because everyone in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
(MAAC) is pointing towards the NCAA Frozen Four, don’t
think the league has gotten delusions of grandeur.
MAAC will host college hockey’s annual summit this
April in Buffalo, with the help of member school Canisius
and Niagara (which is a MAAC school in every sport but hockey).
That’s reason for excitement, even if the five-year-old
league realistically knows none of its teams will reach
there's no shame in that. The MAAC has made great stride
in four years, as the top-to-bottom competitiveness suggests.
league just gets better and better every single year,"
said Rick Gotkin, head coach of the reigning champs, Mercyhurst.
"The MAAC name is really being spread throughout North
America. We have enhanced our product, and we really have
a league that's anybody's to win. Of course you have your
favorites in the regular season, but if you win three playoff
games you're the MAAC champion."
like a true favorite. But Gotkin speaks from experience
– after winning the league title by 10 points last
year, the Lakers missed out on a second straight NCAA Tournament
trip (their first, in 2000, resulted in a close 4-3 loss
to Michigan) when they were upset by Quinnipiac in the MAAC
two teams have reached the MAAC semifinals every year they
have been in the league, and 2002-03 should be no different.
Sacred Heart should join them in this year's semifinals,
but as Gotkin says, the bid could be up for grabs.
teams appear poised to duplicate the surprise success Holy
Cross enjoyed last year, when the Crusaders jumped to a
tie for third in the league after finishing 10th in 2000-01.
An infusion of young talent – like the 14 freshmen
Iona welcomes – can make a big difference, especially
in a young conference which saw all six of its first-team
all-league players graduate.
at the top of the conference, two teams have defined the
MAAC of late. College hockey observers nationwide spent
two years learning where Mercyhurst and Quinnipiac are located
(Erie, Pa., and Hamden, Conn., respectively, if you’re
just catching up now). Take note: Sacred Heart
is in Fairfield, Conn. (as is Fairfield, but one thing at
the Pioneers crack the top two? Tough to pick against the
Bobcats and Lakers, but Sacred Heart has the talent and
experience to improve on its third-place conference finish
and first semifinal appearance last year. Twenty-one letterwinners
return, including MAAC co-Preseason Player of the Year Martin
Paquet (16-19—35) and Preseason Goalie of the Year
Eddy Ferhi (13-12-4, 3.04, .905). Four of the top five goals
scorers are back, helping make up for the fact that all
four departed letterwinners were forwards.
FOR A FALL
a fall if you still contend for the title? Probably not,
but after running away with last year’s title –
winning by 10 points – expect a much tougher fight
for Mercyhurst this season. Think Bush-Gore,
not Bush-Dukakis. And strong performances by Quinnipiac
and Sacred Heart could leave the Lakers in third.
loss of forward Louis Goulet and goaltender Peter Aubry
– who both earned first-team all-league honors last
year – should help bring the Lakers back to earth.
And a 3-3-0 end to the 2001-02 season, including the championship
game loss to Quinnipiac, showed the rest of the league that
Mercyhurst has vulnerabilities.
the Division I, II and III NCAA Tournaments at the same
school is something akin to Allison Janney winning both
the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Emmys for the
same character on The West Wing. Yet Mercyhurst’s
Rick Gotkin has accomplished the nearly
inexplicable coaching feat during his 14-year career at
Mercyhurst, reaching tourneys in 1991, ’93, ’95
and 2001 as he has built the Lakers into a MAAC power.
tactician and motivator, Gotkin loses some talented players
this season, and has to hold of some hard-charging MAAC
programs. He’s proven before, however, that he can
accomplish the unexpected.
ON THE HOT SEAT
MAAC coaches have been with their schools since the league
was founded five years ago (or since their team joined the
league). No changes are imminent, either, although the pressure
is on at Army. Expectations were high for head coach Rob
Riley’s club when it joined the MAAC in 2000-01,
and the Black Knights have produced seventh- and eighth-place
– in his 17th season as head coach after taking over
for his legendary father, Jack – leads Army into its
100th season of hockey. While MAAC coaches picked Army eighth
in the league’s preseason poll, there’s reason
to believe that the Black Knights, despite their obvious
recruiting limitations, could be playing when the conference
semifinals come to West Point in March.
Chris Casey (10-15—25) earned MAAC Offensive Rookie
of the Year honors last year, while classmate Chris Garceau
(12-14—26) led the team in scoring. Their development
helped Army close the season with a 7-5-1 record in its
last 13 games, including a 3-2, come-from-behind win over
ACT TO FOLLOW
members of both the MAAC and College Hockey America, Niagara’s
2000 NCAA Tournament upset of New Hampshire provides a benchmark
– and optimism that a repeat performance is possible.
the advent of the 16-team tournament makes a similar
upset even tougher to pull off. The MAAC and CHA
teams in this year’s tournament will likely face one
of the top four teams in the country in the first round
– teams that would have had a bye in the 12-team format.
it be done? Of course – following Niagara’s
recipe from 2000. All it takes is a great goaltender, a
well-executed game plan, opportunistic offense and a bit
of overconfidence on the opponents’ part. It very
nearly worked for Mercyhurst in 2001.
Herbert , Quinnipiac
coaches tabbed two players as co-Preseason Players of the
Year – but the leading active career scorer in Division
I wasn’t among them. Brian Herbert,
Quinnipiac’s senior forward, enters 2002-03 with 133
career points – 25 more than Nebraska-Omaha’s
David Brisson and Colorado College’s Peter Sejna.
Say what you want about competition; they’re impressive
Langley, British Columbia, native’s totals last year
(14-29—43) tied him for third in the MAAC with Hobey
Baker finalist Ryan Carter of Iona, and he stands first
among returning players.
everyone’s unsung in a conference that gets next-to-nothing
in national respect. But write down the name R.J.
Irving, and watch the skilled blue-liner if you
get the chance. The junior led MAAC defensemen in scoring
last year (10-15—25) and quarterbacked the nation’s
second-best power play (30.1 percent). MAAC coaches named
him a Preseason First-Team All-MAAC selection.
the Central Scouting Bureau rankings treasure size and strength,
college hockey fans know that the players who make the biggest
impact are often waterbugs – the small, skilled, speedy
playmakers. So while being 5-foot-9, 175 pounds has probably
rarely helped Dave Borrelli in hockey,
don't let it discount him. The Mercyhurst rookie led the
Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League
last season with 50 goals and 95 points in 41 games, and
has the speed and skill that Rick Gotkin says characterizes
his freshman class.
IT DOWN – Six things you can take to the bank in the
MAAC this season:
first four years of MAAC play have produced four conference
tournament champions – Holy Cross, Connecticut, Mercyhurst
and Quinnipiac. One of the latter two will become the first
to win the title twice this year.
journalists will credit Quinnipiac’s new nickname
– Bobcats, replacing Braves – instead of their
talent when the ’Cats finish October with just one
loss (at Maine).
NHL scouts will find MAAC rinks, thanks to the success of
players like Holy Cross graduate Pat Rissmiller in San Jose
Sharks training camp.
may give Northeastern a scare and Connecticut will come
close vs. Massachusetts, but the MAAC will wait another
year before its first win over a Hockey East team.
and Connecticut will get deserved credit – and will
improve – thanks to their tough non-conference schedules.
Brian Herbert or Mercyhurst’s Adam Tackaberry will
end Iona’s two-year hold on the conference scoring
YOU AT TOURNEY TIME