This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 16, 2006

Jim Connelly is out of commission for a few days, but never fear, he will return next week with another edition of “This Week in Atlantic Hockey.”

First In Line

With six regular-season games left for every Atlantic Hockey team, three teams are left with realistic hopes of winning the title.

Holy Cross, Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart are separated by just four points in the standings, which means that this weekend’s marquee series is indisputably the first-place Crusaders’ visit to the second-place Lakers. The winner — if there is one — of that series will be in the driver’s seat for the regular-season championship.

Both Holy Cross and Mercyhurst have compiled impressive resumes in 2005-06. In particular, the Crusaders (20-7-1 overall, 16-5-1 AHA) opened eyes with their nonleague success earlier in the season, beating Massachusetts 3-2 to open the schedule and following that up with nonconference wins over Rensselaer (twice) and then Dartmouth.

In league play, the Crusaders have shown the same excellence, winning eight straight games in AHA play (plus the Dartmouth victory to make it a nine-game winning streak) before being upset by Canisius last Saturday.

Mercyhurst, meanwhile, has been no slouch either. The Lakers split a series with the WCHA’s Michigan Tech to open the season, and have only lost one home game in AHA play, to Sacred Heart back on Nov. 18. Last weekend, Mercyhurst handily swept Bentley by identical 5-2 scores to get within a point of the Crusaders in the standings.

And if head coach Rick Gotkin’s charges are still looking for motivation, a game that took place all the way back on Nov. 11 should do the trick. That Friday, the Lakers’ first meeting of the season with Holy Cross turned into a stunning Crusader rout.

Holy Cross put seven goals on the board in the first period that day, five of them in a four-minute span midway through the frame, and three of the seven by Tyler McGregor. With the game all but over after 20 minutes, the Crusaders coasted home to a 10-3 win, and the Lakers suffered their worst defeat as a MAAC/Atlantic Hockey member.

Mind you, the Lakers repaid Holy Cross, at least a little, the very next night. Mercyhurst rallied from a 3-2 deficit — which included two more goals from McGregor — with tallies by Scott Champagne and Kyle Gourgon to take a 4-3 win and a split.

At the time, Gotkin referred to Saturday’s comeback as “as big a win as we’ve had.”

Holy Cross, meanwhile, will be looking to start anew after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Canisius, which came despite the Crusaders outshooting the Griffs 40-21. The ‘Cross has been hanging around in the PairWise Rankings most of the second half — lately joined by Sacred Heart — but an at-large berth isn’t likely in the cards for any AHA team, meaning that the route to the NCAAs goes through the Atlantic Hockey tournament, as usual.

Getting the number-one seed in the playoffs wouldn’t be a bad way to start that push for either Holy Cross or Mercyhurst, but that’s not to ignore Sacred Heart, which returns to the ice after a weekend off with the top spot in its sights as well.

The Pioneers have been another team helping to lift Atlantic Hockey this season, with wins over ECACHL teams Rensselaer and Brown. Sacred Heart will see Holy Cross next weekend, as the Crusaders run the gauntlet of the AHA’s top teams.

This week, though, it’s cellar-dwelling American International on the schedule for the Pioneers, who swept away AIC 6-4 and 8-1 in their first series of the season.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week: David Borrelli, Mercyhurst
Sr. F, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Borrelli, the Lakers’ leading goal-scorer with 22, notched four of them, along with an assist, in Mercyhurst’s weekend sweep of Bentley. Borrelli scored the first and last goals of the game Friday for the Lakers, as well as the last two Saturday. He has now scored 5-2–7 in his last four games, each of them with at least one point.

Goaltender of the Week: Tyler Small, Mercyhurst
Fr., Kincardine, Ont.

It was a two-fer week for Mercyhurst, which also picked up the Goalie of the Week honor. Small stopped 84 of 88 shots in the series, recording a .955 save percentage. The two wins were the ninth and 10th of Small’s collegiate career.

Rookie of the Week: Dan Giffin, Canisius
Fr. G, Milton, Ont.

Giffin made 39 saves in Saturday night’s 3-1 upset of first-place Holy Cross, one night after the Griffs dropped the decision in the series opener. He has now won four of his last five starts.

Helping Hands, Shaved Heads

Over the next few weeks, the Sacred Heart Pioneers will participate in a cancer fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, established in 1999 to raise awareness and funds for cancer in children. The Foundation has raised more than $12 million worldwide since its founding.

SHU’s goal is to raise $10,000, finishing March 9 at The Field in Bridgeport, where at 7 p.m. each player will have his head shaved as a sign of solidarity with the children who typically lose their hair from chemotherapy.

The Pioneers are part of a group named Team Brent, in honor of Brent McCreesh, a local three-year-old boy battling Stage IV neuroblastoma. Donations can be made securely online at the Team Brent website.

Quesada For Walter Brown

Crusader fans and Atlantic Hockey-watchers have known for a long time that Tony Quesada is a pretty fair hand in net. It turns out that the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston agrees.

Quesada, Holy Cross’ senior netminder, was named one of the 15 semifinalists for the 54th Walter Brown Award, presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England. He is one of four goaltenders and the only AHA player on the list, which includes 12 Hockey East representatives and two from the ECACHL.

The native of South Freeport, Maine, is a four-year starter for Holy Cross, and has posted sub-3.00 goals against averages and .900-plus save percentages each of his four seasons. This year, he owns a 15-3-1 record, a 2.23 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. Quesada has been named Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week twice already this season.

He owns Holy Cross all-time records for career save percentage (.914) and career wins (54), and is tied for first all-time in goals against average (2.51). Quesada is second all-time at Holy Cross in saves (2376), games played in goal (94) and minutes played (5364:26).

Snapping The Skid

It had been long enough for Connecticut, which watched its school-record losing streak balloon to 12 games last Friday in a 7-5 loss against AIC. The Huskies, who hadn’t won in calendar year 2006 (their last win was a 3-0 whitewashing of Army on Dec. 29), pasted AIC 6-0 on Saturday to stay out of the AHA basement.

Chris Myhro and Cole Koidahl paced the Husky attack with two goals each in the series finale, while netminder Brad Smith made 25 stops to help end UConn’s futility.

Military Maneuverings

In the 75th edition of college hockey’s best international rivalry, Nick Cregan of Canada’s Royal Military College tallied the tying goal with 31 seconds left in regulation to give RMC a 3-3 draw with Army last Saturday in Kingston, Ont.

With goaltender Blair Robertson out of net, the Paladins got Cregan’s winner to finish their comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Still, the Black Knights remain unbeaten in their last four meetings with RMC, and Army leads the overall series, 39-29-7.

Army’s two-goal advantage after 40 minutes of play came on goals from Jeff Fearing and Bryce Hollweg in the first period and a power-play marker from Casey Bickley in the second.

The Black Knights face UConn this weekend in AHA play.