This Week in Atlantic Hockey: March 4, 2004

Position Statement

It’s probably been a term used in business for years, though it seems like the word “positioning” keeps popping up in the Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 world.

This weekend, that trend carries over to hockey, particularly in Atlantic Hockey, as teams will have to scratch and claw to figure out their first-round opponents in the crowd-pleasing, though always dangerous, single-elimination league tournament.

Two things are known. American International will finish as the cellar-dweller, as it is unable to catch running mates Bentley or Army in the standings. At the other end of the spectrum, Holy Cross clinched its first-ever regular-season title with an emotional come-from-behind victory over Mercyhurst last Friday night.

“We were very excited,” said Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl of the victory. “To be playing the second-place team and [come back] made it a lot of fun.”

Asked if there was any glory in the fact that the Crusaders clinched by beating the three-time defending champ, Pearl said that didn’t enter his mind.

“We didn’t really think of it that way,” said Pearl, a frontrunner for Coach of the Year in the league. “I know that the guys trying to chase us were the ones that we were playing and that’s good.”

Despite the fact that Mercyhurst rebounded to trounce Bentley one night later, the Lakers find themselves in a precarious battle to hold onto the runner-up position. For that matter, second may not be the best place to land.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to get the second spot,” said Gotkin, whose club will clinch second all to itself with two out of four points this weekend. “What will the reward be? Maybe a really good Army team at home.”

Indeed, second could be a disastrous place to finish should Army, the host of this year’s tournament hold onto its thin lead over Bentley this weekend. That, though, won’t keep the Lakers from focusing on heading to the playoffs on a high note.

“We want to win two games this weekend, though Canisius will have a lot to say about that,” said Gotkin, whose club will face its nearest league rival in a home-and-home Friday and Saturday. “They’re in a bit of a playoff battle themselves.”

Canisius is part of a mixup with Connecticut for the five/six spots, holding a slim, three-point edge. Connecticut faces lowlier opponents this weekend, playing AIC on Friday and Army on Saturday, compared to the Griffs’ two-game series against the Lakers. Still, the fifth and sixth spots are close to set.

That is the exception, not the norm for the rest of the league.

As mentioned, the Lakers have a bead on second place, but Quinnipiac, one point behind, and Sacred Heart, two points back but holding the tiebreaker, are breathing down Mercyhurst’s neck. The advantage for the Lakers is the fact they still, at this late point in the season, have a game in hand on both teams. Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac are the only two clubs that will play single games this weekend.

Perhaps the most critical positioning battle occurs at seven/eight. Army holds a one-point lead over Bentley for seventh. Though everyone qualifies for the playoffs this season, the eighth- and ninth-place teams will meet in a play-in game on Friday night before returning the next day to play the quarterfinal against Holy Cross.

Though that would seem like an obvious disadvantage, not everyone agrees.

“I guess you can look at it either way,” said Pearl. When his club takes the ice in the quarterfinals, they will face a team that is possibly fatigued, but likely without jitters. “Who knows if you’d rather play or not play, but regardless of what occurs, we’re going to be playing a good team. Whoever we play will be a tough game next Saturday.”

Pearl’s club is in position to accomplish something it hasn’t done since the inaugural year of the league, which is win the postseason title. In the previous five league tournaments (all played under the auspices of the MAAC), the regular-season champ won the title only twice (Mercyhurst in 2001 and 2003).

The single-elimination format makes winning the title a challenge for any team, and giving Army home ice clouds the picture. Still, Pearl like his club’s chances.

“I think we’ve been very consistent all season,” said Pearl. “It hasn’t changed a lot from weekend to weekend. For the most part we’ve been able to grind it out pretty good.

“There haven’t been many blowouts on that winning ledger. We’ve just prepared for each opponent and played very well.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Todd Bowler, Canisius (Jr., F, Branford, ONT) — Bowler led all Griffs with five points in a weekend sweep of visiting American International at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. The Griffs won by scores of 4-2 and 6-3 over AIC. Bowler highlighted the weekend by recording three assists in the 6-3 victory Saturday night, posting a helper on the game’s first goal and two in the third period, including one on the game-winning goal by senior Kyle Bostic. Bowler also added two points in Friday’s 4-2 win, scoring the game-winner at the 8:34 mark of the third period and assisting on the Griffs’ fourth goal. Bowler has turned up his offensive production in the month of February, recording 11 points (3-8-11) in the Griffs’ eight games.

Co-Goaltenders of the Week

Bill Moss, Army (Sr., G, Reading, MA) — Moss got an opportunity to shine this past weekend and he made the most of it, recording 68 saves on 73 shots in Army’s two games. Moss defeated Connecticut Friday, carrying a shutout well into the third period and making one big save after another to keep the Huskies off of the scoreboard as long as he could. Moss started once again on Saturday against Sacred Heart, his first-career back-to-back starts, and fell, 2-3 despite making 33 saves. His 35 stops against UConn were two shy of his career best. The Friday win was the first career league victory.

Justin Eddy, Quinnipiac (Sr., G, Apple Valley, MN) — Eddy made good on his first back-to-back starts of the season last weekend. He made 27 stops — several in the closing minutes — on 28 shots in a 2-1 win over Bentley on Friday night. The following evening, he was just as good, turning away 33 shots in a 3-3 tie with Holy Cross. Eddy ranks among the top 10 nationally in save percentage (.925) and is 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

Freshman of the Week

Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst (Fr., D, Calgary, Alberta) — Hunt factored in five of Mercyhurst’s 11 goals last week. He had two assists in Friday’s 6-4 loss at Holy Cross and then scored his third goal of the season and added two assists in a 7-1 win at Bentley Saturday. Hunt is first on the team among freshman defensemen and second among freshmen overall in scoring with 18 points.

Around the League

  • (I’ve buried this at the bottom as a reward for those reading the whole thing.) Sources in the ECAC say that Holy Cross packing up to head to that league two seasons from now is not likely. In fact, it seems that the chance of the Crusaders making their way to the to the soon-to-be 11-team conference at all is not strong. According to the source, the ECAC and its members do not want another non-scholarship school (the six Ivies and Union do not give athletic scholarships) admitted.

    The thought process would seem to be that without scholarships it would be difficult for Holy Cross to be competitive, potentially further lowering the already-low conference RPI that the ECAC maintains. So the next question is, “If not Holy Cross, then who?” The most likely candidates would be Niagara and Quinnipiac. Still yet, maybe the ECAC will throw a curveball and remain 11 teams. Stay tuned for more.

  • Was there a trend against top goaltenders last weekend? Army’s Bill Moss and Quinnipiac’s Justin Eddy both got back-to-back starts for the first time this season. Both decisions seemed to work pretty well as the league recognized them as co-goaltenders of the week. In addition, Canisius rested top ‘tender Bryan Worosz, in favor of Max Buetow on Saturday against AIC, with Buetow registering a key win. For the record, when Quinnipiac returned usual top dog Jamie Holden to the net on Tuesday, he made a remarkable 45 saves in a 5-2 win over Sacred Heart.
  • Playoffs approaching, it’s good to look at which teams are hot and which teams simply are not. Canisius holds the league’s longest winning streak, four games, while Quinnipiac has a league-best five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2). Holy Cross is unbeaten in four and has lost just once in its last nine (6-1-2). On the other end of the spectrum, AIC has the longest losing streak, six, followed by Bentley, which has lost three in a row. Army could be grouped into that category, having won just once in its last six (1-5-0).