This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 20, 2005

Falcons’ Fire

If there were any question whether or not Bentley will be a good hockey team this year, last Friday’s game versus Air Force in the Q-Cup tournament may have been an answer.

The potential trouble spot for the Falcons was goaltending entering this season. Friday, though, Ray Jean, a transfer from Maine playing in his first game with Bentley, put together a terrific 32-save performance to pull off what one might consider bit of an upset win over Air Force, 3-1.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” said Soderquist about Jean. “We saw him all year last year (when he was a redshirt) but that didn’t mean much.

“For him to come out and play solid in his first game for us was big. He did what we knew he could do, which was exciting. It’s only been one game, but he showed the boys what he can do. He was very relaxed. He played very simple and basic, so we were happy.”

The impressive performance did not sway Soderquist from his game plan, which was to play Jean on Friday and rookie Jason Kearney the following night. Kearney was given the start in the championship game against Quinnipiac but was relieved in favor of a third goaltender, Geordan Murphy (Bentley’s only returning goaltender with experience) midway through the second period after surrendering five goals. Bentley lost that game, 6-0.

The play of Jean wasn’t the only positive for the weekend for Bentley. Soderquist was also happy with the performance of the power play, which scored two of the team’s three goals on Friday night.

That effort was led in part by Brendan McCartin, who Soderquist placed back on defense for this season in a hope of adding some size and skill to the Bentley blue line.

“He was the only guy on our team to make the all-tournament team,” Soderquist said of McCartin. “He had a great weekend on defense.

“He had two assists on Friday and that’s what I anticipate that we’ll see from him: a lot of assists and hopefully some power-play goals from him this year.”

McCartin quarterbacked the first power-play unit for the Falcons, a position that Soderquist noted preseason was a key one for his team to fill.

“We definitely think that he has the capability of being the quarterback on the power play,” said Soderquist. “This weekend he was out there for two power-play goals and they were the difference in the game.”

Bentley has not had a defenseman with big-time offensive ability since Steve Tobio graduated in 2002 (Soderquist was an assistant coach at the time). Ask to compare Tobio and McCartin, Soderquist noted that it’s a tough comparison.

“I do think that in the whole game, [McCartin] can add what [Tobio] added to the team,” said Soderquist, noting that McCartin is a more solid two-way player. “Tobio has a special talent for the power play. He was one of the better power-play guys in our league.”

Still, two major question marks for the Falcons — goaltending and special teams — are close to being erased, though only if the success of both can carry through for the entire season.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Cole Koidahl, Connecticut: Koidahl was a factor in three of UConn’s four goals in a non-league tie against Union. In a game that saw UConn erase four one-goal leads, Koidahl netted the first goal of the game for the Huskies and then assisted on goals number three and four, the final one tying the game in the third period.

Goaltender of the Week

Ray Jean, Bentley: As mentioned above, Jean was a major factor in Bentley’s 3-1 victory over Air Force Friday night in the semifinals of the Q-Cup tournament in Northford, Conn. His 32 saves stifled Air Force and opened plenty of eyes around Atlantic Hockey.

Rookie of the Week

Dan Giffin, Canisius: For the second straight week, Giffin picked up the Rookie of the Week award, but did it this time in defeat. Though solid in net, Giffin and company fell 3-2 to crosstown rival Niagara on Friday night, making 23 stops in defeat.

Huskies Make a Good Point

It’s not often that a coach whose team opens the season with a tie is too excited. But for UConn’s Bruce Marshall, the Huskies’ 4-4 season-opening tie with Union was a big positive.

The Huskies four times overcame one-goal deficits on the road against a Union team that one night earlier beat up on Atlantic Hockey member Sacred Heart, 5-2.

“[Union] had played a couple of games and it being our first game, I was excited with our energy level and our work ethic,” Marshall said. “We had to come back and tie the game four times, and being early in the season we could’ve packed it in.

“We focused on staying within our system as a way to be successful. We made mistakes. We weren’t perfect but we weren’t making five mistakes within one shift.”

Marshall turned to sophomore Brad Smith in goal, choosing him over junior Scott Tomes. But he admits that the positions of number-one and -two are in no way set.

“He played well enough,” said Marshall of Smith. “We’ll do something different in the net this weekend and give Tomes a start. Early on, this is a test for both guys. They can’t have a mulligan so they have to show me, ‘Hey, I want to be that guy.'”

Marshall was especially pleased with the play of rookie Sean Erickson. The rookie defenseman from hockey hotbed Eden Prairie, Minn., played the point on the power play for the Huskies and assisted on Chris Uber’s game-tying goal with 7:33 remaining.

“For a freshman to come in there and be the point guy can be a lot more challenging,” said Marshall of Erickson’s play on the power play. “You’re making plays and decisions and can give a guy a chance at a shorthanded goal. He was very poised back there and played well.”

It was also encouraging to see the Huskies score four goals from four different players, particularly as Marshall hopes to replace the lost scoring of Tim Olsen (to graduation) with multiple players rather than just one.

Things won’t get a lot easier for the Huskies on the road ahead. UConn travels to Merrimack for a two-game set this weekend before heading to Mercyhurst for two the following weekend to open league play.

Cup Still Runneth Over

As mentioned last week, Atlantic Hockey got off to a solid 2-0-0 start in the season-long Commissioners’ Cup race. That record was padded with another win last weekend, as Bentley’s victory over Air Force was a Cup game. The league also suffered its first loss, Sacred Heart’s 5-2 defeat at the hands of Union.

It wasn’t known at the time of last week’s column just how badly the league did in last year’s Commissioners’ Cup race. It turns out thanks to some crack research at the league office, Atlantic Hockey finished 1-6-0 in Commissioners’ Cup games last year, meaning the fledgling league has already tripled its win total of a year ago in just two weeks. Not too shabby.

Revisiting Old Foes

American International will play its first-ever home game against an ECACHL opponent this weekend. Sounds exciting, but there’s a catch. The Yellow Jackets are reacquainting themselves will an old rival, Quinnipiac, which moved from Atlantic Hockey to the ECACHL just this year.

If you’re expecting that maybe AIC could pull off a win in the two-game, home-and-home series, maybe you want to think again. According to Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist, whose team lost to Quinnipiac, 6-0, in the Q-Cup finals last weekend, the Bobcats are a much-improved team from last year and the days of Atlantic Hockey.

Soderquist said Quinnipiac’s recruiting class was one of the best he’s ever seen (assuming that he meant among Atlantic Hockey teams, not comparing them to say, Minnesota’s recruiting class this season).

Not that this writer has any reason to discuss the success of a team outside of Atlantic Hockey, but with Soderquist’s comments, it’ll be interesting to see if the Bobcats might be able to squeak their way out of the ECACHL basement in year one.