Holy Cross isn’t rebuilding but resetting this season after the loss of eight seniors.
“It’s a reset of the culture of the team,” Crusaders coach Paul Pearl said. “We lost a lot of experience and leadership. We’re a very young team.”
Holy Cross is coming off its first 20-win season since the magical 2005-06 campaign that saw it win 27 contests, including an upset of top-ranked Minnesota in the NCAA tournament.
The Crusaders were the last Atlantic Hockey team not named Air Force or Rochester Institute of Technology to play in the national tournament and took major strides to get back there last season, finishing in a tie for third in the regular season before losing to Mercyhurst in three games in the league quarterfinals.
This will be a pivotal season in terms of which way the Crusaders are headed, and that will depend on how fast the rookies mature, especially on the blue line.
“We have 11 freshman getting broken in and adjusting to the college game,” Pearl said. “We lost four defensemen but brought in some size and skill. Our losses were certainly significant but I like the guys we have coming back and our new players. We’re going to have to rely on freshmen but I really like our freshmen.”
Holy Cross returns three of its top four scorers including junior Adam Schmidt (18 goals, 37 points last season) and senior Brandon Nunn.
“Nunn was one of our best players in the second half of the season,” Pearl said. “Up front we have a lot of skilled guys that are looking at really good years, guys like [Rob] Linsmayer and [Kyle] Fletcher.”
Matt Ginn had an exceptional rookie year in net, appearing in 28 games and posting a .904 save percentage.
“We have three goalies that can play,” Pearl said. “[Senior Tom] Tysowsky got a little behind the eight-ball last season and Ginn made the most of his chances. He’ll start off as the starter. But it’s a good problem to have.”
When asked if he expects another photo finish in the standings, Pearl, who recently signed a contract extension through 2017, said he thinks one or two teams might pull away this season.
“Statistically that’s not going to happen again,” he said. “It was absurd and crazy. I have never been in a league with a finish like that.
“I’m going to make a bold prediction that someone will win the league by five points.”
About the Crusaders
2011-12 overall record: 20-15-4
2011-12 AHA record: 15-8-4 (tie, third)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Sixth
Key losses: F Jay Silvia, D Mike Daly, F Andrew Cox
Players to watch: F Adam Schmidt, F Brandon Nunn, F Erik Vos
Impact rookie: Forward Matt Vidal had a franchise-record 140 points in 129 games for the EJHL’s Bay State Breakers.
Why the Crusaders will finish higher than the coaches poll: Holy Cross might be undervalued in the coaches poll, coming off a season that saw the Crusaders finish tied for third.
Why the Crusaders will finish lower than the coaches poll: Holy Cross lost four defensemen to graduation.