This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Nov. 18, 2004

Despite Record, Yellow Jackets Have Sting

It’s been a frustrating start for American International, which has reached this point with only one win to show for its efforts. Regardless, for the league’s cellar-dwellers a season ago, AIC has arrived at mid-November still feeling pretty good about its accomplishments.

Tuesday night, though, might have been the best catalyst for that mentality. Just a week and a half after blowing a third-period lead against Holy Cross at home, AIC, behind a standout goaltending effort by Frank Novello, forced a 1-1 road tie with the Crusaders, giving the Yellow Jackets something upon which to hang their hats.

“I think we performed with a lot of passion,” said head coach Gary Wright, whose ‘Jackets are 1-5-1, having earned both the win and the tie within the past week. “Obviously Frank was a huge component of the game for us.

“Territorially and shot-wise Holy Cross had a decided edge, but I was pretty pleased with our effort. We look at that as a tough tie on the road. Our objective was to win the game but it was nice to earn a point like that.”

Novello has never been a stranger to big-game performances. Throughout his career, Novello has put up 50-plus save performances to steal games for AIC. On Tuesday night against Holy Cross, he had 45.

“He’s just been really stalwart for us,” said Wright about his senior goaltender. “He’s always been a good goalie but I think from about the midpoint last year he really started to emerge with great consistency, which is one of the key components of a goalie.

While there’s good reason to be plenty satisfied with goaltending and even, in part, with the entire defensive effort of the team, what lacks still for AIC is scoring punch. In seven games, AIC has scored just nine goals and has scored more than one goal only twice (a 6-3 loss to Sacred Heart and a 2-0 win against Army, the club’s lone victory).

“I think that next step for us has got to involve more goal scoring on our part and finishing a little bit better,” Wright said, realizing that his best offensive weapon from a season ago, Guillaume Caron, has graduated. “Other than [games versus] Sacred Heart and Air Force, all of our games have been one goal games at some point in the third period. In several games, we had leads in the third period.”

“The first time we played Holy Cross here, they had an edge shot-wise, but we were winning by a goal with a minute left. We were leading Quinnipiac in the third, 2-1.

“I’m not beginning to suggest that we’re [at the same level] as those teams right now, but all of the games have been down to the wire.”

When looking for positives, Wright says it’s not possible to point to one player — rather, things are spread out to a deeper and more balanced club than AIC has had in the past.

“It’s not been individuals,” Wright said. “We have a big freshman class and we have better numbers, so there’s more competition.

“Last year, we played five defensemen all year with a roster of 23. Now we have a roster of 28 and that breeds competition and accountability.

“I don’t think we’re made any giant steps yet until we show that we can win a little more consistently, but we’ve put ourselves in a position that we’re more competitive. We’re not winning those [close] games but [in the past] we might not have had the opportunity.”

Right now, Wright and his club have a bit of a respite with which to look forward. AIC is now idle for 17 days until a December 3 road game at Bentley.

“It wasn’t by design and part of it is the Thanksgiving break,” said Wright, “but [the break] gives us more time to work on things and allows us to give the kids a weekend off which I think for us is a positive.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Bryan Worosz, Canisius: Before reaching the midway point of his senior season, Worosz made 34 saves against Sacred Heart in a 3-2 overtime loss to become the school’s all-time saves leader (see below). On Saturday night, though he only needed 17 stops against the same high-powered Sacred Heart club, Worosz led the Griffs to a 4-1 victory.

Rookie of the Week

Alexandre Parent, Sacred Heart: Parent was the key factor on Friday night as he set up all three goals in a 3-2 overtime road win against Canisius. On the season, Parent has seven points (one goal, six assists) and is third on the team in scoring.

Goaltender of the Week

Frank Novello, American International: The fact that Novello made 45 saves on Tuesday night need not have factored in the decision to make him Goalie of the Week. Over the weekend, Novello made 34 saves to shut out Army for AIC’s first win, and followed that up with a 27-save effort in a 3-0 loss to Mercyhurst the next night.

Renewing a Rivalry

The last time Holy Cross played Boston College, head coach Paul Pearl was a sophomore on the Holy Cross varsity.

“I remember we played here [at the Hart Center] because [BC’s] rink was under construction,” said Pearl, remembering the 1986 game against the Eagles that Holy Cross lost, 3-1. “There were great players [in that game] like [BC’s Brian] Leetch and [Craig] Janney playing at the Hart Center.”

That day, though, 18 years ago seems like an eternity for most involved in either program.

Since that point, BC has changed coaches twice (three times if you count the fact former Boston Bruin Mike Milbury was head coach for a few days one summer), won five Hockey East championships, competed in six Frozen Fours, and won a national championship.

Holy Cross, at one point, dropped down to play a Division II/III schedule for a number of years before finally re-elevating to a Division I schedule in 1998 with the formation of the MAAC. The Crusaders have won two league titles (one in the MAAC, and last year’s inaugural Atlantic Hockey title) and last season made the school’s first-ever NCAA appearance, putting on an impressive show in a 3-0 loss to top-seeded North Dakota.

What happened in hockey mirrored the entire athletic program for both schools. With the formation of the Big East (and in hockey the unassociated conference called Hockey East), Boston College moved from a recognized name nationally to a Division I power in most sports.

Holy Cross, on the other hand, has chosen the route of mid-major athletics. A member of the Patriot League for most sports, the Crusaders often receive deserved recognition (particularly in basketball, which has made a host of NCAA tournament appearances and had many near-upsets in the first day of the tourney), but for the most part been satisfied with providing athletics as somewhat of an afterthought to academics.

The rivalry that was Boston College and Holy Cross has slipped. In Boston, the BC-Cross football game was the premier social event in town. The famous Coconut Grove fire of 1942, which killed 492, happened after a Holy Cross win over Boston College. It’s long been thought that if BC had won that game that many players and alumni would’ve packed the club that night and made the Earth-shattering death toll even higher.

But as athletic priorities shifted for each school in the ’70s and ’80s, the competitiveness of the BC-Holy Cross football rivalry slipped. Over the final 20 years of the rivalry, which ended in 1986, most of the scored were embarrassing in BC’s favor.

And New England’s greatest college sports rivalry abruptly came to an end.

So when the two clubs take to the ice at Conte Forum next Monday night, it will be like dipping into history. For alumni, particularly those of Holy Cross, this is a major occasion, and it should be.

Though the hockey series isn’t anything like that of its football brethren (BC lists the all-time record as 14-1-0 in the Eagles’ favor; Holy Cross lists it as 0-7, counting only those games played when hockey was a varsity sport at the Cross), alums will once again have something about which to clamor.

“We’re excited,” said Pearl, “The alums will be excited about seeing it. For the last three weeks there have been a lot of ticket requests.”

If anyone out there believes that this is a rebirth of a rivalry, though, think again. At least at this point, Monday’s game will be the only scheduled between the two for at least two years.

“They’re playing us this year,” said Pearl, “but I already finished the schedule for next year and we won’t have [BC on it].”

Worosz Hits Milestone

To make more than 2,000 saves in a career, any college goaltender has to see his fair share of the goaltending duties. For Canisius’ Brian Worosz, that’s been the story of his career.

Since serving as the backup to standout goaltender Sean Weaver his freshman year (though still making 14 appearances) Worosz has been the go-to-guy in the Canisius program. Last Friday night, with a 34 save performance in a 3-2 overtime loss to Sacred Heart, Worosz passed Derek Slater on the school’s all-time saves list.

“That’s a nice thing for him to have,” said Canisius head coach Brian Cavanaugh. Worosz, in fact, now owns two Canisius save records: the single-season mark set his sophomore year and now the career mark.

“He’s not a guy about individual accomplishments, though. He’s trade all that for a championship and a chance to move on to the NCAAs.”

Worosz is one player who, in Cavanaugh’s eyes, has steadily developed throughout his career. Early in this season, with a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average, Worosz is on pace to have a career year.

“He’s improved his play every year,” said Cavanaugh. “He needed to do that again this year and I challenged him to do that statistically. That’s not an easy thing to do in this league, but so far he’s been able to do that.”

Where the biggest challenge lies for Griffs goaltending may not be in the actual play. Cavanaugh and his staff are the ones faced with the most difficult dilemma.

Sitting in the wings is sophomore goaltender Max Buetow. With plenty of potential, Cavanaugh would like to get Buetow more experience so that he’s able to assume Worosz’s role next year. But with solid night-in and night-out performances from Worosz, getting Buetow time is difficult.

“It is very tough right now. You see how well Brian is playing, especially in the league games,” said Cavanaugh. “You don’t want to have your backup not getting into games and then having to play when he doesn’t feel sharp, so it’s a bit of a predicament.”

A predicament, though, that is nice to have.

Notes from Around the League

Sacred Heart posted an impressive come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win over Canisius Friday night. What was impressive, though, wasn’t only the fact that the Pioneers came back after trailing, 2-0, entering the third. It was the first time since February 18, 2000, that Sacred Heart won a game when trailing through two … As much talk as there’s been this week about Novello, one note that hasn’t appeared has to do with shutouts. Should Novello collect one more shutout this season, he’ll tie Gary Newburt, who played in Springfield from 1973 through 1977, for the school’s all-time record of four … Quinnipiac, which will finally start league play this weekend, is looking for offense. Since shutting out Bentley, 3-0, on October 16, the Bobcats have been outscored 19-6 over a period of five games … When he failed to score in Sunday’s 6-1 loss to Massachusetts, Mercyhurst’s Dave Borelli broke his five-game goal scoring streak.