This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 6, 2005

Falcons Poised to Finally Take Flight

Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist won’t pull any punches when it comes to his team’s performance.

“I thought the most important thing [coming into this year] was to have a good start and we didn’t,” said Soderquist, whose club reached the Christmas break 3-9-3, in sixth place in the standings.

Still, with plenty of negatives to look at, Soderquist is focusing on the positives, most of which have been evident in the team’s last three games.

“Without a doubt we’re really happy with the way we’ve played in the last month, Soderquist said. “We ended before break with a 5-2 win over AIC and then came out and played one of our best games against Quinnipiac and lost 3-2.”

The Falcons followed that effort up with a 4-4 road tie this past Tuesday night at Mercyhurst, a game that saw Bentley hold a 4-3 lead until surrendering a shorthanded goal late.

That point aside, if there’s one aspect for Bentley that’s making a turnaround, it’s goaltending. Senior Simon St. Pierre, according to Soderquist, put too much pressure on himself to being the year. As he’s realized that he can only carry his team so far, that has been a major help getting him focused.

“I think that [Simon] stopped worrying about things he need not be worrying about,” said Soderquist. “I think he put a lot of pressure on himself so that he could have the opportunity to play after college.

“He’s come to realize that he’s here now and that he should play here and have fun. He realizes he just has to make the best of [his last year] and do what he can.”

Proof positive, St. Pierre made 29 stops in the team’s loss to Bentley. He followed that with 36 against Mercyhurst to earn the tie.

“Our goaltending has finally been what it should be in the last few games,” said Soderquist.

As the home stretch approaches, one other area that has shown improvement for Bentley is depth of scoring. Though the first line of Paul Markarian, Anthony Pellerin and Brendan McCartin has been clicking, Soderquist’s second line, in particular sophomore Carmen Posteraro, has turned on the jets.

“We expected big things from Posteraro,” said Soderquist. “He only had two points at the break but has had five points in the last three games. He’s finally starting to play his game.”

All of this could spell a decent stretch run for the Falcons. If there’s a bump in the road, it will be a six-game road trip from mid-February to the season’s final weekend in March. That, though, doesn’t worry Soderquist.

“Our schedule for the rest of the year is a good schedule,” said Soderquist. “We have a six-game road trip, but we match up pretty well with the teams we have remaining.”

Weekly Awards

With the scattered schedule and limited action over the holiday, the league didn’t pick any weekly award winners this week. Thus, I’ll take it upon myself to hand out honors.

Player of the Week

Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross: At the UConn Holiday Classic in Storrs, McGregor scored three goals and added an assist as the Crusaders finished second to Brown. In Tuesday night’s win over Sacred Heart, McGregor set up Pierre Napert-Frenette’s overtime game-winner to earn my pick.

Rookie of the Week

Dale Reinhardt, Holy Cross: Reinhardt posted two points in a 6-3 win over Connecticut in the opening game of the UConn Holiday Classic and then mustered two assists in a 3-2 overtime victory over Sacred Heart.

Goaltender of the Week

Andy Franck, Mercyhurst: Franck made a combined 60 saves in two games against Bentley and Quinnipiac, earning the Lakers three points in league play. Franck was a major part of the Mercyhurst penalty kill that stopped 19 of 21 attempts in the two games, including a perfect eight-for-eight against Quinnipiac.

Penalty-Prone Lakers?

There’s nothing more frustrating for a coach than watching his players, one after another, parade to the penalty box. What’s worse is when most of them end up in the sin bin for undisciplined penalties or for criticizing officials.

So it’s no surprise at all that Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin is less-than-pleased with his club’s penalty production in the past two games.

In Tuesday’s 4-4 tie with Bentley, the Lakers took 18 penalties for 68 minutes. In Mercyhurst’s Wednesday night battle with Quinnipiac, that number fell, but still accounted for 30 minutes in penalties from 11 infractions.

Still, Gotkin agreed that the penalties whistled on his club were fair.

“I’m not sure the penalties we took, we didn’t deserve,” Gotkin said.

Of the 98 minutes in penalties that Mercyhurst received, four were misconducts, something that Gotkin calls unacceptable.

Because of that, three players were forced by Gotkin to miss Wednesday’s Quinnipiac game for taking what he calls “mouth penalties.”

“There’s always a concern with penalties,” said Gotkin. “We have an internal team rule that if you take a mouth penalty, you sit the next game. So David Wrigley, Scott Champagne, and Kyle Gorgon all sat [Wednesday] night. That’s a rule we’ve had for 17 years.”

Gotkin is careful to note that the only time that a player sits a game is when the misconduct is for verbally abusing a referee.

“We don’t want to play that way,” said Gotkin. “We don’t want to be known as a team that yaps.”

When asked if he’s always able to follow that rule to a tee, Gotkin did point out one exception that has been made in the 17 years. It came during the 2001 MAAC Championships.

Mike Carter received a 10-minute misconduct for arguing a call in the semifinals, meaning that if the letter of the law was followed, he’d miss the championship game.

According to Gotkin, his senior captains all came up to him the day before the title game and asked if he’d consider allowing Mike to play.

“They said that they’ve all gone through the same thing and sat but that this was the championship game and they wanted him to play.

“It was a really tough decision, but we allowed him to play.”

The decision paid off. Carter scored the game-winning goal to send Mercyhurst to its first NCAA tournament. Carter, though, eventually did serve his sentence, being sat a game early the following season.

“That’s the only time we’ve wavered from that in 17 years,” Gotkin said. “We don’t have many rules, but the ones we have have conviction to them. The players abide by them and I like to think they respect them.

As for this past week, Gotkin might have thought about suspending himself for a game. He was quick to admit that everyone fed off of his emotion against Bentley, and that the reason most of the players were fired up was nobody’s fault but his.

“My players fed off me,” said Gotkin. “I have to take control of that so I take full responsibility for that.”

Injury Bug in Worcester

After riding a near-perfect season injury-wise last year, the Holy Cross Crusaders have finally been hit by a bit of an injury bug.

After losing Blair Bartlett early in the season, the Crusaders have watched forward Sean Nappo got down with a broken ankle and senior defenseman Tony Coskern hit the deck with a knee injury, the severity of which is not yet known.

The Crusaders will have to rely on depth at this point, particularly looking to the freshman class to pick up slack.

“All of our freshmen have stepped up and played well,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl, “and that’s why we’re still having success.”

Quotes of the Week

“You can’t tell what day it is. We’ve had weekday games before but we’ve never had back-to-back weekday games.” — Gotkin, about playing rare weeknight game this past Tuesday and Wednesday night during the team’s winter break.

“I can’t explain it. Our hockey IQ dropped about 200 points in the second period. We stated making some crazy mistakes like it was the first game of the year.” — Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl, on his team’s loss against Brown in the final of the UConn Holiday Classic. Holy Cross held a 2-0 lead through one but allowed the final five goals of the game to lose, 5-2.