Heart's French Connection
Pierre-Luc O'Brien's teammates have to remind him to speak English
in the Sacred Heart locker room.
you see, for O'Brien to get carried away and carry on in French
with fellow Québécois Marc-Andre Fournier, Kevin
LaPointe, Charles Veilleux and Jason Smith around. But he has
to remember that outside of the Pioneers' French connection, no
one has any idea what he's saying.
it sucks for them," said O'Brien, who notched three goals
and an assist in Sacred Heart's improbable home sweep of Mercyhurst
last weekend. "I just have to remind myself to be fair to
the guys who speak English."
freshman from Nicolet, Quebec, is tied with senior Mike Reagan
for the team scoring lead with 18 points (10-8) this season. His
10 goals are tied with senior Fournier and junior Garrett Larson
for tops on the team.
So with O'Brien
and Fournier generating some goals, LaPointe and Smith taking
care of the goaltending duties and Veilleux making a solid contribution
on the blue line, it's no secret that the province of Quebec is
a major reason why the Pioneers have won four straight games and
climbed into sole possession of fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey
standings this month.
no question we've done real well in Quebec with the caliber of
student-athlete we've been able to attract," said Sacred
Heart coach Shaun Hannah, whose team has five
of the nine Quebec natives in Atlantic Hockey. "They
have a real passion for the game, and the other nice thing is
they study hard. They're hungry for the opportunity to go to college,
and they bring a drive to succeed. But other than us and American
International (with Guillaume Caron and Jeason Lecours), not many
teams in Atlantic Hockey recruit up there."
even say his own name in English before moving to British Columbia
to play junior hockey two years ago. But he now speaks it more
fluently than your average college basketball player. He said
he doesn't use his bilingual talents for evil – most of
a good advantage in the bars," admitted O'Brien, 21, whose
paternal grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Montreal, thus,
the surname that doesn't match his first name. "You can talk
about girls and stuff without them knowing about it.
English is one of the best things I can do. For a French guy with
a degree from down here, it's gold back home. It's really well-respected
in Quebec. You go to Montreal, and it's half-and-half. So if you
want to get a job, you have to speak English. It's a plus for
studying business at Sacred Heart, although he hopes to play professionally
– maybe in Europe – after his college career. The
5-foot-9, 180-pounder lacks NHL size, but he can burn.
been outstanding," Hannah said. "There was no break-in
time with him – as soon as his skates hit the ice, he was
ready. His speed adds a whole new element to our team."
AND HEARD IN THE LEAGUES
Moving On — With
Findlay in its final two months as a lame-duck program, the Oilers
players and coaches are understandably starting to look toward
the future. Two players have already made verbal commitments to
transfer to other schools – freshman forward Mike Batovanja
to Michigan Tech and ineligible freshman goaltender Larry Sterling
to Minnesota State, Mankato. Findlay coach Pat Ford expects more
players to be placed in the coming weeks.
are a lot of opportunities for them," Ford said. "Some
guys will get the opportunity to play for programs they wouldn't
have been able to play for before coming here. It speaks to the
quality of player we were able to bring in."
program is being eliminated, the players won't have to sit out
the customary one year transfer period. They'll be eligible next
As for himself,
Ford said he has "a lot of irons in the fire." He said
his first choice for employment next year would be at a Division
I institution with a commitment to hockey. If that doesn't work
out, he would consider being an assistant at an elite program,
a prep coach or possibly another position with junior-age players.
in a good position where I can sit back and evaluate each option
after the season," Ford said. "But the college dominoes
won't start falling for another six-to-eight weeks."
— With both league tournaments being played solely
at neutral sites this year, the AHA and CHA regular-season standings
don't mean much except for determining seeds and bragging rights.
But we'll take a quick look at how they're shaping up anyway:
As it has for most of the season, first-place Holy Cross has a
nice buffer between it and second place. Right now, it's seven
points over Mercyhurst, which was badly hurt by last weekend's
zero-point effort at Sacred Heart. The Lakers have a game in hand
on the Crusaders, but that doesn't mean much with a seven-point
deficit. The teams meet once (in Worcester) down the stretch,
and Holy Cross also has a home-and-home with third-place Quinnipiac
left on the docket. But the Cross is still looookin' gooood for
a regular-season title.
America: A couple of weeks ago, Air Force coach Frank Serratore
summed up the CHA pretty well. "There's an upstairs and there's
a basement," he said. "There's no ground floor."
True that is. Wayne State, Findlay and Serratore's Falcons are
in the basement and out of the conference race (don't worry, they'll
still be in the league tourney). On the top floor is first-place
Bemidji State (24 points), second-place Niagara (20) and third-place
Alabama-Huntsville (16). Bemidji has played two more league games
than its followers, but that will even out this weekend as Niagara
and UAH play each other in Huntsville, while the Beavers have
two at St. Cloud State. Making things even more fun, Bemidji hosts
UAH next weekend and then Niagara on the final weekend of the
season. There's nothing better than when the major players in
a league race actually play each other down the
players, Niagara sophomore goaltender Jeff VanNynatten had this
to say about the conference race after sweeping Wayne State last
weekend: "We got nine games left and we'll probably need
eight or nine wins to get first place." Sure, Jeff, Bemidji
is in the proverbial driver's seat right now, but if your Purple
Eagles survive the weekend in Dixie, we expect it to come down
to the final period of the final weekend in north central Minnesota.
Great Weekend Getaway
Michigan at Wayne State (Fri-Sat.):
NMU will travel to its second CHA building in three
weeks, coming off a win and a tie at Alabama-Huntsville
last month. The Warriors don't seem poised to put up a better
fight than UAH did, but it wouldn't surprise anyone at INCH
if we saw two of Wayne State's better efforts at Compuware
Sports Arena this weekend. It's not often that a CHA team
can convince a member of the Big Four conferences to visit,
so Wayne State had better make the most of this opportunity.
The super-young Warriors welcomed injured freshman forward
Mark Nebus (3-2—5) back to the lineup last weekend,
but they still don't have enough offensive punch (2.31 goals
a game) to keep up with NMU under most circumstances. Just
more than half of WSU's total goals and points have been
scored by freshmen this season. Northern, meanwhile, has
stayed pretty inconspicuous in the CCHA and on the national
scene this year, so the Wildcats desperately need a sweep
this weekend to keep alive slim hopes of an at-large NCAA
you're there: Finally, Detroit! My hometown. Yeah, yeah,
the games are technically in Plymouth, but it would be worth
your while to head 25 miles east to the Motor City for any
pre- or postgame revelry. Puckheads who have never been
to the Hockeytown Café (across from Comerica Park)
are almost obligated to check it out. But if you've been
there and done that, try to nab tickets to the Second City
comedy troupe in the same building or walk a block down
Montcalm Ave. to the Town Pump, a top-shelf hole-in-the-wall
with smoky blues played almost nightly.
NHL, obviously stung by my jersey criticism last
week, got back in INCH's good graces last weekend. The league,
enjoying its All-Star break, sent a team of officials to
work Army's annual grudge match against Canada's Royal Military
College on Saturday in Kingston, Ontario, showing its gratitude
for the work of both countries' armed services. NHL referee
Greg Kimmerly and linesmen Derek Nansen and Steve Barton
called just 14 penalties Saturday, the fewest in the military
rivalry since 1998. The gesture of loaning its officials
was a classy one by the league.
salute goes to the Black Knights for actually
winning the aforementioned game, 3-2. It was the West Pointers'
first win over RMC in Canada since 1996 and it extended
their series lead to 38-29-6 in the "oldest continuous
international rivalry in all of sports." Seth Beamer,
Jon Boyle and Chris Garceau tallied a goal and an assist
apiece in the win in front of 3,010 Paladins fans. A snowstorm
prevented most of Army's traveling party – except
for the team itself – from making it to the game,
but thecadets and the band were no doubt happy about the
still sits in third place in the Atlantic Hockey
standings, but one wonders if the Bobcats could be making
Holy Cross sweat a little more if they could just win their
share of road games. With a loss at last-place American
International on Saturday, Quinnipiac fell to 2-11-3 away
from home this year. Granted, a lion's share of those defeats
came to more talented nonconference teams like Michigan,
Wisconsin, Merrimack, Providence and Ohio State, but the
Bobcats are still 1-4-3 on the road in league games. That's
what they have to start winning.
It Close — The CHA went 0-3-1 in its marquee nonconference
matchups last week, but the league undoubtedly earned a ton of
respect anyway. UAH went up to Orono and played Maine within a
goal for the weekend. A tough-to-swallow 1-0 loss Friday was soothed
by a satisfying 2-2 tie the next night. Not bad for the third-place
team in College Hockey America against No. 3 in country.
Bemidji fell twice to two-time defending national champion Minnesota
on the Gophers' home ice, but the Beavers trailed by just one
entering the third period both nights. Think Goldy wasn't a bit
nervous? Bemidji wound up losing 2-1 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday,
but it didn't overshadow a solid performance – especially
by senior goaltender Grady Hunt, who stopped 36 of 38 shots in
that to Beavers coach Tom Serratore, though. "We had a chance
to win, and you don't know if you'll get the chance again,"
Serratore said to the Bemidji Pioneer after Friday's
loss. "There's no such thing as moral victories for this
program any longer, no matter the opponent."
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
you surmise O'Brien and the rest of the Pioneers' French
connection give Hannah a hard time behind his back, think again.
some French, so they can't get away with too much," Hannah
said with a chuckle. "My mom is French, so I knew it growing
forward Andrew Murray returned to the Bemidji lineup
Friday after missing 11 games with a broken leg. And he made his
presence felt quickly, scoring the Beavers' first goal and assisting
on the other against the Gophers.
junior goalie Simon St. Pierre missed both games against
Connecticut last weekend with a sore knee. Sophomore
Geordan Murphy started in his absence and made 32 and 27 saves,
respectively in 3-2 and 5-3 losses to the Huskies. The Falcons
expect St. Pierre, a candidate for Atlantic Hockey Goaltender
of the Year honors, to return this weekend against Quinnipiac.
know why Air Force freshman defenseman Brian
Gineo was the most popular guy on the team Saturday night and
named the CHA Rookie of the Week on Monday? Here's a hint: He
scored two goals in last five minutes of the game to rally the
Falcons to a 2-1 win over Findlay on Saturday.
Scored 53 seconds apart, they were the second and third markers
of his college career.
it a game of one-upmanship? We may never know the whole truth.
But a couple of elder statesmen on rivals Quinnipiac
and UConn seemed to be trying to out-do each
other last weekend. Husky junior Tim Olsen certainly won the battle
of quantity, racking up four goals (including a hat trick Saturday)
and an assist in a sweep of Bentley. But what
Quinnipiac senior Ryan Morton might have lacked in numbers, he
made up for in importance, scoring all three Bobcat goals in a
3-2 win over Canisius on Friday. Advantage: Push.
are two more individual achievements of note (courtesy of the
CHA's two Hobey Baker Award candidates): Niagara
junior Barret Ehgoetz became the fastest CHA player to reach the
50-goal plateau with a trio of markers this weekend. He now stands
at 51 goals in 94 career games. Alabama-Huntsville forward
Jared Ross, meanwhile, was named the CSTV/Hockey Commissioners'
Association Division I Player of the Month for January.
pair of Atlantic Hockey cellar-dwellers broke seven-game winless
slides last weekend, as UConn beat Bentley
twice and American International notched a surprising
4-2 victory over Quinnipiac on Saturday. The
Yellow Jackets then tied Quinnipiac on Tuesday, taking three points
from the series.
tickets for the CHA Tournament recently went on sale for $10.
The tournament, which will be played March 12-14 at Tri-City Arena
in Kearney, Neb., will feature
five games (3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 12 and 13 and the title
contest at 7 p.m. March 14). To order, call (308) 338-8809 or