A season ago, Holy Cross shocked much of the hockey world by finishing tied for third place, just one season removed from missing the MAAC playoffs entirely.
Though eyes were opened by a team that scored at will, particularly on the power play, and shut down opponents with what once was considered a nonexistent defense, one person who wasn’t surprised was head coach Paul Pearl.
“I was telling this team that they were good two and three years ago,” said Pearl. “We got caught a little shorthanded there for a few years, but our expectations as a team and a program are always to do well.”
— Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl
Maybe that gives reason to why Pearl doesn’t seem surprised that his club was picked as a top-four team this season in the league’s coaches poll. Though Pearl admits that the MAAC is a “wide-open league,” he believes that his club will have the ability to succeed.
“We’re good offensively, so we just have to be persistent in defending,” said Pearl. “If we do that, we can be a good team.”
Though Pearl thinks his team is solid up front, they will be without Pat Rissmiller, the league’s leading scorer and offensive player of the year a season ago. He graduated last season and has since signed with the San Jose Sharks — the first NHL contract for a MAAC player.
“We’ve got a lot of experience back but we’ve lost a lot. We didn’t lose a lot numbers-wise but we lost a lot of great players like Rissmiller,” said Pearl. “I know it’s a cliche, but we need to get better as the year goes along.”
Holy Cross’ first-round playoff exit came in a game where goaltending just didn’t come through. Though at times it was a strength for the Crusaders, a late-season collapse at the position leaves the starting job up for grabs.
“I think one of the four goalies in camp will be a good goalie this year,” said Pearl. “If you can make the simple save, you’ll be pretty good for us. We don’t get into games where we allow 45 shots, so I’m not worried at all.”
The Crusaders will, for the second consecutive year, take on a hefty nonleague schedule with Colgate, Brown and Merrimack dotting the calendar in December and January. Pearl, though, is clear on what his team’s focus will be.
“We’ve progressed pretty good in nonleague games and that’s a sign of us improving as a program,” said Pearl. “But we’re about trying to win the MAAC. Nonleague games are nice and we get all jacked up, but we want to win the MAAC.”