This Week in the MAAC: Feb. 13, 2003


Over the last year, E! Entertainment Television made popular the show “Rank.” On the geared-towards-pop-culture hour-long show, the network ranks anything from “hottest celebrity” to “richest person.”

Taking the route of the spinoff, we present to you “Rank, College Hockey Style.” On this episode, we’ll be ranking the toughest remaining MAAC schedules as the 2002-03 regular season comes to a close.

How we decide which team’s schedules are tough and which are easy is pretty simple. There’s nothing arbitrary about the process — it’s simply the average winning percentage of the remaining teams. Yes, if I had become a stats major like half of the USCHO staff, I could be factoring in things like RPI, home-ice advantage, special teams, offense and defense, etc.

But my simple mind will do simple math.

Rank No. 1: Tough Row to Hoe — Holy Cross

The team with the toughest remaining schedule is Holy Cross. In their eight remaining games, the Crusaders will face seven opponents above .500. Currently locked in a battle for home ice, the schedule says Holy Cross is likely to be the outside team looking in, but you also have to remember that the Crusaders themselves have a pretty solid wining percentage (.556). Truly, the Crusaders control their own destiny, facing Canisius twice (this weekend) and Bentley twice to close the year.

Rank No. 2: Needing to Catch a Break — Connecticut

It’s bad enough that UConn has had a subpar season, but the fact that it now ranks second behind Holy Cross for toughest remaining schedule with seven games to play doesn’t make things look better. UConn will face off against both Quinnipiac and Bentley in four of its seven remaining contests, but likely the most important games will be against AIC and Iona — teams that, similar to UConn, are fighting for their playoff lives.

Rank No. 3: Join the Connecticut Club — Iona

With UConn and Iona fighting for the final playoff spot, one consolation for both is they have almost equally-tough schedules. The Gaels will play five of their final seven games against teams at or above .500 with Bentley and Mercyhurst both thrown into the mix. The only luxury for New Rochelle’s finest is the fact that their final two games are against Connecticut and Fairfield, translating to the fact that Iona can control its own playoff destiny if it survives the five preceding games.

Rank No. 4: Who Said it Would be Easy — Mercyhurst

The Lakers are in a battle for the league top spot with Quinnipiac. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Mercyhurst has the fourth-toughest remaining schedule, and the Bobcats (see below) have the easiest. The Lakers are finished playing the league’s three worst teams — Connecticut, AIC and Fairfield — meaning that in order to make its move up to three-peat as regular-season champ, Mercyhurst will have to beat the likes of Sacred Heart, Holy Cross, Bentley and Canisius.

Rank No. 5: Survive this Weekend — Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart has to have one thing on its mind — getting past the week’s series at Mercyhurst. Sporting a three-game losing streak, the Pioneers don’t have a single plus-.500 opponent after this week. At this point, Sacred Heart has to have two things in sight. First off, the Pioneers have to worry about staying in the playoff race. Sixth is a dangerous place to be in such a tight league. But simultaneously, the ‘Heart is only one point from the final home-ice position at this point.

Rank No. 6: Surprise, Surprise — Canisius

The Griffs have done their job this year of surprising many. After having problems with a tough nonleague schedule, Canisius returned to MAAC play battle-tested and in the process finds itself in third place entering the final month of play. The average winning percentage of its remaining opponents is .474 — with a single game to close the season against Mercyhurst and this weekend’s series hosting Holy Cross its only games against plus-.500 competition. Don’t let that fool you, though, as Canisius will be facing opponents like Army, Iona and AIC — teams with nothing to lose.

Ranks No. 7, 8 and 9: Tight Threesome — AIC, Army and Bentley

As we approach the easiest remaining schedules, we find three teams in different places in the standings with similarly strong (or weak, as the case may be) remaining schedules. Bentley (ranked ninth) has the upper-hand in this group sitting in a tie for fourth place, with the playoffs basically clinched. Army (ranked eighth) needs all the wins it can get to hold on to a playoff spot. And AIC (ranked seventh) is on the outside with a lot of ground to make up, though with games against Connecticut, Fairfield (twice) and Army still to play.

Rank No. 10: Finally, a Break — Fairfield

The lame duck of the MAAC, Fairfield, is just percentage points away from having the easiest remaining schedule. The Stags will end the school’s hockey history with eight games against Army (twice), AIC (twice), Bentley, Holy Cross, Sacred Heart and Iona. The key matchups will come early in the Army and AIC series. Wins in those would put the currently last-place team into playoff contention, though losses would signal an abrupt end to Fairfield hockey.

Rank No. 11: Easy Road to a Title — Quinnipiac

Is it fair that Quinnipiac sits in first and has the easiest remaining schedule in the league? The fact that the Bobcats play but six remaining games isn’t enough of an advantage. Besides a two-game home-and-home with Holy Cross, the club doesn’t face a tough plus-.500 opponent the rest of the way. A sure bet for the league title, right? Not so fast. Quinnipiac doesn’t control its own destiny yet. With only six games left, and Mercyhurst holding a game in hand, the Lakers control the scenario with the ability to win the remainder and beat QU by at least one point. Should the Lakers stumble anywhere along the way, though, the Quinnipiac schedule lends itself to success.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
Greg Kealey, Holy Cross
Junior, F, Nepean, Ontario

Kealey was a major factor in the Crusaders snapping their six-game losing streak with a pair of victories over AIC, putting together an eight-point weekend with three goals and five assists in two games. On Friday night, Kealey assisted on the Crusaders’ second and third goals, the first to put them up 2-1 and the second to tie the game at 3-3. The following evening, Kealey scored six points on a hat trick and three assists, leading HC to the 8-2 win.

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

Vigier tallied his first collegiate weekend sweep of an opponent with two wins over UConn, making 63 saves in two games. Over the last five games, Vigier is 3-1-1 with 2.00 goals against and a .920 save percentage. Despite his club’s struggles, he ranks fourth in conference save percentage at .914.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week:
Scott Reynolds, Mercyhurst
Freshman, F, Kerrobert, Saskatchewan

Reynolds had a goal in each of Mercyhurst’s three games last week game and finished the week with four goals, an assist, and was plus-3. He scored a power-play goal and an even-strength goal against Canisius Tuesday. The power-play goal was his third of the year and tied the game at two. The even-strength goal started a string of three unanswered goals in the second as Mercyhurst rallied to a 5-4 win. His goal at Sacred Heart tied the game at 2-2 in the first period, and he assisted on the game winning goal at Fairfield, then scored into an empty net to seal the win.

More Honors…

Last week we talked about Mercyhurst’s Andy Franck being selected as the commissioners’ choice for Rookie of the Month. This week, we look to Holy Cross and senior Brandon Doria for another distinguished recognition.

Doria was recently selected by the Gridiron Club of Boston as a finalist for the prestigious Walter Brown Award. Named for the legendary caretaker of America’s oldest ice hockey arena, Matthews Arena in Boston, the award is given annually to the top American-born college hockey player in New England. Doria joins an impressive list of candidates headlined by Boston College’s Ben Eaves, Northeastern’s Mike Ryan and Yale’s Chris Higgins.

According to Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl, the honor was very fitting for Doria and is a culmination of hard work and dedication he has shown the program.

“Brandon has been somebody for four straight years here that teams have had to be aware of every game,” said Pearl. “He’s an excellent offensive player and he’s made himself a good defensive player.

“He’s had a great career here. The nomination is the acknowledgement of his strong play.”

Doria was the only MAAC player selected as a finalist, and one of the few MAAC players to be considered for a regional or national award.

Former Iona standout Ryan Carter was the first MAAC players to make such headlines, last season when he was chosen as the first MAAC finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Think Positive, Boys

Sticking with Holy Cross, attending last week’s game against AIC left this writer scratching his head a bit.

Surely the Crusaders are full of positive thoughts. But one has to wonder if AIC was controlling the pregame music last Saturday.

When Holy Cross took to the ice, the DJ blared a popular U2 tune from the loudspeaker at the Hart Center. Something reinforcing?

Nope. He chose “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Positive thoughts, boys. Positive thoughts.

Buddy, buddy

Last week’s announcement of Fairfield elimination of hockey and football took everyone in the MAAC by surprise. Yours truly was left scrambling to find a lead for last week’s column on a tight Thursday deadline after I learned the news.

Surprises were accompanied by disappointment, as any hockey coach, particularly in the MAAC, dreads the day that an athletic director says that their team is no longer. So it’s easy to understand that 10 other coaches in the league all expressed disappointment and sadness for Jim Hunt and his staff in southern Connecticut.

Seeking any silver lining, you might be able to look towards scheduling. Now a 10-team league, the MAAC will have the chance to adjust its somewhat-flawed scheduling. The best option might be to set the number of regular-season games at 27 — each team plays each opponent three times.

In all of that talk, the one thing that is now set up is a “travel partners” system, similar to the ECAC. Currently, the ECAC is a 12-team conference with each team matching with another to create six pairs of travel partners. These schools take road trips together to face other travel-partner pairs, on Friday night playing one school and then swapping for the Saturday night game.

What is eliminated is the two-game, back-to-back series that currently exists for part of the MAAC season. One of the hardest things to do is beat an opponent two nights in a row. The league, as it’s currently set up, rewards teams that can do that — not that that is a bad thing.

The MAAC now is left geographically in an excellent position for travel partners, matching up as follows (with mileage):

Canisius (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Mercyhurst (Erie, Penn.): 98 miles
Iona (New Rochelle, N.Y.) and Army (West Point, N.Y.): 48 miles
Sacred Heart (Bridgeport, Conn.) and (Hamden, Conn.): 26 miles
Connecticut (Storrs, Conn.) and American Int’l (Springfield, Mass.): 48 miles
Bentley (Waltham, Mass.) and Holy Cross (Worcester, Mass): 39 miles

The difference between the ECAC schedule with 12 teams and the MAAC with 10 is the number of weekly matchups. In the ECAC, three pairs can travel to three other pairs, and twice during the season, each travel pair faces one another in a home-and-home series.

In the MAAC, the balance isn’t as simple. Two pairs would travel each week, and the remaining fifth pair would play one another.

Confused? It’s okay. It’s all a concept, with a lot of components to work through.

“[Travel partners are] certainly something that would make sense,” said MAAC director of championships Ken Taylor, who oversees operation for the MAAC hockey league. “We had 10 teams two years ago so it’s likely that next year’s schedule] would resemble that setup.”

If the statement sounds a bit noncommittal, it’s for good reason. The MAAC is looking to grow. According to the league office, schools like Navy, Robert Morris and Rhode Island are all potential targets for expansion in the coming years.