With the war in Iraq the common topic, college hockey took the stage at the United States Military Academy on Friday, with heightened security extremely noticeable on the West Point, N.Y., campus.
As the MAAC tournament opened, security checkpoints that, according to military officials, have been in place since Sept. 11, 2001, stopped and searched fans and media entering the southern-N.Y. academy.
Military police armed with weapons searched each vehicle that entered the campus, asking drivers to provide picture identification and vehicle registration before performing searches.
The action all came as the U.S. military along with allied forces performed an all-out attack on Iraq on Friday, in a monumental follow-up on Wednesday night’s initial strikes aimed at Iraqi leadership.
According to Army’s assistant athletic director for game operations, Carol Bush, matters are proceeding as expected.
“I don’t think a lot has changed since 9/11,” said Bush. “People working on the posts [at security gates] have details around the clock.”
Bush noted that contingency plans are in place should the security of the West Point campus be compromised in any way.
“We’ve talked about possible changes and if we need to go to them, we’re prepared to go them,” said Bush. “But still we feel there would be little variation.”
Ken Taylor, director of championships for the MAAC, noted that military officers have been assigned to each team to assist in escorting them on and off campus. According to Bush, that measure is taken more to ease the team’s access around the enormous campus than to provide added security.
“We [provide escorts] for a lot of tournaments, so that’s not much out of the ordinary,” said Bush. “It helps the teams get around the campus and lets them know where to park the buses and such.”
This is the first year that Army has played host to the MAAC Final Four, with the previous four tournaments split evenly between Connecticut and Holy Cross. MAAC’s Tate Rink, named in honor of Lt. Col. Joseph Scranton Tate, killed in action in Osnabruck, Germany, in 1943, is the premier hockey facility in the MAAC, with a seating capacity in excess of 3,000.
Given Lemons, Make Lemonade
Mercyhurst’s Adam Tackaberry scored a breakaway goal in the second period to put the Lakers up, 5-0. When asked about the goal, he told of his motivation to score from Thursday’s practice.
Tackaberry explained that, as is customary with many teams, the Lakers end practice on the day before a game with a “showdown” — each skater allowed to take a penalty shot to try to score. The contest goes on until one skater has scored every time and one has been stopped on each attempt.
Tackaberry dubbed Mercyhurst’s version “Oranges and Lemons,” representative of the prize for first and last place. On Thursday, Tackaberry came in last and was forced to eat the lemon.
“As I was going in on net, I was thinking about the lemon,” said Tackaberry, describing his semifinal goal.
“The loser gets the lemon and you have to eat the skin and everything,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “You’re only allowed to take the sticker off.”
File that one under a sweeter ending.
With Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst facing off in the championship game, there are a few guarantees. First off, it’s the same title matchup for the third straight year — all coming since the MAAC was awarded an NCAA autobid.
It also guarantees that there won’t be a first-time champion this year, as there has been in each of the first four tournaments. Quinnipiac won last year and Mercyhurst the year prior.
Holy Cross, for the record, won in 1999, leaving Bentley the only chance for the league’s fifth different champion.
Packing the house
Friday’s semifinal attendance at Tate Rink was 1,456, which the MAAC announced as a new record for semifinal attendance. The true record on the books came in 1999 at Holy Cross — before the MAAC kept tournament records — when the Crusaders hosted and won the inaugural event. The semifinal attendance that year was recorded as 1,632 and the championship game was 1,786.
Still, it’s a step up from the past two seasons, in which the host team was eliminated in the opening round, leaving semifinal and championship-game crowds below the 1,000 mark.
Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl sat in an interesting position after losing on Friday night — having the ability to handicap the championship game.
Said Pearl: “I think Mercyhurst has a good defensive corps, but I think Quinnipiac has the best in the league. I think Quinnipiac has good forwards, but I think Mercyhurst has really good forwards. And I think the goalies are a wash.”
So according the Pearl, Saturday’s game will likely be a tie.
“I said to [Quinnipiac head coach] Rand Pecknold after the game that I think it’s going to be a heck of a [championship] game on Sunday. It will be a battle of the defense of Quinnipiac and how they handle the speed of Mercyhurst.”