This Week in the MAAC: Jan. 9, 2003


That was the only word I could come up with last weekend when I logged onto USCHO and found out that Bentley had swept Sacred Heart in the two-game Friday/Saturday series.

It was just a few short months ago that Bentley was the “automatic” in the MAAC. The Falcons had won just seven league games over the last two seasons. Even my weekly picks knew that I’d be 85 percent correct in games Bentley played if I simply picked against them.

And then, suddenly, the Falcons were flying right to the top of the league.

Maybe I should have had some clue. The final game for Bentley before break was a 2-0 shutout of Holy Cross. That at least led me to pick a split in last weekend’s series. But a sweep?

Searching for how this team has become hockey’s Lazarus — swept from the dead of the MAAC to sit in third place (albeit in a four-way tie) in January — the reason wasn’t too hard to find.

Head coach Ryan Soderquist, in his first year with the Falcons after replacing longtime leader Jim McAdam, points to an infusion of youth and spirit into the team.

“We have a great freshman class that brought with it a great attitude. It’s definitely revived the team,” said Soderquist.

Given their history, it was easy for the Falcons to get down on themselves. Soderquist knew that the only way for this team to change its on-ice results would be to change what happens off the ice.

Attitude was the area that Soderquist wanted to improve.

“There’s not a single negative thing said on this team,” said Soderquist. That positive mentality, he believes, takes pressure off the players and injects the fun that was missing back into the game. “We’ve seen a new attitude out of the seniors, the juniors and sophomores as well, and now everyone is on the same page.”

Bentley has taken big steps by combining a lot of smaller ones. The first started well before the season when the club changed its off-ice conditioning program. Once the year began, it was the challenge of learning how to win that the team had to conquer.

Even that, Soderquist says, might be partly good fortune.

“I think we stole some games that looking at the schedule, preseason, you wouldn’t have thought you could win,” said Soderquist. “We really didn’t foresee everything that has happened, happening.

“We won some games early on the road and realized that we could play on the road. And we came into Saturday’s game versus Sacred Heart saying that we have to learn how to win at home.”

Winning at home was the first major challenge the Falcons faced, and haven’t totally conquered (Saturday’s win over Sacred Heart was only their second home win). But if the Falcons continue to play well on the road, that pressure could be removed.

Soderquist set a goal each weekend to win at least one of two games. So when Friday’s game at Sacred Heart accomplished that, the pressure to win was off.

The comparison to Lazarus may not be far off the mark. After missing the playoffs two straight years, many were asking if the program was committed to being successful in the MAAC. Financially, Bentley had fallen behind many of the other clubs. Its arena is a local youth hockey rink, a fact that used to force the team to practice at 6 a.m. Bentley has never given the same number of scholarships as schools like Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst.

Heck, until this year, the team never had a full-time coach.

All that was not only a challenge, but an excuse, something Soderquist wanted to change.

“I think when the league was so young, the money issue even got into the heads of the players,” Soderquist said. They always used it as an excuse why they couldn’t win a game.

“This year, for us at least, there have been no excuses. We can and will play for 60 minutes hard with any team and that shows now.

“It’s a great thing to be in third place, but I like our attitude. We’re not satisfied with the position we are. We’re happy to be there from the position we were in a year ago. But we realized that there’s a chance to maybe have home ice in the playoffs.

The road for the Falcons isn’t easy. Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac, Canisius and Holy Cross dot the Bentley schedule. Those teams, though, are only as tough to play as any other, according to Soderquist.

“The league has changed so much this year,” Soderquist said. “Night to night, you don’t have any idea who won until you see the score. Guys are favored and you think things will happen, but then they don’t. It’s great to see.”

Great, indeed, just like the rebirth of Bentley hockey.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
Matt Froehlich, Quinnipiac
Sophomore, F, Apple Valley, MN

Froehlich scored the Bobcats’ second goal Friday as Quinnipiac defeated Canisius 2-0. Saturday night, Froehlich assisted on the equalizer and tallied the game-winner in overtime as Quinnipiac defeated the Griffs 4-3, completing the weekend sweep.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week:
Simon St. Pierre, Bentley
Sophomore, G, Montreal, Quebec

St. Pierre started the weekend with a 27-save effort in a 2-1 win at Sacred Heart and followed that performance with 30 saves in a 4-3 win against the Pioneers at Bentley. For the weekend he totaled 57 saves, compiled a 2-0 record and relinquished just four goals. St. Pierre is currently seventh on Bentley’s all-time save list, with 1,265 saves in less than two years. His efforts helped the Falcons sweep the Pioneers, the school’s first-ever weekend sweep of a team in MAAC play.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
Andy Franck, Mercyhurst
Freshman, G, Lakewood, OH

Franck stopped 31 of 32 shots Saturday as Mercyhurst rebounded from Friday’s loss to UConn with a 3-1 win. It was Franck’s third victory of the season and snapped a six-game winless streak for the Lakers (0-5-1). Mercyhurst hadn’t won since November 15, when Franck got the win in goal in a 5-3 win over visiting Army.

Making Me A Liar

Just days after my rant on here about the new NCAA tournament criteria affecting the MAAC — to the point that likely MAAC teams won’t even be eligible for an at-large bid because of lowered ratings — Quinnipiac went and made a liar out of me.

When Quinnipiac swept last weekend’s series with Canisius, the Bobcats’ Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rose to .5005 — five-ten-thousandths of a point above the requirement for at-large consideration to the national tournament.

Still, Quinnipiac loses the head-to-head comparison to every one of the remaining 30 qualifying teams, placing 31st and last in the PairWise Rankings (PWR) — USCHO’s formula that mimics the NCAA selection process.

Interestingly, though, someone asked me why Quinnipiac’s PWR is so low compared to past years. That made me do a little mathematical digging.

The reasoning relates back to last week’s column: that the change to the “Teams Under Consideration” (TUC) rule greatly affects Quinnipiac.

In years past, when any team with a record .500 or better would be labeled a “Team Under Consideration,” many of the MAAC teams would fall into this category. So Quinnipiac, Mercyhurst and other top MAAC schools would beat fellow league members in the head-to-head comparison that is the basis for PWR, sometimes sporting one of the best records in the country against TUC.

But this year, the only teams under consideration that Quinnipiac has faced are Northeastern and Maine — both 2-1 losses. So Quinnipiac has a .000 winning percentage against TUCs, meaning that the Bobcats lose that comparison to every team in the country.

The other criteria are RPI — of which Quinnipiac has the lowest among teams ranked in the PWR — head-to-head and common opponents. The latter two categories neither hurt nor help Quinnipiac as they play few of these teams head-to-head and have few, if any, opponents in common.

So what does this all translate to? Well, it somewhat supports my point from a week ago — that the new criteria make it difficult, if not impossible, for a MAAC team to get an at-large bid. The only way it could happen would be for extreme success throughout the regular season, particularly in nonleague games against the “Big Four,” but not to receive the automatic qualifier as tournament champ.

Further translation: The NCAA won’t have to worry about MAAC teams clouding the tournament picture for a long time.

Flack Back

I caught a lot of flack a couple of weeks ago for picking against American International during a weekend series with MSU-Mankato. I said that it would be a long weekend out in the WCHA for the Yellow Jackets, which all signals indicated.

So when AIC pulled off a 3-3 tie thanks to a miraculous, 57-save effort by Chad Davis, the hate mail rolled in.

It did make me take a more careful look at what AIC has done this season. A 6-2 win at Canisius was credible, though it came at the end of a six-game losing stretch for the Griffs. Besides that, AIC has won against Iona and Connecticut — two teams that join AIC is the cellar of the league. Not exactly what I considered impressive.

Still, figuring that maybe there was some validity, I didn’t mind picking for a split with Army last weekend with each team winning at home. Of course, the Black Knights needed to prove me wrong, sweeping the Yellow Jackets and keeping them on the outside looking in for a playoff spot (early as it still may be).

So my lesson learned is a piece of the ol’ gambling saying: “Bet with your head, not your heart.”

Mine becomes: “Bet with your head, not your email account.”

A Word of Thanks …

On the positive side of the email bag, I wanted to thank all the readers — Holy Cross fans and hockey fans alike — who sent me feedback on last week’s remembrance column for Holy Cross’ Glenn Crane. I was never lucky enough to meet Crane but his story, as it has now been told by more than a couple of people, was very touching and I was lucky enough to be able to write something in tribute to a courageous young man.

I was also happy to see that the Crusaders, themselves, stopped their six-game losing streak with wins over Iona and Sacred Heart this past week. As a religious man talking about a Catholic school, I don’t mind saying that maybe Crane is pushing a little divine intervention the Crusaders’ way.