This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 13, 2003

First Analysis of Standings: Interesting

We’re six weeks into the season, and for most Atlantic Hockey teams a couple of weeks into the league schedule. With a total of 15 league games complete, a quick check of the standings reveals some interesting trends.

Three clubs stand without a loss: Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac are both 3-0-0 and Holy Cross is 4-0-1. Four teams are without a win: Canisius is 0-4-1, Bentley is 0-1-1, American International is 0-2-0 and Sacred Heart is 0-3-0. Sandwiched in between are Army at 2-1-1 in fourth place and Connecticut at 1-2-0.

The translations would be that a clear early-season line seems to be developing between the top of the league and the bottom. The league’s top three teams follow the preseason predictions. The Crusaders, Lakers and Bobcats were all figured to be top clubs. That those three teams would jump out early isn’t shocking, but is interesting. Looking around at other conferences, even the top teams have blemishes.

The bottom of the league is similar. Many questioned whether Canisius and Sacred Heart could be strong with young lineups. A few wondered if Bentley could hold its pattern as a dominant MAAC club as the league transitioned over to Atlantic Hockey. And AIC was the preseason pick for the cellar, all due respect to the Yellow Jackets.

So taking all of this into consideration, one has to ask: Is Atlantic Hockey becoming predictable? Coaches disagree.

“We’ve only played three league games. Our league schedule started so late and we played a lot of nonconference games in October,” said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah. “It’s really far too early to tell anything.

Even the top of the pile agrees.

“There haven’t been enough games yet to tell,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “As easily as you can win two, you can lose two. Something eventually is going to give.

“Much like I did last year, I think it’s anybody’s regular season to have. It’s all about getting the right mental aspect and the right chemistry at the right time.”

For clubs such as Canisius and Sacred Heart, a lot of the early season reflects youth. As the season progresses, they believe that they’ll be contenders.

“To someone who is right in here in the middle of it, they see that we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Hannah of his squad, which sports 10 rookies. “We have to overcome some things here early.

“We’ve been in every game except the Providence game (a 7-2 loss). In all of the other games we made some mistakes in the defensive zone that have cost us goals and wins. But we’re making progress every night.

“The attitude is totally positive.”

As for the fact that the league’s preseason favorites have jumped out to fast starts, there are two schools of thought.

“These teams have obviously had a good start and jumped out in front,” said Hannah. “But it’s early enough that there’s an opportunity for teams to creep back in there. We’ve got a real big chunk of the schedule left to climb the ladder and get back in the thick of it all.”

Gotkin, on the top of that ladder, doesn’t see these early-season wins as any more critical than, say, a nonleague game.

“With the playoff structure this year, every team makes the playoffs and there is no home ice, so there’s none of that to be had this year,” said Gotkin, referring to a playoff system that will provide spots for all nine teams with the entire single-elimination playoffs played at Army’s Tate Rink. “In the past we had clear goals — to make the playoffs, get home ice and win the league.

“Now all we have is to win the league and hope that in March we’re playing well enough to win three straight games.”

Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the coming weeks to see if the Atlantic Hockey standings will become a melting pot or a league with a continental divide.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

David Wrigley, Mercyhurst (Jr, F, Washago, Ontario) — Wrigley had a six-point weekend, including a four-goal game against Army Friday night. He scored in the first period, had two goals (including the game-winner) in the second, and added his fourth in the third. He also assisted on Mercyhurst’s first goal against UConn Saturday and the game-winner in overtime.

Goaltender of the Week

Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac (Jr, G, Telkwa, B.C) — Holden put together another fine outing on Saturday as the Bobcats downed Sacred Heart, 4-2. The junior turned away 41 of 43 shots, including 19 in the third, to help the Bobcats to their third straight win. The 41 saves were the second most for him this season, coming second only to a 45 save effort at Wisconsin.

Freshman of the Week

William Magnuson, Connecticut (Fr., F, Rochdale, MN) — Magnuson scored his first goal of his UConn career in timely fashion, slipping the puck in the net in overtime to give the Huskies a 4-3 win over Canisius on November 7. Magnuson has one goal and one assist on the season for two points.

Alum in NHL a First for League

Pat Rissmiller, who two seasons ago led the then-MAAC in scoring capturing league honors as player of the year, has become the first MAAC/Atlantic Hockey player to appear on an NHL roster.

After signing with the San Jose Sharks as a free agent on September 30, 2002, Rissmiller has spent a good part of two seasons on the roster for the Cleveland Barons, San Jose’s AHL farm team. This year, Rissmiller leads all Barons scorers with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 11 games, has a plus-5 rating and is 11th in the league in scoring.

The Sharks will hope that Rissmiller can help a lineup that has been unimpressive at 3-6-6-1, only a point ahead of hapless Phoenix for last place in the Pacific Division.

Over his collegiate career, Rissmiller scored 143 points, highlighted by a 46-point senior campaign. The native of Belmont, Mass., registered 40 points in 72 games with the Barons last season.

Wild Weekend Out West

Mercyhurst and Canisius were the sites of some strange happenings last Friday and Saturday — ones that over time you may only see once or twice.

Start Friday night at Canisius. Connecticut held a late 3-2 lead in a game that had been relatively peaceful. That was until the final seconds.

With the goalie on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, the Griffs buried the equalizer with just two seconds remaining as Daryl Pierce set up Jaymie Harrington to knot the score at three.

In the excitement of the goal, though, a skirmish broke out in front of the UConn net where Pierce ended up throwing and landing punches in front of referee Rick Prochaska. The man in stripes slapped Pierce with a major and game disqualification for fighting, giving the Huskies a five-minute power play to take them through much of the overtime period.

Three minutes, 26 seconds into the OT, William Magnuson buried the game-winner for UConn, spoiling the Canisius comeback and making Pierce into the goat.

“One of their guys (Pierce) celebrated a little too much and celebrated on one of our players,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall. “I think the ref had to call something and he ended up calling a major.

“It was a great learning point for a young team. Our captain (the player who got punched) didn’t retaliate and I told the guys afterwards that I probably couldn’t have done that.”

One night later, though, the tables turned on UConn. Playing at Mercyhurst, the Huskies jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second only to see Mercyhurst climb back into the game, tie it in the third period and win in overtime.

The kicker, though, was the fact that Mercyhurst was awarded a penalty shot just 12 seconds into overtime when UConn D-man Mark Murphy covered the puck his own crease. David Wrigley took the shot for the Lakers a night after he scored four goals in a 7-2 win over Army, but was stuffed by UConn goalie Scott Tomes.

That, though, would matter little once a Rich Hansen shot deflected off a UConn defender and controversially ended up in back of Tomes.

“It looked like [Tomes] got his arm on it before it went in the net,” said Marshall, who also noted that the penalty shot was the first he’s ever seen awarded in his 16 years of coaching, “but the ref was in position and said the arm and the puck were in the net.”

“It was wild,” said Gotkin, whose team extended its winning streak to four with Saturday’s victory. “Goals were disallowed, goals were awarded. There were penalty shots. A little bit of everything was going on here Saturday night.”

Yes, indeed, a little bit of everything.

‘Gate Will Sail Into Harbor

Following up a recent column on the lack of home games that Atlantic Hockey teams play against the Big Four conferences, Hannah pointed out that the Pioneers, in fact, will host ECAC member Colgate this December at the Arena at Harbor Yard — the AHL home of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

It’s the second straight year that the Pioneers are part of college hockey at this venue. A year ago Sacred Heart teamed up with Quinnipiac and now-defunct Fairfield to host the MAAC Hockey Challenge. This year, it will be a solo show for the Pioneers when they host the Raiders on December 12, and Hannah is hoping for a solid fan turnout.

“We wanted to find the teams that have a marketable image,” said Hannah about choosing a nonleague opponent. “Strength of alumni was what we looked for when we were looking for the team to bring in.”

According to Hannah, Colgate has a large alumni base in the southern Connecticut and New York City area, all easily accessible to Bridgeport. He hopes that strong ticket sales can make an event in a venue like this profitable.

“It can be a financial situation that works,” Hannah said. “If we sell some tickets and play some opponents who are good draws, then it can work.”

Hannah noted that much of the push to play in the Arena revolves around balancing SHU’s schedule. The Pioneers have played most of their nonleague games on the road since moving to Division I six years ago.