This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 5, 2004

Larson’s Turnaround Helping Pioneer Cause

Forty points in a season is a hefty task for a college player. The point-a-game ratio will garner a lot of eyes from opposing coaches and put plenty a smile on your own head coach’s face.

Sacred Heart head man Shaun Hannah had exactly that smile when he entered the 2003-04 campaign. He knew that, if anything, this season could be a rebuilding year for a club that lost eight lettermen from a year ago — but if anything would help it might be forward Garrett Larson, who notched exactly 40 points a year ago.

Most, though, thought that Sacred Heart hit a peak last season when the Pioneers earned home ice in the playoffs and before losing to a red-hot Bentley squad. Hannah, though not agreeing, realized that this year would be difficult to say the least.

“We knew we’d have a young team and our focus would be on the process and learning and doing the thing we needed to do,” said Hannah. “We wanted to come together and play our best hockey down the stretch.”

Concern, though, could be an understatement for Hannah when talking about the season. When a player like Larson — who Hannah hoped to be his offensive leader — had what some might describe as a cold streak, it would be cause for concern.

So it was up to Hannah and his staff to simplify things. Saying they went back to basics probably is extreme. To say that there was a desire to take the pressure off the junior phenom is accurate.

“We talked to him a lot,” said Hannah, about conversations he and his coaching staff had with the junior from Rycroft, Alb. “We talked about continuing to do the little things and winning the one-on-one battles. These are the things we all need to do to be successful and doing that will make the goals come.

“We talked more about defensive play and taking the emphasis off of scoring, knowing that the scoring is there for Garrett Larson.

“He’s proven to be a producer in the past and he’s a guy who can generate some offense. It was just a matter of him finding his rhythm and he’s settled into a lineup he’s comfortable with.”

“Settling” would be an understatement after last week’s display. Facing in-state rival Connecticut in a critical league series, Larson potted two goals, including the game-winner, and added an assist on Friday at home, before scoring a hat trick on Saturday in front of a near-capacity crowd Saturday at UConn. Both games the Pioneers won, ending a ten-game winless drought, and more importantly, moving them into fourth place in the league standings heading down the stretch.

“It was nice to see him put some goals in the net for us,” Hannah said in an understatement of a performance that earned Larson Offensive Player of the Week honors. “He struggled the first half of the year quite a bit but he’s a kid who keeps on working. He worked hard to keep winning the one-on-one battles and create scoring opportunities. The last couple of games it’s started to come together offensively.”

With the offensive surge for Larson, which not only includes his six-point-two-game spurt last weekend that, but also 10 points in the last six games, Hannah is quick to credit Larson’s linemates as well. After search all season for a trio that gelled, Hannah found Rocco Molinaro and Marc Fournier to complement Larson’s offensive talents.

“Rock is a great playmaker who can find Larson,” Hannah said. “Fournier is a power forward who can create a lot of room for that line. They’re all in the top five on our team in scoring.”

Timing, of course, couldn’t be better. Despite the fact that home ice isn’t an issue for the Pioneers this season with the entire league tournament hosted by Army, playoff position is what matters at this point, and holding a top four spot is still something Hannah looks at as key.

“I think we’ve played our best hockey in the last couple of weeks here and the guys are motivated to make February their month.

“[The fact that there’s no home ice] forces you to change your focus a little bit. In the past we were trying to play for home ice, but for our team now, with the way the playoffs are set up, we’re just looking to play our best hockey down the stretch.

“Who you play is who you play, though, you can’t control that stuff. So we just need to pull things together to play our best hockey down the stretch.”

If the other 19 players even come close to following Larson’s lead, that hockey will more than impress — it might win a championship.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Garrett Larson, Sacred Heart (F, Jr., Rycroft, AB)

Larson broke out of a scoring drought with a big weekend against UConn. He scored two goals, including the game-winner; in a 4-2 Pioneers win on Friday night. He followed that performance by recording his first hat-trick of the season, which included two power play goals. Larson had five goals and one assist on the weekend, with three of his goals scored on the power play. He is now tied for third in the team in scoring with nine goals and five assists for 14 points.

Goaltender of the Week

Brad Roberts, Army (So., G, Cassville, N.Y.)

Roberts picked up two wins in goal against Canisius, making 28 and 36 saves, respectively. The workhorse in Army’s net made 64 saves on 68 shots in the two games, recording a .941 save percentage. His stop of Canisius captain Rob Martin on a clean breakaway Friday night preserved a 3-3 tie. Roberts shut out the Griffs for a total of 66 minutes between the two games.

Freshman of the Week

Casey Bickley, Army (Fr., D, Faribault, Minn.)

Bickley recorded four assists in Army’s two wins over Canisius. The rookie defenseman registered a career-high three helpers Saturday night, including two on the power play. Bickley picked up a third power play point Friday with an assist on Chris Garceau’s goal, capping the most productive weekend in his young career.

Official Goof

File it under “blunder of the week.”

Each week, Atlantic Hockey, as do most leagues, compiles a weekly report, which generally is comprised of weekly award announcements as well as notes for each team (comprised of reports given to the league by each school’s sports information director). The report is disseminated to the media each Monday.

Last week’s report might have proved that “cut and paste” is the order of the day, as no one in the league office noted the fact that Canisius’ report contained harsh criticism of last weekend’s officials, Peter Torgerson and Chip MacDonald (who, by the way, is the nephew of retired NHL referee Paul Stewart).

The following excerpts sent Atlantic Hockey management into a frenzy when they read:

“Canisius appeared to score their own go-ahead goal with 3:06 remaining in the game as sophomore Jon Durno tipped in a shot by freshman Billy Irish-Baker, but referee Peter Torgerson inexplicably waved off the goal to the delight of the home crowd.”

“Referee Chip McDonald gave the Black Knights plenty of opportunities, calling 11 penalties in the first 40 minutes on the Griffs, compared to only six for the host Black Knights.”

A day after the release was distributed the league office sent a follow-up email stating that the weekly release contained commentary that did not reflect the opinion of the league office. They called the copy “unedited.”

Call it the first “official goof” (no pun intended … okay, maybe there is one) of the newly-formed league office. But definitely call it a potential disciplinary offense for the Griffs, as coaches and schools are strictly prohibited from making any commentary related to the performance of game officials.

And chalk this one up to a lesson learned in proofreading.

Notes around the league …

  • File under “Don’t look now”: First, for Holy Cross, the fact that Mercyhurst is quickly closing the once-enormous gap between the schools, despite the fact that the Crusaders picked up a point last weekend when the Lakers took three of four from Quinnipiac and HC swept Bentley. Still, a 15-point gap in the standings has closed to six with the Cross still hanging on to the top spot. Holy Cross owns the tiebreaker between the two clubs after sweeping a weekend series in Erie early in the season.

    Fitting in that same category, but on the other side of the coin, might be American International and Connecticut. Both teams which have the potential to play just as well as the league’s top clubs, have struggled and are in position to have to win a “play-in” game, just for the right to play in the league quarterfinals. UConn currently sits with seven points in the standings and AIC six, compared to seventh place Bentley which stands more comfortably with 10 points. Granted, all of that could turn around with just one league series, which may be the good news that UConn coach Bruce Marshall and AIC coach Gary Wright need to hear.

  • Quinnipiac, which was swept last weekend by Mercyhurst, may be facing a major test this weekend. It’s not whether or not the Bobcats can win games, it’s whether or not they simply will. The “Q” faces Canisius in a makeup game this Friday night from an early December postponement, and the travels to AIC on Saturday. To say that these are must-wins may be overstating things, particularly with the fact that home ice isn’t an issue this year. Still, wanting to ride momentum into the league tournament means this could be do or die time for the Bobcats to turn on the jets. If Canisius or AIC can spoil the ride, look for a very interesting league finish.

    On a lighter note …

    It’s rare that I get a chance to talk about anything in this column not related to Atlantic Hockey. But a conversation in the press box from last Monday’s Beanpot led me to share this.

    It was begun by Hockey East’s Director of Media Relations Noah Smith, who jokingly said after BU’s 5-2 victory over Northeastern “Boston University is 8-0-0 when leading after three periods.” (Ironically, that’s incorrect, as the record should be 7-0-0, with one of BU’s wins coming in overtime).

    The “Captain obvious” statement got a chuckle out of the media, and led one writer to quip back (in reference to Massachusetts-Lowell’s forfeit of five wins, including two against Massachusetts): “UMass is 2-7-0 when trailing at the end of three periods.”

    Okay, maybe you had to be there for it to be funny.