NORTHFORD, Conn. — Just when it looked like Holy Cross was about to leave Tuesday night’s MAAC showdown against Quinnipiac with at least one point, the Braves proved once again why they have one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country.
Goals from Ryan Morton and Chris Cerrella in a span of 1:56 late in the third period spoiled a three-goal rally by the Crusaders and allowed the Braves to squeeze out a 6-5 win over Holy Cross in front of 417 at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
After Holy Cross winger Tom Pawlak knotted the game at 4-4 with 3:40 remaining in regulation, Morton buried the go-ahead goal only 11 seconds later. Cerrella then tacked on his second tally of the evening to pad the Quinnipiac lead to 6-4.
That marker proved to be the game-winner when the Crusaders received a late goal from Brandon Doria. And, despite somewhat of a lackluster performance in their end, the Braves still went home with their 11th victory of the season.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way that we played tonight, and I don’t think that our team was either,” Cerrella said. “But good teams find a way to win. Sometimes you have a bad win, and tonight was one of those wins. But win is a win any way you look at it.”
Added Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold: “Obviously, we don’t have a problem scoring goals, but I was very disappointed with our defensive effort. We just didn’t have the same focus tonight that we’ve had in the past.”
The Crusaders bounced back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 before Pawlak netted the equalizer with 3:40 to play. The sophomore knocked in the rebound of a shot from defenseman John Bonnano to tie the game, but the Holy Cross celebration was short-lived when Morton found the back of the net on the Braves’ first rush after the ensuing faceoff.
“I was extremely pleased with the way that we came back,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said. “But we had a chance to beat a good team in their building and we didn’t.”
For a while, it seemed like the home team was going to roll to another easy win within the MAAC. Goals from Cerrella, Anthony DiPalma and Terry Harris sent Quinnipiac into the first intermission ahead 3-0 and in full control of the contest.
But that momentum slowly shifted over to the Holy Cross bench in the middle frame. Pat Rissmiller’s blast from the right point only 27 seconds into the period cut the Braves’ lead to 3-1, but Harris responded with his second goal of the night at the 8:47 mark to maintain the three-goal cushion.
Doria was whistled for elbowing at 11:33, and Quinnipiac had a legitimate chance to deliver the knockout punch with the man advantage. Instead, Holy Cross defenseman Tom Cantwell came through with a shorthanded goal that cut the Braves’ lead in half at 4-2.
Rissmiller’s second goal of the night at 15:51 of the second period trimmed the QU advantage to only a goal, and it stayed that way until the final four minutes of regulation.
Pecknold mentioned that he was concerned about a letdown following Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Cornell. Although his fear proved to be worthwhile, he was able to take some solace in the fact that the Braves still managed to win despite that hurdle.
“I thought that we might have a bit of a letdown, but I was hoping that we had enough seniors in our lineup to stop us from having one,” Pecknold said. “But we certainly did have one tonight.”
Said Cerrella: “You’ve got to give credit to Holy Cross. They battled back and didn’t quit. That’s a young team, but they are full of fire and are going to be good in a few years.”
Meanwhile, Holy Cross continued its recent string of improved play, even in defeat. The Crusaders upended MAAC foes American International and Fairfield over the weekend after dropping eight of nine.
“We worked pretty hard tonight,” Pearl said. “The effort was there, but I’m not sure if it was directed in the right spot. We were ‘Go, go, go, offense,’ and you can’t do that against them.
“Offense is the easy part, but you’ve got to work to keep them [Quinnipiac] off of the scoreboard. You can’t play defense like we did against a team like that.”
Cerrella finished the night with four points [two goals, two assists] to pace the Braves. In the process, he extended his point-scoring streak to six games, and notched his fourth multiple-goal and 10th multiple-point effort of the year. Chad Poliquin chipped in three assists, while Morton closed out the night with a goal and two helpers.
Rissmiller [two goals] and Greg Kealey [two assists] were the only Crusaders to record more than one point in the losing cause.
Quinnipiac returns to action on Friday night when it hosts Mercyhurst. Holy Cross will now prepare for a non-league game with Providence on Sunday afternoon.