The first season of hockey in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference began in the fall of 1998. The MAAC fielded eight teams in that inaugural year. The conference hosted a single-elimination postseason tournament with the semifinals and championship game taking place in Worcester, Massachusetts.
When the first MAAC regular season ended, Quinnipiac was at the front of the pack and earned the top seed in the postseason tournament. Two other teams that were also in the upper half of the seeding were Holy Cross at two and Canisius at four. As with other MAAC hockey programs, this was the first year in Division I for both Holy Cross and Canisius. The Holy Cross Crusaders entered the postseason with a 19-9-4 overall record and a five-game unbeaten streak. The Canisius Golden Griffins entered with a 14-14-5 overall record and had just completed a sweep at Fairfield the weekend before the tournament.
In the opening round of the tournament, Canisius hosted American International and defeated the Yellow Jackets 7-4. Holy Cross hosted Sacred Heart and defeated the Pioneers 3-1. This win guaranteed home-ice advantage for the Crusaders throughout the remainder of the playoffs due to Holy Cross hosting the final three games of the tournament at the Hart Center. Canisius drew the top-seed Quinnipiac Braves. (The school would change the nickname to the Bobcats in 2001). The Golden Griffins put up five goals on Quinnipiac – with one being a short-handed goal – and came away with the 5-2 upset. In the other semifinal, the Crusaders took down three seed UConn 4-3 in overtime.
The first MAAC championship hockey game was held March 20, 1999. Coming into the game, Holy Cross held the season series lead at 3-0-1. It was an even title game through two periods with the score tied 3-3. Mike Maguire scored at the beginning of the third period in what ultimately ended up being the game-winning goal for the Crusaders. When it was all said and done, Holy Cross defeated Canisius 4-3 to capture the MAAC title. It was the first time in school history the hockey program had won a conference title. Junior Chris Fattey led the team with 46 points throughout the season. This would be the last game of the season for both teams. The MAAC was a new conference and had yet to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Division I national tournament.
Flash forward to the beginning of the 2002-03 season. The MAAC fielded 11 teams at that point. However, two teams (Iona and Fairfield) ceased hockey operations following the season. The nine remaining teams decided to break away from the MAAC to create a new conference: Atlantic Hockey Association.
The old division foes will face off again at the Hart Center this weekend when Canisius visits Worcester. Coming into this season, Holy Cross has won the Atlantic Hockey tournament twice (2004, 2006) and Canisius once (2013). The teams have yet to meet this season.
Photo Credit: (Featured Image) Holy Cross Crusader Nation Magazine, Winter 2009. (Second Image) The Griffin, March 26, 1999.