This Week in the MAAC: Feb. 27, 2003

Two Down, Two To Go

It’s taken nearly four seasons of nonleague play, but thanks to Sacred Heart’s 3-2 upset of Miami, the MAAC league has finally won games against two of the four major Division I conferences.

Though the ECAC has been a conquering point for a number of schools, until last weekend, no club had ever cracked Hockey East, the WCHA, or the CCHA. Close calls had been just that, and after last Friday’s opener of the two-game set between Sacred Heart and Miami, it looked like that might be the case once again.

Sacred Heart dropped the opener, 1-0, on an early goal combined with a 23-save performance by Miami goaltender David Burleigh.

But the one-goal game gave Sacred Heart hope, and a night later, the Pioneers pulled out the victory, splitting the two-game series.

“Our team played a real solid game [at Miami] in all three zones and they really stuck to the game plan we’ve been working on for many weeks,’ said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah. “They worked hard within their systems and maintained their composure and focus.

“That’s the type of thing you need to do down the stretch and into the playoffs. We needed this win given our position in the standings. It was a solid effort from the guys.”

The win certainly fueled the Pioneers — an especially-fitting name now that the club has recorded the first MAAC win in both the ECAC and CCHA — who went on Tuesday night to rout Iona and set up an interesting stretch run. Sacred Heart now sits a point behind Bentley for the final home ice spot and two behind third-place Holy Cross. Each team still has four games to play.

To keep the good news rolling for Sacred Heart, which throughout the year has played well the roles of both Jekyll and Hyde, senior Martin Paquet’s recent play has pushed him atop the school’s all-time record book.

With a goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 6-3 victory, Paquet broke Sacred Heart’s records for both career goals and assists.

“Marty has been great for us for four years,” Hannah said. “He has really developed into a complete player. To see him achieve at this level and break these scoring records is a testament to his hard work and dedication.”

“I really didn’t know I set the record for goals. I knew I broke the points record,” said Paquet. “It was exciting. At the beginning of the year, one of my objectives was to break the records.”

This weekend’s series against Army will pit two of the league’s hottest teams. The Black Knights pulled off what many would have considered the impossible last weekend, knocking off both Canisius and Mercyhurst on the weekend to bring them within a point of Sacred Heart and two points from the final home ice spot. Army has now won eight of its last 10 and 13 of its last 15 games to go from being concerned about its playoff future to a team that could host its entire playoffs at Tate Rink.

The one thing I know: Picking games has gotten tougher as the season has rode on (and yes, maybe I should say a mea culpa for picking twice against Army last weekend). If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t pick a winner in the Sacred Heart-Army series this weekend. It’s simply too tough to call.

Weekly Awards

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Player of the Week:
Chris Casey, Army
Sophomore, F, Framingham, MA

Casey scored three goals in Army’s wins over Canisius and Mercyhurst. All three of his markers came on the power play, and he opened the scoring in each contest. Casey has 10 power-play goals on the year and 16 points with the man advantage. The Framingham, Mass., native scored the first and last goals in Army’s 3-1 win over the Golden Griffins Friday night. He then put the Black Knights up 1-0 on the Lakers Saturday.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week:
Kevin LaPointe, Sacred Heart
Sophomore, G, Quebec City, Quebec

In a surprise start, LaPointe made 43 saves in a 3-2 win over the RedHawks, marking the first MAAC victory over a CCHA member. Despite allowing two goals in the frame, LaPointe was most impressive in the third period, stopping 17 of 19 Miami shots. It was only the sixth start of the year for the sophomore, who now posts a 2-3-1 record overall.

ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week
Ben Conway, Holy Cross
Freshman, G, South Hadley, MA

In two games this past week, Conway tallied 58 saves for the Crusaders. Conway made the most of a second-period substitution on Thursday evening when he replaced classmate Tony Quesada in net and inherited a 3-0 deficit to Quinnipiac. Conway went on to stop 17 of 18 shots in the next two periods, while the Crusaders ran up six goals on the Bobcats, giving Conway his first career victory. Conway received the starting nod Saturday afternoon, but came away emptyhanded with an overtime loss.

A Big Game In The Big Apple

College hockey will make its return to New York and the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, this weekend after a two-and-a-half decade absence when Quinnipiac and Connecticut face off Saturday at noon in the final of their three-game season series.

The clubs will be playing for the Heroes’ Hat, a tradition began last year awarded to the winner of the season series between the two clubs. The award is made in remembrance of the firefighters and emergency personnel who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Suggesting that New York is easily the most fitting place for such a game to be played, Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald recounted the story of how the game ended up at the Garden in the first place.

“It was a little bit of persistence and a lot of luck,” laughed McDonald. “We’d been working on getting men’s basketball in the Garden for five years as part of a pre-St. John’s [University] doubleheader. That never worked our, but I had a long list of people who I got to know.”

McDonald went on to say that one day he took a chance and called a contact at MSG to see if the ice would be open on March 1 and if perhaps MSG would be interested in hosting the game.

He also noted that the fact that the game would be the conclusion of the Heroes’ Hat series “made it more attractive” to MSG.

For Quinnipiac, of course, the game is major for so many different reasons. Besides simply the exposure to the large sports market of New York City, Quinnipiac can one again be looked upon as a leader in the college hockey world and the MAAC. Always trying to stay one step ahead, Quinnipiac was the first MAAC school to play against a “Big Four” conference member, the first to host a game against a Big Four club, the first to work a television deal to televise a league game and now is the first to play in MSG.

That alone has stirred up the excitement on campus.

“We’re going to have 10 or 12 buses of students going from campus and have gone through all 500 tickets we had on campus,” said McDonald, who noted that there will be a large representation from the New York City fire department at the game.

On the hockey side of things, the game has almost become overwhelming for head coach Rand Pecknold.

“It’s not even a game any more, it’s an event,” said Pecknold, who equated coaching in MSG to coaching in last year’s NCAA East Regional. “The significance of the Heroes’ Hat has made it an even bigger event. [That award] really evolved into something.”

Pecknold remembered last year’s award presentation, calling the moment “extremely emotional.”

Though through all the excitement that will be Saturday’s game, one focus that should’t be lost is on the weekend series itself.

Quinnipiac, thanks to Mercyhurst’s road loss at Army last weekend, once again controls its own destiny to win the league title. The Bobcats can shut out the Lakers by sweeping the remaining four games over the next two weekends.

To do that, though, they’ll have to survive at least for Friday night without top goaltender Jamie Holden. Holden has been sidelined since last Saturday with an undisclosed injury. Pecknold at first said that he was out indefinitely but Wednesday night changed that statement saying that Holden would be cleared to skate today (Thursday) and would be available this weekend.

Still, he will start backup Justin Eddy on Friday night’s game, a 5 p.m. start that will be tape delayed on New England Sports Network at 7:30 p.m.

“Justin played well on Saturday [in a 5-4 overtime win over Holy Cross],” said Pecknold. “He’ll be fine. I think he’s one of the best five or six goalies in the league. It’s a nice situation for us that we have depth in goaltender.”