It’s an amazing type of consistency that permeates through the walls of Holy Cross’ Hart Center. Back-to-back 20-win seasons, three straight years over .500 and overall control of Atlantic Hockey’s eastern division hang from the purple walls in Worcester, Mass.
The only things the Crusaders have been missing lately are a league championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament. But they’re hoping that their consistency and ability to adapt to new conditions every season will finally help them over that hump this year.
“It’s not to dismiss the good players who graduated from this program, but we always look at how we can keep moving forward,” coach Paul Pearl said. “We try not to lament the losses of who’s left the program, and we try to focus on the guys that are currently here. We like to think that each year is our time and that the guys who are here, it’s their time to shine.”
Shayne Stockton returns after posting a 28-point season last season, and Adam Schmidt leads a pack of scorers trying to seamlessly transition from Brandon Nunn, Rob Linsmayer and Kyle Fletcher. Castan Sommer had six goals in his first year last season, and Jake Youso scored nine goals in just 25 games.
No Crusaders player scored more than 16 goals, meaning they should be able to do better than just tread water against their eastern divisional mates.
“Our goal is to find our identity every year,” Pearl said. “Some years you have a better offense, and some years you have a better defense. Our guys have bought into whatever they are; they’re going to work hard and they’re going to find themselves. Everyone knows that teams change every year, and once you find out who you are, you have to work to be the best you possibly can be.”
For a team that is able to remain consistent year in and year out, the perfect example is in net, where Matt Ginn returns for a junior year after appearing in all but two games last season. Last year, he won 19 games with a 2.63 GAA and was six saves short of 1,000 on the season.
“Matt Ginn is one of the best goalies in the league,” Pearl said. “We want to improve our goals against average, but that’s more of a team thing.”
The Crusaders have the added benefit of playing an aggressive nonleague schedule, one of their biggest in years. They’ll play a “mini-Beanpot” against Hockey East teams, taking on Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern.
They’ll play the defending national runner-up when they play a home-and-home series against Quinnipiac. And they’ll play a weekend set where they’ll play conference foe Bentley at Fenway Park before playing the defending national champion the next night at Yale.
“We set out to play the best possible schedule,” Pearl said. “It grabs people’s attention if it’s as front-loaded. It’s a huge opportunity for us to that we’re in a great position. Hockey East is going to be looking for newer opponents with their new scheduling format. Boston University is now in the Patriot League, so we can start to develop a relationship through that. Northeastern is always a good team to play against being in Hockey East. And it’s always great to play Boston College — our alumni base in Boston after Thanksgiving will really enjoy that game given the historical rivalry between our schools.”
About the Crusaders
2012-13 overall record: 20-14-3
2012-13 conference record: 15-9-3
2013-14 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth
Key losses: F Brandon Nunn, F Rob Linsmayer, F Kyle Fletcher, F Erik Vos
Players to watch: F Shayne Stockton, F Adam Schmidt, F Castan Sommer, F Jake Youso, G Matt Ginn
Impact rookie: Of the freshmen forwards coming in, mighty mite Cameron Lawson (at 5-foot-9) is the most highly touted. He scored 21 goals and 21 assists last year for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Why the Crusaders will finish higher than the coaches poll: Consistency is king. Defying more neutralized expectations this year, the Crusaders freshmen keep the machine rolling, and Holy Cross continues its reign as a top team in the league and the face of the eastern division.
Why the Crusaders will finish lower than the coaches poll: With Karl Beckman injured to start the year, the defense struggles in front of Ginn. The offense suffers after losing its top pieces from a year ago, and without an identity, they start losing games they used to win.