This Week in Atlantic Hockey: March 2, 2006

Hand out the Hardware

Could it really be true that the season is coming to an end? College sports’ longest season is just about over and it’s time to go through my list of accolades and tell you who I believe deserves the hardware come day’s end.

Talking to coaches and others around the league showed one thing: there’s an increased depth in talent. Guys who once might have been first-team all league can’t even make honorable mention. Every team has someone who could be considered for an award, as opposed to the early days when only the top two teams seemed to have quality players.

So here goes my take on who is most deserving.

Player of the Year
Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst

Defensemen have it tough when it comes to awards. Their job is to keep the opposition from scoring. But if you don’t put up points offensively, you’ll never earn an award like Player of the Year. Jamie Hunt does both. He certainly can score (42 points in 30 games, including 10 goals). But Hunt is one of the best defensive players in the league as well. This is an all-league player who should receive serious Hobey Baker consideration, not to mention a lot of looks from NHL scouts.

Runners-up: Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart; Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross

Rookie of the Year
Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart

This is one of the few slam dunks I found when picking postseason honors. Trapp has been a critical part of the Sacred Heart offense and has helped carry his team within a weekend of its first-ever Atlantic Hockey championship. Trapp is tied for third in the nation with six game-winning goals and is second only to Minnesota standout Phil Kessel in goals per game for rookie scorers. Trapp is the third straight standout recruit to arrive at Sacred Heart, following Alexandre Parent and Pierre-Luc O’Brien.

Runners-up: Anthony Canzoneri, Bentley; Chris Myrho, Connecticut

Goaltender of the Year
Jason Smith, Sacred Heart

As easy as it was to pick rookie of the year, it was as difficult to pick the league’s top goaltender. I’m going with Sacred Heart’s Smith based simply on the number of times this season that an opposing coach has told me that Smith has stolen a game. Smith’s numbers are incredible: He ranks ninth in the nation in goals against average (2.12) and third in the country in save percentage (.932). He’s been a major part of what has taken this team from darkhorse to frontrunner.

Runners-up: Tony Quesada, Holy Cross; Brad Roberts, Army

Coach of the Year Shaun Hannah, Sacred Heart

One of college hockey’s youngest head coaches is my pick for Coach of the Year. With two games left, he’s brought his team to the pinnacle of greatness, their first-ever league championship. Hannah and his staff have developed an inexperienced goaltender who has been nothing short of spectacular all season. The team under Hannah has also proven competitive outside of league play this year, something that had been a bit of a knock on the Pioneers in the past. Hannah has shown the ability to recruit top-notch students and athletes, despite the lack of a multi-million dollar budget. Hannah’s last test will come in the playoffs and should he pass it, he and his club will have the ultimate experience waiting on the other side: the NCAA tournament.

Runner-up: Brian Riley, Army

All-League Teams

First Team

F Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross
F Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart
F Dave Borrelli, Mercyhurst
D Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst
D John Landry, Holy Cross
G Jason Smith, Sacred Heart

Second Team

F Ben Cottreau, Mercyhurst
F Pierre Napert-Frenette, Holy Cross
F Cole Koidahl, Connecticut
D Tim Manthey, Army
D Bernie Chmiel, Sacred Heart
G (tie) Tony Quesada, Holy Cross
G (tie) Brad Roberts, Army

All-Rookie Team

F Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart
F Anthony Canzoneri, Bentley
F Chris Myrho, Connecticut
D Tim Manthey, Army
D Shane McAdam, Holy Cross
G Dan Giffin, Canisius

Other Individual Awards

Best Defensive Forward: Blair Bartlett, Holy Cross

Runners-up: Scott Reynolds, Mercyhurst; Rocco Molinaro, Sacred Heart; Ryan Lessnau, Bentley

Best Defensive Defenseman: Tim Songin, Canisius

Runners-up: Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst; Preston Cicchine, AIC

Individual Sportsmanship Award: Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross

Runner-up: Billy Irish-Baker, Canisius

Does Anybody Want this Title?

In a way, I almost feel like teams are considering the Atlantic Hockey regular-season championship a curse.

For the second straight weekend, the team that controlled its destiny crumbled. After Mercyhurst dropped three of four points at home two weekends ago, Holy Cross followed that act with by getting swept at the hands of Sacred Heart last weekend.

And if that all isn’t enough, had Mercyhurst completed a sweep of Army last Saturday night, it would’ve sat all alone in first place entering the final two games of the season.

Instead, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart are tied atop the standings with 36 points, while Mercyhurst, a 3-2 loser to Army on Saturday night, remains a point behind both clubs with 35.

Thus, two teams — Holy Cross and Sacred Heart — are out front in the battle to become champions, while Mercyhurst sits (pardon the pun) at the mercy of the rest.

Looking at the final weekend matchups, Sacred Heart conceivably should have the easiest road. The Pioneers face in-state rival Connecticut, a team that has struggled mightily the second half of the season. But Sacred Heart dropped two games to UConn earlier this year — the only weekend sweep the Crusaders have suffered — and that will be in the back of everyone’s minds.

Holy Cross will face Bentley, a team that played it tough earlier this season, though the Crusaders pulled off the sweep. Bentley, though, has won four straight and entering the weekend and is in its own battle for home ice with Army.

Mercyhurst will face Canisius, a team that the Lakers had a tough series with earlier this year, though Mercyhurst still swept. That, though, will matter little in Friday night’s game at Canisius, as the Lakers will struggle to piece together a lineup after a melee that concluded last Saturday’s game against Army.

So where does all this leave us?

Conventional wisdom would say that Sacred Heart and Holy Cross should both sweep, leaving the league with its first-ever co-champs. Sacred Heart holds the tiebreaker over both Holy Cross and Mercyhurst, meaning the Pioneers would take the playoffs’ top seed.

The only remaining races are positional, save the possibility that Army (which like Mercyhurst will be shorthanded Friday night) can sweep AIC, while Bentley loses its two games to give Army home ice.

The Brawl: Redux

A peaceful game between Mercyhurst and Army last Saturday night turned ugly after the final buzzer, and both teams will now pay heavily.

According to reports, after a 3-2 road victory for the Black Knights, a fracas broke out in front of Army goaltender Brad Roberts as his teammates flooded off the bench to greet him.

With all 20-plus players on the ice as the game had ended, the incident escalated into a full-scale donnybrook. When the smoke had cleared, each team had received six fighting majors and six game disqualifications, leaving both teams severely shorthanded this Friday night.

For Mercyhurst, Ryan Toomey, Kirk Medernach, Bobby Phillips, Jamie Hunt, Brett Robinson, and Conrad Martin all received disqualifications. Army’s DQs went to Ian McDougall, Bryce Hollweg, Bill Leary, Chase Podsiad, Will Ryan and Zack McKelvie.

All of this, though, didn’t happen without protest. Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin asked the league to review the incident and the penalties that were assessed. The league review did lead to changes in the penalties, but according to Director of Media Relations David Rourke, the actual number of penalties called can not be reduced.

The league’s review led to two changes: Mercyhurst’s Conrad Martin was issued a DQ, while Brett Robinson had his penalty reduced from a double DQ to a single one (the significance of which is actually major, as a double DQ would’ve carried with it a three-game suspension for Robinson, rather than a single game.). One of Army’s DQ penalties was switched from first-line winger Luke Flicek to defenseman Zack McKelvie.

Said Gotkin of the brawl: “All of us at Mercyhurst regret the whole incident. We wish it never happened. We’re not totally sure how or why it happened but we’ll do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t believe there’s any room in college hockey for something like that.”

The irony of it all was that the game, up until the final buzzer, was a clean, well-played battle. This wasn’t a predicable bench-clearer and took most by surprise.

“None of us saw this coming,” said Gotkin. “I think at the end of the game we had the perfect storm. It just declined from there.

Both teams will feel major impact from the suspensions. Mercyhurst is in a battle for the league title while Army is searching to remain in the comfort of home ice in its playoff series versus Bentley.

“We’re still very much in this regular-season championship race, even though we have to put the fate into some other teams’ hands,” said Gotkin. “But in light of the six DQs, four of whom are defensemen, we’ve clearly put ourselves in a tough spot.”

According to Gotkin, due to additional injuries, he’ll dress just nine forwards, five defensemen and three goaltenders.

His lineup selection becomes a lot easier.

“If you can play on Friday,” said Gotkin, “you’re going to play.”