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The Wait Is Over

“It was unbelievable.”

Those were the first words from Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah, asked to talk about the biggest upset in the history of the MAAC.

Less than a week ago, Sacred Heart, a team picked fifth in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll, walked into one of the toughest road barns in the country, Lynah Rink, and knocked off recently nationally-ranked Cornell University, 5-3. The victory made Sacred Heart the first team from the MAAC to win a game against a “Big Four” opponent.

“We didn’t think going into the game that if we won the game we’d be the first MAAC team to win out of conference,” said Hannah. “All that week in practice our focus was winning a game and preparing for playing at Lynah Rink.

Hannah himself is a graduate of Cornell, making the win even a little more special.

“It was a blast playing at Cornell, and we had a lot of good nights [at Lynah],” said Hannah. “But this will be one of my most memorable moments in Lynah.”

As much as the homecoming excited the young coach — Hannah is only 28 years old — he didn’t talk much about it to his club.

“All week, I didn’t talk about the fact that it was my old home rink; the guys all knew that,” said Hannah. “We were prepared to give it our best effort.”

And that’s exactly what the Pioneers did. Especially goaltender Eddy Ferhi, a surprise starter over senior Alexi Jutras-Binet. Ferhi’s 34 saves, 18 of which came in the third period, were the backbone of the victory.

“[Ferhi] made some big game-savers, he had a few of those,” said Hannah. “Anything that was on, net he was on to. There weren’t many rebounds, so Cornell didn’t have many second or third opportunities.”

When asked why he started Ferhi over Jutras-Binet, Hannah said size and stability played a large role.

“Eddy went in through the second half of the Colgate game (an 8-2 loss) and held his own, and [as coaches] we thought he played well against UConn [last Saturday], so we decided he could do a good job for us,” said Hannah. “He takes up a lot of the net because he’s six-foot-three, two hundred pounds. He turned out to be fantastic, which is great.

“I’ve always felt that you need to have good goaltending to be successful. Goaltending and strong play are what you have to do here [at Sacred Heart] to win. It’s been proven a successful formula many times over. This weekend and in general, we’re pretty solid in the nets.”

Knowing the atmosphere of Lynah better than most, Hannah was able to factor that into his game plan.

“Going into the game we knew we had to get on them quick because they were going to come out of the gates with a lot of fire,” said Hannah, describing the opening-night atmosphere at Lynah. “They had the fans on their side and we knew we had to do something to take the fire out and we did, scoring just 2:46 into the game.

“But there was a lot of game left, and we had to play hard for 60 minutes. I’ve seen what’s happened in that building with all the comebacks that Cornell can make. We knew we had to keep competing and not let up.”

Hannah also noted that his game plan was to be aggressive, rather than play a “trap” style which many lesser-abled teams play in an attempt to slow down a more powerful opponent.

We played a 2-3 forecheck with two guys going real aggressive, but made sure we had guys back to not give up odd-man rushes,” said Hannah. “There were points in the game where we had them boxed into their offensive zone. We didn’t give up many odd-man rushes, so it worked pretty well.

“I felt the two games against Cornell and Colgate were both physical games. Colgate and Cornell always play physical. Our team likes to be in those types of games. We like to play along the board. It wasn’t a wide-open run-and-gun game. It was close-checking.”

When asked what the win has meant to Sacred Heart and the MAAC, Hannah was humble.

“The phone’s been ringing off the hook. Friends, other coaches, guys I’ve been associated with,” said Hannah, still with the excitement of the win in his voice. “It’s a big win for our program, which everyone acknowledges. But the MAAC coaches know it’s a big win for the league. It validates what we’re trying to do here.”

It certainly does give a little validation to the MAAC in a season in which the league will make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament through an automatic bid. So the fact that Sacred Heart was able to win not only a game against the “Big Four,” but against a team like Cornell, which has been ranked as high as 14th this season in the USCHO.com poll, resonates further.

Hannah also talked about his postgame speech, which he admitted brought a lot of emotion out.

“I was speechless [after the win] — it was a pretty emotional time,” said Hannah. “I was just so proud of the boys the way they played. They played their hearts out and never quit and as a coach that’s all you can ask for.

“It means a lot for the program and it’s a big win for the league. At this point, we’ve come a long way in three years, going 7-23-1 two years ago and then playing well last season. The coaching staff and guys have put so much work in so from that point it has been just so rewarding.

“I think we’re on a journey and it’s to gain that respect and grow to the place where were competitive with [Big Four] teams. We needed to get that first one. For our team, it’s helped our confidence letting us know we can do that.”

Now returning to league play, Hannah realizes that though the cloud-nine feeling is leaving a little, a new feeling — one of having a bulls-eye on the chest — is setting in.

“It was a great win, but there’s a lot of good teams in the league and now we have to beat those teams,” said Hannah. “I just think there’s no surprises anymore.”

Another Almost for Quinnipiac

What Sacred Heart did last Saturday might have lost a little luster if one night earlier Quinnipiac had snuck one more puck into the net.

Friday night, facing off against St. Lawrence, a perennial powerhouse in the ECAC and a Frozen Four participant a season ago, Quinnipiac traded second-period goals with the Saints en route to a 1-1 tie.

The story that night was not much different than Sacred Heart a night later: freshman goaltending.

It was rookie Justin Eddy who got the call over experienced senior J.C. Wells, with a chance to shine. And that’s exactly what he did.

Eddy made a total of 58 saves in the game, 18 in each of the first and third periods, 16 in the second and eight in overtime. His dominance on a night that saw Quinnipiac outshot 59-20 was the backbone to the Braves tie.

Ironically, that tie was the first for the MAAC against a Big Four team, and probably, if not for the Sacred Heart upset the next night, would have garnered the headlines this week.

Regardless, the two games can only be summed up in one word — huge. They are the beginning of the long road of validation that the MAAC will need to grow as a national college hockey conference.

Weekly Awards

In what has already been summed up by this writer as the Year of the Goalie in the MAAC, last week was the week of the goalie as all three weekly awards went to netminders.

ITECH MAAC Player of the Week:
Eddy Ferhi, So. G, Sacred Heart

Ferhi was a key component in the Pioneers’ 5-3 upset over Cornell on Saturday, the first-ever for a MAAC school over an ECAC member. In the victory, Ferhi stopped 34 shots, including 18 in the third period. For the season, he has 74 saves, a 2.07 GAA with a 1-0-1 record in 145 minutes of action. Also Nominated: Eric Goclowski (UConn), Brandon Doria (Holy Cross).

ITECH MAAC Goalie of the Week:
Artie Imbriano, Fr. G, Connecticut

Imbriano wins the award for his outstanding play in leading the Huskies to a two wins last weekend. He earned his first collegiate win by stopping 24 shots in a 10-3 victory over Bentley, then made another 24 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory over Canisius, allowing only six goals in 111 minutes played in the two games. His season record is 2-4-1 and he holds a 2.87 goals against average. Also Nominated: Mike Fraser (Iona), Peter Aubry (Mercyhurst).

ITECH MAAC Rookie of the Week:
Justin Eddy, Fr. G, Quinnipiac

Eddy was outstanding this weekend despite not winning a game. In a 1-1 tie against 2000 Frozen Four participant St. Lawrence, he recorded a school-record 58 saves, then stopped 39 shots in a 4-2 loss to Clarkson, his first collegiate loss in five starts (3-1-1). In the two games, he stopped 97 of 102 shots for a .951 save percentage. Also Nominated: Mike Mulligan (Bentley), Eric Nelson (UConn), Tim Coskren (Holy Cross), Adam Tackaberry (Mercyhurst).

Off the Record…

Taking a page from the book of some of the other writers here at USCHO.com, I decided this week to talk a little about a topic other than hockey. In what has personally been a hell week of travel and computer problems, I first want to apologize to the teams and the fans for the brevity of this week’s column. Much more is promised next week.

But I’d be remiss if in some way, shape, or form, I didn’t at least give notice to the still-unsettled presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush. The results don’t amaze me, the controversy doesn’t amaze me, and certainly either outcome, whether for Bush or Gore, won’t amaze me either, as we all knew this election was “too close to call” long before most of us marched to the polls on Tuesday.

No, what amazes me is the what something like an election like this can do for a country. Everyone here remembers at some point in our grade school teachings or our high school civics class learning about the Electoral College.

But honestly, now, how many of us actually remembered what the heck it was? Or how it works? Or even how many electoral votes there are?

Well, at the end of this week, civic and history teachers across the country can rest assured that the average American not only knows what the Electoral College is, but could probably write a three-page summary of how it can affect a nation.

Something that, at least in this writer’s mind, is priceless.