This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 21, 2004

Take Me Away!

Maybe that was the cry of Canisius before boarding a plane from Buffalo (with connections through Atlanta and Salt Lake City) to Anchorage for last weekend’s Nye Frontier Classic. The Griffs traveled a total of 17 hours including layovers but when they arrived on the ground in Anchorage, were without the necessary goods.

“Our plane arrived late in Atlanta and they held the connecting flight for us,” said head coach Brian Cavanaugh. “We could make it but it was impossible for our luggage to make it.”

In all, Canisius had checked 72 pieces of luggage. When they arrived in Alaska, only six total pieces made it.

“We just tried to do everything behind the scenes,” said Cavanaugh. “We didn’t need the players to worry about it.”

That included not only working with Delta Air Lines to get the Griffs’ equipment to Alaska but also rescheduling practice time at Sullivan Arena, as well as the sightseeing trips that the Griffs had planned.

Everything finally arrived at 4 p.m. local time last Thursday (Canisius left Buffalo early Wednesday morning) and once things got settled, the result was satisfactory.

Canisius came out with a 3-3 tie in the tournament opener against host Alaska-Anchorage. Despite the fact that it lost the shootout and didn’t advance to the championship game, Cavanaugh has a more-than-positive view on the game.

“We played well all through the ranks,” said Cavanaugh. “Up front we were balanced with our scoring, which is good.”

Part of that balance came through a goal from sophomore Billy Irish-Baker. Last season Baker was a standout rookie for the Griffs and through the early going this season, Cavanaugh likes what he sees.

“Billy is the type of kid who works awful hard,” said Cavanaugh. “He’s going to get rebound goals and tipped goals. He was up there in our scoring last year, so he’ll be a guy who will chip in goals and assists here and there just because he works hard.”

On night two, Canisius fell 2-1 against last year’s runner-up in Hockey East, Massachusetts. UMass used two third-period goals to overcome a deficit and take third place.

Despite the fact that the Griffs finished fourth, it was almost impossible for Cavanaugh to be anything besides upbeat about his team’s performance.

“We played real hard and gave a good effort for both games,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s an important standard to set early for the squad.

“Both goaltenders played well, so I’m real happy with that. We were disciplined and didn’t take a lot of penalties, so that’s a good sign coming into this year.”

In the end, the hockey was quality and the 17 hours’ worth of plane ride to Alaska and all the headaches that accompanied paid off for the Griffs. Alaska isn’t your everyday road trip, and it’s one that Canisius will remember.

“We just rolled with the punches out there. No matter what happened we found something to do,” said Cavanaugh. “We went to see Mt. McKinley. We went out to the local parks and took pictures. It was a tremendous educational experience for the kids.”

A tremendous experience, luggage or not.

Weekly awards

Player of the Week

Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart: It didn’t take long to get last year’s Atlantic Hockey rookie of the year on pace for season two. O’Brien, in the league opener against Army, scored two power-play goals including the game-winner and added an assist for a three-point night in a 4-1 win over Army. A year ago, O’Brien scored 27 points with 14 goals and was third on the Pioneers in scoring.

Rookie of the Week

Alexandre Parent, Sacred Heart: O’Brien, as phenomenal as he was, had a little help from freshman forward Parent. Coach Shaun Hannah listed Parent preseason as one of his top recruits and against Army he didn’t disappoint, setting up three Sacred Heart goals.

Goaltender of the Week

Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac: For the fifth year in a row Quinnipiac took the title in its own tournament, the Q-Cup, and this season, like many others, the efforts of goaltender Holden had much to do with it. Holden stopped 59 of 61 shots on the weekend beating two league foes, American International, 3-2 and Bentley, 3-0 in the title game. Needless to say, Holden was named the tournament MVP for his efforts.

Bruises in Storrs

There’s no doubt that many around Atlantic Hockey have taken notice of the fact that Connecticut is playing well despite a difficult early schedule. Last weekend, UConn finished third in the Maverick Stampede, beating Rensselaer in a shootout after a 3-3 come-from-behind tie.

Things didn’t go as swimmingly last weekend when the two teams rematched at RPI; still, UConn coach Bruce Marshall hasn’t had problems finding positives in early-season play.

One of those comes between the pipes. The fact that UConn returned goaltender Scott Tomes, who played almost all of UConn’s minutes a season ago, as a sophomore was a major preseason positive. But when Tomes went down with a torn ACL early in the first game against RPI, there were gasps.

That was until everyone realized that UConn’s backup, rookie Brad Smith, could stand the test at the Division I level.

“Going into that game, the first thing he saw was a five-on-three so he got to stop a couple of shots,” said Marshall of Smith, who earned a tie in his collegiate debut and then stopped seven of eight penalty shots from RPI to earn third place.

Last weekend, when UConn traveled to RPI for a scheduled non-league game, all eyes were on Smith, evaluating his ability to carry the load.

“From watching his play in the second game I know that he’s confident and is going to be a pretty good college goaltender,” said Marshall. “We brought him in as a guy who could push Scotty [Tomes]. We wanted to have someone who could step in in a spot like this and at the same time really compete for the job.”

The fact that Smith is ready to play is probably the good news for UConn. The bad news comes in the fact that injuries don’t stop between the pipes.

Eric St. Arnauld, one of UConn’s defensive forwards, ruptured his spleen against Nebraska-Omaha in the opener of the Stampede. Despite the fact that he’s recovering well, he’s expected to miss up to three months.

Still, Marshall is happy with his team’s progress but at the same time ready to show caution.

“I like our work ethic. We’re going to be a blue-collar hard nosed kind of team. We’re not going to be flashy,” said Marshall. “Still, I don’t think we’re ready for a playoff game. We’re a long place from where we’re going to be [at season’s end].

Five In A Row For The Q

You can say that Quinnipiac sets the field for its annual Q-Cup tournament a little easy, but nonetheless, the Bobcats squeaked by tough opponents last weekend to capture their fifth straight championship.

Quinnipiac used a hard-fought 3-2 come-from-behind win over AIC on night one and then topped that with a 3-0 shutout of Bentley in the title game.

According to head coach Rand Pecknold, the most impressive part of the tournament was his opposition.

“I thought on Bentley and AIC as a whole, they’re much better than last year,” said Pecknold. “AIC did a very good job of improving their depth. We were down 2-0 and we didn’t play well out of the gate, but you have to give AIC credit because they capitalized on all of their opportunities.”

To find a hero, look no further than goaltender Jamie Holden. Stopping an impressive 59 of 61 shots on the weekend, Holden posted what Pecknold called a great performance against AIC but then a “phenomenal” effort in the title game against Bentley, stopping all 13 of the Falcons power-play chances.

“He picks up right where he left off,” said Pecknold. “The Friday game we really struggled with our intensity out of the gate. We were really nervous and I don’t know why. But Jamie was there.

“On Saturday, I think he stopped 11 power plays in the second period. With that many quality scoring chances, to get a shutout was impressive.”

Holden was the obvious choice for MVP, but what probably made Pecknold happiest was the play of the Matt duo — Froehlich and Craig.

Each of those players had what Pecknold measured as letdown seasons last year after impressive ones the year before. He hopes that each finding his way to the scoresheet will signal an upturn.

“They had off seasons last year but they looked like they were back at [the season prior],” said Pecknold. “For us, that’s huge.”

What Pecknold hopes is that the rest of the club can keep things going as they head for possibly the toughest road trip of the year: to Colorado Springs, Colo., to face Air Force and Colorado College.

“Colorado College is a top-10 team year in and year out,” said Pecknold. “It’s going to be a great struggle with us. The thing we’ll struggle with the most is playing on the big ice sheet.

“On Sunday, Air Force will be rested which is a big advantage to them. They’re a very impressive team in terms of work ethic. I haven’t seen a lot of college teams work harder.

“They’re struggling to score goals, but they have four lines that work hard. It’ll be a tough situation to go into on Sunday.”

Sacred Heart: First League Win

If anything should draw notice from Atlantic Hockey coaches, it’s the fact that Sacred Heart got out of the gate fast, winning the first AHA game of the year, 4-1, over Army.

The fact that rookie of the year Pierre-Luc O’Brien buried two goals and added and assist and that Alexandre Parent, playing in his first league game, registered three assists will be noticed.

But the main fact that will worry coaches is that Sacred Heart is winning early. The Pioneers play three league games, including two more, before most of the teams even see action in the league.

Looking for a comparison? It’s last year’s Holy Cross team. The Cross a season ago jumped out to a lead in the Atlantic standings with games early.

Before the season, Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah said that he wanted to model his 2004-05 team after last year’s Holy Cross club. Three quick league wins would be a great start.

The question that accompanies, though, is can the Pioneers be overcome? With no proof of start-to-finish solid play in the past, that’s a question for debate.