This Week in Atlantic Hockey: March 3, 2005

Handing Out The Hardware

Thursday could decide the regular season champion in Atlantic Hockey as Quinnipiac needs a victory over Connecticut to clinch its first regular-season title since 1999-2000 (the days of the MAAC). The league championship will be the first piece of hardware distributed this year and, in that vein, I’ve decided to give my thoughts on which individuals could be taking home awards at this year’s league banquet.

In a column I write for another Web site, I gave similar prognostications for Hockey East. As part of that, I suggested that the awards should be nicknamed similar to what happens in Hollywood with the Oscars. My suggestion for Hockey East was to nickname the awards “the Joeys” after commissioner Joe Bertagna.

For Atlantic Hockey, I didn’t want to be a copycat and nickname these awards “the Bobbys,” so there’s a need to be a little creative here. When I thought about it, I figured I could honor athletic director Jack McDonald of Quinnipiac, whose school will move to the ECACHL next year. So, let me move forward in handing out this year’s “Jackie Awards.”

The Jackie for Most Outstanding Overall Player…

… goes to Holy Cross’ Pierre Napert-Frenette. Though his team struggled down the stretch and is in danger of not getting home ice, Napert-Frenette has been the ultimate player for Holy Cross this season. He posted a career-best five-game goal-scoring streak last month and is only 12 points shy of reaching the 100-point plateau for his career, as only a junior. Napert-Frenette is the real deal.

The Jackie for Most Outstanding Play by a Rookie…

… goes to Mercyhurst’s Ben Cottreau. Cottreau is currently second in rookie scoring behind Quinnipiac’s Ben Nelson (a strong candidate himself, but one who missed half the season with an injury). Cottreau has been a major factor for the Lakers all year but none more than last weekend when he scored three goals in a two-game set with Holy Cross that catapulted the ‘Hurst from fifth to second place in Atlantic Hockey.

The Jackie for Most Outstanding Play by a Goaltender…

… goes to American International’s Frank Novello. In a year when goaltending is probably at its highest, it’s likely a surprise that I’d pick the goaltender on the league’s worst team. But throughout the year, Novello has continuously put his best foot forward despite having to make 40, 50 or 60 saves a game just to keep his team close. Novello has 1,122 saves this season, and still has only given up 101 goals. Without him, AIC could have lost every single game on its schedule.

The Jackie for Most Outstanding Play by a Defenseman…

… goes to Quinnipiac’s Reid Cashman. This one was too easy. Cashman is the leading scorer in Atlantic Hockey. He has the most points among defensemen nationally. And he does this while playing solidly on the blueline for the Bobcats. Rand Pecknold credits the play of Cashman down the stretch as one of the reasons his team jumped from seventh place and could now clinch the league title. No wonder this one is a no-brainer.

The Jackie for Best Performance by a Coach…

… goes to Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold. Less than two months ago we were talking about how embarrassing things had become for Quinnipiac as the Bobcats were in seventh place, in position to lose out on home ice in the first round. Now, Quinnipiac is one win away from winning the conference championship. Somewhere you have to credit the coach, if for nothing else than getting his team to stick together through the tough times. That’s enough for me to recognize him as coach of the year.

The All-Jackie First Team

F David Wrigley, Mercyhurst
F Pierre Napert-Frenette, Holy Cross
F Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart
D Reid Cashman, Quinnipiac
D Tony Coskern, Holy Cross
G Frank Novello, American International

The All-Jackie Second Team

F James Sixsmith, Holy Cross
F Tim Olsen, Connecticut
F Garrett Larson, Sacred Heart
D T.J. Kemp, Mercyhurst
D Conrad Martin, Mercyhurst
G Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac

The All-Jackie Rookie Team

F Ben Cottreau, Mercyhurst
F Ben Nelson, Quinnipiac
F Joel Kitchen, Canisius
D Matt Sorteberg, Quinnipiac
D Jaye Judd, Bentley
G Brad Smith, Connecticut

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Reid Cashman, Quinnipiac: When the chips were down, Cashman proved why he’s one of the league’s most clutch players. In a three-win week for the Bobcats, Cashman grossed six points, including three goals to put the Q within one game of clinching its first conference title since 1999-2000.

Rookie of the Week

Paul Scalici, Bentley: The Bentley Falcons were riding the low of lows entering last weekend’s series with Canisius, having been swept the week previous by Army. But embracing the role of spoiler, Bentley upset the Griffs on Friday night, riding the strength of Scalici’s hat trick.

Goaltender of the Week

Mike Ella, Mercyhurst: If there’s something that Mercyhurst doesn’t want, it’s to have to hit the road for the opening round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Thanks to two solid performances last weekend by goaltender Mike Ella, that may not be necessary. Ella and the Lakers swept Holy Cross on the road to pull into a log-jam three-way tie for fourth entering the final weekend.

Role Reversal

As recently as last weekend, Mercyhurst sat on the outside looking in on the race for home ice in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. The Lakers were in fifth place and faced a tough Holy Cross team in Worcester last weekend.

Holy Cross, on the other hand, was looking toward its second straight conference championship, needing a little help from Quinnipiac to take out Sacred Heart, which would allow the Crusaders to control their destiny.

Holy Cross got the help, as Quinnipiac swept Sacred Heart. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, though, they didn’t take care of business and were swept by Mercyhurst, reversing roles for the Lakers and Crusaders. Mercyhurst now is tied for second place and could overtake Quinnipiac. Holy Cross, though, is in fifth place and will have to play catchup this weekend to earn home ice for the playoffs.

“It was two really good games,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin, whose club beat Holy Cross in dramatic fashion Friday night, scoring twice in the closing seconds to take a 4-3 victory, and rode a 48-save performance of Mike Ella Saturday for a 3-2 win. “Those were games that could’ve gone either way and we were real happy that it went our way. That’s something that hasn’t happened lots for us this year.”

The back-to-back one-goal wins improved the Lakers record to 4-10 in one-goal games.

More importantly, they allowed Mercyhurst to control its destiny for home ice as the Lakers close this season hosting Sacred Heart for two games. And for Mercyhurst, the ability to remain home during the playoffs after a long season on the road is a major benefit.

“We’ve never used travel as an excuse. We have to do it pretty much every other week,” said Gotkin. “It’s in our best interest, then, to scratch and claw to get a home game [for the quarterfinals].

“I don’t see a great difference in the way we play home or away. We don’t think we’ve played all that bad this year. Last weekend we found a way to get on the right side of winning or losing.

“Is it critical to be home? Not really. Would we love to be home? Absolutely.”

The fact that Mercyhurst pulled off the sweep was also important for the club’s psyche. It was only the third two-win weekend of the season for the Lakers. The Lakers have won five or their last six games since February 11, but before that had won only four of 17.

Gotkin says that it’s all part of momentum.

“Winning and losing are both contagious,” said Gotkin. “We felt good. The way we won on Friday was dramatic.

“Clearly that was momentum into a short night because we played at 4:00 [on Saturday] All of that helped us. We needed to start to do that — win tight games against good teams in tough places.

At the heart of the victories was one common factor: rookie Mike Ella. Ella backstopped two straight masterpieces and, for now, has filled a hole for Mercyhurst that’s a major concern heading to the playoffs.

“You don’t beat teams like HC without great goaltending,” Gotkin said. “Goaltending is very important to our team’s success. We know that if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to get championship-style goaltending. If we get that we can be a team to be reckoned with.”

As for what will happen on Saturday night when the season ends, Gotkin recognizes the standings are enough of a mess that he can’t predict much.

Said Gotkin with a laugh: “The only thing I’m sure about is that Mercyhurst will be playing hockey [when the playoffs begin on] Saturday, March 12.”

Positive Signs in Buffalo

If there were worries that Canisius was calling off its search for permanent hockey coach, the school quelled them this week when they announced that a search committee has been assembled.

The 10-person committee is comprised of college personnel as well as some powerful outsiders. Included on the list is NHL veteran and former Buffalo Sabre James Patrick. Also from the NHL ranks is Michael Gilbert, director of public relations for the Sabres.

The announcement is a positive for the future of the program, which was rumored to being on the chopping block after the turmoil that surrounded the team all season. Canisius fired head coach Brian Cavanaugh in December and two separate player incidents led to the resignation of Canisius athletic director Tim Dillon.

Many thought that the school had ceased its search for Cavanaugh’s replacement, and that that might lead to the termination of the program. Wednesday’s announcement, though, allows the league to breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s obviously a good sign,” said commissioner Bob DeGregorio. “[Canisius’ administration] has assured me that they’re going to do a search and hire a coach. It’s also their intention to improve the program by getting a full-time assistant coach as well.”

If Canisius were to drop hockey at the end of this season, along with Quinnipiac’s departure for the ECACHL, league membership would slip to seven. RIT will join the league two years from now. Air Force also has been through the application and review process but, according to the league, it’s not likely that an admission decision will be reached until after the conference tournament is complete.