-.500 records, teams might return to the “under consideration” category.

Until then, the fight in the MAAC will be for the automatic qualifier.

“We have the automatic bid and everything that we do is to work towards the automatic qualifier,” said Pecknold. “It’s all about making a playoff run and getting to the tournament.”

Nonleague Results Seen As Positive

On a somewhat-related topic, last week’s nonleague results positively foreshadow the top-to-bottom closure that Pecknold referenced.

Two of the league’s perennial cellar-dwellers, AIC and Fairfield, enjoyed big games outside of MAAC play.

AIC, a night after getting shelled 7-3 by WCHA foe MSU-Mankato, responded with a 3-3 tie against Mavericks. Though allowing 60 shots on goal in each of the two games, Yellow Jacket netminder Chad Davis came up with a yeoman’s performance Saturday, stopping 57 shots to earn the tie. In fact, the Yellow Jackets were just 79 seconds away from pulling the ultimate upset and beating Mankato when Adam Gerlach scored to earn the draw.

“I think it was a good weekend for the team and the boys,” Davis said. “First time we got to come out to the WCHA and represent the MAAC. We gave it a good effort and tied the game. We’re disappointed [not to get the win], but at the same time I think we can build off it.

“We’re happy to get something out of it. Obviously we wanted the win, but I think we rebounded and gained a little respect after [Friday] night, and that’s what we were looking for.”

Back in Connecticut, Fairfield was pulling off a minor upset of its own, earning the school’s first-ever win again CHA-member Air Force. Stags netminder Andrew Martin earned his first career shutout with 17 saves.

The win came on the heels of a tough 5-4 loss to the Falcons that saw a late third-period Stag rally fall one goal short.