January 19, 2005
AIC's 60 Minute Man

By James Jahnke

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook

AIC goalie Frank Novello

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It’s not Howard. It’s not McKee. It’s not Gibson, Briggs or Montoya. The goalie who has played the greatest percentage of his team’s minutes this year is American International’s Frank Novello.

At 99.9 percent, he’s tough to top.

Novello has played all but 21 seconds of the Yellow Jackets’ 960 minutes of game time this year. It wasn’t until AIC’s most recent contest, a 6-3 loss to Mercyhurst, that backup Matt Tourville finally was granted almost an entire shot clock’s worth of time between the pipes.

“We actually meant to get (Tourville) in there a little earlier,” AIC coach Gary Wright said of his freshman, “but then there were about two-and-a-half minutes without a whistle at the end of the game.”

Not that Novello, a senior, minded the extra stint. He was thrust into the workhorse role this season when classmate Chad Davis made a late decision not to use his final season of eligibility in Springfield. Davis’
departure caught the program off guard, but Novello has absorbed the extra work with little trouble. He boasts a .921 save percentage that belies his 3.31 goals-against average and 2-13-1 record. Come to think of it, that might be another stat in which Novello leads the nation: saves made per win.

AIC generates just 1.88 goals per game – fourth worst in the nation – which puts a lot of pressure on Novello to be spectacular. In six of his 13 losses, Novello has allowed three goals or fewer. That’s not as routine as it sounds, either, considering he faces 40 or more shots almost every night. Earlier this month, Brown put 61 shots on goal in a 5-2 win. The fewest shots Novello has seen in a game this year is 30. Four times, he’s dealt with more than 50.

But through it all, Novello has refrained from feeling sorry for himself or blaming his teammates as the losses mount.

“I knew what I was coming into,” he said. “The thought (of playing for a good team) goes through everybody’s mind on a team that’s not going so well. But I’m going to enjoy every minute I’m here. There’s always a moral victory, you just have to look at the positives. I’ve played a lot in the four years I’ve been here, and there are not too many players who can say that.”

The highlight of AIC’s season came last Friday when, behind 34 Novello saves, it upset first-place Canisius on the road. The Yellow Jackets also have a win over Army, a tie against Holy Cross, Atlantic Hockey’s current first-place team, and an overtime loss to Mercyhurst on their resume. They sit just one point behind eighth-place Army heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series against Bentley, so if Novello can steal a couple from the Falcons, the Jackets might not be relegated to the 8 vs. 9 play-in game of the conference tournament this season.

“Frank’s been durable, been consisent and been strong,” Wright said. “He’s had, really, no bad games this year. Before games, he dresses in about three minutes, and he stands out there at ice level and just looks out there for about 20 minutes. And you can just see the focus on his face.

“When he has a right to be irritated with the rest of us for not scoring for him, he’s back there lamenting the two he let in. Basically, he’s what you want in a goalie.”


More work, please: At the other end of the goalie spectrum is Bemidji State freshman Matt Climie, who thinks he should be facing more shots than he is. The Leduc, Alberta, native was in net Friday night when Robert Morris managed to put a comically low eight shots on net during a 5-1 loss. RMU had as many power plays as total shots – and even more penalties (12). They managed just two shots in both the first and third periods.

Climie, who admitted to being bored, swears he wasn’t playing solitaire in the crease when the Colonials’ Chris Kaufman scored on a second-period breakaway. But he might have been thinking about it.

“I probably could have been (playing cards),” Climie said. “It’s pretty tough only facing eight shots. I usually get more than that in a period.
It’s tough mentally. And then when they do get shots, it seems like they’re Grade A opportunities like odd-man rushes.”

The 6-foot-3 Climie has started three straight games and played in four straight – all wins – for the Beavers, temporarily displacing 5-10 sophomore Layne Sedevie from the lineup. He and the rest of the team will be tested by the explosive Alabama-Huntsville offense this weekend Down South.

Leaving on a sour note: Quinnipiac’s final season in Atlantic Hockey is going nowhere fast. Expected to be a title contender before the year, the Bobcats sit in fifth place with a .500 conference record heading into this weekend’s game against Holy Cross. One problem in Hamden has been scoring, but the main factor has been a dearth of “good” wins.

By and large, Quinnipiac is beating the teams it should beat (a 6-1-1 record against Bentley, Army, AIC and UConn) but not the teams it would like to beat (0-3-1 against Holy Cross, Canisius, Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst). With two games remaining against each of those four leading teams, there’s a chance for things to get better – or worse – before they bid adieu.

“It’s been a disappointing year to this point,” head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We’ve certainly underachieved. I think we have more talent than last year, when we also underachieved, but we need more production out of our forwards. We need to get it going here.”

Asked whether the impending move to the ECACHL – and the eagerness/anxiety it entails – was a factor, Pecknold said, “I don’t think that’s the case at all. It might have been more so at the start of the season, but right now, no one’s thinking about next year.”


Great Weekend Getaway
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Bemidji State at Alabama-Huntsville (Fri.-Sat.)
Bemidji State finally has to leave the security of the Glas Fieldhouse this weekend after a rare eight-game homestand – during which the Beavers climbed into first place in the CHA. The squad they overtook is UAH, which is coming off an impressive nonconference win and tie at Lake Superior State. The Chargers need to defend home ice because they’ll be making a trip to Bemidji in less than a month. Fans at the Von Braun Center this weekend might be getting a sneak peek of the CHA championship game.

While You're There: If you want to spend an extra day in Alabama (and, seriously, who wouldn’t?), country stars Alison Krauss + Union Station will play the Von Braun Center on Sunday.

Stick Salute

Congratulations to Canisius senior defenseman Mark Persick, the only repeat finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award in this year’s class. Among other good deeds, Persick organized a sponsorship of a 6-year-old girl in Somalia, monthly trips to Buffalo’s Women and Children’s Hospital, created a “toy toss” for The Hearts for the Homeless children’s center, and sits on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Persick truly is a world-class individual.

Bench Minor

Golden Griffins fans might blame it on the curse of INCH (or did Cavanaugh put a hex on them?), but Canisius threw away two points when they lost at home to American International last Friday. Teams competing for the league championship can’t do such things. The biggest goof might have been starting No. 2 goalie Max Buetow instead of Bryan Worosz. The Yellow Jackets see their share of backup netminders – opposing teams often try to sneak away with a win and a day of rest for ol’ No. 1 against Wright’s boys – but AIC had no trouble figuring out Buetow, taking a 4-0 lead less than five minutes into the second period. By the time Worosz came off the bench, it was too late.

• It’s pretty much been understood for a while that Alabama-Huntsville center Jared Ross could play for just about any team in the country, but further proof was provided last weekend in Sault Ste. Marie. Ross torched Lake Superior State for four goals as the Chargers took a convincing 5-0 win and a 3-3 tie from their trip into CCHA country. Though successful, the nonconference series dropped the Chargers out of first place. Bemidji State, which has played two more league games than UAH, now sits atop by three points.

• We could understand this coming from a wily veteran who’s been in the league as long as Nate James was at Duke, but the fact that Billy Irish-Baker of Canisius is just a sophomore made it all the more puzzling. During a conversation with INCH last week, Irish-Baker mentioned the team’s desire to win the MAAC championship. Really, Billy? The MAAC hockey league changed it’s name to Atlantic Hockey before last season – and before Irish-Baker ever played in the conference. He must be a history major or something,

• Ever so quietly, Holy Cross is back in first place in Atlantic Hockey – a place it held all of last year. The Crusaders are 7-0-2 in their last nine league games and haven’t lost to an Atlantic Hockey opponent since the night of the Pistons-Pacers fight. The Crusaders lead Canisius by one point, and Mercyhurst and Sacred Heart by four. Holy Cross has just one game this weekend – Saturday at Quinnipiac – because Friday’s scheduled contest in Worcester has been moved to next month at the FleetCenter.

• Fans of Army hockey are well aware of Chad Fifield’s neat turnaround from being a roster cut as a sophomore to being a team captain as a senior. Halfway through his final season of college hockey, Fifield is in a four-way tie for second place on the team in points. The bad news is that he only has five. Still, coach Brian Riley loves what Fifield brings to the offensively challenged Black Knights. “He typifies what we feel Army hockey is all about,” Riley said. “He’s been an unbelievable player and leader. You watch how he comes to compete every day – it’s a great example for our younger guys. If I had 20 Chad Fifields, I’d be a lucky coach and a good coach.”.

• Scoreboard glancers would have had different impressions of two Atlantic Hockey games last weekend than box-score readers. Connecticut’s 4-1 win over Quinnipiac on Friday looks a bit one-sided at first, but the tilt was tied 1-1 until Tim Olsen scored with 2:12 to go. Two empty-netters later, and the spread looks pretty bad. On the same night, Bentley and Sacred Heart went into the final two minutes scoreless before the Falcons’ Josh Thompson found the net with 1:58 to play. Add an empty-netter, and Bentley “cruised” to a 2-0 win.

Mercyhurst sophomore goalie Mike Ella earned his first career win Saturday – and it just happened to be on his 22nd birthday. Ella has played well in recent weeks (including a 0-0 tie against Robert Morris) and could start challenging top goalie Andy Franck for more playing time.

Three teams will be shorthanded this weekend because of fights on Saturday. Quinnipiac forward Craig Falite, Army defenseman Nick Cahill and Air Force forward Matt Bader all must sit out their teams’ first matchups this weekend because of the NCAA’s mandatory one-game suspension for players receiving a game disqualification. Connecticut forward Trevor Stewart, who tussled with Falite, sat out UConn’s game against Sacred Heart on Tuesday.

• Aside from the big series Down South, other notable matchups this weekend include intrastate rivals UConn and Yale on Saturday in New Haven, a mentor vs. student rematch between Robert Morris’ Derek Schooley and Wayne State’s Bill Wilkinson on Saturday and Sunday in Plymouth, and two exhibitions between Canisius and the Under-18 U.S. National Development Team in Buffalo.

Bentley senior goalie Simon St. Pierre set a school record with his fifth career shutout on Friday. The blanking was his first of the season

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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